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November 28 Today’s Reading: 1 Corinthians 11-13
“Not Discerning the Lord’s Body”
1 Corinthians 11:29
Take a few minutes again today to prepare our hearts for the Lord’s Supper. I do not doubt that 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 have been more troubling to sensitive souls than any others in the New Testament, simply because of the terribly poor teaching of men who do not understand the Scriptures. Many of the Lord’s people read these three verses and think, “Surely, if anyone is unworthy to receive the Lord’s Supper it is me.” Satan roars against the weak, untaught, or poorly taught believer, accuses him of sin and guilt, and tries to put him upon a legal footing before God. The old serpent is hellishly subtle and clever. Under the guise of humility and holiness, he would have us turn our eyes of faith away from Christ to ourselves. He seeks to make us look to ourselves, rather than to Christ alone for our worthiness and acceptance before God. Who is and who is not worthy to receive the Lord’s Supper? Let me answer that question clearly and distinctly.
It is not possible to understand Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 until we understand the entire context in which it is found (verses 20-34). For that matter, it is not possible to understand any text of Scripture isolated from its immediate context, and from the larger context of the entire Volume of Inspiration. In this part of 1 Corinthians Paul, by divine inspiration, sets before us the proper order of public worship in all gospel churches. The Holy Spirit tells us exactly what we should and should not do in the observance of the Lord’s Supper.
Without question, there is a sense in which it may be said that we eat and drink the bread and wine unworthily, if we use the wrong elements, observe the ordinance without proper reverence, fail to properly think of and remember Christ our Lord, or do not clearly understand the meaning of the ordinance. All of those things are unworthy of men and women who claim to worship our God and unworthy of our great and glorious Christ. But none of those things can be found in this text.
Commonly, this verse is interpreted to mean that a person is unworthy to receive the Lord’s Supper who has a certain amount of unconfessed sin in his life, has not prayed as he should, read the Bible enough, or lived as he should. Again, I grant, there is certainly a sense in which we are all unworthy to observe this ordinance, or any other ordinance of divine service, because we are sinners! But that certainly is not the meaning of the Holy Spirit’s words in 1 Corinthians 11.
It is certain that the unworthiness spoken of here has absolutely nothing to do with the manner in which we keep the ordinance, or the depravity, sinfulness, and corruption of our hearts, or even the sins and evil behavior of our lives, for one simple reason: — That person who eats and drinks unworthily is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord Jesus. Therefore, according to verse 29, he eats and drinks damnation unto himself. Those things simply cannot be said of any true believer. No true believer can ever become reprobate and be damned (John 10:27-30; Philippians 1:6; 1 Peter 1:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:24; Romans 8:28-39; Malachi 3:6; Psalm 23:1-6).
In verse 29 the Holy Spirit tells us exactly what it is to eat and drink unworthily. Those who eat and drink unworthily are those who do not discern the Lord’s body. They are religious, but lost. They may know their church creed backwards and forwards; but they do not know God. They may be very smart and have much discernment about many things; but they have no spiritual discernment. They profess faith, but do not possess faith. They do not discern the Lord’s body. That means they do not understand the sin and depravity of their own hearts, the law and justice of God, the necessity of Christ’s incarnation, or the accomplishments of Christ in his flesh. That is to say, they do not know the gospel of the grace of God. Believers discern these things, unbelievers do not.
Not discerning the Lord’s body, lost religionists practice religion and go through the bodily exercise of it, presuming that they are righteous. And this presumption of redemption, righteousness, regeneration, and acceptance with God without the knowledge of and a God given faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is damning. Therefore, the judgment of God falls upon many (v. 30), who, like Uzzah of old, lift their hands to assist God in the work of salvation (1 Chronicles 13-15).
Believers, discerning the Lord’s body, judge themselves and are not judged with the world (v. 31; Psalm 51:1-5; Isaiah 6:1-6). And those who genuinely acknowledge and confess their sin before God are recipients of and have experienced the grace of God in Christ (1 John 1:7-10). They shall never come into condemnation. All who thus discern the Lord’s body, all who knowing their need of Christ trust him, every true believer, every sinner who trusts Christ alone as his wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption is worthy of receiving, and is obliged to receive the Lord’s Supper.