The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the CORINTHIANS – Chapter 11
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 11:1
Sound advice. Apprenticeships are a good way of learning and that is after all what discipleship is. Sitting at the feet of the Master learning and walking with the Master and doing. Jesus’s mother watched Him growing up.
But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. – Luke 2:19
Mary, sister of Martha, chose to learn:
but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” – Luke 10:42
Peter chose to follow:
And immediately they left their nets and followed him. – Mark 1:18
All aspects of being imitators: to watch, to learn, to follow. Then we become people who the Lord can use, so that others can follow our example and become imitators of us, in Christ.
Paul told Timothy to be an example:
Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. – 1 Timothy 4:12
We are here on earth to glorify God and be His representatives showing the lost world who He is so they will want to be come imitators of Christ. May we be known as Paul was “a follower of Jesus”.
2 Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.
3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. – 1 Corinthians 11:2-3
David Guzik suggests that the first verse here is sarcastic, because the Corinthians did not remembered Paul or the teachings he passed on (the traditions) but were led astray by legalistic people. However, Paul does not enlarge on this but he starts on the next theme he wants to teach, spiritual authority. Authority does not mean inferiority. This needs to be understood from the outset. The Lord Jesus Christ is not inferior to God the Father:
I and the Father are one.” – John 10:30
but Jesus made himself subject to His Father’s authority while He lived in the flesh on earth.
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. – John 5:19
He excercised voluntarily submission. Likewise a woman is in no way inferior to a man. But in the order God has established a woman can submit to her husband just as Christ submitted to His Father, in divine, God given humility because in that there is a blessing. And the man must submit to Jesus with the same divine, God given humility. We offer voluntary submission. Our body reflects this spiritual principle. Our body submits to our head. Our brain controls all bodily functions and the mind controls all bodily actions. When there is a breakdown in that flow of authority the body becomes dysfunctional. So too if we kick against the order God has established then we will be dysfunctional. God wants us to offer voluntary submission to Him and has placed us in lines of headship so we can offer praise and worship to Him, as we choose to submit to each other.
4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head,
5 but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven.
6 For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. – 1 Corinthians 11:4-6
I must say I struggle with this next section on head covering. I have heard a number of explanations. Some spiritualise it and relate it to the previous section saying that the covering of the head represents submission. But, that does not hold true when Paul goes on to say a man should not cover his head. A second explanation is that in that culture only prostitutes went around in public with their heads uncovered. If that was the case why was Paul not specific, relating the issue to modesty or causing offence? After all he explained other issues clearly. So, what is the Lord saying here and in the rest of this chapter? If this issue represents authority then there is much to learn from it. Possibly Paul is using the issue of covering your head as a sort of parable as the issue was contentious among the women in Corinth. In near eastern culture women wore veils in public (but not a total covering like the burka). This did represent that the woman was under another persons authority either her father (or brother if the father was dead) or her husband. A man could not approach a woman who wore a veil, he could be killed for accosting her so it was a protection for a woman. It has also been suggested that any form of head covering for a man represented he was under authority. Jewish men wore a prayer shawl called a talith, meaning “little tent”. When they prayed they would cover themselves with the shawl creating a private place to meet with God undisturbed. Even today Jewish men have to cover their heads to pray at the wailing wall. It is believed the woman touching Jesus garment was touching the talith, his prayer shawl. Conversely prostitutes did uncover their heads in public and women adulterers had their heads shaved as a lesser punishment than being stoned to death. With these issues in mind as we approach the passage it may become more clear.
7 For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.
8 For man was not made from woman, but woman from man.
9 Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.
10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. – 1 Corinthians 11:7-10
So with the facts we looked above what is the Lord saying here? The key could be in verse 7. Man was created to glorify God. God revealed Himself and His glory to man through the creation He made and through His personal relationship with Adam. God formed Eve out of man and she was to reflect the Glory of God through her relationship with Adam. We were created in the image of God to be able to reflect His glory back to Him. Jesus fully reflected His Father’s glory and we are now hidden in Him. As we all operate in the order God has established so His Glory is manifest. Jesus chose to submit to God to reveal the Glory of the Lord to us on earth. We chose to submit to Christ so the glory of the the Lord can be revealed to a lost world. In a marriage the woman “is the glory of man”. It is a man’s greatest pleasure to see his wife flourish in her walk with Christ, becoming the person God has destined her to be. As a wife chooses to submit to Christ through her husband’s headship the angels rejoice, as they see the unveiling of the plan of redemption through sinful men and women reflecting the glory of the Lord. Next we will revisit the head covering issue to see if it all fits together.
Paul, speaking about head coverings, is talking about a well established custom in his culture. Just as the act of communion came from the Passover feast and the act of baptism came from the priests cleansing themselves before doing their duties, so head covering was a well practiced tradition. So how do we view this today? Should we have women cover their heads in church and no man ever wear a hat? In an article on this subject Daniel Wallace suggests that “head covering is a meaningful symbol in the ancient world that needs some sort of corresponding symbol today.” If we were to ask women to wear hats in Church it could be a distinctly humiliating experience which is far from what Paul intended, and would not reflect the glory of the Lord. Paul used a common practice to try to make a spiritual principle clear. Sadly for us it makes the principle less clear, as we are inclined to make a legislative point out of wearing a head covering, which was never the intention. Wallace compares this issue with the act of communion. Taken from the Passover meal the wine and unleavened bread were essential parts of the feast. Today some churches insist on using wine and others are horrified at using alcoholic beverage and use grape juice. The actual symbol used is not the issue but what it represents is the issue. Wallace tentatively suggests that instead of head covering modest clothing is a possible symbol. Just as the veil offered a symbol of protection so unprovocative clothing could also send out a protective message. But this is just one person’s suggestion and not to be seen as being revealed from the text. Next we will look at how hair can reflect glory.
11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman;
12 for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.
13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered?
14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him,
15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering.
16 If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God. – 1 Corinthians 11:11-16
Men and women need each other. Headship is not a way to dominate but to lead. Marriage is a wonderful partnership and interdependent relationship. Headship enhances the flow of spiritual order. Paul continues to use the example of head covering. As mentioned before the Jewish custom was for women and men to cover their heads while in prayer. In the Jewish mind it was unthinkable that a woman would pray with her head uncovered. But Paul then goes on to talk about hair. He suggests that there is a natural order about women having longer hair than men. In most societies this is true. Of course it is all relative but even when the men have long hair it is rare that they have it as long the women. We see two examples of men in the OT who ran in to trouble because of their long hair. In ancient Near East long hair was frequently a picture of a warrior’s prowess and strength. Absolom was proud of his long hair but it was his hair that caught him out, literally, and led to his death. Samson (although a requirement for a Nazarite) had long hair which when it was removed – the Lord left him (Jud 16:20) a very strange concept to us. In verse 15 Paul refers to a woman’s hair being her “glory”. The NLT says “and isn’t long hair a woman’s pride and joy”. In their culture a woman who had her hair cut or shaved was in disgrace. In our culture women frequently ware their hair short as a sign of being a business woman, a severe teacher (as you mentioned yesterday the fierce lady with the bun) or as a symbol of rebellion (punk, grunge, etc). Guzik suggests Paul may be referring to a women’s longer hair as “nature’s veil” that indicates her covering, her spiritual need for head ship. I’m not sure. To me, for example , your long hair is glorious and shouts of your beauty and femininity. I am more inclined to take Paul’s word as literal. A women’s hair is her glory. It represents the wonderful beauty God has given to woman. When Adam first saw Eve he cried out “this one, at last” indicating he was overwhelmed with the beauty of Eve and thankfulness to God for giving him a wonderful companion.
Paul ends by encouraging the Corinthians not to be contentious bu to follow what the other churches ave adopted as custom according to God’s truth.
17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse.
18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part,
19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. – 1 Corinthians 11:17-19
Why do we have divisions among Christians? Earlier in this letter Paul raised the issue of divisions in the “I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Christ” section. Here he repeats the plea for unity but with a difference. He seems to be leading to the conclusion that the Lord allows division to reveal people’s hearts. “for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized”. The Lord will use everything to reveal our hearts.
8 Understand, O dullest of the people! Fools, when will you be wise?
9 He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see?
10 He who disciplines the nations, does he not rebuke? He who teaches man knowledge-
11 the LORD-knows the thoughts of man, that they are but a breath.
12 Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O LORD, and whom you teach out of your law, – Psalm 94:8-12
20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.
21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk.
22 What! Do you not have houses 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 commend you in this? No, I will not. – 1 Corinthians 11:20-22
It seems that some of the Corinthians were being selfish and inconsiderate at the ‘agape’ meal, a supper the church had each week together which includes celebrating communion. People were taking lots of food and drink and others were missing out. Reminds me of what Paul said in Phillipians:
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. – Philippians 2:4-7
We are servants of Christ. A concept I certainly struggle with. The flesh does not like the thought of being subject to someone, serving their needs first but that is what Jesus did, so best to let the mind that was in Him be in us:
“For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 2:16
In one sense being servant-hearted is great, looking after others, but in the true sense giving up your rights and accepting Christ’s requests for our day to day, moment by moment walk with Christ, it means facing the cross daily.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20
Praise God for the second part of this verse. It is by His faith and His blood that I can walk in the laid down life of Christ.
23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread,
24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” – 1 Corinthians 11:23-24
The passage we are familiar with when we share communion. The Jewish people were familiar with the Passover meal which Jesus was sharing with His disciples just before He was betrayed. He really wanted to share that special meal with those close to Him, which celebrated the liberation of the Israelites fro Egypt as He prepared to liberate all who believe from death.
15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.
16 For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” – Luke 22:15-16
I am sure they did not understand Him when He said “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Paul writes that he received this “from the Lord”. It is not until the light of revelation is shone in our hearts by the Holy Spirit that we can understand the things of the Kingdom of God. Thank God He has given us the Spirit so that we can understand all the things He wants to reveal to us.
that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, – Colossians 2:2
25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. – 1 Corinthians 11:25-26
The new covenant. The new promise from God. Not the conditional promise of the Old Testament:
17 You shall diligently keep the commandments of the LORD your God, and his testimonies and his statutes, which he has commanded you.
18 And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the LORD, that it may go well with you, and that you may go in and take possession of the good land that the LORD swore to give to your fathers – Deuteronomy 6:17-18
which demanded that we keep the law, but the New Covenant of His blood shed for us that we may be made righteous:
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. – Romans 3:23-25
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. – Ephesians 2:13
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. – Romans 5:9
how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. – Hebrews 9:14
Praise God as we remember what He has done for us and may we proclaim out loud to all around us that His death and resurrection has procured our salvation and salvation for all people and nations.
27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.
28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. – 1 Corinthians 11:27-29
This next section deals with people who were not fully comprehending the reality and function of the body of Christ. And therefore not appreciating the importance of communion. If they ate and drank the Lord’s supper without understanding the importance of the broken body of Christ and the shed blood that saved them. They brought on themselves a judgment by despising the precious sacrifice and not really being joined in unity with their brothers and sisters in Christ, in the body of Christ here on earth. They would be a poor witness, bring shame on the memory of the precious sacrafice of Christ, as they feasted and got drunk.
The word “unworthy” has caused some confusion as Christians have been falsely taught that they need to make themselves “worthy” before taking communion. But none of us are worthy. We need to confess our sins and keep a short account before the Lord of our failures but our sin should lead us to the cross and seeking forgiveness. We can not make ourselves holy by our actions. It is because of His great love for us that He makes us holy by setting us apart for His use. People should not be kept away from communion but with honest self appraisal have a clear conscience, washed clean by the blood and the water of the Word knowing with full assurance of faith you are accepted in the beloved (Eph 1:6).
30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.
32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. – 1 Corinthians 11:30-32
Does the Lord use illness and disaster to discipline us? Am reading so much about this debate. Philip Yancey describes that we live in a world that runs by fixed laws but is populated humans with free will. This inevitably has led to humans running wild and spoiling God’s creation. Then we tend to blame God for suffering or have a fatalistic attitude that nothing can be done as it is God’s will. Another two opposing thoughts are that either we are living in a world where we attribute all suffering to God, seeing it as His punishment for human mistakes – or we assume a life with God will never include suffering. Both are error.
In the Old Testament God warned people of the consequences of their rebelliousness and sin well before the consequences happened. People realised the consequences were a result of their sin. But that pattern is not replicated in our experience today. When an illness strikes or a tragedy happens the first thing we ask is “why”. We still instinctively see it as a punishment from God. But no where in the teachings or actions of Jesus do we see that. He worked tirelessly to relieve suffering, healing the sick and casting out demons. And in Luke 13 He expresses that two incidents of tragic loss of life were not related to sin. However the consequences made people aware of their mortality and the need to repent and get close to God.
Of course as believers we are disciplined by our loving Father. But He would obviously want us to realise the “punishment fits the crime”. Unrelated disaster would make us paranoid just as a child exposed to irrational anger becomes insecure. But God does not want us condemned along with the world. He disciplines us so we will not loose our relationship with Him and live as the unbelievers do without God and alone in a wild and chaotic world.
So what is Paul saying? People are ill and dying because they despised the Lord’s supper, an act of God’s corrective judgment? Or is he saying those who do not really know the Lord are abusing the Agape feast and they are ill and dying without Christ, so need to repent and be saved? To be honest I am not sure. Tomorrow’s passage may shed more light. All I do know that whatever is happening I trust my loving Heavenly Father that he wants the best for us.
33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another-
34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home-so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come. – 1 Corinthians 11:33-34
So, as Paul concludes this section on behaviour at the Lord’s supper he suggests a very practical solution. If your hungry eat at home. When you get together – wait on each other, serve one another, putting others needs first. That way there will be no strife, resentment or judgment among you. What can we learn from this chapter?
Respect for the authority God has put in place and respect for His memory at communion. Just as a wife is asked to respect her husband so we should respect God. Another form of trust and fear of the Lord and demonstrating our love for Him. Whether things happen because the Lord Is disciplining us, because of an accident or because of a foolish decision on our part we can respond to the Lord with trust, respect, fear and love for He will never leave us or forsake us.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.