What does Paul mean when he tells the Corinthians not to eat the Lord’s Supper in an “unworthy manner?”
“So then, 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.”1 Corinthians 11:27 NIV
I have heard many teachings on the Lord’s Supper over the years, and most of the conclusions based on this verse indicated we need to spend this time focusing on the sacrifice that Jesus made. We need to visualize the cross, the suffering of our Savior, and the blood that was spilled. This should be a somber, quiet, and sad occasion.
The problem is the above describes an altar (a place of sacrifice.) We have often confused the table with an altar. We, however, are called to gather around a table, not an altar!
The first thing we need to realize is the Lord’s Supper was originally part of a meal. It was a time of feasting and celebration, not mournful reflection. Yes, a full meal that fed hungry people. This was not a sip of juice and a pinch of cracker. People were eating their fill. “Supper” is the evening meal. And the explicit problem with the church in Corinth was the wealthy were arriving early and eating all the food, leaving the poor hungry. Paul indicates this type of “dinner” should be done at home, not in worship gatherings. (1 Cor. 11:20-21) Paul further states that their actions show that they “despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing.” (v. 22) So the problem Paul is referring to is the Church being divided by not eating the Lord’s Supper together as equals.
Paul reminds them that Jesus’ atoning sacrifice was for all of them (v. 24 – “you” is plural, as well as plural “drink” in verse 25).
So how do we eat and drink in a worthy manner according to Paul? John Mark Hicks summarizes this passage well in his book, “Come To The Table.”
Consequently, to eat and drink worthily is not about private introspection, but about public action. Paul is not stipulating a kind of meditative silence on the cross of Christ or an introspective assessment of our relative holiness. On the contrary, to eat in an “unworthy manner,” in this context, is to eat in a divisive manner like that which existed in Corinth. The church must examine itself about the manner in which the supper is conducted (1 Cor. 11:28). There may be many ways to eat the supper unworthily (e.g., 1 Cor. 10:18-21 where Corinthians ate unworthily because they ate with a dual commitment, serving two masters), but the specific unworthiness in 1 Corinthians 11 is a communal problem, not an individualistic one. The church eats worthily when it eats as a united community embodying the values for which Christ died.”John Mark Hicks, Come to the Table: Revisioning the Lord’s Supper (Abilene, TX: Leafwood Publishers, 2012).