1 Corinthians 11:27 warns Christians not to take the Lord’s Supper “unworthily.” And I’ve known many sincere and well-meaning Christians who have kept themselves from partaking of the Lord’s Supper on a Sunday because they felt particularly “unworthy” that week. But does that passage really mean if you’ve sinned this week you have disqualified yourself from taking the Lord’s Supper on Sunday? What exactly does it mean to eat and drink “unworthily”?
1. You ARE Unworthy
I appreciate the sincerity of those who have examined themselves and realized they have sinned previously that week or even earlier that day, and thus abstain from partaking in the Lord’s Supper. But what bothers me is that when someone says this is their practice, they are implying there are Sundays on which they partake of the Lord’s Supper because on those occasions they do feel worthy.
Consider that for a moment, how could we sincerely look at our lives and say, “Yep, I’m good! I’m worthy of partaking of the body and blood of Jesus.” That type of attitude is the very opposite of the attitude with which we should approach the Table. We partake, not because we are worthy, but because we are unworthy.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10).
We ought to come before Him – especially in that moment – confessing our unworthiness, not thinking to ourselves, “I think I’m worthy enough to partake this week.”
2. In an Unworthy Manner
Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11:27, is not speaking of how “worthy” the Corinthians are to partake of the Supper. He is writing to admonish them about the manner in which they were taking it. Which is why the better translation reads,
“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.”
In context, here are a few of the points Paul makes about how the church can take the Supper in an unworthy manner.
- In a manner that causes division (vs. 18-19, 22).
- In a manner that is self-indulgent (vs. 21).
- In a manner which is not in remembrance of Him (vs. 23-25).
- In a manner that does not proclaim His death (vs. 26).
- In a manner that is not self-examining (vs. 28).
- In a manner that does not discern (honor) the body and blood of Christ (vs. 29).
There certainly may be other ways Christians could profane the Lord’s Supper and take of it in an unworthy manner, but feeling sorrow for your sin is not one of those ways.
3. How Can We Take the Lord’s Supper in an Unworthy Manner?
When we make the Lord’s Supper about anything other than Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for our sins, we take of it in an unworthy manner. When we do not approach the table with humility, thanksgiving, reverence, and commemoration, we take of it in an unworthy manner. This is why Paul gives such a strong warning about the manner in which we take of this memorial meal, saying,
“Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Corinthians 11:28-29).
Feeling sorrow for your sins and committing yourself to repentance is the only way a person should take of the Lord’s Supper. This feeling is not what disqualifies you to partake; it is a prerequisite to partaking at all. If you cannot realize and admit your sinfulness, then you have no place at the Lord’s Table.
4. What if There is Ongoing Sin in My Life?
Some may ask, “What if there is some ongoing sin in my life? Does that disqualify me from taking the Lord’s Supper?” I would say the answer is even worse than that. If there is an ongoing sin in your life, a sin about which you have not repented, that disqualifies you from heaven (see Hebrews 10:26).
If you know what you’ve been doing is sinful and you have every intention of continuing in that sin (even for a little while), you must not think the only thing you’re disqualified from is the Lord’s Supper. In that state, you are forfeiting your salvation (see Romans 6).
So let us all repent of our sin, and in thanksgiving, proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes!
“Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:9-10).
I love you and God loves you,