“Let a person examine himself…and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” – 1 Corinthians 11:28

Is the Lord’s supper a sacred ritual? A holy rite? An ordinance commanded by Jesus himself? A means of gaining Christ’s merit? A memorial? A celebration? A sober time of reflection? A means of Christ’s grace? Christians throughout the centuries have both claimed and condemned all of these beliefs about the Lord’s Supper. But what does the Bible say? And who, then, should partake of the Lord’s Supper? Who is welcome at the Table of the Lord?

1 Corinthians 11 gives us a practical outworking of these questions. Paul takes the opportunity to explain what the Lord’s Supper is and is not in the context of the Corinthian church’s repeated mistakes. In this passage, Paul offers both a rebuke and a negative example that help us understand what Communion should be. He begins by saying, “When you come together [for the Lord’s Supper] it is not for the better but for the worse.” Paul frames our understanding of this ordinance by telling us that the Lord’s Supper should be a blessing. However, in the case of the Corinthians, it had become a curse. Because of their disunity (vv. 18-19), pride (vv. 21-22), and unworthiness (v. 27), they were eating and drinking judgment on themselves (vv. 29-31). From these sins we can build an understanding of who and how we ought to partake of the Lord’s Supper.

As for the “who,” only those who are both regenerate and repentant should partake of the Lord’s Supper. In other words, the Communion table should not be open to those who are not Christians, or to those who are living in unrepentant sin. This is what Paul means by saying, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner” (v. 27).

For those of us who have repented of our sins, have trusted in Christ for our forgiveness, and are coming with humble, self-examining hearts, the Lord’s Table is a place of blessing where we remember what Christ has done for us and rejoice in being united with him. For those who do not know Christ, or for those who are actively living in sin, partaking of the bread and the cup of the Lord brings judgment rather than blessing. Therefore, this portion of our worship service requires great care by both the pastor officiating and the congregants partaking.

Every time we partake of the Lord’s Supper as Oak Park Baptist Church at 1111 Allison Lane, a pastor will give a clear warning. As a church, we want this meal to be a blessing, not a curse. The pastor will invite to the Lord’s Table all those who have followed the Lord in faith, in baptism, and who are in good standing with their local church (that is, they are not undergoing church discipline; see Matthew 18). The pastor will charge all of us to examine ourselves (v. 28) and warn us not to partake if we are not Christians, have not been baptized, or are living in unrepentant sin.

In applying these warnings to our personal lives of faith, Scripture commands us to examine ourselves (v. 28), determine whether we are worthy (v. 27), remember Christ’s atoning work for us (vv. 24-25), and proclaim this gospel through partaking of the elements together (v. 26). One practical way I like to examine myself is through praying in the spirit of Psalm 139:23-24:

      Search me, O God, and know my heart! 

      Try me and know my thoughts! 

       And see if there be any grievous way in me, 

      and lead me in the way everlasting!

Another helpful practice is to pray through Isaiah 53 while the elements are being passed out. If in this time of examination the Holy Spirit reveals any sin or any unreconciled relationship (Matt 5:23-24) in your life, be zealous and repent! It may be that this time of Communion is a grace in your life, not through eating and drinking, but rather through the Holy Spirit revealing sin that you need to repent of. In this moment, what greater blessing could you receive than a restored relationship with God? 

One word of caution: if you feel unworthy but are not living in unrepentant sin, it could be the Accuser of the Brethren throwing your past sins in your face (Rev 12:10). If this is the case, you do not need repentance, nor should you withhold the Lord’s Supper from yourself; rather, what you most need is the assurance of the forgiveness of your sins, your salvation, and Christ’s atoning sacrifice on your behalf. In this situation, what blessing could be greater than the union we experience with Christ through partaking of the bread and cup of blessing?

May God bless us in our pursuit of Christ and our unity with one another as we partake of the Lord’s Supper together.

Brian Joines (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as the Discipleship Pastor of Oak Park Baptist Church. He lives in New Albany with his wife, Anna, and their two children.