It boggles my mind at how many people stay away from the Lord’s Supper because they feel unworthy. I remember a person telling me that they didn’t take Communion because they had an unresolved problem in their past and didn’t dare partake because they would be eating, “in an unworthy manner.”
The text this person had in mind is found in 1 Corinthians 11 and has led to a lot of confusion and division regarding the Lord’s Supper. The text reads in the NIV, “So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.” v. 27 Just in case we don’t get the point Paul continues, “Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” 1 Corinthians 11:28-30
At first reading it would seem that my friend has a point. If there is something on the heart that has not been confessed then we shouldn’t partake because we are bringing judgment upon ourselves. But, that is not what the text says. Nowhere do these verses say that we must approach the Communion Table with a totally pure heart. In fact the reason we come to the Communion Table is because we don’t have a pure heart and are in need of the grace of God. The Scripture makes it clear that none of us are pure of heart because we all have sinned and gone astray. Romans 3:10 and 11 reminds us, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
Obviously Paul in 1 Corinthians isn’t saying that people with problems should stay away from the Communion Table because that would include all of us. No, there is something more going on in these verses and the clue can be found in the verses just before verses 27 through 30 and in the last verses of the chapter.
It seems the people were using Communion as a time to throw a party, get a bit drunk and indulge in gorging themselves on expensive foods. And to make matters worse, the wealthy were throwing these feasts for themselves while the poorer members of the congregation had to sit and look on.
“In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!” I Corinthians 11:18-22
After defining the problem, Paul goes on to once again remind them what the Lord’s Supper is all about (v. 23-26) before rebuking them, as we have seen in verses 27-30. The problem wasn’t people coming to Communion with some deep sin that they hadn’t dealt with properly and thus were eating the bread and drinking the wine unworthily. The problem was the very opposite. People were using the Lord’s Supper as an opportunity to brag and boast how prosperous they were and the result was they were making Communion all about them instead of about Jesus.
These self-centered Christians were eating, drinking and getting drunk in front of their less fortunate brothers and sisters without a second thought. They never thought about sharing and putting effort into breaking down the walls between the wealthy and the poor. As a result they missed the whole point of Communion and because they missed the point they would eat and drink unworthily.
After all, Communion is commemorating the wonderful gift of redemption that was so generously poured out on us through the love of God as manifested at Calvary’s Cross. When we partake we are acknowledging our thankfulness as well as our need for that grace because of our sinfulness that separated us from God. The Lord’s Supper is also a communal event where we realize no one is greater or lesser than the other and we are all equal in our need of redemption. Communion points us upward to God and our Salvation in Christ and it points us horizontally towards the reality that each and every one of us is in need of grace regardless of our social status.
The Corinthians had forgotten all this so they came to the Communion Table in a party spirit to fulfill their own wants and needs regardless of Christ and their fellow man. Paul finishes the chapter by stating, “So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. Everyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment.” 1 Corinthians 11:33, 34
Eat at home and come to Communion with a full stomach and an open heart is Paul’s good advice to the people of Corinth. Everything should focus on Christ and by doing that people won’t fall into sin and judgment.
As Christians we shouldn’t stay away from the Lord’s Table but eagerly seek it because it is there we remember our need and the sacrifice that was made on our behalf by Christ so that we may have eternal life. Of course, if we have spiritual issues that weigh upon us we should find a time before Communion to talk them over with God, ask forgiveness and then approach the Table with an open heart. We approach God with a joyous heart, not with fear and trembling, because He loves us. Please, never think that you are too sinful or too unworthy to be loved by God. His love is unconditional and when we eat the bread and drink the wine His arms wrap around us in a love that is beyond imagination.
Remember, God doesn’t love you because Jesus died for you, Jesus died for you because God loves you. At the Communion Table we acknowledge that grace and accept the abiding love of Jesus in our lives. John 6:56