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1 Cor 11:27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.

What does this mean, "unworthily"? (cp. 1 Cor. 11:29)

Religious denomination practices range from churches where only the leaders are entitled to take communion whereas other churches encourage communion even for those who didn't prepare for it.

So how can we make sure that we don't approach communion "unworthily"?

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3 Answers 3

John Gills exposition of the Bible always explained it the best for me:

The bread and cup are called the bread and cup of the Lord; these may be eaten and drank "unworthily", when they are eaten and drank by unworthy persons, in an unworthy manner, and to unworthy ends and purposes. The Lord's supper may be taken unworthily, when it is partook of by unworthy persons.

This sense is confirmed by the Syriac version, which renders it ולא שוא לה, "and is not fit for it", or is unworthy of it, and so the Ethiopic version; now such are all unregenerate persons, for they have no spiritual life in them, and therefore cannot eat and drink in a spiritual sense; they have no spiritual light, and therefore cannot discern the Lord's body; they have no spiritual taste and relish, no spiritual hungerings and thirstings, nor any spiritual appetite, and can receive no spiritual nourishment, or have any spiritual communion with Christ: and so are all such persons, who, though they may profess to be penitent ones, and believers in Christ, and to have knowledge of him, and love to him; and yet they have not true repentance, neither do they bring forth fruits meet for it, and so as they are improper subjects of baptism, they are unworthy of the Lord's table; nor have they faith in Christ, at least only an historical one, and so cannot by faith eat the flesh, and drink "

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In context (which is crucial to understanding virtually anything in Scripture), the Corinthian Christians were engaged in behaviors which, prima facie, would be labeled "unworthy"; hence, they were participating in the Lord's Supper unworthily. Here is a partial list of the way various Bible versions translate unworthily:

  • in an unworthy manner (by far, the most "popular" translation)

  • in the wrong spirit

  • inappropriately

  • in an improper way

  • in a way that dishonors Him

  • in an unworthy way

  • in a way that is not worthy of it

  • irreverently

What were these behaviors which should have disqualified the guilty Corinthians of participating in the Lord's Supper? Verses 17-22 (and 29-34, not included below) tell us:

". . . you come together not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you. . . . Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord's Suppers, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you."

In summary, here are some of the unworthy aspects of behavior the apostle Paul had to confront:

  • divisions and partisan behavior

  • improper focus (i.e., coming together primarily to eat, not to remember the Lord in His appointed way)

  • selfishness in the mealtime, with no regard for the hungry church members among them who could perhaps not afford to bring their own food

  • drunkenness

  • a reckless disregard for all the believers in their midst, both rich and poor, who comprise the church of God

  • shaming the poor in their midst

  • celebrating the Lord's Supper without prior self-examination before the Lord, what Alcoholics Anonymous calls "conducting a fearless moral inventory" (v.31)

  • impatience, and not waiting for one another (v.33)

Christians today are guilty of some of the same behaviors, even though we do not, as the early Christians did, combine a communal meal with a celebration of the Lord's Supper, which the early Christians called "the love feast," or simply "the agape."

Therefore, before partaking of the bread and wine in remembrance of Christ in accordance with His wishes in this regard (see 1 Corinthians 11:26), each participant who is a Christian must conduct a fearless moral inventory, determining if they have had spiritual lapses during the previous week. If so, they are to "get right" before God, prior to participating. Confession and repentance should always precede worship, whatever form it might take.

Incidentally, there is nothing wrong, per se, with a leader at the Eucharist announcing that communion is for believers only, particularly those who have a clear conscience before God. I do believe, however, that a leader should not single out nonbelievers for exclusion from the Lord's Supper, since how can a person who is already under God's condemnation for neither believing in Jesus nor receiving Him into their lives participate unworthily? The warning Paul issues is strictly for believers:

"For he who eats and drinks [unworthily] eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly [i.e., both Christ's body and the body of the local church]. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep [i.e., die]" (vv.29-30).

In my church, the worship leader says (and I'm paraphrasing),

"The Lord's Supper is for believers in Jesus who have examined themselves before God. If you are not a believer, simply pass the elements to the person next to you. Rest assured, we will not single you out or embarrass you in any way. We do, however, ask you to consider asking yourself what it is that keeps you from believing in Jesus and inviting Him into you life."

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The practices of the Corinthians in observing the Lord's supper was not as Paul had taught. They were profaining the Lord's supper.

1 Corinthians 11;27-32

27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread, and drink of the cup. 29 For he that drinketh and eateth unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. 30 For this cause many are weak and sickly among you , and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.

We, as brethren, are to examine ourselves, and act accordingly. Verse 28 We are obligated to take the Lord's supper in rememberance of him. We are not to let others influence us, as to whether or not we take the Lord's supper. Verse 28 We cannot know the heart of anyone, those who eat and drink unworthily do so at their own peril. Verse 29 Therefore we are not to judge, all judgement is exercised by the Lord.

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