Christ Lutheran Church of the Deaf
Silver Spring, Maryland
The Lord's Supper Series Index

#4.  Worthy Communing
Who should receive the Lord's Supper?
When shouldn't we come to the Lord's Supper
PDF version

One of sticky issues related to the Lord's Supper is the question:  Who can receive the Lord's Supper and who shouldn't come to the Lord's Supper?  This question is prompted by Paul's warning: 
"A person who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in a way that is not worthy of it will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. ...they eat and drink judgment against themselves." (1 Corinthians 11:27, 29)   What does Paul mean by "worthy"?   Here we will grapple with these questions.

The Old Testament Lesson    Psalm 51:1-17
God, be merciful to me because you are loving.
Because you are always ready to be merciful, wipe out all my wrongs.
Wash away all my guilt and make me clean again.
I know about my wrongs, and I can’t forget my sin.
You are the only one I have sinned against; I have done what you say is wrong.
You are right when you speak and fair when you judge.
I was brought into this world in sin. In sin my mother gave birth to me.
You want me to be completely truthful, so teach me wisdom.
Take away my sin, and I will be clean. Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Make me hear sounds of joy and gladness;
    let the bones you crushed be happy again.
Turn your face from my sins and wipe out all my guilt.
Create in me a pure heart, God, and make my spirit right again.
Do not send me away from you or take your Holy Spirit away from me.
Give me back the joy of your salvation. Keep me strong by giving me a willing spirit.

Then I will teach your ways to those who do wrong, and sinners will turn back to you.
God, save me from the guilt of murder, God of my salvation,
and I will sing about your goodness. 
Lord, let me speak so I may praise you.
You are not pleased by sacrifices, or I would give them. You don’t want burnt offerings.
The sacrifice God wants is a broken spirit.
God, you will not reject a heart that is broken and sorry for sin.   (New Century Version)

The Epistle Lesson    1 Corinthians 11:23-32
    The teaching I gave you is the same teaching I received from the Lord: On the night when the Lord Jesus was handed over to be killed, he took bread and gave thanks for it. Then he broke the bread and said, "This is my body; it is for you. Do this to remember me."  In the same way, after they ate, Jesus took the cup. He said, "This cup is the new agreement that is sealed with the blood of my death. When you drink this, do it to remember me."  Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup you are telling others about the Lord’s death until he comes.
    So a person who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in a way that is not worthy of it will be guilty of sinning against the body and the blood of the Lord.  Look into your own hearts before you eat the bread and drink the cup, because all who eat the bread and drink the cup without recognizing the body eat and drink judgment against themselves.  That is why many in your group are sick and weak, and many have died.  But if we judged ourselves in the right way, God would not judge us.  But when the Lord judges us, he punishes us so that we will not be destroyed along with the world.

The Gospel Lesson    Luke 18:9-14
    Jesus told this story to some people who thought they were very good and looked down on everyone else:  "A Pharisee and a tax collector both went to the Temple to pray.  The Pharisee stood alone and prayed, 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people who steal, cheat, or take part in adultery, or even like this tax collector.  I give up eating twice a week, and I give one-tenth of everything I get!'
    "The tax collector, standing at a distance, would not even look up to heaven. But he beat on his chest because he was so sad. He said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'  I tell you, when this man went home, he was right with God, but the Pharisee was not. All who make themselves great will be made humble, but all who make themselves humble will be made great."

Today we continue a topic that we started in our previous lesson.
    Who can receive the Lord's Supper?
    When shouldn't we come to the Lord's Supper?

This question is prompted by Paul's warning:

"A person who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in a way that is not worthy of it will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. ...they eat and drink judgment against themselves."
(1 Corinthians 11:27, 29)

What does Paul mean by "worthy"?
And how do we receive the Lord's Supper in way that is worthy?

The Bible describes four criteria -- four issues about which we must be concerned.  We have already discussed the first three issues in our prior lessons.


Have you made the Calvary connection? 
Do you understand that when Jesus suffered and died on the cross, He died there for you?
Do you know that without Christ's sacrifice, you would be lost, separated from God forever?
Do you believe that Jesus truly rose again from the dead?
Do you trust Christ to forgive you, and to cleanse you from all of your sins?

The Lord's Supper is a "family meal," only for those who know and trust Christ.

In a previous church which I served, one Sunday we had a couple visiting whom I knew were not yet believers.  They were not familiar the worship service, and when a well-meaning but uninformed member encouraged them to come forward for communion, they followed along.  I gave them a blessing instead of the Lord's Supper, and there at the altar I said to them, "After worship, please let me explain to you what is happening here."  

They responded with a smile and said, "Yes, thank you."  They really did want to know.  The couple invited me to their home and from that meeting we started a weekly Bible study at their kitchen table. 

On my last Sunday at that church I had the pleasure of welcoming them as full members of the church and giving them their first Lord's Supper as believers.


Jesus said,
    "This is My body..."
    "This is My blood..." 
(Matt. 26:26-27; Mark 14:23-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-25)

1 Corinthians 10:16
We give thanks for the cup of blessing, which is a sharing in the blood of Christ. And the bread that we break is a sharing in the body of Christ.

1 Corinthians 11:27, 29
So a person who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in a way that is not worthy of it will be guilty of sinning against the body and the blood of the Lord...  All who eat the bread and drink the cup without recognizing the body eat and drink judgment against themselves.

Do you understand that when we eat the bread in the Lord's Supper,
    we also eat His true body which suffered and died on the cross for us?
Do you understand that when we drink the wine in the Lord's Supper,
    we also drink His true blood which He shed for us?   

Sadly, many Christian denominations reject this clear teaching of the Bible.  They teach that the bread and wine are only symbols which merely represent Jesus' body and blood.

Because of the strong warning that Paul gives us in 1 Corinthians 11 about this matter, in our worship services we ask Christians who do not believe that Jesus' body and blood are truly in the sacrament to "please indicate to the usher that you will wait while we finish the service.  We appreciate your patience."


The Corinthian church was wrecked with divisions.

In First Corinthians chapter one, we see them dividing over which leader was their favorite -- Peter, Paul, Apollos, etc.  (Paul reminds them, "I was not crucified for you!")

In chapter six we see them church members suing each other in government courts.  (Paul asks them, "Is there no one among you who is wise enough to help you settle your disputes?")

In chapter eight Paul scolds them for deliberately offending the sensitivities of other believers.

In chapter 10 when Paul discusses their habit of attending the sacramental meals of pagan temples which honor idols, he reminds them that in the Lord's Supper, "Because there is one loaf of bread, we who are many are one body, because we all share that one loaf."

We saw in our last study in chapter 11 that during their community meal the Corinthian Christians ate separately.  Some were going hungry and others were getting drunk.  And what was worse, they were calling this division and discrimination "the Lord's Supper." 

Jesus said,
"When you offer your gift to God at the altar, and you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there at the altar. Go and make peace with that person, and then come and offer your gift."
(Matthew 5:23-24)

This is why many congregations interrupt the communion service to "pass the peace" with one another. 

How can I come to the Lord's Altar to ask forgiveness if I am unwilling to forgive?

1 John 4:19-21
We love because God first loved us.  If people say, "I love God," but hate their brothers or sisters, they are liars.  Those who do not love their brothers and sisters, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have never seen.  And God gave us this command: Those who love God must also love their brothers and sisters.

As we saw in our last lesson, unity in the Lord's Supper requires that we resolve both
    conflicts in our relationships and
    disharmony in our doctrine.


The Corinthian church had a serious problem with members who failed to understand that faith in Christ shows itself in faithfully following Christ in all areas of life.

In chapters eight and ten Paul confronted believers who were still dabbling in the occult, which is
    an offense against Christ,
    an offense against other believers, and
    an offense against the Lord's Supper.

In chapter six Paul confronted Christian men who were still using prostitutes, which is
    an offense against Christ,
    an offense against the Holy Spirit, and
    an offense one's own body.

Our union with Christ must affect the way we live.
We are no longer slaves to immorality.
Christian men of Corinth, you have no business with prostitutes!
Men today, you have no business with internet porn!

When Christian leaders fall to immorality, the world mocks us all
    and they see no need for Christ.

First Corinthians chapter five exposes the scandal of member of the church who "had his father's wife."  It was public knowledge that this man was having sexual relations with his stepmother.  And rather than confronting this problem, the church bragged about how tolerant they were.  Paul had to remind them that even the pagans understand what the man was doing is sick!

You should have been filled with sadness so that the man who did this should be put out of your group. (1 Cor 5:2)

The reason Paul seems strict about this is that (1) he was concerned for the influence of immorality in the church and (2) he was concerned for the eternal soul of the believer who was mocking Christ by his life style.  Paul's words had the effect that he wanted for both the church and man who "had his father's wife."

When the Corinthians read Paul's letter, they understood their error, they repented, and they followed Paul's advice.  They removed this man from their fellowship.  The man also saw his sin and he repented.  But the church refused to let him back in.  So Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians:

The punishment that most of you gave him is enough for him.  But now you should forgive him and comfort him to keep him from having too much sadness and giving up completely.  So I beg you to show that you love him.  (2 Cor 2:6-8)

This is the goal of church discipline (see Matthew 18:15-17).

 Paul wrote concerning the Lord's Supper:

So a person who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in a way that is not worthy of it will be guilty of sinning against the body and the blood of the Lord.  Look into your own hearts before you eat the bread and drink the cup.  (1 Cor 11:27-28)

The NIV translation expresses this in terms that are familiar to many Christians:

Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup.

That is why we require that before people receives the Lord's Supper, they need to be instructed in the Christian faith and the meaning of the Lord's Supper.  The Lord's Supper is not a McDonald's Happy Meal.  This is serious business. 

Repentance means that we are truly sorry about our sinful actions and attitudes, and that we truly want that sin out of our lives.

I admit that sin much every day.  But do I desire to stop sinning and to live in a way that pleases my Lord? 

Where can I find help for doing that? 
    In God's Word,
    And in the Lord's Supper.

I grew up in Michigan where it snows a lot.  And I spent the first seven years of my ministry near Chicago, where it also snows a lot.  It usually happened once every winter -- I got my car stuck in a snow bank.  I wasn't a bad driver.  Occasionally getting stuck in snow is a fact of life in that part of the world.

And every time it happened, when I slid off the road into a snow bank, what was the first thing I always did to get out?  I put the car into gear, punch the accelerator pedal, and spin a tire.  Did it work?  Never!  Only when I gave up doing it myself and asked for help did I get free.

The same happens in my life with God.  When I know there is something that isn't right in my life, I put God on hold (because I know that He is not pleased with me) so I can apply my own effort to change my behavior.   ...and spine a tire.  It still doesn't work.  Only when I give up doing it on my own and ask for His help do I get free.


What do we say to someone who feels,
    "I am too sinful; I shouldn't go to the Lord's Supper"?

No!!! Christ offers you His Body and Blood specifically for YOU. 
The purpose of the Lord's Supper is not judgment but FORGIVENESS.

If you choose to fix your eye on how good and pure you are, to wait until nothing torments you, you will never go...  But those who earnestly desire grace and comfort should compel themselves to go and allow no one to deter them, saying, "I would really like to be worthy, but I come not on account of any worthiness of mine, but on account of Your Word, because You have commanded it and I want to be Your disciple, regardless of my worthiness."  ...for in this sacrament He offers us all the treasures He brought from heaven for us, to which He most graciously invites us in other places, as He says in Matthew 11: "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, I will give you rest."  (Martin Luther, Large Catechism,  Sacrament of the Altar, 57-66.)
Martin Luther - Small Catechism
What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?
These words, "Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins," shows us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?
Certainly not just eating and drinking do these things, but the words written here: "Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." These words, along with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main thing in the Sacrament. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: "forgiveness of sins."

Who receives this sacrament worthily?
Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training. But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: "Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words "for you" require all hearts to believe.