Now, it must be said that what comes after the “instruction” portion of Paul’s rehearsal of the Lord’s Supper is regularly incorporated into the practice of communion. The “words of warning,” as they are generally viewed, are usually included so as to induce introspection among potential participants at the table. Paul writes “For this reason, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself first, and in this way let him eat the bread and drink of the cup. For the one who eats and drinks without careful regard for the body eats and drinks judgment against himself. That is why many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few are dead. But if we examined ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned with the world” (1 Corinthians11:27-32).
These “words of warning” have been appended to the “instructions” for good reason. However, the way in which they are presented and in which they are urged to be taken, removes them from their practical and objective context, as participants are usually asked to apply this warning individually, as somehow related to their personal salvation or personal spiritual status, with considerations of personal and individual judgment falling if one does not have the right mindset or status of holiness in one’s taking of the elements or the absolutely correct understanding of what the bread and the cup represent.
Pretending that Paul has such things in mind is unsatisfactory, and it ignores the corrective action that Paul is taking, first and foremost with this church, as this body of Jesus-followers fails to follow the example of Jesus and fails to understand that Paul is criticizing this church for their failure to embody the kingdom of heaven. In addition, the encouragement to come to these words individually and personally, as if the recipients of this letter were silently reading their Bible for themselves in their studies, rather than hearing the letter read out loud to the entire congregation, has had a hand in creating an unreasonable and Scripturally unsupportable expectation of some type of Christian perfectionism and a need for confession of personal “sins” after a personal examination of the condition of one’s heart before taking communion.
Continuing on from the “words of warning” that Paul has delivered, corrective language from Paul is encountered. He goes on to write “So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that when you assemble it does not lead to judgment” (11:33-34a). If one is allowed to jump right in to the communion at the twenty-third verse, not taking into consideration that which comes before in the same chapter, nor the building message and movement of the entire letter, then the addition of these words from Paul do not make a great deal of sense.
Along with that, if there is a failure to take common first century meal practice into consideration when these words are read, then they are not going to make sense. Finally, if one does not bear in mind the vision of the messianic banquet and the personal example of Jesus participating in communion in a way that goes beyond the “Last Supper” and takes in the whole of the tradition of His meal practice that has the vision of the messianic banquet standing in its background and informs the understanding of the early church as to why they are even engaging in this practice in this way, then there will be a high degree of difficulty encountered in the process of making sense of what Paul is getting at it with these final corrective instructions. Thus it is more than likely that the reader or the exegete is going to approach and utilize the words of Paul incorrectly, missing out on the depth of the serious problem that is being addressed.