Preparing for the Lord’s Table

Adapted from an exhortation delivered at PCC Prayer Meeting on 4 Feb 2005

28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. 29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (1 Cor 11:17-34).

1st Corinthians was written to the church at Corinth by the apostle Paul in response to some queries that the leaders of the church had posed to him. But Paul begins his letter by addressing some issues that were brought to his attention by those who brought the letter to him and by those who had passed through Corinth. It is only in chapter 7, that he begins to deal with the questions posed to him by the leaders of the church.

Now, in chapter 11, Paul is dealing with questions about corporate worship. He deals with the issue of the use of head covering for the sisters in worship, then in verse 17, he begins to deal with a question that has to do with the observation of the Lord’s Supper.

The apostle is not very pleased with what he knew was happening in the Corinthians church.

In those days, the church celebrated the Lord’s Supper in conjunction with what was known as the Agape Meal. The Agape Meal is something like a fellowship lunch in which those who could afford would bring some dishes to share with others.

This was a very good idea, but the problem in the Corinthian church was that instead of manifesting love, the Agape Meal manifested the lack of love in the church. Those who were rich were bringing their dishes and instead of waiting for the poor to come to eat together, they finished up everything quickly. The Agape Meal therefore became a mockery.

This was a serious enough problem. But it was a problem made worse because they had the Agape Meal just before they observed the Lord’s Supper in worship.

In the Lord’s Supper, we remember that the Lord’s body was broken and His blood was shed for the church (v. 23-26). But it was not merely a memorial meal. It was a means of grace by which God blesses us with the blessing that Christ purchased for us.

This is why Paul says in verse 17 that when we get together for the Lord’s Supper it should be for the better. It should benefit us spiritually.

And moreover, the Lord’s Supper is also a means by which the church manifests her unity with Christ and with one another. Paul says in chapter 10, verse 16—

16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? 17 For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread” (1 Cor 10:16-17)

It is for this reason, that the abuses in the Corinthian church were especially inexcusable.

That is why Paul rebuked them with such strong words:

“What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not” (1 Cor 11:22).

These were strong words. But this was not the most difficult thing that the Corinthians had to contend with. The most difficult thing that they had to contend with was the temporal chastisement of God upon the church.

The apostle Paul highlight this in verses 29-30—

29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30 For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.

Paul is saying: the reason why there are so many illnesses and deaths in the church is because there has been so much abuse in regards to the partaking of the Lord’s Supper.

Now, the abuses in the Corinthian church have to do with a lack of love as manifested in the conduct of the Agape Feast.

Today, we no longer observe the Agape Feast, though we have fellowship lunches. But the principles that are taught by the apostles are still applicable to us.

Indeed, it is especially applicable to us seeing that we will be celebrating the Lord’s Supper shortly, and seeing that so many of us have been ill in recent days.

What then shall we learn from this passage? Let me suggest three things.

The first thing we must learn is that it is essential for us to examine ourselves, whenever the Lord afflicts us with temporal chastisements.

1. Self-Examination

Now, we have no firm basis to dogmatically claim that the Lord has afflicted us because of our abusing the Lord’s Supper.

However, because the Lord does afflict His people with temporal chastisement for sin, I believe that whenever He afflicts so many of us in the church, we must humble ourselves to examine ourselves before Him.

Let us examine ourselves so see wherein we have sinned against the Lord corporately or individually. Remember that the Corinthian Church was afflicted not because they took the Lord’s Supper in a flippant manner, but because their conduct at the Agape Meal betrayed the hypocrisy in their heart.

Let us, therefore, not only look at how we exercise ourselves at the Lord’s Supper.

Let us consider if we have grudges one against another, or whether we have aught against one another not yet resolved. For if we have, then we would be partaking the Lord’s Supper hypocritically, and we would be tempting God to judge us. Let us cease to play games as those who bear grudges would often do: for when confronted by a brother who feels they have aught against him, they would deny bearing grudge, yet behind his back, they are speaking ill about him to others in such a manner that not just grudge but hatred can easily be detected.

And let us also examine ourselves and repent of our unbelief and rebellion against Christ our Lord. For how can we sit at the Lord’s Table to partake of His flesh and blood when we harbour unbelief or misgiving against Him? What can discontentment in regards to providence and a murmuring spirit relative to God’s will revealed in providence be, but rebellion against Christ?

And let us consider our life to see if we have been lax towards the Law of God, and quick to excuse ourselves for disobedience to His Word. Oh do not postpone repentance and obedience till after the Supper, for that would be hypocrisy.

If we have any respect for our Lord at all, beloved brethren, let us examine ourselves carefully, and repent of our sins and failures.

But the second thing that we must learn from this passage is that we must be united in love and purpose.

2. Unity & Love

“For we being many are one bread, and one body” (v. 17) says the apostle Paul.

The Corinthian church was being chastised for a lack of unity and a lack of concern one for another.

We must ask ourselves: Are we concerned for one another? Do we care that some of our brethren are afflicted? Did we call to ask after them?

We must also ask ourselves: Are we united? Are we prepared to work together with one another as the disciples of Christ? In the days ahead, the Session and Diaconate will have to make many decisions. Some of the decisions will be very difficult. Are we prepared to lay aside our own interests and even opinions to support them once they come to a decision which they believe is best for the church?

Let us pray for unity and love for one another. But let us do more than that. Let us exhibit our love for one another in practical terms.

And let us also pray for our officers and encourage them by assuring them that we are standing behind them in their deliberations.

But finally, this passage teaches us that we should not take the Lord’s Supper lightly.

3. Preparation

We should never take any of the ordinances of God lightly, but we must especially never take the Lord’s Supper lightly—for it is clear to us from what the apostle writes that God is very jealous about this meal.

He would afflict us with temporal judgement if we abuse it. So let us come prepared for it.

How shall we prepare for it?

Well, let me suggest that the first thing we should do is that we should refrain from all forms of jollity and carnal pleasure in the day before the Lord’s Supper. Let us be moderate in our consumption of food, and use of recreation if we have to.

Secondly, I would recommend that we remind ourselves of our unworthiness, and of the love of Christ in dying for us to redeem us from our sin. Let us spend much time reading the Scriptures and in prayerful meditation.

Thirdly, may I suggest that we examine ourselves in the way we had spoken earlier. Let us repent of our sin, and let us call up our brethren whom we may have aught against to confess our failures and to seek reconciliation.


May the Lord bless us as we put these things into practice! May the Supper we will enjoy be different from the previous ones because we come to it with a spirit of forgiveness and forgiving, and humility and charity. Amen.

—JJ Lim