In the First Epistle to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul brings to the attention of the Corinthian church that there were some serious problems with the way they observed the Lord’s Supper. They were celebrating the Lord’s Supper as a feast in the same way so many of the mystery religions and religious societies of antiquity observed their rites. They came to have a party rather than a memorial of the atoning death of Christ. Those of the church who had the leisure would come early and eat most of the food that had been prepared so that by the time the poorer members of the church came there was nothing left. Besides, they drank to the point of intemperance. Had they forgotten that the Supper was instituted on the eve of Christ’s passion? This meal should be approached with serious intentions.
But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drink, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. 1 Corinthians 11:28-29
In essence, the Corinthians mistook the sacred food as common bread and wine. They were not able to distinguish this sacred meal from the common meals they took for physical nourishment. The Lord’s Supper of its very essence was a matter of the fellowship or communion of the whole body of Christian believers. The Corinthians failed to recognize that through this meal, they entered into a special relationship with their brothers and sisters in Christ. This insensitivity to the deeper meanings of the sacrament is the worst kind of irreverence.
We also can fall into the same type of error if we do not examine ourselves before we partake of the Lord’s Supper. In the sacrament, union with Christ is not merely remember; rather the dying love of Christ is both exhibited and offered to us. Consequently, we ought to approach the Lord’s Table in a spirit of self-examination and humility. First, one should examine whether one is living a moral life, or perhaps whether one indulges any immoral practice or lust. Just as the Jews could not partake of the Passover feast if they were ritually unclean, Christians should not approach the Lord’s Table if they have not renounced and abandoned such things. It is particularly important to examine oneself as to whether one harbors any ill feelings towards one’s neighbors, any spirit of jealousy or revenge, or envy. One must seriously resolve to lay aside such divisions and party spirit as the Corinthians had allowed to sour their fellowship. Consider the words of Jonathan Edwards:
Such a spirit in a man renders a man unfit and makes the ordinance void as to him in the same manner as the having leaven in a house rendered the Passover void. Leaven typifies any wickedness, but especially malice and hatred. It fitly represented this by reason of its sourness. Hughes Oliphant Old, Holy Communion in the Piety of the Reformed Church, p. 610.
Let us examine ourselves to their real reasons that we should come to the Lord’s Table – namely, the importance of nourishing the spiritual unity of the local congregation. It is Christian love that builds up the congregation, and it is this the sacrament both exhibits and offers. When we worthily partake, our eating and drinking will be profitable to our souls and foster a deeper harmony with fellow members of our local churches. Whenever we participate in this holy ordinance, there is a most solemn renewal of God’s covenant to us as well as our covenant with fellow members within our local assembly.