Self-Examination and the Lord’s Supper

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In just a couple of days at our Good Friday service, our church will be remembering the death of Christ once again by eating and drinking together in the Lord’s Supper.  The Lord’s Supper is a time for Christians to remember the death of our Lord in a unique way as one family purchased by his blood.  It’s a time for local Christian churches to re-calibrate themselves around the reality that through Jesus’ substitutionary death, he secured the forgiveness of sins and right standing with God for us.

In preparing to observe this ordinance, I often reflect upon the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11, where he warns a young, sin-tolerant, and immature church against eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper in an “unworthy manner.”  There he writes:

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  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. (1 Corinthians 11:23-27 ESV)

Paul was concerned with how this church had been observing the Lord’s Supper and so warns them against eating the bread and drinking the cup in “an unworthy manner.”  I take this to mean, not that they were unworthy to eat and drink, but that they were not eating and drinking in a way that reflected the worth of the thing that the bread and the cup symbolized.  The way they ate and drank reflected poorly upon the death of Jesus.

From what it seems, the Corinthians just weren’t taking the Lord’s Supper seriously.  Rather than treating it as a special time in a special meal, the Corinthians were treating the Lord’s Supper with a lax and casual attitude.  Instead of eating and drinking to remember Jesus’ death, at least some of them were eating and drinking to get full and even drunk.  And, instead of eating and drinking as one family redeemed by a common Savior, the Corinthians were eating and drinking with great division existing in their church.  The way that they ate and drank reflected poorly upon Jesus and upon his death.  If you looked to the way they observed the Lord’s Supper, you wouldn’t walk away from that experience impressed with the seriousness and significance with Christ’s death.  And that was a very serious problem.

Harsh words are reserved for those who eat and drink in an unworthy manner in the Lord’s Supper.  If you eat and drink in an unworthy manner, Paul says, then you sin against the body and blood of the Lord.  You disrespect Christ’s sacrifice.  You dishonor Christ and his sacrifice.

So, what is one to do? How do we ensure that we do not eat and drink in an unworthy manner?  What Paul says next is instructive, though not in the way that many take him.

But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup (1 Corinthians 11:28).

Herein lays the burden of this short post.

What is the role of self-examination in the observance of the Lord’s Supper?

Some take this verse essentially as a call to confess every sin that you can possibly think of before you actually take the bread and cup, as if we have to confess our sins and repent of our sins in order to be worthy of Jesus and his death.  As a result, the Lord’s Supper for a lot of people is a time of really intense personal examination and dark introspective guilt.  Some may not take the bread and cup because they feel that there are just too many sins in their lives to do so; that they’re just not worthy of Christ.

However, one of the primary reasons for the whole exercise of the Lord’s Supper is to remind us that we’ll never be worthy.  Personal examination is not for the purpose of being or becoming worthy to eat and drink; it is about preparing the heart to proclaim the fact that the Lord Jesus is worthy of our praise, our faith, our passion, our confession, and our repentance, because he has died for our sins and purchased our redemption through his death.  We do not examine ourselves and confess our sins to be worthy of Jesus; we examine ourselves and confess our sins because He is worthy of us.  Examination doesn’t make us worthy.  Jesus does, by his blood.

And so, when we come to the Lord’s Table, which reminds us of his sacrificial death on our behalf and of his worth as our suffering Savior and victorious King – we must examine ourselves.  Not in order to be worthy to eat and drink, but to remember how unworthy we are to share in the benefits of his salvation, and how worthy he is to have won those benefits for us through his obedient death.

This beautiful truth should shape the way we eat and drink in the Lord’s Supper.  Not only should it lead us to personal examination before eating and drinking, but it should also lead us to eat and drink as an expression of our confession and our repentance; as an expression of faith in Him; as an expression of love for Him and in our pursuit of finding satisfaction and life in Him – where we alone will find our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins.  Thus we confess our sins and repent of our sins by laying hold of Him afresh and taking hold of the benefits of His saving work afresh as we eat and drink in remembrance of Him.  We examine ourselves, not to determine whether we should eat or drink, but in order to eat and drink in a worthy manner.  We examine ourselves and “in so doing” we eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

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