What Does it Mean to take Communion in an Unworthy Manner?

Growing up, the Lord’s Supper was always a time of examining my past and feeling bad about myself. The lights were dimmed, and the preacher always made us make sure we were “right” with God before taking the elements. Have you experienced this? In most churches, instead of celebrating and remembering Christ, the Lord’s Supper is about feeling condemned and remembering our sin.

As we’ll see in 1 Corinthians, the Lord’s Supper is about remembering and celebrating all that Christ did to make us forgiven and right with Him. We don’t have to make sure we’re right with God before we take it, because we can trust that we’re right with God forever (Romans 5:1). Further, we don’t have to focus on our sins during the Lord’s Supper. Instead, we get to focus on Jesus and what He did to take away our sins.
Put simply, the Lord’s Supper isn’t about us; it’s all about Jesus. It’s not about remembering our sin but about remembering our Savior who took away our sin.

The “unworthy manner” in 1 Corinthians 11:27 is not about having unconfessed sin or not being right with God. Taking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner means not respecting the Lord’s Supper. It means using the elements in a way that doesn’t remember or celebrate Jesus.
In context, Paul is trying to create order in the Corinthian church during the Lord’s Supper. There were people who were taking the Lord’s Supper as a meal (11:20). And some members became weak and ill (11:30) because they used the wine to get drunk (11:21). This is why those who do this are “guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord” (11:27). They’ve sinned by disrespecting God and this celebration.

This is why Paul tells the believers to examine themselves (11:28). This isn’t about examining your history of sin or getting right with God. Instead, this is about making sure you’re not disrespecting the Lord’s Supper by eating it as a meal or getting drunk off of the wine. Examine whether you’re taking the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner. To take it in a worthy manner is to celebrate and remember Jesus, not use it as a meal or an opportunity for drunkenness.
Paul moves on to say that those who haven’t discerned what they’re doing have placed judgment on themselves (11:29). This judgment is not from God, but from others. They’ve sinned and are now judged (found guilty) from the rest of the community. Since they haven’t discerned the purpose of the Lord’s Supper, they are ill, and some have died (11:30).

These are the results of “drinking judgment on themselves” (11:29). They abused the Lord’s Supper so much that they got sick, and as a result, everyone realized what they were doing. That’s what it means to drink judgment on themselves.

Notice that these things are not from God, but from the choices people made to abuse the Lord’s Supper. They were eating too much and getting drunk to the point that they were getting sick and dying! This will help give us context for the next few verses that speak on judgment. God isn’t making us sick or killing us because of sin. The wages of sin is death. Jesus died and took our punishment so that we wouldn’t have to.

In verse 31, Paul says those who discern or judge themselves would not be judged. Once again, this means they would not be found guilty from others for abusing the Lord’s Supper and would not have to suffer the consequences of getting drunk. If these people would just discern what they were doing, they would not be judged by others.

“But when we are judged…” (11:32)—who are we judged by? Others. When people come and tell us that what we’re doing is wrong, we’re being judged. This doesn’t mean others are convicting us, but they’re discerning (judging) our behavior and saying that it’s wrong. This is how God disciplines (trains) us. He uses others to confront us, not shame us, so that we can learn the truth about a matter.

The verse goes on to say, “But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:32 nasb). This means that God uses others to discipline us. Discipline here means to teach and train. As we’ll see later, God’s discipline is not about punishment for our sins.

God disciplines us so that we won’t be condemned along with the world. This means He wants us to not look like the rest of the world. This condemnation will never happen but is mentioned here to contrast those who are saved with those who are not. Those who are saved are under God’s discipline, and those who are not saved are condemned already.

Some translations say, “when we are judged by the Lord…” But the structure of the original language simply has “when we are judged.” In context, the judgment is not coming from God, but from others. That’s why the passage goes on to say we should wait for one another and eat at home “so that you will not come together for judgment” (1 Corinthians 11:34 nasb). Paul’s advice is to eat at home so that you don’t take the Lord’s Supper as a meal and be judged by others.

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