What Does “Unworthily” Mean?

Sound Words graphicGathering with the Lord’s church to remember Christ and His work is a vital part of Christian worship and an edifying exercise for both the corporate body and the individual Christian. Yet, Scripture protects this blessed rite in 1 Corinthians 11:27, where we are warned not to partake “unworthily.” That’s important—so important that people can suffer illness or even death for doing it. But what does it mean?

Let’s consider what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that you must be “worthy” to participate based on your performance as a Christian. You’re not ready to partake because you’ve “been good.”

First, regardless of what you may think, you’ve never been good. The fact that you think you have just demonstrates that your standard of “good” is far different than God’s.

Second, Paul isn’t saying that your spiritual performance determines your worthiness. That would be legalism in the truest sense—the idea that your obedience makes you more or less acceptable to God.

Third, the fact that you’re unworthy is the whole point! That’s why Christ came and offered His body to be broken and His blood to be spilled.

If Scripture isn’t dealing with the worthiness of the Christian, what is it doing? Well, the word “unworthily” is an adverb, not an adjective. That means that “unworthily” is describing the partaking (“eat” and “drink”), not the participants. It’s not saying that we must be worthy in ourselves, but that our manner of partaking must be worthy, and it tells us what that means.

  • To promote or allow a factious spirit is partaking in an unworthy manner (vv. 18–20, 33).
  • To partake selfishly and thoughtlessly is partaking in an unworthy manner (vv. 21–22, 33–34).
  • To have a self-satisfied, flippant attitude is partaking in an unworthy manner (vv. 28, 31).
  • To treat the Lord’s Table like a common thing is partaking in an unworthy manner (v. 29b).

What a privilege it is to fellowship with Christ’s church, worshiping Christ’s person, remembering Christ’s work, and awaiting Christ’s return! This is a precious time: take pains to approach it as Scripture requires. Your spirit and decorum as you consider Christ’s person and work should be appropriate for the solemn occasion. Be reverent, humble and thoughtful as you gaze on Christ through this ordinance.

Make no mistake: Scripture commands you to examine yourself (v. 28). But you’re not worthy, and you never will be. Approach your Lord on the basis of Christ’s merit, not your own. Partake in remembrance of Him, not yourself.

June 2007

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