Matthew 26:26-28: “While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ 27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.’”
In the NT, there are two Sacraments (or Ordinances), water baptism and the Lord’s Supper, both are signs and seals of the covenant of grace. Both are holy and biblically mandated for the church. Jesus Christ first initiated the Lord’s Supper, and in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul provides some important details and instructions. Unfortunately and sadly, in far too many churches, the theological significance and spiritual value of these perpetual and sanctified ordinances have been radically cheapened and biblically mottled. Because of inaccurate teachings, the Lord’s Supper is practiced in a dishonorable and unworthy fashion before God eliciting unfavorable judgments, as we will see.
Fundamentally, the Lord’s Supper is (in brief)
- A Corporate Church Event. Paul’s instructions for partaking in the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11 presupposes that the Lord’s Supper is taken in the church—not in private: “For, in the first place, when you come together as a church. . . .” (1 Cor. 11:18). This, and other reasons, also shows that the Lord’s Supper is clearly restricted to believers who share in Jesus’ atonement as heirs of the “election of grace” (Rom. 11:5).
“Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread, which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor. 10:16-17).
- A Memorial Ceremony. In 1 Corinthians 11:23-25, Paul describes the Sacrament as a time to remember the glorious and substitutionary atoning cross work: “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me. . . . This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” (vv. 24-25). The elements (bread and wine) “are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and His benefits” (WCF, 27:1). They signify Christ and His benefits—especially in sharing in His body and blood (1 Cor. 10:16).
As seen, the NT church tradition of the Lord’s Supper begins in 1 Corinthians 11:23. Note in verses 24 and 25 that Paul uses the term “remembrance” twice. First, referring to the remembrance of Jesus’ body, and then, the memorial of His blood in the new covenant. This Holy Supper is a memorial of His great and glorious sacrificial cross work. As we will see in the following passages, partaking in the memorial celebration without devotion and solidarity of His atoning sacrifice is partaking in an unworthy manner—“guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. . . . For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number asleep” (vv. 27, 30).
- A Proclamation Event. After Paul cites the Lord Jesus in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25, Paul indicates that the Lord’s Supper is a declaration of the sacrificial death of Christ: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).
- A Perpetual Event. As cited above, Paul instructs that the Lord’s Supper is to be continuously declared “until He comes.”
There are many Christians today who take the Lord’s Supper in a disrespectful and “unworthy manner.” Similarly to those in the first century, 1 Corinthians 11:18 states: “When you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it” and continuing in the following verses:
19 For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you. 20 Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, 21 for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you.
Some Corinthians were actually coming for the purpose of merely eating the food and/or drinking the wine to get drunk turning this holy Sacrament into a secular and unholy activity. No wonder Paul equates this kind of disrespect with despising the church.
Earlier, Paul had just expressed the holiness of the Lord’s Supper for the church saying: “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16).
As stated, in 1 Corinthians 11: 27-30, Paul warns of the severe judgment that results from partaking in the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy way. Note that the first word in verse 27 is a Greek conjunction hōste (“therefore”) indicating that Paul is referring to his previous statements beginning in verse 18 regarding the inappropriate behavior at the Lord’s Supper. So, the reference of partaking in the Lord’s Supper in an “unworthy manner” in verse 27 contextually refers back to verses 18-22, where Paul provides a description of what an unworthy Lord’s Supper looks like:
- There were divisions and factions existing among them (vv. 18-19),
- They were not waiting for one another, which impeded some from partaking (v. 21), and
- Some were coming to get drunk (v. 21).
Paul sees anyone that takes the Lord’s Supper inappropriately as despising the church (v. 22). They were not partaking in the Lord’s Supper in a reverent and earnest way, that is, in remembrance of the Lord’s sacrifice. In verses 27-28, Paul clearly warns the church, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28 But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” Again, partaking of the Lord’s Supper in an “unworthy manner” is a sin “guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord” (v. 27).
Since Paul’s command in verse 28 (“But a man must examine himself”) prior to participating. This command is contextually linked to Paul’s definition of taking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. Therefore, the self-examination involves the participant’s intention and mindset. In other words, is the intention and motivation of the person preparing to take the Lord’s Supper on the memorialization and proclamation of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus? Any other view of Paul’s commandment of self-examination would be a pretext.
This point must be stressed to many Christians (and esp. pastors) who misdefine the “unworthy manner” of taking the holy Sacrament as some other unspecified (out of context) sin such as unconfessed sin or a defect in one’s Christian behavior. These actions are sinful, but they are not the particular sins that Paul pointed to with regard to the Lord’s Supper and taking it in an “unworthy manner.” The result of this improper unworthy behavior is divine judgment:
29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number asleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.
Paul then concludes in verse 33-44: “So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment. The remaining matters I will arrange when I come.”
In conclusion, foreseeing His substitutionary death on the cross, Jesus Christ initiated the Lord’s Supper as recorded in the Gospels. As with baptism, this Supper is a high and holy Sacrament, not to be degraded and despised by inappropriate/unworthy behavior at this memorial. This Supper represents a “holy “sign and seal” of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and His benefits” (WCF, 27.1).
The Lord’s Supper is for us to remember and proclaim the Lord’s death. It is not a mere Sunday morning activity with no understandable devotion and remembrance of the vicarious cross work of the Lord on behalf of sinners, as many practice today. It is a holy and divine Sacrament surrounding the broken body and spilled blood of Christ. Too many pastors treat the Lord’s Supper in a cavalier fashion, rushing through it, providing no meaningful definition or warning of the judgment for partaking in an unworthy way—even going so far as to allow non-believers to partake. If pastors allow their church members to do exactly what Paul rebuked the Corinthians for doing – is that not highly sinful?!
Proper participation in the Lord’s Supper should move us to a deep and genuine thanksgiving for the proclamation of the redemptive work of Christ Jesus. It should bring us to a constant and devout worship of the triune God in spirit and biblical maturity and truth. The Lord’s Supper reminds us of our eternal life. It reminds us that Christ incarnated Himself becoming obedient to death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-8) providing a real propitiation (1 John 2:2) on our behalf (Rom. 8:32; Eph. 5:25).
The Lord’s Supper reminds us that-
“While we were still helpless … Christ died for the ungodly.”
“While we were yet sinners … Christ died for us.”
“While we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son….” (Rom. 5:6, 8, 10).
Jesus Christ, and what He infallibly accomplished, is worthy to be remembered. His cross work is worthy to be proclaimed. He is our Savior in which we remember at the Lord’s Supper.
“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. . . . ” (1 Cor. 10:31).
 The Roman Catholic Church distorts the biblical teachings of these two Sacraments both in substance (arguing Transubstantiation and baptismal regeneration) and, in effect (making them a necessity for salvation).
 Westminster Confession of Faith.