Studies in First Corinthians
by Bob Burridge ©2018
Lesson #28: 1 Corinthians 11:27-34 (ESV)
Ready For the Lord’s Table
Being unprepared can be frustrating and sometimes embarrassing. When you plan a vacation or business trip a lot of planning and packing has to be done. During the hurricane season we who live in Florida know how important it is to have supplies on hand like bottled water, gas for the car, boxes of batteries, and a good supply of food you don’t have to refrigerate or cook. When you’re a student, you have to be prepared when you show up for school: homework done, assignments read, and clothes that didn’t make you wish you were invisible for the day. At work you have to bring the things you need, be ready for meetings, and meet important deadlines. If you go to a formal dinner it would be disrespectful to show up in a tank top, old shorts, and flip-flops. And it’s a good idea to check in the mirror before you leave for church to be sure you’re not wearing a pair of unmatched socks, or have a big stain on your shirt or dress.
Our days are filled with things to be prepared for. While we try hard to keep from forgetting things like these, some come to the Lord’s Table having given little thought to being prepared for it.
The Lord’s Supper is a Sacrament. It’s not a magical ritual, or just a simple object lesson as some churches teach today. It was instituted by Jesus himself, and God’s promises are attached to it when it’s rightly practiced. Those who come to the Lord’s Table bear a great responsibility. It should be taken seriously.
In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul warns us
about partaking of the Lord’s Supper.
27. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.
28. Let a person examine himself then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
29. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.
The table of the Lord isn’t for everybody. It’s not just a tradition open to anybody who happens to be there when it’s served. Some would be sinning greatly if they partook of it.
There are three conditions that must be met for those who come to Communion:
1st: It’s a covenant meal designed only for God’s Covenant People.
In the time of Israel before Christ, Passover was the covenant meal God instituted. Circumcision was the outward sign of the Covenant. Only those from families where the male head was circumcised could partake of Passover.
In Exodus 12:47-49 Moses gave warnings against others taking part. “All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it. There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.”
During the Exodus, some strangers had joined with Israel. Some unbelieving Egyptians wanted the benefits of being part of Israel. Back home there was nothing but economic ruin after the 10 great plagues. The Israelites left with the gold, silver, cattle and flocks God made Egypt give them. All who converted to belief in the true God, and who showed they were sincere by their life, could be circumcised if approved by the Elders, and therefore admitted to the Passover.
But those who didn’t submit to the covenant sign and truths weren’t to participate in Passover. It wasn’t just a ritual or holiday celebration. It was a covenant meal. It was a testimony of faith in God’s promises. If unbelievers participated it was worse than hypocrisy — it was a lie before God.
Membership in the New Testament church is marked by baptism. Baptism doesn’t save anyone, and it doesn’t mean that all those baptized are born-again. Like Circumcision, it’s the sign of belonging outwardly to the covenant nation.
Members are those who are part of the covenant community. Adult members must show a credible profession of faith in God’s promises and submit to the principles God has revealed to his church. Infants may be baptized into the church if they are born to believing parents and are being raised in a covenant home that respects God’s principles. No one else should be baptized because they aren’t part of God’s covenant people.
Those not baptized are never to partake of Communion. They were represented in the Old Testament by the uncircumcized strangers in Exodus 12.
2nd: Members may partake of Communion only when admitted to the sacrament by the church. As with ancient Israel, church members don’t decide for themselves who should be admitted. The Elders oversee admission to the church and to its sacraments.
That’s what Jesus meant by the “keys of the Kingdom” in Matthew 16 and 18. There he said to Peter and repeated to the other Apostles what had always been God’s law. What the ordained leaders bind or loose on earth is bound or loosed in heaven.
Lexical studies show that the terms “binding” [“de-o” (δέω)] and “loosing” [“Lu-o” (λύω)] are rabbinic terms.
– “Binding” was used in their writings for “forbidding”, restraining someone (binding him) from some privilege.
– “Loosing” was allowing a person to be permitted to freely enjoy some privilege.
This reverses a common understanding of the order as if it meant binding one to the church or loosing him from it. To bind someone regarding the Kingdom is to keep him restrained from participating as a part of it. To loose someone is to free him to engage in the Kingdom as a member in good standing.
The church leaders didn’t decided who was saved or lost. It meant they determine who is barred or admitted from participating in the covenant community.
Only the Elders of a church, applying God’s word, can after examination admit someone to the Lord’s Table. An adult believer can come to the Elders on his own and ask to be admitted. Baptized children come before the Elders to be examined when their parents believe they’re ready.
In both cases, the Elders examine the person to see if they are ready. They need to determine specific things:
First: that the person has been properly baptized into the true church. Since this is a meal for the covenant family, those receiving it must belong to the family.
Second: The person must be able to examine himself, and judge rightly the body. Those who don’t know the standards of God by which we need to judge ourselves, or who don’t understand the body of Christ represented in the elements and the church as his covenant body assembled for worship, are not ready to come.
Third: The person’s profession of faith should be credible to be admitted to the table. His confession must be based on a sound understanding of God’s truth. This must not be just intellectual, but a true personal conviction. And his confession must be believable, his life shouldn’t openly contradict what he professes.
Those in the church must submit to this responsibility of the Elders. Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
Those who come who are not rightly admitted by those Christ has appointed, show a disregard for the law of Christ and don’t rightly understand the body of Christ. They bring judgments upon themselves and invite the curse of God’s covenant.
3rd: Those admitted should personally examine themselves before they partake. To examine ourselves, we need to know what we’re looking for.
First of all, we should expect that our examination will expose some sin in our lives. No one, after an honest examination, could find himself to be without sin. There are things we do or desire that we shouldn’t. And there are duties toward God and others that could always be done better.
But there is more. If discovering our sins would kept us from the Lord’s Table, no honest person could partake.
So secondly: our examination should also find a true sorrow for our sin. We should admit what’s wrong in our lives and sincerely want to stop doing it.
If there are sins you don’t want to correct, and which you intend to continue committing, then you ought to repent very humbly at that moment. If you refuse to repent and change, then you should not only abstain from Communion, you should do all you can to deal with the problem.
That’s what Pastors and Elders are here for. As Shepherds who deeply love every one of the sheep, they stand ready to help God’s people through times like that, and to get right with God.
If you eat and drink at the Lord’s Table while still intending to sin against God, you offend God and bring his judgment on yourself.
But there is still one more thing:
Your examination should also show a true confidence in the work of Christ. Those who receive and consume the elements “proclaim the Lord’s death till he comes.” (11:26) This is the main message of the Lord’s Supper. You say you believe that Jesus, as the Lamb of God, died in your place. He is your Savior because his body and blood sealed God’s covenant for you on the cross. As you live here until he comes again, you trust in God’s provision in Christ as your full and only hope.
If someone partakes in unbelief, or with the intention of continuing in unrepentant sin, he “eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (11:29)
Communion is a means of grace. It’s a time to get things right and receive God’s assurance. It only compounds the problem if you abstain from the covenant meal God has given his people.
If a believer properly admitted to the table abstains from partaking of it, he is passing up God’s means given to strengthen him. If he abstains from partaking, he is refusing to put his trust in what the Savior promises in this sacrament.
Unless there is continuing rebellion in your heart, and an unwillingness to repent and change, every believer admitted to the Table by his church should repentantly partake in true faith. When you find sin in your examination don’t just sit there and not partake. Correct the situation before God immediately as you approach the table, then go repair any damage your sins may have caused when you depart.
Some out of sincere concern for coming to the table rightly refer to Matthew 5:23-24, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
But this has to do with bringing a gift to the altar. It’s not about coming to Passover, or coming to the Communion table. There will always be things to correct in our lives, even in the days right before any given Sunday. If we had to go correct every offense first, we would never be sincerely ready to partake. Coming to the Lord’s Table is a means of grace which helps enable us to try to repair any damage our sins may have done.
Those who receive the elements improperly face God’s judgment. They are guilty of disgracing not just food and drink, but the body and blood of the Lord. Those who view the sacrament as a banquet, or who drink to excess, or who exclude the poor, fail to understand how the church is a body of Christ, united by covenant through his death.
Failure to judge the body rightly has serious effects.
30. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
31. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.
32. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
The message is that the Lord is deeply offended and dishonored when a person comes to the Lord’s Table unprepared, or with contempt for other believers.
In the time of Paul, God was still revealing how Christ had fulfilled the ancient promises. It was an era of special revelation, visions and suspended natural laws to confirm the gospel message. He also brought direct physical judgments to drive home the seriousness of offending God.
For example, in Acts 5 Ananias and Sapphira lied about giving all they had to God. Because of that, they were struck dead on the spot. It doesn’t mean that if a person lies about his tithing or giving God will immediately strike him dead. It was a lesson for the new church about how severely offensive such a thing is to God. Today we read the story about Ananias and Sapphira and learn from it. We don’t expect some people to fall down dead as the collection plate is passed.
In Acts 13:8-11 Elymas wickedly opposed Paul and Barnabus and was stricken immediately with blindness. It was a clear lesson about God’s sovereign power and the seriousness of our offenses against him. Many wickedly oppose the gospel and God’s ministers without loosing their sight. This was a special occasion, not something that occurs regularly.
Similarly in Corinth there were physical consequences for abusing the Lord’s Table. God was bringing disease and death to some in Corinth to teach how serious it is to desecrate the Sacrament. God had specially revealed to Paul that this was the reason some were sick and some died. The word translated here as “died” is a common figurative use of the word meaning “sleep”[“koima-o” (κοιμάω)]. These early lessons to the church are recorded in Scripture for us all to learn from.
After the time of the Apostles, when the Bible was completed, special revelation stopped. Today we can’t know when particular sins cause particular judgments. For the believer, judgments are part of God’s fatherly discipline to teach us to repent and to correct our behavior.
Paul ends this section with specific
instructions for the problem at Corinth.
33. So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another–
34. if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home–so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.
The Lord’s Supper is part of the public worship of the church of God in Christ. It shouldn’t be a time of feasting, excessive drinking, or exclusive fellowship. If a member wants to have a party or special dinner, that should be done in private homes, not in the worship of the church.
Just as Moses warned Israel about Passover, we give a similar warning when we administer the Lord’s Supper. When we celebrate Communion, we do what is called fencing the table. The Pastor who administers the Lord’s Supper has a duty following the example of Moses. He must explain the wonderful significance of the sacrament, and make it clear that this table is not intended for everyone.
It’s not our table, its the Lord’s. He alone sets the standards for admission to it. All who participate must meet God’s requirements.
1. They must be true believers in the promise of the gospel as God’s word.
2. They must be part of the covenant community having been properly baptized.
3. They must demonstrate to the church Elders that they understand the Sacrament: That includes knowing the promise of God connected with the bread and wine, and that the covenant community, the church, is the body of Christ gathered for worship. Knowing this they should gather with a mutual respect for one another as God’s children.
4. They must have personally examined themselves so that they come prepared. They admit their sins, desire to overcome them, and trust in Jesus as their Living Savior.
The next time you celebrate the Lord’s Supper, don’t come unprepared. During the week before prayerfully examine your life and be open to admit what sins you find. Bring your sins before God in humble repentance and ask him to help you overcome them. Show your sincerity by removing temptations in your life, and by replacing wrong things with good ones. Come to church that Sunday with expectant hope in the promises attached to the elements.
If we come with that kind of trust, we will find great blessing at the Table of the Lord. It will help you grow as a Christian and help the whole church to be stronger and more effective.
(The Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)