The following was a sermon I delivered on November 22, 2015 as a guest preacher at Living Water Community Church in Vancouver, WA. Below you will find a link to the sermon audio as well as my sermon notes.
We’re aware of the fact that the clothing we wear needs to fit the occasion, event, or activity to which we wear them.
For example, when I was in high school, I worked at a restaurant. And I had to wear a uniform—this ugly purple polo shirt that felt like burlap. Or, when I refereed soccer, I didn’t just wear whatever I wanted; I wore a referee outfit.
Similarly, many of you probably have either a work uniform, a certain dress code that you have to follow, or, if you’re in school, maybe you have a school uniform.
We even have special gowns for graduating (although I’m slightly convinced that whoever invented these wanted to make graduates feel stupid—“Hey, you’re graduating. Congratulations! How ‘bout you wear this black-garbage-bag-looking thing and silly square hat. Oh! And while you’re at it, why don’t you walk across a stage while we take pictures of you? How does that sound?”).
We have these unwritten rules for what we wear and where we wear them: You don’t wear a tuxedo if you’re fixing your plumbing. And you probably don’t want to dress like Richard Simons if you’re going to a formal wedding… Or ever for that matter. And when you go shopping, you don’t wear your pajamas… well, unless, apparently, you’re shopping at Wal-Mart.
You see, there’s this recognized principle (at least among most of us) that what we wear needs to fit the occasion of the thing we’re wearing it to.
Now when it came to the Lord’s Supper for the Corinthian church, they found themselves wearing “the wrong clothes.” Of course, I don’t mean that they were literally wearing the wrong clothes. But think of this idea of clothing as an illustration—the way they practiced the Lord’s Supper did not match the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. Their practice was inappropriate for what the Lord’s Supper means. And so they found themselves “wearing the wrong clothes.”
But we too can easily find ourselves “wearing the wrong clothes” in how we practice the Lord’s Supper. We too can lose sight of the full, true, Biblical meaning of the Supper, and, consequently, practice it inappropriately.
To counteract this tendency, Paul’s point in this text – 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 – is that we are to participate in the Lord’s Supper in a way that matches its meaning.
1. We must avoid wrong practice of the Lord’s Supper (vv.17-22).
Verses 17-22: 17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.
In this section, Paul takes issue with the Corinthians’ erring, improper, incorrect practice of the Lord’s Supper.
But what was the nature of the Corinthians’ error? What were they doing wrong?
Some background information is helpful here.
Unlike the common practice today, in which we only eat a rather small amount of bread and wine (or juice), it seems like the early church practiced the Lord’s Supper in the context of a larger community meal called a “love feast” or an “agape meal.”
Furthermore, we know from archeology that dinning rooms in homes at this time would only fit around 10 people. All other guests would have to eat in a courtyard outside.
We also know from writings during this time-period that hosts in this culture were notorious for playing favorites. They would give the best seats and food to guests of higher social class, while forcing their lower class guests to eat out in the courtyard or even go without food altogether.
Now, the Corinthian church, rather than counter-culturally pushing back against such norms, actually brought them right into their practice of the Lord’s Supper. Their Lord’s Supper was riddled with this sort of disunity and inequality. And this disunity was particularly centered on the poor and the rich. The poor, who could have really used the food, were going without it, while the rich were gorging themselves on their own fancy meals.
But this disunity is in direct conflict with the very thing the Lord’s Supper proclaims—the unity of believers; our shared salvation in the very Gospel that the Lord’s Supper depicts; the fact that all believers alike come to the Supper with empty hands as guests of God’s salvation in Christ.
At the Lord’s table, there are no GEDs or PhDs. The Supper is a leveling reality in a world of increasing inequalities and hostility due to our differences. Any distinctions we do have are relativized in Christ, are seen as nothing in light of our common salvation and status in Christ. To maintain such social-class distinctions and inequality in a meal that screams of the unity of believers is horrifically flawed.
Let’s look at verses 17-22…
17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse.
In other words, Paul’s words here aren’t, “Well, you gave it a best effort” or, “You know, it’s trying that counts.” No. Note the severity of their error here—their Lord’s Supper practice is so bad that Paul says it would actually be better if they didn’t meet at all!
18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. …
That is, during this time-period before Christ’s return, there will always be those who claim to be members of the true church (the community of genuine believers), but aren’t. Because of this, when Paul hears of the divisions in the Corinthian church, he isn’t entirely surprised. He half expects this.
In fact, Paul suggests that these divisions on the visible level make evident divisions that exists on a much deeper level, divisions between genuine and counterfeit believers. As Paul says in v.19, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you [i.e., those who are proven to be genuine believers] may be recognized.
20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.
…Not that they were intending to do something other than the Lord’s Supper. Rather, Paul is saying that their practice of the Supper is so messed up that it can’t even count as the Lord’s Supper anymore.
As Paul says next in v.21, it’s not the Lord’s Supper that they’re eating, but their own supper.
21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.
In short, their practice of the Lord’s Supper didn’t match its meaning. Rather, it matched the feasts of the common culture with all their division and social inequality—extravagant meals and drunkenness for the rich; and a total lack thereof for the poor.
Paul says to the rich, if you want to have such feasts, go do it somewhere else. Such meals are not appropriate when the church gathers in unity to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, to celebrate a Gospel and common salvation that levels us.
And, so, to recap, in this section Paul is instructing the Corinthians to avoid wrong practice of the Lord’s Supper.
We learn from this that there are such things as right ways and a wrong ways to practice the Lord’s Supper. And as an extension of Paul’s rebuke to the Corinthians, we too need to be sure that we’re diligently guarding ourselves from any improper practice of the Lord’s Supper.
2. We must practice the Lord’s Supper in a way that matches its meaning (vv.23-26).
In this next section, vv.23-26, Paul appeals to an early church tradition he himself had received. He appeals to the very words Jesus spoke when he instituted the Lord’s Supper.
But why does Paul cite these words here? What do they have to do with the Corinthians’ situation?
Paul cites these words here because he sees them as addressing the Corinthians’ error. The Corinthians’ problem was that their practice of the Lord’s Super did not match the meaning of the Supper as it was given to us by Jesus himself.
As Paul said in verse 20, the Corinthians’ practice was so off that what they were doing could no longer be considered the Lord’s Supper. Paul’s point is that if the meal is to be considered the Lord’s Supper it must actually fit the meaning the Lord himself gave to it.
Verses 23-26:23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Again, Paul cites these words from Jesus because he sees them as addressing what the Corinthians were doing wrong.
By focusing on themselves, their meals, and their privilege, the rich were disregarding the very point of the Supper—proclaiming the Lord’s sacrificial death. As Paul says in v.26, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
By harboring divisions, they were actually denying one of the very things the Lord’s Supper communicates—our common need for the sacrifice of Christ and our common salvation. Rather than proclaiming Christ’s sacrificial death on behalf of all believers, their meal was proclaiming social distinctions among believers. In a community centered around the Gospel—a Gospel that declares that we are all in desperate need of salvation and that we all receive salvation the same way—not by worldly standards or accomplishments, but by grace through faith—such distinctions are not only irrelevant but they are horrifically inappropriate.
And, so, to summarize, Paul’s point here is that we must practice the Lord’s Supper in a way that is in step with its meaning, a meaning that we find, for example, in these words from Jesus.
Now, the aspect of the Lord’s Supper that Paul has to emphasize with the Corinthians is the unity of believers.
But as a church like Living Water seeks to reflect on its habits and align its practices with the meaning of the Supper, we do well to investigate the meaning of the Lord’s Supper more broadly.
And we do so with a particular concern in mind: It has become very popular within evangelicalism to reduce the Lord’s Supper to merely a time of remembering Jesus’ death.
Maybe it’s because we’re trying to guard against views that make “too much” of the Supper (like Roman Catholicism). But in trying to be careful to avoid saying false things about the Supper, it seems that we have failed to affirm very true things about it.
Consequently, we have neglected much of its meaning and significance. And, as a result, we have failed to recognize the full dimensions of God’s grace that he offers to us in the Supper.
And, therefore, we do well now to attend to some of those broader dimensions.
1. Act of remembrance:
First, the Lord’s Supper is an act of remembrance (x2). As stated twice in this section, Do this . . . in remembrance of me.
Most of us are very familiar with this one. … But the point of this remembering is not mere mental recollection, like running an NFL replay or trying to or remember that email password you always forget.
It’s a time to refresh ourselves with the glorious truth of Christ’s death on our behalf and to respond in worship, to celebrate his victory, to preach the Gospel to ourselves, to be assured of our salvation that was decisively accomplished by this Savior we are remembering.
2. Act of unity:
Second, as already mentioned, the Lord’s Supper is an act of unity that declares our common salvation. It is an act of unity.
This is why we also call it “communion,” because it depicts the communion, commonality, or fellowship we have with one another through our shared salvation in Christ.
Now there are advantages to passing out trays with individual cups and individual pieces of bread as I know you guys do (and my church does as well).
But, if we do so, it’s important for us to keep in mind that this is not an individualized meal; we take this together—family style. Not only does it communicate truth about our relationship to God, it also communicates truth about our relationships with one another.
And this is why many churches (and I know Pastor Jeff said you have done this at times), have one loaf or one cup made visible. This is why we have one table. It’s why we all take the elements at the same time. This all is in keeping with our oneness that the meal proclaims. As Paul says in 10:17,
17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. The Lord’s Supper testifies to our oneness.
So some practical suggestions: Sometimes when you take the meal, make a deliberate point of focusing on those around you. I know in some churches, that’s super weird: “grab the plate; avoid eye contact at all costs; stick your head between your knees and stare straight at the floor.”
No. Maybe even look around. You’re taking this with others. Acknowledge your brothers and sisters in Christ with whom you are declaring your unity and to whom you are declaring your commitment.
Or, further, are there conflicts or divisions among us as we practice the Supper? If so, we again need to hear the words of Christ that Pastor Jeff talked about in his sermon last week: that
23 if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift (Mt 5:23-24).
We must give diligence to practice the Supper in a way that reflects our unity.
3. The Gospel made visible:
Thirdly, the Lord’s Supper is the Gospel made visible.
As Paul says in v.26,
26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Proclamation—something we normally do with our mouths, we do through symbolic action in the Lord’s Supper.
As Jesus says, the bread and wine symbolize His body and blood, more specifically, his body and blood given for us in his sacrificial death.
But, not only so—note: we eat and drink these elements. Think about it. If the Lord’s Supper is merely a memorial, merely a time for remembering, than why do we eat and drink it? Would not just looking at these elements be enough of an aid to remember Jesus’ death?
But we’re instructed to eat and drink them. This ingesting symbolizing our intimate participation in what these elements represent—Christ’s saving work. The action of taking in the bread and the wine symbolizes that we benefit from Christ’s death.
It’s helpful to think about it this way as well: The Lord’s Supper comes out of the Passover meal that was given to Israel when God delivered them out of Egypt. It’s a development of the Passover meal.
Now, part of the Passover meal was that the participants, who, mind you, were several generations removed from the Exodus would say the following: “What the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.”
So likewise, in the Supper we proclaim, “At the cross, Christ died for me.” This is not just remembering an event that occurred a long time ago. This is an a affirmation of its significance in the “now.” This is how we “remember” Christ’s death.
As such, the Lord’s Supper preaches the Gospel to us. It is a vehicle for our faith to lay hold of Christ and say, “He is mine!” Our faith is nourished.
But also by eating the bread and drinking the wine (or juice), God assures us of our salvation in Christ. The Lord’s Supper visually and tangibly proclaims, “Christ’s saving work applies to us! It applies to you!”
4. Christ as the host of the meal:
Fourthly, note that Christ is the host of this meal—as Paul calls it, “The Lord’s” It’s his meal.
And if we were to look at the different gospel accounts, we would notice that it is Christ who makes the arrangements for this meal.
He is the host. We are the guests. He invites us to the table. He serves us the elements (which is why we don’t serve ourselves; someone serves us).
We are helpless and in need of a salvation we cannot achieve on our own. But Christ grants it to us freely. We have not made ourselves the recipients of this salvation depicted in the Supper. We didn’t invent the meal. We have not somehow devised our way to God. It is he who has invited us and granted us the right to be guests at his table. This is what unconditional grace is.
But not only are we made guests, we’re made assured of our salvation. This meal and what it symbolizes is not something we have invented. If we had invented it, the truths declared in this meal would be open to debate; they’d be left in doubt.
But Christ himself, the actual one who saves us, has instituted this meal. And, as such, he puts his divine stamp of approval on the Gospel truths it declares to us.
5. Sign of the New Covenant:
Fifth, the Lord’s Supper is a sign of the New Covenant.
As Jesus said in v.25, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood,” i.e., this cup signifies my blood that I poured out in death in order to bring about the New Covenant of which the prophets foretold.
As such, the Lord’s Supper serves as a continual seal and pledge of all of God’s New Covenant promises to us in Christ—the promise of forgiveness of sins, the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit, the writing of God’s law on our hearts to make us an obedience people, and the work of Christ when he will return to make all things new. …Which brings us to a final dimension.
6. Meal of celebration and anticipation:
The Lord’s Supper is a meal of celebration and anticipation.
As Paul says in verse 26, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” It’s a meal of anticipation.
Or as Jesus promised us in Luke 22:16, “I will not eat it [i.e., the Lord’s Supper] until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Notice that: Until it is fulfilled, i.e., until the Lord’s Supper is fulfilled. That means the Lord’s Supper is prophetic. It anticipates the full realization of God’s saving purposes in Christ when he returns.
Furthermore, it foreshadows that final day of salvation when, as Jesus says in Luke 22:30, “you [will] eat and drink at my table in my kingdom…” It’s an appetizer to the final kingdom banquet. It’s getting our taste buds ready. It’s a victory meal. It’s a celebration. And it’s a declaration that, indeed, Christ is coming again!
That means that our practices of the Lord’s Supper need to be joyous. I’ve partaken in some Lord’s Suppers that felt more like funerals. I remember one time in particular where a little boy was sitting in the pew with his mother and sister during the Lord’s Supper. And his sister was being kind of fussy. And the boy says loud enough that I could hear, “Shhh! Mom’s trying to feel bad for her sins!”
I thought: How tragic—that that’s what this communicates to kids, that the Lord’s Supper is a time for us to wallow in our sin, that it’s more of a time to feel bad for our sins, than a time to celebrate Christ’s victory over our sins, that it’s more like a time to feel guilty than a time be assured.
Yes, we should be reverent and sober. But we do not need to be gloomy. The Lord’s Supper is a celebration.
To recap, as we reflect upon the meaning of the Supper, we do so because, as Paul is arguing, we must practice the Lord’s Supper in a way that matches its meaning.
3. We must ensure proper practice of the Lord’s Supper by examining ourselves (vv.27-34).
Having identified the Corinthians’ error in vv.17-22, and having recalled Jesus’ words in vv.23-26, Paul now applies those words to the Corinthians’ error in vv.27-34.
Verses 27-34: 27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so [or, lit. “and in this way”] eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.
Now this section can be rather confusing. But I think we can break it down into manageable parts: 1) Paul’s aim, 2) his solution, and 3) the warning.
1. The aim—proper participation:
So, first, his aim is proper participation (x2).
The goal of Paul’s instruction here is to guard against what he calls “unworthy” participation in the Lord’s Supper.
27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.
Now, when we look at other uses of this word “worthy” in the NT, it often has this idea of being suitable. So, for example, in Philippians 1:27 Paul says, 27 Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel, i.e., in keeping with the nature of the Gospel and how it shapes our lives as believers. Or think of Eph 4:1 where Paul says, walk in a manner worthy of [your] calling, i.e., in a manner suitable to God’s salvation call on your life.
So when Paul speaks of partaking of the Lord’s Supper in an “unworthy manner” he means participation in the Supper that does not match the meaning of the Supper. It does not fit. It’s not suitable to what’s depicted in the Supper.
He also says that partaking in an unworthy way is, as v.27 says, to “be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.”
But what does he mean by “body” and “blood” here? We need to understand his use of these words in light of the context, specifically vv.23-26.
There, “body” and “blood” are used to refer to the Christ’s sacrificial death. “Body” and “blood” are what the bread and wine symbolize. And “body” and “blood” are what Christ gave in his sacrificial death.
So when Paul says that to partake in an unworthy manner results being “guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord,” he is saying that if we practice the Lord’s Supper in such a way that violates what it’s depicting—Christ’s sacrificial death—we commit an offense against Christ’s sacrificial death.
Specifically for the Corinthians, they were violating the community implications of Christ’s death—their unity.
Similarly, in v.29 Paul speaks of eating and drinking without discerning the body.
I think it’s best to understand the word “body” here as just a shorthand way of saying body and blood of the Lord, like in v.27, and, so, again referring to Christ’s sacrificial death.
In other words, when Paul speaks of not discerning the body, he’s referring to not discerning what the Lord’s Supper is all about—making visible Christ’s sacrificial death.
2. The solution—examination:
And, so, (1) the aim is to avoid improper participation. But to ensure that, the solution (2) is examination.
28 Let a person examine himself, then [i.e., to examine one’s conduct, practice, habits, mindset, attitude, etc.] and so [or, lit. “and in this way” he or she is to] eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
One is to examine him or herself before partaking of the Supper so as to ensure that one’s practice of the Lord’s Supper is in keeping with its meaning.
The Lord’s Supper is an identity-shaping event. It’s a time to recalibrate ourselves and check and see if there is anything in our life that contradicts the truth of the Gospel.
Practically, for the Corinthians, Paul says, the outcome of this examination should look like vv.33-34.
33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home…
3. The warning—judgment:
Finally, (3) Paul gives a warning of judgment (x2), which is to serve as a motivation for practicing examination.
Having spoken of being guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord (v.27), he now speaks of its consequence—judgment.
29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
Due to their malpractice of the Lord’s Supper, members of the Corinthian church were being judged with sickness and even death.
Nonetheless, we must note that this is not a judgment of damnation but God’s loving discipline of believers.
As Paul says in v.32, “But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined…” In other words, the purpose of this judgment is not condemnation but correction.
In fact, this discipline is an expressing of God’s gracious work of keeping us saved—of sustaining us in the faith. The very purpose of this discipline is “so that we may not be condemned along with the world.” In other words, at times, God judges believers in a temporal sense (e.g., sickness, death) so that we will not be judged in the ultimate sense (i.e., damnation).
And so, to summarize, Paul wants us to know of God’s discipline so that we might be motivated to examine ourselves and thereby practice the Lord’s Supper properly.
An issue of application:
Finally, I think it’s important that we address an issue of application that might arise out of this text.
At least in some circles, there’s a rather popular way of applying this text. And sometimes it gains enough traction in practice that I think people read it into the text even though I’m not so sure it’s actually there.
Allow me to explain: Some read the text this way: “If I am unworthy, i.e., if I have sin in my life or if I had a bad week spiritually, then I should not participate.”
And this view seems to be promoted by at least two things, which I’ll address in turn.
First, I think some of us see the language of judgment in this text and say, “If I could be judged for taking the Lord’s Supper unworthily, than I don’t want to risk it.”
But, when you look at the text, Paul’s solution to the possibility of judgment is not for us to abstain from the Supper, but to examine ourselves. Look at v.31. Paul doesn’t say, “And if we abstained we would not be judged,” but, if we judged ourselves…, we would not be judged.
And in v.28 he doesn’t tell us to examine ourselves in order to determine whether we should participate, but to examine ourselves so that when we do participate (he’s assuming) we do so in a proper manner.
28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so [or, lit. “and in this way,” i.e., by examining yourself] [do] eat of the bread and [do] drink of the cup.
This means that when Paul talks about examining ourselves, he’s probably not just talking about the time right before we take the Lord’s Supper. If we’re going to practice the Lord’s Supper in a worthy way, with all that that means, I might have to reconcile myself with a brother before the service even starts. Examination, in other words, is much bigger.
Now, I’m not saying there are no circumstances in which someone should abstain.
For example, this meal is only for believers. For an unbeliever to participate would be to partake in an unworthy way. The symbolism and the promises declared in the Supper do not apply to them.
Or again, 1 Cor 5 makes clear that those under church discipline shouldn’t partake. For all practical purposes we’re to treat them as we would an unbeliever—calling them to repent and partake of the Supper (yes); but until then we must withhold it. Our fellowship with them is broken; but this meal declares unity.
Or again, bold, high-handed, unrepentant sin is a direct denial of the Lord’s Supper, which depicts a Gospel that demands our repentance.
But even so, I like how Pastor Jeff put this as we talked on the phone: “You can repent right now. Forgiveness is only a prayer away.” As 1 John 1:9 says, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Do you know what partaking of the Lord’s Supper in a worthy way is? It’s believing that, and taking that promise to the bank.
And so, I don’t think Paul’s point here is to get us to withdraw from taking the Supper. In fact, I think Paul would see this as a terrible solution. “Instead of correcting the behavior, we’ll just keep doing it and abstain from the Supper.” Paul’s voice is ringing in my ear, “May it never be! Should we continue in sin that grace may abound and just abstain from the Supper in the mean time? God forbid!”
But there’s also a second way in which I’ve seen people go wrong here.
And part of it seems to stem from a misunderstanding of translations like the KJV which translate v.27, Whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily… It can give the impression that what Paul’s concerned with is the unworthiness of the participants—us. “Whoever partakes in an unworthy state…”
And, so, at times people will become so preoccupied with themselves, trying to determine if their spiritually fit enough to partake.
But you’ll notice that newer translations like the ESV properly say, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner…” or we could say, “in an unworthy way…” It’s the way the Lord’s Super is practiced that Paul’s concerned with here. In short, Paul is attacking unworthy participation in the Supper, not unworthy participants.
In fact, rather than excluding unworthy participants, the Lord’s Supper presupposes our unworthiness. If worthiness was necessary to partake in the Supper, none of us should participate. We are unworthy! We are sinful! But praise be to God, our unworthiness has been nailed to very the cross that the Lord’s Supper proclaims!
And, so, if you’re here and you’re thinking, “I can’t take the Lord’s Supper. You don’t know how messed I am. It’d feel like a hypocrite if I took it.” No. You’d be saying the very same thing the Lord’s Supper already says about all of us: You don’t deserve it. You are messed up. But God lavishes undeserved grace upon us in Jesus Christ.
I’m afraid that such a mentality is far too preoccupied with self and not preoccupied enough with the one who saves us from ourselves. We must not distort the table of our acceptance into a bar of condemnation and guilt. So unworthy sinner, come to the table and be assured that Christ receives sinners.
And, so, in summary, to use my initial illustration, when we practice the Lord’s Supper, we need to “wear the right clothes.” We must practice the Lord’s Supper in a way that’s consistent with the Gospel it presents. And we do so by examining ourselves.
I like how Pastor Jeff on the phone described what Living Water does: Just like Paul says in Romans 11 that he magnifies his ministry to the Gentiles in order to make Jews jealous, so Living Water magnifies the Lord’s Super in order to make unbelievers want in on this glorious Gospel.
And maybe that’s you. Maybe you’re here today and you’ve never embraced Christ with saving faith; and you’re getting jealous. You want in on the good news that the Lord’s Super declares—that despite how unworthy we are, how much we have offended our holy God with wrong thoughts and actions, in his grace he has nonetheless sent his Son to become body and blood for us and take the judgment for that offense on himself, removing it from all who place their trust in him
And, so, if that’s you, trust Christ. Join us at the table of God’s salvation.
And, believer, keep feasting.