What is meant by eating and drinking “unworthily,” of the bread and the cup, in 1 Cor. 11: 27?
A misapprehension of this term “Unworthily” has kept some conscientious people from ever partaking of the Lord’s Supper. They reason something like this: “I never can be sure that I am worthy. I know of course that my Saviour is worthy, that He is holy and pure and good, but I am so conscious of the impurities that surge up from my own evil heart, and my frequent failures in thought, word and deed, that I could not ever regard myself as worthy. If it is a question of worthiness, I could not dare to receive the bread and cup.” Let me say at once, my well–meaning but mistaken friend, that the word here is not “unworthy” but “unworthily”. “Unworthily” refers to the manner of partaking of the Lord’s Supper, rather than as to the person who partakes. Every believer on the Lord Jesus Christ, unless excluded by some discipline for sin, is worthy to partake, simply because he is a believer. The work of Christ has made the believer fit for heaven, and worthy to partake of that which calls to mind the Lord who went into death to bear our sins and rightful judgement. However, though every believer (provided he is not under discipline) is worthy to eat, he may do so unworthily. If he bring unjudged sin, or carelessness to it, it is to profane the death of Christ, who died to put sin away from God’s sight for ever. The Christian cannot of course be condemned for sin (John 3: 18; Rom. 8: 1); for Christ having borne his sins, God cannot condemn, but he does cleanse him practically from them by chastening. They never escape His eye—and while He never imputes them for condemnation, still He never passes over a single sin, and if we do not judge it in ourselves, He deals with us for it by discipline. This discipline may take many forms, and in certain cases it could extend to ill–health, even death. Many of the Corinthian saints were partaking of the Lord’s supper unworthily, and so “On this account many among you [are] weak and infirm, and a good many are fallen asleep”, (1 Cor. 11: 30).
If we eat the Lord’s Supper with unjudged sin upon us, we do not discern the Lord’s body which was given up in death to put it away; thus we partake of it “unworthily,” and God cannot allow such carelessness. Grace makes us worthy to partake, but the government of God, administered by the Lord over God’s house, will surely deal with such sin or carelessness. Still, if we scrutinize our own ways and judge ourselves, we are not judged of the Lord, (v31). Judging ourselves for failure, is our course, and then eating the Lord’s Supper. Some have thought they should absent themselves from the Supper when they have failed, but He does not say, “Let a man judge himself and so let him stay away,” but “Let a man judge himself and so let him eat”: If truly repentant, then he is fit to eat. Where does Scripture speak of the one who has sinned fulfilling a course of penance, whether self–imposed, or imposed by others? Nowhere! Staying away accomplishes nothing, except to denigrate the character of God, the God who would at once restore communion the moment we judge ourselves and our actions. Yes, the state of our heart which allowed the failure should be subjected to scrutiny and self-judgement, but the consequence is I go forward and eat.
So how many of us consider the matter of whether we partake worthily? If I come to the Supper of the Lord in a light, frivolous way, if as the bread and the wine are being prayed over, I am thinking of a thousand and one other things, perhaps occupied with the business of the week, or recalling the latest foolish story I have heard; if when the bread and cup are actually passed to me, I am not thinking of the Saviour of whom they speak, but perfunctorily participating in it as a religious ordinance, then I am taking the loaf and the cup unworthily. Or perhaps I come altogether unprepared, I have spent no time with God when I could have, and I rush into His presence forgetting the solemnity of the occasion, and I fail to recognise that in the loaf and the cup we have set forth the precious body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. To partake in such a spirit is to do so unworthily, and of such we read that “Whosoever shall eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty in respect of the body and of the blood of the Lord”, (v27). It was my sins that caused His death upon the cross, yet I act as though He had never died! Let none be discouraged from partaking, for every believer has been made worthy, yet nonetheless let all first prove themselves and then eat.”
I may add in closing, that allowance should be made for those that are necessarily occupied with the cares of the home before coming to the Lord’s Supper. Such may require time for the necessary state of mind to be achieved. It must be obvious however that this is hardly the same as coming in a careless unthinking manner!