In this episode, we listen back to a recent sermon when Pastor J.D. answered the question, “When Should I Not Take Communion?”
- So, you ask, what exactly does it mean to eat “unworthily”? It can’t mean that we should only take communion when we feel worthy of Christ’s presence. Because that would be ‘never.’ None of us are worthy to take the bread and the cup. That’s why we take of the bread and the cup. None of us are worthy of Christ’s presence. Jesus said that at our best—on your best day, when you’re having the longest righteousness streak you’ve ever had, “18 days without a sin”— you are still unprofitable servants. Even though we’re forgiven, we have more corruption in our hearts than we can possibly comprehend. So it doesn’t mean “only eat when you feel worthy.”
- So what does it mean? Well, notice that “unworthily” is written as an adverb, which is how it is in Greek. You say, “What difference does that make? “Unworthy” as an adjective would describe you, and like we said, you are always “unworthy” to participate in Christ. But Paul’s focus is on something different: he’s talking about how you approach this table. You can approach this table unworthily. So what does that look like?
- A Spirit of Self-Righteousness: You don’t realize how dependent you are on Christ’s mercy. You don’t see how your only hope is the body and blood of Jesus. The irony is that you approach this table unworthily when you fail to see how unworthy you are to partake of this table. If you know you are unworthy, then you are approaching this table worthily. If you think you are worthy, you are approaching this table unworthily.
- Secondly, A Spirit of Defiance: If you partake of this table when you know that you are not submitted to Christ–that is, you are openly and intentionally living in a way that you know displeases him–you are engaging in the very lifestyle that put Jesus on the cross. Think about it: In taking the bread and the cup, you are saying, “Thank God for Jesus and his death, it is my life and my hope” but then with your life you are openly crucifying him.” God? With your mouth you are celebrating his cross while practicing the lifestyle that put him on the cross. You can’t shout “Worship him” and “crucify him” at the same time and not expect God’s anger.
- Friend, I say this with all humility: Do not touch the elements of this table if you are not surrendered to Christ. I don’t mean if you’re struggling with sin, or overwhelmed by your sin. Jesus came for people like that. His death is healing and help for those who know they are sick! What I mean is don’t touch this if YOU KNOW there’s some area you refuse to submit to him. Don’t add to your condemnation by hypocritically saying, “Thank you Jesus for your death” while stubbornly doing the very things that put him on the cross. Keep your rebellious, treasonous hands off of these elements. It’s dangerous for you.
- You eat unworthily when you come with self-righteousness, defiance, and lastly: A Spirit of Division
- This is, I believe, what was most in Paul’s mind when he said, “Don’t come to this table unworthily.” Because that’s the context of this passage, in vs. 33: Therefore, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, welcome one another.
- Don’t come when in your heart you are separated from others by some kind of pride or classism or racism. Don’t come when you harbor resentment or unforgiveness in your heart. Don’t come claiming to cherish the forgiveness of God when you won’t forgive someone else. Don’t come when you are divided from your brothers and sisters over some secondary, non-essential matter–a political perspective or a cultural bias. Some of you should not take of this table because you are more Republican than you are Jesus. Or more Democrat than you are Jesus. And I say that because you can’t stand someone who approaches politics differently than you, even if they love Jesus like you and you agree on all the essentials–the authority of the Bible, what it teaches about morality or being pro-life or whatever. Even though you agree on all these things, because they bring a different perspective or a different set of priorities with them when they come into the polls, you resent them. Truth is, you hate them and you wish they’d just go to another church; and if they don’t, well, you are thinking you probably should. Don’t touch this table if you harbor divisions and resentments unbefitting of the body of Christ. That’s eating in an unworthy manner.
- Jesus put it this way in the Sermon on the Mount: If you are offering your gift at the altar, and you have division with your brother in Christ, leave your gift before the altar and go reconcile with him. FIRST be reconciled with your brother, and THEN come offer your gift. Paul is saying something similar: First, feel a real sense of unity with your brother and sisters, and let that be reflected in your attitude toward them, and how you behave toward them, and how you fellowship with them, and only then partake of these elements.
- And what happens if you don’t? What happens if you disregard the body? What happens if you disregard the lordship of Christ? What happens if you eat from this table “unworthily?”
- Paul says, vs 30 “this is why many are sick and ill among you, and many have fallen asleep.” You say, “What does that mean?” There’s no way to sugar coat this. Paul means that many people have gotten sick and died for not taking this moment seriously. Not everyone who participates in communion unworthily dies, but Paul says that sometimes that happens, and that at least shows you how God feels about those who don’t take this sacred moment seriously.
- The Theologian DA Carson tells the story of a pastor friend, who had a church of about 200 and sin was so rampant that he could not even discipline, for the leadership was involved in a lot of the sin and didn’t want to do anything about it. This pastor prayed for 3 months for God to change the church or move him out. The next year, he said, he had 34 funerals. 20% of the church died in the space of a year! The year after that he baptized 200.
- Does that always happen? No. Thank God. In his mercy, he doesn’t always do that. But Paul says the fact it sometimes happens should make you realize how seriously God takes this.
- We see a similar thing happening in Acts 5 when Ananias and Sapphira come into the church with an offering, and they lie about the offering they are bringing. (They told everyone that they were bringing the full price of the land they sold when in fact it was only half. The sin was not bringing half–they were free to do that. The sin was lying to the church, and to God, about what they were doing.) Now, thank God that he does not strike dead everyone in church who exaggerates their giving. What a moment that would be each Sunday, when the CP says, “Take out your phone and text ‘Give’ to 33933” and someone thinks, “I’ll just pull out my phone so people think I’m giving, even though I’m really just starting my Wordle game” and we start seeing the glow of lights and then hear people keeling over dead. God doesn’t strike dead everyone who exaggerates their offerings in church, but Acts 5 gives you a glimpse into how he feels about people who posture and lie and are phonies in church. Worship is a deadly serious thing.
- How does God feel about those who take this bread and cup, saying, “I’m thankful for this bread and cup, it’s my salvation,” all the while harboring in their heart the sin that put Jesus on the cross, or relishing in sinful resentments against their brothers and sisters that Jesus died to make into one family.
- This is supposed to be a moment of incredible gospel clarity–where the church puts on visible display the unity of the body Jesus died to create. Where we declare, our common hope in Jesus is more important to us than any secondary thing that divides us.
- Communion is supposed to be a time of togetherness, where we feel the warmth of family.
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