What does it mean to take the Lord’s supper in an unworthy manner?
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.
Most of us, myself included, have read this to refer to my worthiness or moral suitability to take the Lord’s supper. Notice that it doesn’t say “whoever is unworthy to eat this bread.” It is not the person who is unworthy, it is the manner of taking it that is unworthy of the gospel.
JC Ryle said, A sense of our own unworthiness is the best worthiness that we can bring to the Lord’s Table. If we come to the table with any thought that the moral rightness of my life allows me to partake, we are missing the point of the Lord’s Supper. It is not a statement of our worthiness; it is a reminder of our unworthiness. We don’t deserve anything the gospel gives. We receive it by his grace.
The story is told of an old minister, who saw an old woman hesitating before receiving the cup. He stretched it out to her and said, Take it woman; it’s for sinners; it’s for you.
That is not to deny the need to confess sin to God, to take an inventory of our spiritual lives. These are things we should do regularly anyway.
To take the Lord’s Supper unworthily is to do what the Corinthians were doing. They were being selfish, they were disregarding the needs of others in the church, they were satisfying their own cravings, there was no sense of community or mutual fellowship in them. Their selfishness was dividing the church and making a mockery of Christ by the manner in which they took the Lord’s Supper.
“Unworthy manner” is not unbelief or a lack of moral purity, it is the absence of Christian love or spirit of service toward one another.
It is unworthy because by their attitudes they are not on the side of Christ but on the side of his enemies. His enemies physically broke his body and these Corinthian Christians were spiritually breaking his body. That’s why they are guilty of the body and blood of Jesus. One commentator says a literal translation is, they become guilty of murdering Jesus. That sounds harsh but it tells you how serious God is about Christian love and unity; especially at the Lord’s Supper which celebrates the terrible price Jesus paid to make us one.
I have missed this my entire tenure at Bethel. As you know we almost always say, this is for Christians and if you are not, please don’t partake. That is still true. The Lord’s Supper is for Christians but that’s not what this is talking about. The warning isn’t for non-Christians, the warning is for Christians whose attitudes and actions are divisive, lack love, and fail to allow the weightiness of even the Lord’s Supper to shape their attitude. They mock the spiritual unity of the church which Jesus died to create and therefore are as liable as those who murdered Jesus in the first place.
How about that warning before partaking? “If by your attitudes or actions you are creating disunity in the congregation, especially if you have a holier than thou attitude, do NOT participate.” If you do, God will view you like Pontus Pilate, Caiphas, Judas, and the Jews who cried out “Crucify Him.” Needless to say, you don’t want to be in any group with Judas.
That ought to get our attention, shouldn’t it? Might that not compel some hardened relationships in the church to soften and reconcile? Might that not fuel a servant mentality in the church (note the next chapter). Might that not help us keep the main thing the main thing? Why? I don’t want to be guilty of the body and blood of Christ. No way.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
© 2010 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s web site address (http://www.bethelweb.org/) on the copied resource.