29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.
If you are a good parent, you will expect certain behaviors from your children at the dinner table. You will expect that feet will be on the floor and not alongside the plate. You will expect food to be eaten and not flung. You will expect that those with them at the table are respected by them, and so on. And if those expectations went unheeded without any sign of repentance and remorse there would likely be some form of discipline rendered. If that’s the case for children who disrespect their parents’ table, how much more should chastisement be expected for dishonoring the Lord’s table?
If the call to self-examination goes unheeded (vs.28), then the person who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself (vs.29a). In Corinth, part of what was lacking as a result of the undone-examination is that individuals failed to judge the body rightly (vs.29b). Some think that this ‘body-reference’ is to the church because earlier Paul referred to the church saying, “For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread” (10:17). And yes, the Corinthians were not discerning the precious nature of Christ’s church, i.e. His body, and they were making the one loaf of Jesus’ body, metaphorically-speaking, look fragmented and disjointed through their divisions – a sin that warranted judgment (33,34). But with that being said, I think, given the way that Paul had been speaking about the body of Christ in conjunction with the bread and the cup (vs.24-28), what many Corinthians failed to judge rightly was the solemnity of the ordinance, and particularly how Jesus’ body was signified by the signs and symbols of the bread and the fruit of the vine.
The ramifications for this was serious. Paul wrote, such a one “eats and drinks judgment to himself” (vs.29a). The KJV renders the word, translated as “judgment” in our text, as “damnation” – a word that connotes eternal condemnation. But given the context, that translation is incorrect. The reason being – when we look ahead to verse thirty-two, Paul wrote – “But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world” (vs.32). So the language of being “judged,” both here in verse twenty-nine and within verse thirty-two, is akin to the discipline of the redeemed as opposed to the condemnation of the unsaved. So judgment here connotes divine chastening. We see examples of that chastening in verse thirty:
30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. (1 Cor. 11:30)
Those who did not take the Lord’s supper seriously risked coming under God’s temporal judgment. Again, this is not, at least immediately and contextually, speaking of eternal condemnation but of temporal consequences. These consequences included becoming weak, or sick, or even going to sleep, i.e. dying (Jn. 11:11; Acts 7:60; 1 Thes. 4:13), a euphemism for a Christian’s death describing the body’s temporary disposition in the grave while the soul of a believer is with the Lord.
Here is an example of what John calls a sin that is unto death (1 Jn. 5:16). And these consequences came upon “many” in the church of Corinth – note how the English word “many” is used twice. The first time it’s the word polloi (Gr. πολλοὶ), which is the typical word for “much” and “many,” essentially meaning numerous people. The second time it’s the word hikanoi (Gr. ἱκανοί), which can mean ‘an adequate or sufficient number’ but also can be used to speak of many. So this temporal judgment wasn’t something that happened to ‘that guy in Corinth.’ Many were sick and weak as a result of partaking of the Lord’s table in an unworthy manner and, at a minimum, you could say that a sufficient number even died.
Now, people ought not to think that every bit of lethargy, every sinus affection, and every death is a result of partaking of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. But with that being said, if there has been unworthy participation in the Lord’s Table then such a possibility ought not be quickly discounted unless such unworthy participation was quickly repented of.
The question becomes – how does one avoid this? Paul reminds his readers of the answer in the following verse:
31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. (1 Cor. 11:31)
The easy answer for any concern of chastisement comes in verse thirty-one: “But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged.” This is incredibly gracious. It’s as though the Father is telling His children, ‘Think about what you have done and what you are doing.’ It’s like He told the people of Israel through the prophet Haggai, “Consider your ways” (Hag. 1:7). The Psalmist exemplified this well when he said, “I considered my ways and turned my feet to Your testimonies” (Ps. 119:59 NASB).
One of the biggest dangers that a Christian faces in coming to the Lord’s Table is in not taking careful steps of self-examination and sin-confession. It’s kind of like – when I leave the house, the biggest obstacle to me forgetting something at home is not asking myself the simple question, ‘George, do you have your keys, wallet, glasses, and phone?’ Do you know how many forgetful moments would have been avoided had I asked myself that kind of question? Well, it’s kind of like that when we come to the Lord’s Table. If we would only ask ourselves, ‘Am I taking this moment seriously? Am I resting in Christ’s sufficiency? Am I at odds with brethren with whom I am supposed to be in unity? And am I living in some manner of unrepentant, hypocritical duplicity?’ If those kinds of questions were genuinely asked, do you know how much holiness would be spurred and what chastisement might be avoided? I think much.
One of the most overlooked aspects of the lives of many Christians is the art of self-evaluation for the purpose of confession and repentance. The Lord’s Supper is a perpetual reminder of our need to be examining, confessing, and repenting. If you want to avoid chastisement, as a dearly loved son or daughter of God, you’d do well to routinely judge yourself. The primary way in which the Corinthians could have avoided coming under temporal judgment would have simply been to have judged themselves and put their behaviors and dispositions under the microscope of God’s Word.