Celebrating the Lord’s supper was an important ritual in the early church and in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul made it clear that he was concerned about it being practiced correctly. Paul began his discussion of the Lord’s supper with a bold statement about idolatry. He stated, “But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils” (1 Corinthians 10:20-21). The Greek word translated fellowship, koinonos (koy-no-nos’) means a sharer that is associate (G2844). The word koinonia (koy-nohn-ee’-ah) is derived from koinonos and refers to an individual’s participation in activities that distinguish him as a follower of Christ. What Paul was probably getting at in his statement that you could not drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils was that a commitment to the Lord means that you are no longer free to worship anyone else.
Part of the process of celebrating the Lord’s supper was about coming together as a unified body of believers or Christian church. There was likely a sense that conflict was inappropriate during this celebration and everyone was expected to do things in a consistent manner. Some of the problems that Paul mentioned in his letter were unequal distribution of food (1 Corinthians 11:21), eating in a self-centered manner (1 Corinthians 11:27), and not waiting to eat until everyone was present (1 Corinthians 11:33). The primary issue seemed to be that no one really understood the purpose of celebrating communion. Paul explained to the Corinthians that there was an underlying spiritual transaction that took place when they participated in the Lord’s supper. Anyone that drank from the cup signified his commitment to Christ’s New Covenant and therefore, exposed himself to God’s discipline of his behavior.
Paul’s answer to the problem of celebrating the Lord’s supper in an irreverent manner was for each person to look at his own motive for taking communion before he did so. Paul said, “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (1 Corinthians 11:28-29). The Greek word translated damnation, krima means “a decision” (G2917). What I believe Paul was saying was that if you partake of the Lord’s supper without being saved, you could be preventing yourself from making the necessary decision to accept Christ. In other words, if you say you are a Christian, but you’ve never accepted Jesus as your savior, you have skipped a step and need to be aware of the fact that you are still going to hell.