Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. What is an “unworthy manner?” Clearly we know that when we partake of the Lord’s Supper we do several things: We honor Jesus’ command to “remember.” We are reminded of the cost, the death of Jesus. We confirm our own sinfulness and the need we have to be forgiven. We confirm to the world that we are Christians. We participate in eternal life. So, if these things are acknowledged, then to be in an unworthy manner would be the opposite.
To be unworthy would be to take communion without any understanding of the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. This doesn’t mean that we have to understand every detail, but we must understand that we take communion because Jesus instituted the meal. To be unworthy would be not to realize the cost or price that Jesus paid with His life for our sins. To be unworthy would be to feel that I am sinless and don’t need forgiveness. The meal is not for sinless people, it is for sinful people. But people who know that they need God. To be unworthy would be a person who had not confessed Jesus as Lord. This meal is for the Christian, exclusively! Paul writes: Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. (1Corinthians 10:16-17)
A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. It was Maundy Thursday. The church was having the traditional communion service. This time the pastor suggested that as we passed the bread and cup we whisper, “The body of Christ, broken for you.” “The blood of Christ, shed for you.” As the service progressed, I concentrated on remembering the pastor’s words, and thought it would be nice to do this more often. Between me and the aisle was an old woman, not nearly so concerned with the pastor’s exact words, but thoroughly understanding their meaning. As she served me she said softly, “Take it. It’s for sinners.”
Paul writes, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.” (I Tim. 1:15) We examine ourselves by admitting that “I am a sinner.” We allow the Holy Spirit to expose our tender insides and then repent. To be unworthy is to deny that I need God’s forgiveness.
While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me – one who is eating with me.” They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely not I?” “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment.
The meal is for all believers. We enter it with prayer. We enter it with humility. We enter it knowing that we are the invited guest. It is not about the fact that we have been sinless, it is about the fact that we realize we are sinners and need God’s forgiveness. This meal is for sinners!