I have been reading a lot on Lord’s supper lately and I’m having a hard time understanding this passage: 1 Corinthians 11: 28-30
“Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and ill, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” Is this passage saying that people have become sick and some have died because they ate the communion in an unworthy manner? Does this happen today?
This is one of the more difficult passages in the Bible to understand and interpret. It does seem surprising that Paul is associating physical death with the manner in which we take the Lord’s Supper. First of all, in understanding any passage of scripture, especially a difficult one, knowing the context is very important. Apparently, the Corinthians had been behaving very badly in the way they had been observing the Lord’s Supper. They were using the communion service as a way to act out their divisions. Some had been pigging out and some had even been getting drunk! Paul is very upset about these things, so we should interpret his rather strong statements in this light. He says: “Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not!” (v. 22).
So in the context, when he is talking about eating the bread and drinking the blood unworthily, he is talking about having divisions and using the supper as a way to put the poor in their place. This is sufficiently bad that their salvation is in question! He says that a person who eats the Supper without recognizing the body of the Lord, he brings judgment on himself. In other words, if we take the communion, but do it in a way which does not include respecting the Church and the people in the Church, then we may be judged for our terrible attitude. Those who have not been “recognizing the body of the Lord” are those who have been getting drunk and pigging out, while other disciples did not even get to share the Lord’s Supper. It is those who have not respected and served the body of Christ—the Church.
Then he proceeds to the part that, admittedly, is a bit hard to understand. He tells us that some have become weak and even fallen asleep as a result of our terrible treatment of the body. Some have become spiritually weak and some have even left the church. Did they actually die, physically? Maybe. I do not know for sure. Is he talking about “falling asleep” in a metaphorical way, meaning they have left the church and lost their salvation, or did people literally die? I do not know. I can only guess. What is important is that we get the message from Paul. When we take the Lord’s Supper we need to do it worthily. We need to recognize the seriousness and the meaning of the communion, but we also need to treat our fellow believers in a loving and respectful way. Otherwise we will become spiritually week and may even lose our secure position with God. Our salvation may be at stake. Whether this includes the possibility of actual physical death as a consequence, I personally doubt this, but it may have actually happened in Corinth.
I believe that is the meaning of this admittedly difficult passage.