When Should I Not take Communion?
by J.D. Greear
Published on April 7, 2023

When Should I Not Take Communion?

By J.D. Greear

In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul says, “Let a person examine himself … for whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord … ”

Whenever Christ is present, the stakes are raised—and so is the demand that we come into that presence with the right attitude. When we come into that presence unworthily, we risk bringing God’s discipline, his judgment, onto us.

So a lot rides on that one word, “unworthily.” What exactly does Paul mean by it?

Here’s what he can’t mean: Paul can’t mean that we should only take communion when we feel worthy of Christ’s presence. Because that would be, well, never. None of us are worthy to take the bread and the cup. I mean, that’s exactly why we take the bread and the cup! (In fact, if we did feel worthy, that would be a sure sign that we aren’t approaching communion appropriately.)

So then what?

Notice that “unworthily” is an adverb. That reflects the original Greek, too. Paul’s focus is not on our status as worthy or unworthy, but on our posture in how we approach the table. Those who do so unworthily have a spirit of self-righteousness, defiance, or division.

First, a spirit of self-righteousness, in which someone denies their dependence on Christ’s mercy. The irony is that those who are self-righteous approach the table unworthily because they fail to see how unworthy they are to partake of the table.

Second, a spirit of defiance, where someone is openly and intentionally living in a way that displeases Christ. In taking the bread and the cup, this person says, “Thank God for Jesus and his death, it is my life and my hope.” But in their life, this person openly crucifies him.

You can’t shout, “Worship him!” and “Crucify him!” at the same time and not expect God’s anger.

Third, a spirit of division, which is the context of Paul’s writing. He says in verse 33, “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, welcome one another.” (Read all of the chapter and you’ll see just how far the Corinthians were from this “welcoming” spirit.) Don’t come to the table when in your heart you are separated from others by some kind of pride or classism or racism. Don’t come when you harbor resentment or unforgiveness in your heart. Don’t come claiming to cherish the forgiveness of God when you won’t forgive someone else. Don’t come when you are divided from your brothers and sisters over some secondary, non-essential matter—a political perspective or a cultural bias.

First, go and be reconciled with your brother and sister. Then come to the table to worship.

What happens when someone takes communion unworthily? First Corinthians 11:30 says, “This is why many are sick and ill among you, and many have fallen asleep.” There’s no way to sugarcoat this: Many people have gotten sick and died, Paul says, for not taking this moment seriously. Not everyone who participates in communion unworthily dies (thank God), but it does happen, showing how God feels about those who don’t take this sacred moment seriously.

Listen: If you struggle with sin, if you feel defeated in sin, if you are overwhelmed by sin—Jesus came for you. His death is healing and help for those who know they are sick! Repent and come to this table to feast on his mercy.

But if you are not surrendered to Christ, if you refuse to submit to him, if you are praising him with your lips and defying him with your life—friend, I am pleading with you, do not touch the elements of the table.

D. Greear is the lead pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. He is the author of _Essential Christianity_[1] (2023), Gospel [2] _(2011), Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart [3] _(203), along with several other books. He writes and teaches at www.jdgreear.com [4]. This article has been republished from the J.D. Greear website and is under copyright law. It may not be republished without express written consent by J.D. Greear Ministries Team.

Feature Photo by Wallpaper Access




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