Two questions that were raised after our recent study on Communion were:
- Who is qualified to take the Lord’s Supper?
- What if I don’t feel worthy to partake?
Good questions. In this study, we will discover the Bible’s answers. However, we will also receive God’s instructions on what to do with the answers, which may surprise you.
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?1 Corinthians 10:16
The word for communion here is κοινωνία. It’s the idea of having something in common, a community, a sharing, a fellowship. Those who participate in the Lord’s Supper are sharing in the blood and body of Jesus. Therefore, it’s reasonable to conclude that only those who are in the body of Jesus and are washed by the blood of Christ are the ones qualified to partake of the cup and bread. And who is that?
Right after expanding on the Lord’s Supper in the next chapter, Paul then says in the following passage:
For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many.1 Corinthians 12:12–14
So who shares in the body of Jesus? Those who have been baptized into His body. Who shares in His blood? Those who have been buried into His death.
Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized [where?] into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection.Romans 6:3–5
The Scriptures say those who take the Lord’s Supper proclaim Jesus’ death until He comes. It would not make sense for someone to proclaim it if they don’t believe and participate in it. Paul says those who have been buried in baptism have been buried into His death and have been united together in the likeness of His death. In the previous passage, he says it’s the blood of Jesus at His death that justifies us (Romans 5:8–10).
So who is qualified to partake of the Lord’s Supper? The one who has died to sin and been buried with Him in baptism.
But what do we do with that answer? For instance, if I’m sharing the blood and body of the Lord with the local saints, and then I notice someone who has not been baptized into Christ pick up some bread, should I run over and smack it out of their hand? After all, it’s a serious thing to abuse these elements. When the Corinthians were not judging the body rightly, Paul said, “For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep” (1 Corinthians 11:30).
Yes, it is important that the non-believer, or the one who has not submitted to Christ in baptism yet, knows how important this is. And if they do not see the inconsistency, you should urge them to think on this: It makes no sense for someone who has not been united in Jesus’ death to try to share in His death. But in the middle of partaking, the Scripture says, “But let a man [and this is the generic term, so this applies to men and women] examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:28).
I remember one time during communion the brother next to me took a relatively large piece of bread before passing to me. I thought, “If everyone takes that much, we won’t have enough for even half of the assembly.” What was I doing? One thing I was not doing was remembering the sacrifice of Jesus. What I was doing was examining my brother. But the Scripture tells me to examine myself.
I do not think you need to disrupt the Lord’s Supper if you see someone doing or not doing something that surprises you, including participating when you don’t think they should. Instead, do what the Lord says: Spend this time in examining yourself. Which may lead to our next question.
Have you, even as one who has been baptized into His death, ever approached the Lord’s Supper with a heavy heart? Perhaps a song the assembly just sang, or a prayer that was said, reminds you of how merciful He is. You’re reminded of how much you depend on His grace. You would be utterly lost without Him. And maybe even a moment in this past week stands out in your mind—a moment when you took His forgiveness for granted and sinned. “I’m not worthy to partake,” you say to yourself. You’re meditating on this Scripture:
For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.1 Corinthians 11:29
Sitting there, thinking on these things and feeling unworthy, should you just let the bread and cup pass you by without partaking?
In context, the unworthy person is not the one who has recently sinned. But it’s the one who takes his body and blood as common things. It’s the one who approaches the table entitled, going through the motions, considering the food as a means to fill the stomach. The one who truly is worthy is the one who humbles himself or herself at the cross of Christ.
Peter threw himself at Jesus’ feet and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5:8). Yet Jesus still called Him. The tax collector prayed, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). And he went home justified. Why? “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
It’s like at the end of Prince Caspian when Aslan says, “Rise, Kings and Queens of Narnia.” The Pevensies rise, and rightly so. Caspian remains kneeling, and Aslan says, “All of you,” to which Caspian responds, “I don’t think I’m ready.” To his surprise, Aslan says, “It is for that very reason, I know you are.”
Are we worthy to approach the body and blood of Jesus? Not on our own. Not with our pride. Not casually. But if we approach Him humbly, He invites us. And the invitation of the King is worthy.
“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10). We are reminded that we were never deserving, never worthy in that manner. But by His love and sacrifice, He always reserves a place at the table. The humble Christian is worthy on Jesus’ account.