“In an Unworthy Manner”

Communion Cup

Shortly before His death, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper as a memorial of His sacrifice – the bread represented His body that was to be hung on the cross and the fruit of the vine represented His blood that would be shed (Matthew 26:26-29; Luke 22:17-20). After reminding the Corinthians about the basic instructions regarding the practice of the Lord’s Supper which he “received from the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26), Paul warned them not to observe this memorial “in an unworthy manner.

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly” (1 Corinthians 11:27-29).

Paul indicated that Christians would be observing this memorial of “the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26); therefore, we still partake of the Lord’s Supper today. Because of this, we need to seriously consider the warning that Paul gave to the Corinthians lest we become guilty of eating and drinking “in an unworthy manner.

The Sin Addressed

The first point to notice is that it is possible to observe the Lord’s Supper unworthily. Jesus taught about the need to “worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). As this relates to the Lord’s Supper, Paul explained that one could partake of the bread and the cup – doing those things which were commanded (Matthew 26:26-29; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26) – but do so “in an unworthy manner.

We also need to recognize that the sin being addressed was that the “manner” in which one observed the Lord’s Supper was “unworthy.” Paul was not addressing the personal worthiness of the individual partaking. The Scriptures are clear that all of us are unworthy of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross which is remembered when we partake. Paul wrote, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Even after obeying the gospel, Christians sin too often (1 John 1:8, 10). However, even if one was to live sinlessly perfect after becoming a Christian, he would still be no better than the “unworthy slaves” that Jesus talked about who simply did “that which [they] ought to have done” (Luke 17:10). We will never deserve the grace of God shown to us in the death of Christ, but we can and should observe the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner.

So what does it mean to eat and drink the Lord’s Supper “in an unworthy manner”? Paul explained: “For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly” (1 Corinthians 11:29). The body to which Paul referred was the body we remember in the Lord’s Supper – that of Jesus Christ. As we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we need to be “discerning the Lord’s body” (KJV). The physical emblems – the bread and the fruit of the vine – are not some supernatural elements that endow us with holiness when we consume them. They are simply emblems that represent the body of Christ and the blood He shed in His death. If we partake of them in the assembly on the first day of the week according to the instructions found in the New Testament (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:23-34) but fail to focus on Jesus’ sacrifice, then we eat and drink “damnation” (KJV) to ourselves.

The Result of the Sin

Paul explained that when we partake of the Lord’s Supper “in an unworthy manner,” we are “guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27). As the emblems represent the body of Christ that was hung on the cross and the blood that He shed in His death, we show a disregard for Jesus’ sacrifice for us when we partake unworthily. By doing this, we put ourselves in a position like the one described by the Hebrew writer of those who have “trampled under foot the Son of God, and [have] regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which [we were] sanctified” (Hebrews 10:29). If the sacrifice of Christ is not important enough to us to partake of this memorial in a proper way, then we are treating Jesus’ death as being no more remarkable than that of anyone else and the emblems of the supper as being no more significant than a common meal.

The result of partaking of the Lord’s Supper “in an unworthy manner” and being “guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27) is that we eat and drink “judgment” or “damnation” (KJV) to ourselves. This is condemnation from God. He “knows the heart” (Acts 15:8) and can see if we are disregarding the sacrifice of His Son, even though outwardly we may appear to be partaking as we should. We already noticed the Hebrew writer’s comment about those who “regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant” (Hebrews 10:29). He began that context with this warning: “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:26-27). If we partake of the Lord’s Supper “in an unworthy manner” and do not repent of this sin, we stand to face God’s judgment without the benefit of Jesus’ sacrifice which we disregarded by this sin.

The Solution

Paul explained that the remedy for this was for each one to “examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:28). Because this sin is about what is going on in our hearts, no one else can examine us in this regard. We can appear to be observing the Lord’s Supper properly, but in our hearts are “not discerning the Lord’s body” (1 Corinthians 11:29, KJV). As Paul would tell these brethren in the second epistle of the generic need to examine themselves (2 Corinthians 13:5), he emphasized a specific way in which we must do this in this passage. Christians must be sure to observe the Lord’s Supper properly. The only way we can be sure to do this is to examine ourselves and make sure we are not partaking “in an unworthy manner” (1 Corinthians 11:27).

Conclusion

It is a great privilege to be able to assemble with other Christians and observe the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week. Let us be sure we do so in the proper way so that we can please the Lord who died for us.


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Comments

  1. Very good thoughts, Andy. We all must be serious and mindful of what we are doing as we partake of the Lord’s supper. Thanks for the appropriate reminder.