When believers gathered in the early church, they always shared a meal and the Lord’s Supper. How they practiced this meal became an issue.
The King James Version warns that “whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:27); other versions have translated unworthily as “in an unworthy manner.”
Many miss the fact that unworthily is an adverb, which modifies the action of the verb. The question is not whether we are worthy but whether the Lord’s Supper is being shared in a “worthy” manner that communicates the oneness of the body of Christ.
First Corinthians 11:17–22 describes how the Lord’s Supper had allowed social distinctions or other divisions to be evident in the church, especially at the Lord’s Supper (11:18–19).
Those who could bring food went ahead and ate their food without sharing or waiting on others who might have needs (11:21–22), thus making some feel unwanted because of how they were treated. Paul scolded them, “Do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?” (11:22).
The exhortation to “examine himself” uses a word that means to habitually “scrutinize, or test” yourself to see if my actions, words, or life are building the unity of the body of Christ or am I being divisive, critical or hurtful to members of the body. It is all about the church. Any hurt or offense to another believer is directly a hurt felt by Jesus.
It is a little more difficult today to show this unity because we generally do not practice a meal (sometimes called a “love feast”) with the Lord’s Supper. However, the context can be extended to convey the principle of the passage: do all my actions convey to every member of our church body that he or she is an important part of the body of Christ—the church—or do my attitudes make anyone feel alienated or rejected?
This is the meaning of 1 Corinthians 11:29: “Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” It is not the “body” of Christ in the elements but the body of Christ as the unity of the church that is the issue. Ignorance of this command can bring serious chastisement (11:29–30).
The church is to be a haven of acceptance and caring for one another. Let us constantly watch our attitudes and relationships toward our brothers and sisters in Christ. Remember, it is His body, or His church. Are we protecting the bond of unity in His church?
“Lord, help me be honest with myself to admit when I have offended one of Your children, and give me the courage to reconcile every relationship I may have hurt.”
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