Are you good enough to take communion? To me, this is an absurd question. It is exactly like asking whether you are good enough to hear the gospel. But to many it is not an absurd question. It is a serious question because a wrong answer could make you sick and kill you!
From whence comes this ridiculous notion? It comes from misunderstanding Paul’s instructions about communion (see 1 Cor. 11). If you’ve ever done communion in church, you may have heard that you need to examine yourself for sin and that if you don’t you could get sick and die. This is utter nonsense, as I explain elsewhere.
A reader wrote to me: “I am interested in the holy communion and healing. However, I noticed that all who teach on 1 Corinthians 11 never touch on verses 31-32 and these are the verses I struggle with the most.” She was referring to these verses:
But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world. (1 Cor 11:31-32)
(Sidebar: Before I got grace I found many verses in the Bible were tough and hard to understand. I didn’t even try to make sense of them, I just put them in the too hard basket. But now I deliberately seek out the hard scriptures because I have learned that they often hide a treasure. If you want to find the hidden treasures in scripture, but don’t know how, read this.)
What does it mean to judge ourselves?
For if we would judge ourselves… (1 Cor 11:31)
Paul is not prescribing worthiness tests for communion. He is saying “Jesus’ death is a big deal, so take a moment to reflect on it. If Christ’s death means something to you, then communion is a time to celebrate. But if the significance of his death is news to you, here’s your chance to process it. Here’s an opportunity to repent and believe the good news.”
For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. (1 Cor 11:31)
Everyone has their day of judgment. For the Christian, judgment day is in the past. The Christian has looked into the mirror of the law or listened to the accusations of his own conscience, judged himself wanting, and taken hold of the grace that Jesus provides. His judgment day is thus his salvation day, and since he has judged himself he will not be judged again.
A few verses earlier Paul says “everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup” (1 Cor 11:28). The word for examine means “to test and by implication approve.” Those in Christ see themselves approved by God; those without Christ may see themselves in need of his grace.
At the temple the high priest examined the sacrificial lamb, not the one who brought it. In the new covenant, Christ is our Lamb without blemish or defect (1 Peter 1:19). During communion we examine him and see ourselves as tested and approved in him.
But what about the person who has no lamb? What about the one who refuses God’s grace and stands on his own merits? For him a judgment day remains and if he continues to scorn grace his judgment will be one of self-inflicted condemnation.
Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world. (1 Cor 11:32)
The old order of sin and death has been condemned. It has no future. A new order of grace and forgiveness is springing up. Jesus stands astride the old and the new rescuing all who would abandon the sinking ship. Whoever takes his outreached hand is saved, but whoever refuses goes down with the ship (see John 3:18).
What does it mean to be judged by the Lord?
In a literal translation, v.32 speaks of “being judged by the Lord.” This is a reference to the witness of the Holy Spirit who will constantly seek to affirm that we are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus (John 16:10). In Christ, we are judged righteous and are thoroughly approved.
What about the Lord’s discipline?
When we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world (1 Cor. 11:32, NASB)
The word for disciplined in this verse should not make you think of punishment. It means training as in training up a child. To discipline is to disciple and we are discipled by the Lord. With that in mind, here is my paraphrase of the two verses:
When we receive the Lord’s good judgment – in him you are righteous! – and when we learn to discern what is from the Lord (grace and healing) and what is not (sickness and worry), we are trained up as sons and daughters. We no longer suffer the effects of sin and condemnation. (1 Cor 11:31-32, Paul’s paraphrase)
When we get ill we need to ask ourselves, “Is this sickness from the Lord?” When we come under pressure and stress, same thing. “Is this anxiety from the Lord?” Once we have renewed our minds and decided this bad thing is not from God, we are ready to proclaim the Lord’s death over our situation. “Christ died that I might enjoy an abundance of good health. Sickness, leave! Anxiety, take a hike!”
Taking communion when you’re sick is great way to exercise your faith. It’s saying, “I don’t identify with these symptoms. I identify with Jesus, who carried my infirmities and who was wounded so that I might be healed.”
Communion done in the name of dead religion will leave you sin-conscious and condemned. But communion done in the name of Jesus is one of the healthiest and most liberating things you’ll ever do!