In 1 Corinthians 11:29-32, what is the judgment poured out on believers to partake of the Lord’s Supper unworthily?
The context of 1 Corinthians 11 and the Lord’s Supper in New Testament times will help us understand what Paul refers to. Christians in the Roman Empire regularly practiced “love feasts.” These were the meals that they would gather to eat with one another in their house churches.
They were called love feasts because they focused on the love of Christ and the love the believers had for one another (Acts 2:42-47). When they partook of the Lord’s Supper, it was within the context of these larger meals.
That’s why Paul says things like some of them are eating too much and others aren’t getting enough (1 Corinthians 11:20-22, 33-34). In 1 Corinthians 11:29-32 after Paul recounts the remembrance of the Lord instituted by Jesus in the Gospels he talks about judgment.
But what does this judgment mean? There are clues within the text itself. We already saw that they were not sharing it together (1 Corinthians 11:20-22). They also were not “discerning the body” (1 Corinthians 11:29). The judgment sounds harsh, for some of them were getting sick and others were “falling asleep,” a euphemism in the New Testament for death.
I believe there are two sins committed in the Corinthian church when it came to the Lord’s Supper. The first was that they were going against the body and blood of Jesus by going against his teachings in their practices.
Corinth was the opposite of Jerusalem in its Christian fellowship (Acts 2:42-47). They were supposed to share possessions, even food. Yet some of them were committing gluttony at the meal while others were going hungry. This is not what Christian fellowship looks like.
They were offending Christ by not practicing Christian fellowship with one another. His death should bring people together instead of separating them into classes of the poor and the rich. “Discerning the body” could refer to their position in Christ through their actions or it could refer to understanding where other brothers and sisters in Christ were in their own circumstances.
The second sin of the Corinthian believers in the Lord’s Supper was that they were unprepared to take communion in the first place. Their hearts were not spiritually prepared. There may have been sin in their lives. They didn’t judge their own life before they fell under the judgment of Christ as they communed with him.
I know some churches where the pastor is impressed with his ability to get done with communion as fast as possible. But it should never be that way. Communion is a time to “commune” with Christ. It shouldn’t be about how fast we can be in and out of his presence.
But it doesn’t have to last forever either. There is a happy medium where we enjoy the presence of the Lord, examine ourselves and judge our own lives and bring that to him before we partake of his holy sacrifice.
That is what it’s about. Jesus is holy and we must be holy to dwell with him and partake of him. This is why Paul calls every believer to examine himself and judge his life (1 Corinthians 11:28). How have we treated Christ and one another? Have we carried out his teachings and commandments?
If we haven’t, it’s time to get right with him before we partake of his presence, his body given over four are healing, and his blood, poured out for the salvation of many souls. This is a solemn and serious time in Jesus’ presence. Let us not offend him or one another.
He gave of himself, his body and his blood, so that we might be whole. We must give ourselves to him completely as well. It is a beautiful exchange between Master and servant, divine and human. It’s mystical and we can miss that if we are in a hurry or don’t prepare ourselves.
In a sense, it reminds me of the Ten Commandments. The first four are all about our relationship with God. The second sin of not preparing ourselves for his presence is like breaking those first four. The second six commandments are about our relationship with our fellow human beings. The first sin of unchristian fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ is like breaking those.
The sins they will against Christ and one another placed them in danger. Whether it was God’s judgment that caused the sickness and the death among them or just a reaction to improperly partaking of the Lord’s Supper, a judgment written into breaking fellowship with Christ and one another, we must pay attention to their follies.
We should view this judgment within the bounds of the seriousness of partaking in the Lord’s table together. Let us not commit the same sins the Corinthians did. Let us come solemnly to our Lord, examine ourselves in preparation, and thoroughly enjoy his presence.