One of the qualifications for participation in communion is that self-examination:
- Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. (1 Cor. 11:27–29)
Recognizing the body?
The ISV has an interesting translation of this passage:
- A person must examine himself and then eat the bread and drink from the cup, because whoever eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.
In the context of 1 Corinthians 11 Paul is rebuking the Corinthians for their selfish and inconsiderate conduct when they come together as a church:
- “When you meet together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk” (1 Cor. 11:20–21).
This helps us understand what Paul means when he talks about those who eat and drink “without discerning the body” (1 Cor. 11:29). The problem at Corinth was not a failure to understand that the bread and cup represented the body and blood of the—they certainly knew that. The problem rather was their selfish, inconsiderate conduct toward each other while they were at the Lord’s table. They were not understanding or “discerning” the true nature of the church as one body. This interpretation of “without discerning the body” is supported by Paul’s mention of the church as the body of Christ just a bit earlier, in 1 Corinthians 10:17:
- “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”
So the phrase “not discerning the body” means “not understanding the unity and interdependence of people in the church, which is the body of Christ.” It means not taking thought for our brothers and sisters when we come to the Lord’s Supper, at which we ought to reflect his character.
In an unworthy manner?
What does it mean, then, to eat or drink “in an unworthy manner” (1 Cor. 11:27)? We might at first think the words apply rather narrowly and pertain only to the way we conduct ourselves when we actually eat and drink the bread and wine. But when Paul explains that unworthy participation involves “not discerning the body,” he indicates that we are to take thought for all of our relationships within the body of Christ:
- are we acting in ways that vividly portray not the unity of the one bread and one body, but disunity?
- are we conducting ourselves in ways that proclaim not the self-giving sacrifice of our Lord, but enmity and selfishness?
In a broad sense, then, “Let a man examine himself” means that we ought to ask whether our relationships in the body of Christ are in fact reflecting the character of the Lord whom we meet there and whom we represent.
In this connection, Jesus’ teaching about coming to worship in general should also be mentioned:
- So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matt. 5:23–24)
Jesus here tells us that whenever we come to worship we should be sure that our relationships with others are right, and if they are not, we should act quickly to make them right and then come to worship God. This admonition ought to be especially true when we come to the Lord’s Supper.
- International Standard Version (Yorba Linda, CA: ISV Foundation, 2011), 1 Co 11:28–29.
- Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 997–998.