Coming to the Table:
How to approach Communion in Biblical examination.
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. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. (1 Corinthians 11:27-29 ESV)
Paul’s somber warning to the Corinthian church stands as authoritative for the Church today, charging each and every believer in Christ to approach the Lord’s Table in humble self-examination. The weight of such a charge should be felt each time the believer approaches the ordinance, and yet life’s concerns and busyness often prohibit well-meaning disciples from properly preparing for this sacred rite. Moreover, there is confusion about the nature and content of this self-examination that Paul is commending.
As we prepare to celebrate the holiest of meals this Sunday, the following twofold explanation of the self- examination is meant to encourage our family in the biblical practice of this command.
1. Examination of our confession
There has been considerable historical thought with regard to the appropriate practice of the Lord’s Supper. For example, Jonathan Edwards opposed the Half-Way Covenant of the seventeenth century, allowing (among other implications) individuals to be admitted to church membership without reporting a conversion experience, thereby allowing them to partake in the Lord’s Supper. Edwards writes, “The Lord’s supper is most evidently a professing ordinance; and the communicants’ profession must be such as is adjusted to the nature and design of the ordinance; which nothing short of faith in the blood of Christ will answer, even faith unfeigned, which worketh by love. A profession therefore exclusive of this, is essentially defective, and quite unsuitable to the character of a communicant.”1
As we’ve already seen, the Bible tells us to examine ourselves, lest we bring judgment on ourselves. Accordingly, “the most natural construction of his [Paul’s] advice is, that they should try themselves with respect to their spiritual state and religious profession, whether they are disciples indeed, real and genuine Christians, or whether they are not false and hypocritical professors.”2
Edwards’ conclusion is that Paul speaks here of an examination of one’s confession, since the very rite about to be enjoyed is a visual confession of the gospel. So, it is the antithesis of Paul’s imperative here to come to the table having not examined—at the heart level—one’s own confession with regard to Christ and his gospel. It would seem, then, that the observation of this rite would help all Christians to heed Paul’s imperative in his second letter to the Corinthians, namely “examine yourself, to see whether you are in the faith,” which uses the same Greek root used in this verse (see 2 Corinthians 13:5).
1 Edwards, J. (2008). The works of Jonathan Edwards (Vol. 1, p. 459). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software. 2 Edwards, J. (2008). The works of Jonathan Edwards (Vol. 1, p. 459). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
Brother or Sister, are you preaching the gospel to yourself daily? Are you reflective on the grace of God in Christ as we come to the Table? Are you resting in the finished work of Christ—his broken body and shed blood—as the satisfaction of God’s wrath on your behalf?
If you are not a believer in Christ, not having trusted in the gospel for salvation, we invite you this week to abstain from this sacred rite. You see, as we come to the Table, we visually profess that which we inwardly attest. If you are not a follower of Christ, participation in the elements will mean nothing to you. But abstinence might mean life for you! Here’s what I mean. As you watch the elements pass, you must ask yourself, what is holding you back from trusting Christ? And the answer—from God’s vantage point—in absolutely nothing. The invitation is for you to come, by faith, to the salvation God has prepared for you through the body and blood of Christ. Unbeliever, come and be among us this weekend. We ask that you abstain from the Table. And as you do, examine your heart. What is holding you back from trusting Christ for the forgiveness of your sins? One of our pastors or members would love to talk with you more about this.
2. Examination of our holiness
In the context of Paul’s warning to the Corinthians was controversy surrounding the celebration of the Table. He is rebuking the Corinthian church for corrupt practice of the ordinance. Some were eating without the collected body, and some were getting drunk (v. 21). So, it is also true that Paul is inviting believers to examine their piety with regard to the manner in which they come to the table.
We see this principle throughout Scripture, that if we are living in unrepentant, unconfessed sin, our worship is hindered. We demean our relationship with God when we sin against him and others. When we harbor unconfessed sin against our brother or sister, we demean the communal nature of this great meal, at which the Bride of Christ gathers to confess together.
Jesus calls us to a new life, and it is one that we live together. Yet our individualized culture wars against this kind of living. Michael Horton notes, “At a time when we seek so many alternatives to Christian unity, recovery of frequent Communion and an understanding of its significance could once again strengthen the brittle walls of our earthly fellowship.”3
Brother or Sister, are you bearing the weight of unconfessed sin? Good news, the Table is there. It is meant to remind you that Christ paid the price for that very sin. This is the very thing we proclaim when we rehearse this sacred rite. The Bible promises, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 ESV). Why are you bearing that weight? Jesus bore it long ago. Confess and repent. The Table is open to the repentant.
Have you offended your brother or sister? Confess before God and go make it right! Jesus said,
“if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24 ESV). The principle is this—wrongdoing toward your brother hinders your worship. Why would you come to the table in such a manner?
3 Ibid., 121
Family, as we approach Communion this week, let us examine ourselves in terms of our confession and our holiness, meditating on the grace of God in Christ extended to us at the Table. His body was broken. His blood was shed. By faith in him, we are counted righteous.
Soli Deo Gloria