I remember when I was growing up and being taught about the significance of having communion at church. Once I was saved I understood that the unleavened bread symbolized the broken body of our sinless savior and the wine represented his blood. Communion is our memorial of the Lord Jesus Christ dying for our sins which he commanded us to do in remembrance of him in Luke 22.
During communion, I have always heard the preachers telling all congregants to examine themselves before taking the crackers and grape juice. Their understanding is that anyone who is unworthy of taking communion is either unsaved or is saved but has some unconfessed sin. Being unworthy and taking communion will cause God’s judgment to come into your life, according to what I’ve been taught year after year. But is that really true? I used to think it was until God gave me more understanding of what was actually stated in scripture. In Luke 22, Jesus said the following:
And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come.
And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you. But, behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table. And truly the Son of man goeth, as it was determined: but woe unto that man by whom he is betrayed!
Based on what Jesus said here, we can see that Judas Iscariot was still at the table and took part in the communion. If we are taught that the unsaved are to be turned away at the time of communion, why didn’t Jesus tell Judas to leave before he passed around the unleavened bread and the wine? Especially since he knew Judas’ true nature. The traitor was already condemned and his unworthiness to take part in the Lord’s supper did not add to or take away from his impending judgment.
Now let’s look at what Paul said in 1 Corinthians–
When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper.
For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.
What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? what shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.
For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:
And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.
After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.
For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.
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.
But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.
For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.
For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. 1 Corinthians 11:20-30
The context of this scripture has to do with believers at Corinth not keeping the sacredness of the Lord’s supper. Corinth was known for its extreme idolatrous practices that included gluttonous feasts like the feast of Bacchus. Unfortunately, once the pagans became Christians they carried the mentality of such feasts and attempted to apply them to the Lord’s supper. So there were people who were getting drunk and being gluttonous which was not the manner to commemorate the Lord’s death while others did not get to participate because all of the bread and wine were consumed. Paul suggested they eat a full meal at home to avoid abusing the Lord’s supper. The way they kept the Lord’s supper was done unworthily in that it was sacrilegious and the Lord punished some people with sickness or death.
The word unworthily used in the scripture is an adverb describing how the people ate and drank, not an adjective which would have described the people themselves. We can conclude that God’s judgment was on certain people because the way they celebrated communion was abusive. It had nothing to do with any unconfessed sins in their personal lives. Although it’s always good to examine ourselves to make sure we are doing the right things in our lives, if we have some sin that we overlook at the time of communion, God is not going to strike us down for not confessing it before we receive communion.
–posted by Harry A. Gaylord–