1 Corinthians 11:27
Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink [this] cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
Note 6 at 1Co 11:27: The Lord's Supper is symbolic, and its real power is in the fact that it keeps us in remembrance of the most basic truths of our salvation (see note 2 at 1Co 11:24). However, just because it is symbolic doesn't mean it is unimportant. Here, Paul described the severe effects of partaking of communion unworthily (see note 7 at this verse).
Note 7 at 1Co 11:27: There have been many interpretations of just what qualifies as "unworthily." A severe interpretation would suggest that any deed or thought in a person's life that has not been confessed and repented of would make that individual unworthy. Since the Scripture says "whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Ro 14:23), very few people would ever qualify as worthy to partake of communion. Plus, this would make our relationship with the Lord in communion dependent on our performance, and this is contrary to the very act of atonement that the Lord's Supper reminds us of.
It is most likely that what makes people worthy or unworthy is whether or not they have been born again (see note 2 at Joh 3:3). This would also be totally consistent with the doctrine of grace that Paul constantly preached (see note 2 at Ro 3:22 and note 11 at Ro 4:8). There were unbelievers among the true Christians, just as Jesus prophesied (see note 1 at Mt 13:37), and this still exists today. It is a dangerous offense for an unbeliever to take the Lord's Supper (see note 2 at Lu 22:19).
People who profess salvation through partaking of communion yet do not possess it, because true faith is not present, become guilty of the body and blood of the Lord (this verse). Those people will not be able to claim ignorance when they stand before God. The Lord's Supper clearly preaches the Gospel.
Therefore, when taking communion, the people should examine themselves (see note 9 at 1Co 11:28) to see whether or not they are in the faith (2Co 13:5). It is an individual evaluation that ministers are not authorized to make for others, but ministers should make Paul's warnings here in 1Co 11 known to others when administering communion.
Note 8 at 1Co 11:27: This warning about being "guilty of the body and blood of the Lord" has caused fear in the hearts of many believers. They fear that if they aren't just right when they partake of communion, they may be damned (1Co 11:29). This is inconsistent with all of Paul's other teachings about relationship with the Lord through grace (see notes 1 and 2 at Ro 5:1, note 15 at Ro 5:8, and note 16 at Ro 5:9).
We Christians do not partake of the Lord's Supper unworthily, even if we have sin in our lives (see note 7 at this verse). If we truly worship the Lord through communion, we have to do that in spirit and in truth (Joh 4:24), and our born-again spirits are perfect (see note 3 at Mt 26:41 and note 11 at Ro 4:8), regardless of how our flesh is (see note 3 at Ro 7:18). The apparent problems with this verse are removed when "unworthily" is interpreted as referring to those who are not born again (see note 2 at Joh 3:3).
Paul was saying that those who are not saved yet partake of communion are professing a lie (see note 5 at 1Co 11:26). As Jesus said, "If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth" (Joh 9:41). Judgment is easier on those who are ignorant (see note 5 at Lu 12:48), but those who take communion cannot claim ignorance. If they partake of the Lord's Supper "unworthily" (i.e., not born again), those people become without excuse. They are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
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