Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. (1 Corinthians 11:27–28—NKJV)

Self-examination is a difficult thing. We tend to not be as ruthless as when others give an honest appraisal of our lives. The enemies of a healthy self-examination are forgetfulness and rationalizing—such as approximation, benefit of the doubt, and rounding up. God would have us be a little more “cut and dried” than this. The sacrifice of Christ is precise, measured, complete, and meticulous. Should not our self-estimation reflect His exacting detail? If His love fails in nothing in order to form us into the image of His dear Son, then our progress in sanctification ought to be assayed and graded. Just how should we go about such a serious task?

Though we ought to practice spiritual self-examination every minute and every day, the formal time of regular self-examination is the communion service of a local church. This is why regular attendance at communion is so very important. It is not because communion is a sacrament (something designed to dispense some measure of grace to the participant). Communion is an ordinance, a command, given by our Lord on the night before His crucifixion—a memorial to remember His death until He comes. Churches are at liberty to choose how often they observe communion, though most do so once a month. Serious believers are punctilious in their obedience to their Lord to attend to their fulfillment of this command.

Our text is rich with instruction as to the observance of this ordinance. Paul is elaborating for us the teaching which he received from the Lord. The two elements that symbolically represent the body and blood of our Lord are the bread and fruit of the vine. The bread represents His body which was given (as a substitute) for us and the grape juice symbolizes the sinless blood of Christ which is the purchase price of our redemption (verses 23–25).

Verse 26 explains why it is imperative that self-examination takes place before participation. The fact is that our very private relationship with the Lord of obedience is a very public matter because our life and our communion is a public proclamation. The Greek word means to proclaim thoroughly and declare openly. It is a matter of testimony which is a direct reflection of the work of Jesus Christ in us until He returns for us.

Verses 27–32 explain the seriousness of communion worship. The Principle is that unworthy participation brings guilt in discerning the body and blood of our Lord (verse 27). “Unworthy” signifies an unfit manner of coming, not of worth or worthiness of His sacrificial purpose in us. Believers are made worthy by the finished work of Christ, but must come to His table in a worthy manner. Therefore The Plan is given in verse 28: self-examination is in order. The Greek word is dokimadzo, meaning to assay for purity, proof (of life), scrutinize the genuineness with intent to approve. Images come to mind of testing metal for its content, proofing yeast for its vigor, and testing to assess the mastery of a subject with a goal to give an “A.” The Problem is explained in verse 29: if a man partakes in an unworthy manner he invites judgment (God’s discerning verdict on his life because he has failed to discriminate for himself his own life). The Penalty of both spiritual and physical weakness is expressed (30). The Practical Solution is given that the believer can avoid the judicial penalty by discernment in honest, spiritual self-assessment (31). Finally, The Purpose of this exercise is purity of life because God has distinguished His children from the rest of the world, therefore He desires to continue to do so (verse 32). His parenting is to bring believers into maturity in Christ, to sanctify us and cleanse us.

Logic would demand that you identify the qualities that you ought to brutally examine in order to worship in a worthy manner at the Communion Table of our Lord.

  • Do soul-searching to see whether you are truly born-again (proof of life as in 2 Peter 1:10).
  • Are you sound in doctrine? How can you examine your heart unless you first have the Spirit of God, and second have the tools to discern?
  • Are you obeying what you know the will of God is? He gives commands in His Word; we are simply to follow in obedience.
  • Do you love what God loves? If you are His child, then you will display His nature.

What He loves in taste, in people of His choice, in habits that further His purposes, in thankfulness for His blessings, and in anticipation of seeing each other again are all things that ought to characterize your redeemed life. Trust and obey.