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by R. H. Boll

(From the November, 1918 Word and Work)


     The two verses in 1 Corinthians 11 which solemnly warn against the improper participation of the Lord’s Supper, have been a source of great doubts and fears, and of spiritual loss to many conscientious Christians. But, as always, the cause of stumbling lies not in the scripture, but in man’s misunderstanding of it. In this case the translation in common use (the King James Version) is largely responsible for the misunderstanding. I will give the two verses first as they stand in the King James Bible: “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” 1 Cor. 11 :27.

 “For he that eateth and drinketh  unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.”    1 Cor. 11:29                                                                                    

     The common misunderstanding of these verses is two-fold: (1) As to the meaning of the term “unworthily;” and (2) as to the “damnation” that follows in the case of one’s eating unworthily.


     Tender hearts and consciences are often weighed down with a sense of unworthiness. The tenderer the conscience, the keener the sense of sin and failure; and (where there is faith, rather than doubt) the greater the wonder that God would look upon such a one; and, it may be added, in the case of enlightened Christians, the stronger the appreciation of God’s grace in Christ Jesus, which in turn works a deeper peace and love, and out of that a purer, truer life. This is not to be regretted. Not one of us but feels and says, like Jacob, “I have not been worthy of the least of Thy loving kindnesses, and of all the truth which Thou hast showed unto thy servant.” Thus, Paul also counted himself chief of sinners, least of saints. Such a feeling should not be thought of for a moment as rendering a man unfit to partake of the table of the Lord. But what if we are conscious of recent and grave failure? Then let us go straight to the throne of grace that we may find God’s sure mercy. Past failure can be no barrier to the Lord’s Supper—unless I intend to continue in sin unless I “regard iniquity in my heart;” unless I have enthroned idols there; unless I hold malice and hatred and an unforgiving spirit. That would of course render me unfit for the observance of the Lord’s Supper; but for every other act of worship and ser­ vice as well. We must get right with God; and so, we can come worthy in the worthiness of Christ to eat and drink.

     But it is not the man’s personal worthiness of which the apostle speaks., but of the manner in which the Lord’s’ Supper is eaten, whether with due recognition and reverence, or not. The Revised Version makes this plainer when in the place of “unworthily,” it translates “in an unworthy manner.” And what is the unworthy, and what the worthy, manner of participation?

THE STATE OF AFFAIRS IN CORINTH. The Corinthians had been guilty of a desecration of the Lord’s Supper which to us seems shocking and incredible. They had made a feast of it, after the pattern of the heathen feasts— an occasion of surfeiting and drunkenness. And not only so, but the wealthier members brought their own provisions and shared them with those of their own clique, neither waiting for, nor regarding the rest. The apostle protested to them that the Lord’s Supper was not that sort of feast. Its purpose was not to satisfy hunger; nor was it a social meal, still less a convivial affair. If you want to eat and drink— there are your homes. Do you so despise the church of God, and put the poor among you to shame? Then he proceeds to tell them what revelation he had received concerning the institution, purpose, and manner of participation in, the Lord’s Supper, as follows:   “For I received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus in the  night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, This is my body, which is for you: this do in remembrance of me. In like manner also the cup, after supper, saying, “this cup is the new covenant in my blood: this do, as often as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.”

     From this we gather that the Lord’s Supper consisted not of a bill of fare, but of the bread and the cup only, that these were not taken for enjoyment, or nourishment, but for a sacred purpose: “do this in remembrance of me” in which the bread stood for the body; the fruit of the vine, for the blood of the Lord. This then was no common meal. It was not merely “bread” and “a cup,” but the bread, and the cup, even that of the Lord’s own institution. There is a distinction between that which is holy and that which is common. This is a sacred meal, hallowed and set apart by the word and ordinance of Jesus Christ.


     We are now prepared to see what it is to eat and to drink unworthily. The Christian who ignores the holy significance put upon this memorial meal by the Lord, and eats of it without reference to the Lord’s body and blood, and not specially in remembrance of Him; if he prostitutes this meal to any social or other common purpose— he eats and drinks in an unworthy manner. That was what the Corinthians had done. It applies equally today to all who participate of this meal without reverence, or thought, or purpose of faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ. Because he had no regard to the meaning and content of this ordinance of the Lord; because he ate and drank as if this were common bread and wine, and did not discriminate between the body of the Lord (for which that bread stands) and the bread which means only material food— because of this indignity offered to the Lord’s sacred memorial he is “guilty of the body and blood of the Lord;” this not, however, (as some have thought) as though he had “crucified the Lord afresh” (for which sin there is no repentance) ; but guilty of an offense regarding the Lord’s body and blood. And in thus unworthily partaking, he eats and drinks damnation to himself.


     This opens the second inquiry— What is meant by eating and drinking “damnation” to oneself? It is here that the most serious misunderstanding comes in. By “damnation” people of course understand the final sentence, “Depart from me ye cursed into the eternal fire.” And for this impression the King James’ translation is chiefly responsible. The true meaning appears in the Revised Version: “Eateth and drinketh judgment to himself.” Now the following teaching shows that this “judgment” is not the same thing as that which is commonly designated by “damnation;” but is, on the contrary, the safeguard against damnation; for he goes on to say, “When we are judged we are chastened of the Lord that we may NOT be condemned with the world.” (1 Cor. 11:31). It is certain then that this “judgment” we eat and drink to ourselves if we partake unworthily, is not “damnation,” but a discipline intended to prevent damnation. This is a point constantly overlooked, and a point of vast importance not only in this connection, but in its1 general application. It throws light on God’s dealings with His children. They stand upon a footing of grace. As He said to David of old concerning his seed: “I will be his father, and he shall be my son: if he commit iniquity I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men; but my lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul” (2 Sam. 7 :14, 15), so God speaks of us who are in Christ Jesus. He does not condemn us, but chastens us that we may not be condemned. By this it is not meant that a Christian cannot, should he so choose, override God’s mercy and despise the chastening of the Lord, so that condemnation would be the only alternative left. But it does mean that the Lord will not cast us off, but with chastenings, discipline us that we may not be condemned with the world.


     The Corinthians who had thus eaten judgment to themselves were already suffering under it. In their physical weaknesses, sickness, and premature deaths, the chastening hand of God was recognized by Paul. “For this cause,” he says, “Many among you are weak and sickly and not a few sleep.” (1 Cor. 11 :30). That this is bodily, and not spiritual sickness, the connection clearly shows. We must guard here the conclusion, especially uncalled-for when imputed to others, (as Job’s friends did) that sickness or early death are always God’s chastening judgments on sin, which is not at all the case. (Comp. Phil. 2: 27, 30). But God does sometimes use that method. Nevertheless, the advantage is incalculable. “Blessed is the man whom thou chastens, . . . that thou mayest give him rest from the days of adversity . . . for Jehovah will not cast off his people.” (Ps. 94:12-14). Judgment does indeed begin with the house of Goa, even here and now; but if it fares hard with some of us, what shall be the end of those who obey not the gospel? (1 Pet. 4 :17). For our judgment is disciplinary and redemptive in its nature; but theirs retributive and hopeless.


     But there is a way in which we may avoid even the chastening judgment. “If we discerned ourselves we should not be judged.” (1 Cor. 11:31) The Lord would rather have it so. He takes no pleasure in even our temporary afflictions. How are we to escape the chastening rod? By self-judgment. And that not in the first place self-judgment after the wrong is done (though even this brings forgiveness, cleansing and mercy, 1 John 1:7-10), but beforehand, that we may not fall into guilt. “Let a man prove himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” (1 Cor. 11:28). This will lead to self-judgment, repentance, amendment, acceptance; and all the guilt of sinning against the Lord’s body and blood is thus averted. But if we are conscious of past sin, self-judgment will save us from the sentence of condemnation, even though it may not always result in exemption from needed chastisement. (Ps. 99:8).


     Lastly; in the words of another, it is good to be reminded that “the warning is directly against the careless and profane, and not against the timid and the doubting.” The denominations, who observe the Lord’s Supper only on rare occasions, claim that weekly observance detracts from the solemnity and sanctity of it. There is of course a danger of the familiarity that breeds carelessness, if not contempt in this case. But it was God’s design that we should move constantly on that high level of reverence and earnestness, which these think to attain to on their special occasions. But in order to avoid falling into formality and carelessness in the weekly celebration, the teaching must be constantly impressed: the great benefits of a right communion; the great guilt of a wrong participation; the sweet promise and the solemn warning; the awful facts back of the observance— these must be held up all the time. If we so eat and drink, we shall not stray far between times; but by our daily life we shall bear testimony, and in the Lord’s Supper proclaim, that our Lord died for us and is coming again. “For as often as ye eat THIS BREAD and drink THE CUP, ye proclaim the Lord’s death till he come.”


  1. H. Boll was a well-known preacher among the Churches of Christ and served from 1904 until his death in 1956 as minister of the Portland Avenue Church of Christ in Louisville, KY. He was Editor of the Word and Work Magazine from 1916 to 1956.

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I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33