Examine Yourself

I Corinthians 11

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
June 2024

 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.

20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

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, 24 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.”

25 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.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

27 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. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.

30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come. (I Corinthians 11:17-34 ESV)

What would happen if Jesus showed up to church one Sunday?  If He looked around, what would He think?

Some churches might not even let Him in the door. Jesus was on the outside of the Church of Laodicea.  He was knocking on the door to get in.

What would the Apostle Paul say if he visited a typical American church one Sunday?  What would he think?

How would you like to have a real apostle come into your church and tell you that you are doing church all wrong?  How would you feel if he said that you are doing worship all wrong?

How would you like to have Paul come into your church and tell you that you are doing communion all wrong?  That was exactly what Paul said to the Church of Corinth.

Paul says, “When you get together to take communion, you are not taking communion.”  Instead of the Lord’s Supper, they were eating their own supper (I Corinthians 11:20).

That is like saying, “When you get together to have church, you are not really having church.”  That is about the worst thing that could be said about a congregation.

Church Evaluations

Now most churches have some good points and bad points.  There are some that are all good but that is rare.  There are some that are all bad.  That is also rare.

Some think that our church is all good, but it is not.  We do not have the perfect church.  Some have gotten mad, left the church and think it is all bad but that is not the case.

The worst church in the NT was the Church of Corinth.  It was an immoral, worldly church.  There was sexual sin in the congregation but even Paul did not say that this church was all bad.

Paul said, “In the following instructions I have no praise to offer.” (I Corinthians 11:17 Berean Study Bible) but this does not mean that the church was all bad.

He called this congregation the church of God in or at Corinth in I Corinthians 1:1 (NIV, BSB, NASB, CSB, ASV).  He called them “saints” in I Corinthians 1:2 (ESV, KJV, NKJV, NASB, LSB, CSB).

He praised them for their spiritual gifts.  Many churches today are lacking in this area.  The Corinthians excelled in the area of spiritual gifts.

He said, “you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed” (I Corinthians 1:7 NIV).  He praised them in I Corinthians 11 for keeping some good traditions.

I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you (I Corinthians 11:2 NIV).

More Harm Than Good

There was just one area that Paul criticized the church.  He was shocked by what he saw.

He said, “In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good” (I Corinthians 11:17 NIV).  That was not just Paul speaking.  This was God speaking.  Paul was speaking by divine inspiration.

If the worship services at Corinth did more harm than good two thousand years ago, it makes you wonder if there are other churches today that do more harm than good.

People debate about whether religion is a force for good or evil in the world.  Christianity should be a force for good.  Many churches today are a force for good.  They help people.

You leave edified.  You are encouraged and strengthened.  You are built up in the faith.  You are refreshed spiritually.  You are blessed. You get a lot out of them.

Many churches aren’t that good, but they won’t hurt you.  They are just a waste of time.  Some churches that are dry as dust.  They put you right to sleep.  You leave empty.  You go and do not get anything out of them. The sermons have very little content.

Paul describes a third category.  It is a church that results in evil, not good.  If church services do more harm than good, it is better not even to meet.  If church is that bad, it is better just to cancel church.

Communion Basics

Today, we are going to talk about communion.  We are going to talk about how to take communion and how not to not take it.  Christians have had some strange ideas about communion.

Joseph Prince wrote a recent book that claims that communion is God’s method of health and healing.[1]  If you want health and wholeness, just come to the table.  We believe in healing today.  God still heals people today but that is not the purpose of communion.

What do we know about communion?

The practice is mentioned four times.  There are four accounts of communion in the NT (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22 and in I Corinthians 11).

Each one of these accounts adds different details.  If you just read Matthew and Mark, you would just hear the words “This is my body” and “This is my blood.”  Luke and Paul tell us that Jesus also said, “This do in remembrance of Me.”

Paul happens to be the first writer to mention the Lord’s Supper.  I Corinthians 11 is the earliest written account of the Lords Supper in the Bible.

I Corinthians was written before all of the gospels.  I Corinthians was written in the 50s AD. I Corinthians 11 tells us who started communion.  It tells us when communion was started and why it was started.

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, 24 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.”

Communion was started by Jesus. He instituted it.  He told His disciples to do it.  He started this institution the night before He was crucified.  It was started to remember Jesus.  He said, “This do in remembrance of me” (I Corinthians 11:24, 25).

How did Paul get the idea of communion?  He did not come up with idea himself.  He did not get it from the other apostles.

He did not get it from Matthew.  He did not get it from Mark or from Luke.  He did not get it from Peter.  He got it directly from Jesus.  For I received FROM THE LORD what I also passed on to you (I Corinthians 11:23 NIV).

What is Communion?

1) Communion is a time of recollection

It is a time of remembering.  That is mentioned two times in this chapter.

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.” (I Corinthians 11:24 NIV)

In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in REMEMBRANCE of me.” (I Corinthians 11:25 NIV)

Jesus is the focus of communion. It is about Him.  It is not just about Jesus.  It is about His death.  It is about a body that was not just killed but tortured.

Jesus was beaten, scourged, whipped, stabbed with a spear and nailed to a cross.  It is not just about His death but about His sacrifice for us, not just his death but his sacrificial death.

Jesus said, “This is my body given FOR YOU” (Luke 22:19 NIV).  He said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out FOR YOU” (Luke 22:20 NIV).

He did not just die for us.  He died for us so we could be saved.  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS (Matthew 26:28 NIV).

This death did not just involve salvation but a covenant.  Jesus calls it the NEW COVENANT (Luke 22:20 NIV; I Corinthians 11:25 NIV).  The KJV reads, “this cup is the new testament in my blood” (I Corinthians 11:25).

That is a bad translation.  When we hear the words “new testament,” we think of a book.  The verse should read, “this cup is the new covenant (καινδιαθήκη) in my blood.

Every other translation recognizes that, including the NKJV.  This is a blood covenant.  It is ratified in blood.  It is a covenant of redemption.

The Passover meal was related to the old covenant.  The Lord’s Supper is related to the new covenant.  Passover commemorates one deliverance from the Egyptians.  Communion commemorates a greater deliverance from sin.

2) Communion is a time of proclamation

For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you PROCLAIM the Lord’s death until he comes (I Corinthians 11:26 NIV)

The word “proclaim” (καταγγέλλω) is used of preaching a sermon.  It is used of preaching the gospel (I Corinthians 9:14; Acts 13:38; 16:17; 17:3).  It is used of preaching the word of God (Acts 13:5; 15:36; 17:13)

Communion is a form of preachingIt is preaching through symbols.  It is an acted sermon.  It is a silent sermon.  When you take communion, you are preaching a sermon, not with words but with symbols.

Communion is a visual representation of the gospel message.  Unbelievers get to see what Jesus did for them through those symbols, which represent His blood and His body.

Everyone preaches during communion, not just the pastor. You may not be able to stand in front of the church and deliver a sermon, but everyone can preach this sermon.   This sermon does not involve any words.

3) Communion is a time of examination

Everyone ought to EXAMINE themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. (I Corinthians 11:28-30 NIV)

Paul says that everyone ought to examine themselves before they take communion.  He does not say that “the pastor or elders” ought to examine you but everyone ought to examine themselves.

Why would we need to examine ourselves before taking communion?  You can be judged by God depending on how you take communion.  There is a serious warning to Christians in this passage.

The Corinthians took communion the wrong way.  Some of them got sick and some of them dropped dead.  The Lord’s Supper can be dangerous.

For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. (I Corinthians 11:29-30 NIV).

That is strange.  Does God make anyone sick?  Does he ever make Christians sick?  Many preachers say that God doesn’t do that, only Satan does that.

In I Corinthians, God was making some Christians sick.  Most people go to church to get better.  Some in Corinth went to church and got judged.  They started getting weak.  They got sick.

There were some in the church that had the gift of healing.  We will see that in a few weeks, but they couldn’t heal them.  This was divine judgment for sin.

Now, Paul doesn’t say that all sickness is caused by personal sin.  A whole book of the Bible was written to refute that idea.

Job didn’t get sick because he sinned but, sometimes, when believers choose to live in disobedience to God, He takes their health and sometimes even their life.

The KJV does not give the best translation here.  For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. (I Corinthians 11:29 KJV)

The word “damnation” should read “judgment” (κρίμα). For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. (I Corinthians 11:29 ESV)

Paul is not talking eternal damnation in Hell.  He is talking about immediate judgment on earth (sickness and death).  No one would ever take communion, if it damned you to hell for taking it the wrong way.  Why would they risk it?

There is good news here.  God only disciplines those He loves.  He only disciplines sons.  The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son (Hebrews 12:6-7 NIV).

Paul says, “If we judged ourselves properly, we would not come under judgment” (I Corinthians 11:31 Berean Study Bible)

Let’s compare what Jesus said to what Paul said.  It seems like a contradiction, but it is not.  Jesus said, “Judge not lest you be judged” (Matthew 7:1).  Don’t judge others or you too will be judged.  Paul says, “Judge lest you be judged” (I Corinthians 11:31).

If you don’t judge yourself, you will be judged by God.  It is much easier to judge others than to judge ourselves.  We like to judge other people and condemn them, but we don’t like to judge ourselves.  That is human nature.

4) Communion is a time of unification

There is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (I Corinthians 10:17 NIV)

Communion unites all Christians.  It is a sign of unity with other Christians, not just in your church but all over the world.  It is a family meal.

Every branch of Christianity practices it.  Protestants practice it.  Catholics practice it.  Orthodox Christians also do it. Now, they do it at different times, in different ways for different reasons but they all do it.

Communion symbolizes your participation in the death of Christ. That death involved substitution.  Jesus’s body was broken for us.

When we take it, we accept the benefits of that broken body and shed blood for us.  If you are not saved, you should not take communion.

This ordinance should bind every Christian together.  It should be a source of unity, not division.  We call it communion (κοινωνία).

The problem is that Christians have fought over communion.  There has been a battleground among different denominations.  We fight over what it all means.

How Not to Take Communion

1. Don’t take it ignorantly

Some take communion ignorantly.  They do not understand what communion all is about.  They don’t discern the Lord’s body and blood which the symbols represent.

The reason that many Christians do not understand communion is that they do not understand the Jewish background of communion.  It is a Jewish book.

Jesus was celebrating a Jewish feast when He instituted communion.  He took Passover bread, broke it, gave it to His disciples and said, “This is my body which is broken for you.”

Communion came out of Passover.  Passover was a meal.  It was called “a memorial meal” in the OT (Exodus 12:14).  It commemorated a great deliverance, and it involved symbolic food.  At Passover, they eat bread and wine.

2. Don’t take it casually

Many today do that.  Communion is just a meaningless ritual that is done routinely in some churches.  In some churches, it is down every week.  That is not wrong, but many today take communion without thinking about Jesus.  Many do it without any meaning.

3. Don’t take it sinfully

That is what was happening at Corinth.  People were getting drunk at the Lord’s Table.  That is not possible today in most churches, because they do not use wine.  They use grape juice.  Paul said that we need to examine ourselves when we are taking communion and deal with any unconfessed sin.

4. Don’t take it selfishly

That is what was happening in Corinth.  For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal.… Do you humiliate those who have nothing? (I Corinthians 11:21, 22 ESV)

This was causing division in the church.  Paul said, “when you come together as a church …there are divisions among you” (I Corinthians 11:18 ESV).

These were not a division of theology.  It was not a division of race.  It was a division of social class.  It was a division between the rich and the poor.

All the rich got together and ate.  The poor were excluded.  They did not even eat at the same time.  By t he time they got there, all of the food was gone and they left church hungry and mad.

At the end of the chapter, Paul said, “So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together (I Corinthians 11:33 NIV).

[1] Joseph Prince, Eat Your Way to Life and Health: Unlock the Power of the Holy Communion (Thomas Nelson, 2019)

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