1 Corinthians 11:27-28 says:
27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. (NKJV)
What is the “unworthy manner” and what does it mean for someone to “examine himself” to eat the bread and drink of the cup?
In the church at Corinth, there was a problem with division. We see this in the 1st chapter almost immediately. He comes back to that idea here in chapter 11, where he points out the division they had in eating the Lord’s Supper. There are several possible ways to understand specifically what was happening there, but what is clear is that they were divided and not eating the Lord’s Supper together properly (see verse 18).
We know that we are still in that context because in verse 33, he writes:
Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. (NKJV)
So what is he telling us in verses 27 and 28?
Before he writes about the unworthy manner of eating, he explains the purpose of the Lord’s Supper. The purpose is to proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (verse 26). What does that have to do with the division among the brethren? In verse 22 Paul says that the way each was eating “his own supper” showed that they despised the church. Who is the church? The body of Christ for which He died. When we eat the Lord’s Supper for our own purpose or to show that we are better than other members of Christ’s body, we are eating it in an unworthy manner.
Christ died for all of us and the Lord’s Supper should help us remember how unworthy we are. Essentially, if we eat the Lord’s Supper to remember Christ’s death and proclaim it to others, we should also be recognizing that we do not deserve His death for us any more than others do. There should be no division in the body because none of us are better than others. That is why we must wait for one another (verse 33).
So in our examining of ourselves, we are to recognize that we are also sinners who needed the death of Christ just as much as anyone else. We are not to think of ourselves as better than others who are also in His body. As long as we are all working to follow Christ, we should be eating together and working together. Let us recognize what changes we need to make in our own lives in our service to Christ rather than eating to judge others we think are not as worthy as we are to eat this memorial meal.
I believe that is what verse 29 is referring to when it talks about “judging the body rightly.” The body could be a reference to Christ’s physical body or the bread that represents His body but I believe it makes more sense in the context to say it is referring to the church. Division was caused by some thinking they were better than others in the same body (see chapter 12 for more on that idea). This meant that they were not judging the body correctly and eating the Lord’s Supper in a way that despises the body of Christ, they were actually eating and drinking condemnation to themselves.
What this means to us is that when we eat the Lord’s Supper, it is a collective action. We are not eating the Lord’s Supper only to remember what Christ has done for us personally, but also for those with whom we eat. We need to think about what Christ has done for us and how unworthy we are. We also need to think about the grace He has toward all the others in His body and humble ourselves to where we do not think of ourselves more highly than we should. Christ died for all of us. We are not better than our brethren. We need each other and need to work together to follow our Lord to get to heaven.