by Johnathan Arnold
While the Lord’s Supper is a solemn and sacred event, even a cursory study reveals that this is an incorrect and harmful interpretation. Several sensitive saints have gone years — even decades — without partaking of the Supper because they have heard misguided and overzealous preaching and teaching on this verse. It is vital to “rightly divide the word of truth,” approaching 1 Corinthians 11:29 in light of its immediate context and the full counsel of Scripture.
Likely, you already know that the Corinthian church was synonymous with everything that keeps pastors up at night.
The Corinthian Context
Paul goes so far as to say that what the Corinthians were doing didn’t even qualify as the Supper.
The Corinthians were partaking of the Lord’s Supper while at the same time cultivating disunity. Unlike the ordinance of baptism, the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper is a uniquely communal activity. When the many members of a church partake of the same bread and the same fruit of the vine, they are making a common identification with all that Christ’s death stands for. As we drink the “blood” of the new covenant together, we unify as the covenant-people of God around our one Lord and one gospel.
Paul chastens the Corinthians that “when ye come together in the church [for the Lord’s Supper]…there be divisions among you” (1 Corinthians 11:18). Unity in the church is one of the most prolific themes in the New Testament, and the Corinthian church fell desperately short. Earlier in the letter, Paul writes, “I appeal to you…that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you…For it has been reported to me…that there is quarreling among you…” (1 Corinthians 1:10-11, ESV).
The Corinthians were unworthy to honor Christ’s physical body because their actions amounted to a despising of His spiritual body—the church.
The Corinthians lacked love and respect for the body of Christ on earth. At their fellowship meals, each person brought his own food; the rich dined lavishly at private tables while the poorer Christians went hungry (1 Corinthians 11:21). Paul tells them to stop shaming their brothers in the Lord: “What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not” (1 Corinthians 11:23, ESV).
Paul’s warnings about the Lord’s Supper are written to people who are disunited, confused, and self-indulgent; he was not addressing sincere believers with a sensitive heart and conscience. Paul pointed them back to the original institution of the Lord’s Supper, asserting that their relationships violated the solemnity and significance of the event.
Damnation or Condemnation?
Those who take the Lord’s Supper unworthily do not seal their eternal damnation, but incur the discipline of God, pointing them to repentance.
Jesus said in John 9:39, “For judgment (κρίμα) I came into this world, so that those who cannot see may receive their sight.” God’s will is to condemn (κρίμα) the hearts of sinners in order that they may repent and be forgiven. God will never harshly condemn a sensitive believer.
If your sins are forgiven, there is no reason to fear. “God is love…[and] love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment…There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” (1 Jn. 4:16-18). The focus of the Supper is Christ, “for as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come” (1 Cor. 11:26). Do you believe? Arise and partake!