27 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. 28 But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
After reading verse twenty-seven someone might say, ‘I think you’d be better off calling this a Table of Trepidation.’ The language after all is startling – “be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord” (vs.27b). Someone could do their own ‘risk/reward analysis and draw the conclusion, as erroneous as it might be, that they are better off avoiding the bread and cup – after all, you can’t partake in an unworthy manner if don’t partake at all, right? On a much lower scale, that would be like an employee choosing to not do an ongoing and important task that his employer asked him to do because he didn’t want to do it wrong. Humanly-speaking, that would be a good way to lose a job. Spiritually-speaking, when concerning the Lord’s Supper, it’s a good way to illustrate having never had salvation. It would be an act of flagrant sin that disregards Jesus’ words – “Do this in remembrance of Me” (vs.24b, 25b), as well the precious nature of His sacrificial offering. Every Christian has a responsibility to heed the Savior’s imperative and not only RSVP for attendance at the table, but to actually come to it.
Now, it’s important to understand what is meant by the phrase “in an unworthy manner” (vs.27b). I believe the rest of the passage will bear that out, but first let’s correct some potential misunderstandings. There are those who are so quick to self-condemn that they think the Christian life is like an impossible game of Operation where every little move they make prompts that ‘tiny motor buzzing sound.’ They are like children who, although welcome at the table, excuse themselves from the table because they feel unworthy to stay. Please be reminded that your seat at the table is not kept secure because of your worthiness. If participation in the Lord’s Supper were dependent upon our own worthiness no one would be taking the bread or the cup. Another has paid the price so that we, wearing the garments of His righteousness, could meet the proper spiritual dress code. Just as God qualifies His people to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light (Col. 1:12), so He has qualified us to be seated at the table of the Lord’s Supper. The question is not whether or not we should be there – if you are a Christian your place is at the table; the question is – how will we participate in the Table? That’s what determines whether or not we partake worthily of unworthily.
So, then, in an effort to answer the question – ‘what does it mean to eat and drink in an worthy manner?’ Let me exposit this part of the verse by calling our attention to what is around it: To eat and drink in an unworthy manner is to:
- Eat and drink without examining one’s self (vs.28a, 31a).
- Eat and drink without discerning, and thereby lightly esteeming the sign of the Lord’s body connoted by the symbols of the bread and the cup (vs.29).
- Eat and drink without proper regard for the body of Christ, that is the church (vs.33) – which included having divisions (vs.18) and indulgent selfishness (vs.21,22).
So, having an argument on the way to church doesn’t disqualify you from partaking of the Lord’s Supper, unless that argument so affected you that (a) you’d rather cling to your bitterness than repent of your sinfulness, or that (b) you’re so taken up with your argument that you cannot concentrate on your Savior. And even then, the answer isn’t to excuse yourself from the Lord’s Table and tell the Lord Jesus that you’re going to sit this one out because you are temporarily beyond repair. That should be a last resort rather than an easy concession.
But if someone were to spur the calls for proper examination and contemplation, the kind of which begets confession and repentance, participating in the Lord’s Table as though it were simply man’s ritual, they will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord (vs.27b). To be clear, this doesn’t mean that the bread and the fruit of the vine were transubstantiated. After all, the bread that a participant of the Lord’s Table eats is called “bread” in three consecutive verses (vs.26-28). The idea is – the sign, i.e. the bread and the fruit of vine, is associated with that which it signifies – the body and blood of the Lord. The seriousness of the sin of unworthy participation is in proportion to the dignity of the One offended. It’s not just a matter of disregarding the institution; it’s a matter of dishonoring the work and the One the institution is meant to honor – the Lord Jesus Christ and His sacrificial offering of Himself on behalf of sinners like ourselves.
Perhaps freshly seeing the solemnity of the symbols will help you esteem the ceremony and the examination that it so appropriately demands. And if that’s not enough, consider this – that even those who have been guilty of sinning against the body and the blood of the Lord, yet are God’s children, may be temporally chastised, but not eternally condemned, all because of the body and blood of the Lord! What grace – that the body and blood that we might sin against still saves the redeemed who wrongfully sin against it!
So what should a believer do, then? Sin so that grace might abound? Not at all. To use language from verse twenty-eight: “But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (vs.28). The word for “examine” is a conjugated form of the Greek word dokimazo (Gr. δοκιμάζω), which means ‘to test, to prove, to scrutinize, to discern.’ And the immediate object of that scrutiny is one’s self (“himself”). That’s not a call for some kind of morbid, self-focused obsession; and it’s not a general call to examine ourselves to see whether or not we are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5), although it implicitly provides an opportunity for that as well; rather, it’s a call for Gospel-driven self-examination that scrutinizes our moral condition at the Lord’s Supper, ensuring that our disposition towards the ordinance, towards our Savior, towards sin, and towards each other is where the Lord of the ordinance would have it to be.
So how can we eat and drink worthy? (1) We eat and drink worthily when we discern what we are doing when we come to the Lord’s Table understanding the significance of the elements – what they represent, that they have been given to us, and that we received what they signify in faith. (2) We eat and drink worthily when we examine ourselves to make sure that the errors found in Corinth are not found in our own hearts and behaviors. They went to the table with divisions; we must come in unity. They went to table with frivolity; we must come to the table with solemnity. They went to the table with carelessness; we must come with carefulness. They went to the table with unrepentant behaviors; we must come with confessed and forsaken sins. They came to the Table thinking little about the Savior; we must come to the Table thinking much about Him.
If one does that, approaching the table by being thoughtful instead of thoughtless, with Spirit-driven analysis and with the repentance that befits moral deficiencies or sinful obstinacies that can be confessed in that moment, such a one should eat of the bread and drink of the cup. The way that you gain a seat at the table is through the Spirit-wrought reception of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and the way you participate in the table is through Spirit-led examination that leads to practical purification and Christ-directed adoration. Such a one is to eat and drink (vs.28). What an opportunity for worship and sanctification the Lord’s Table becomes! And may it be so for you.