(I want to preface this article by saying I could be wrong on points in this article, but I don’t think I could be wrong on the main point.)

When I was speaking at a conference in England, I was engaged in a conversation with a Christian brother who believes that Christians who are walking in faith shouldn’t get sick (not the topic of this article). I asked him why then, in his view, genuine Spirit-filled, Jesus-loving Christians get physically ill. He was thoughtful and responded that Paul mentioned that some have become sick because of taking communion in an unworthy manner. He asked me what I thought of that possibility.

Can Christians Take Communion Unworthily?

I gave an unrehearsed, instinctive response.  I had never given much thought to the topic before, but I told him, “I don’t think a true born-again Christian can ever take communion in an unworthy manner.”

He seemed shocked. Almost as shocked as I was that I gave that answer.

Here is the passage to which he was referring:

1 Corinthians 11:27 “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. 28Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. 33So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— 34if 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 problem to which Paul was referring was mentioned earlier in the passage:

1 Corinthians 11:17 “But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.”

If I were going to exegete the topic from this text alone, I’d say eating and drinking in an unworthy manner would have to do with the disgraceful behavior of the Corinthians at the communion table (and their lack of love towards the brethren). And it may.

You Will Never be Worthy

But in the larger scheme of things, I think this passage is often applied in such a way to cause us to take a few moments and ask ourselves, before taking the bread and the cup, if we are living in a manner worthy of receiving these elements. We are often encouraged to do introspection, examine ourselves and our hearts, and see if there is any unrepentant sin in our lives that may prohibit us from taking communion. I have often done this myself. We are told to “judge ourselves” (vs. 31).

But here is what always happens to me. I hold the bread and cup in my hands, and I look inside my heart and mind. I ask myself, “Have I been truly faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Body? Have I loved Him and His people the way I ought?” The answer is always no. “Have I, since I last took communion, sinned in word, in thought and in action?” The answer is always yes.

I then consider, should I let this bread and cup pass me by? Should I wait until I have had a perfect week: When I did not yell at my children, make a snide remark to my wife, think a lustful thought, covet someone else’s success, or wish evil on my enemies? Should I stand aside and allow all the perfect Christians to take communion without me?

Then I consider: “What does communion represent?” Is it not a reminder that we are all without hope apart from the redeeming blood of our Savior? Is it not this act that constantly reminds us that the sinless Lamb of God took upon Himself the guilt and shame that we deserve? Has there ever been a week that I have partaken of the blood and body of Jesus in a worthy manner? Have I ever been worthy? If so, what did I do that made me worthy? Did I do enough good deeds to become worthy? Did I pray enough? Did I give enough to missions? Did I attend three services that week? What act or thought or deed made me righteous before a holy God?

I can’t think of anything that I did, or could do, that would ever make me “worthy” of the body and blood of Jesus, broken and spilled out for me.

Every time I have ever taken of the bread and the cup, I have always been unworthy.

Jesus told us: “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Luke 17:10).

Examine Yourself

It is true Paul tells us to examine ourselves: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Cor. 13:5).

I believe Paul is saying this because there are many who sit in our pews each week who do not belong to Christ. Hence his words in 1 Corinthians 11:19 about such scenarios causing “genuine” believers to be recognized. For unbelievers to take communion, without having been washed and cleansed by Christ’s blood, would be to blaspheme the Lord’s table, and dishonor His sacrifice. If our lives are being lived for self, and if we demonstrate no fruit of obedience and repentance in our lives, we should be genuinely concerned for our very souls. Perhaps we do not belong to Christ. We should abstain from the Lord’s table until we have made this sure and are certain that we have been born again.

But for me at least, when the devil whispers in my ear and says, “How dare you take of the bread and wine? Don’t you realize how unworthy you are?!”

In my mind, I just say, “Devil, you don’t even know the half of how unworthy I am! I am so unworthy, I could spend days here just telling you all the ways I fail to measure up to God’s perfect standard of holiness. But instead of wasting my time doing that, let me tell you about how worthy my Jesus is!”

Jesus is Worthy!

“And they sang a new song: “Worthy are You to take the scroll and open its seals, because You were slain, and by Your blood You purchased for God those from every tribe and tongue and people and nation’” (Rev. 5:9).

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:12).

It is in this act of communion that I am reminded, once again, what an unworthy sinner I am, and what a perfectly worthy substitute He is on my behalf. I stand boldly before the throne of grace, not with any merit of my own, but leaning wholly on the substitutionary atonement of Christ. The realization of this makes me abhor my sin even more, not excuse it. It makes me realize how Christ deserves my obedience and faithfulness, because of the price He paid. Far from “cheap grace,” Christ’s atonement causes me to flee from sin and self and run to the only one who can rescue me from myself: Christ alone. Certainly, I repent for, and turn from, my sin. But I do so not because I am good; I do so because Christ is worthy.

I partake of the cup and the bread, not because I am worthy. I am not. But because Christ is worthy, and God has declared me righteous (and therefore worthy) because of Him. I am reminded of this truth on my best weeks, and on my worst. Regardless of my actions, I am never worthy enough, and Jesus always is.

Israel Wayne is an author and conference speaker. He is the Site Editor for ChristianWorldview.net, and the director of Family Renewal. www.FamilyRenewal.org

Photo by SnoShuu on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND