In our study of 1 Corinthians chapter eleven, we will look at the principle of orderly worship to eliminate confusion. Paul continues to answer questions that the Corinthian church had sent him and we will apply the lessons to our lives today.
"Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." NIV translation
At first glance, this seems to be a pretty bold statement as Paul urges the Corinthian believers to follow his example but he meant more than that. Paul was telling them to follow him as he followed Christ so, in effect, they would be following Christ. He is also telling them to only follow him when it is in agreement with the mind of Christ. There are many people today that elevate a pastor to the position where they blindly follow anything that is shared with them. Many times, this is due to laziness as the people do not want to put in the time required to study the word on their own and let the Holy Spirit speak to them through the word.
"I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them on to you." NIV translation
Up to this point in this letter to the Corinthians, Paul has not had anything to praise them for but here he does. They were holding fast to the teachings that they had been given instead of being blown along by whatever new trend in thinking appeared. That is why it is so important to study the word and to pray and seek understanding from God. If we do that, we too will be able to stand firm and glorify God.
"Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God." NIV translation
Paul begins by showing us who is in authority because, without someone in authority, you cannot have order. We see that God is over all creation and even Jesus is subject to the will of the Father. Then all men are subject to Christ and all women are subject to their husband. The head is the one that gives instructions and so we see that all are subject to following the direction of God through the Holy Spirit. (A woman does not have to follow blindly everything that her husband says. She must respond to him as he responds to God.) We also see that, since God is the leader of all, then, there is no merit to all of the so-called leadership training ministries that we see today. You do not need training to listen to God as all you need is the Spirit living in you.
"Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head." NIV translation
Why do Jews and many religions require the man's head to be covered while, here, Paul says it dishonors his head? The rabbis of the day had taught that man should cover his head based on the fact that Moses covered his head when he came down from receiving the Ten Commandments. They misinterpreted Moses' actions as he was covering his head so that the people would not see that the glory of the Lord was fading from him.
"But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head - it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head." NIV translation
This passage speaks of a local cultural significance of a woman having her head covered. Some go so far as requiring this of women of today but we must remember that, in Christ, women are just as free as men and so can choose to cover their head or not.
"A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head." NIV translation
Paul recounts the creation of man and woman in the garden. He goes on to say that, as an example to the angels, women are to demonstrate their subjection to Christ through the covering of their head in worship.
"In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?" NIV translation
He goes on to explain that Jesus changed everything and that through Him comes freedom. A man or a woman can worship God whether their head is covered or whether it is not. The heart is what matters and we are free to listen to the Spirit in all things and that includes the covering of the head.
"Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice - nor do the churches of God." NIV translation
Paul goes on to explain that it is only natural for a woman to have long hair but he reminds us that the length of a person's hair is no cause for disunity. The devil can use minor things like this to get in and cause serious problems in the church. But, if the church stays focused on the grace of God through Jesus Christ, these things will not be an issue.
"In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good." NIV translation
Now, Paul begins the process of correcting problems within the group of believers (the church). We see that their meeting together did not glorify God and the same type of thing happens even today among the local "churches". A meeting of Christians should glorify God and lift each other up but often it is a place of gossip, power struggles, and a fashion show.
"In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God's approval." NIV translation
The first situation that Paul deals with is that of division in the church. They were allowing the things outside the church to come in and affect the operation of the church. We, as Christians, are called to be the light not embrace the dark. God demonstrates His approval for those that are in His will.
"When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. 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 for this? Certainly not!" NIV translation
Paul fills us in as to what exactly was going on at the meetings of the church in Corinth. At that time in Corinth, they had huge love feasts which were giant parties where it was every man for himself. This was carrying over into the celebration of the Lord's Supper among the believers. Instead of sharing in the celebration and remembrance of what Jesus has done, they were turning it into the same type of party.
"For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 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.' In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.' For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." NIV translation
Paul tells them (and us) that they were not doing this because they were ignorant because he had shared with them the words of Jesus concerning the Lord's Supper. In this passage, we see that the purpose of the Lord's Supper is twofold. Observing it gets us to stop and remember what Jesus has done for mankind and it is also a witness to others. In many "churches" today it has been twisted around and many desperately take communion as if it is a chore required for salvation. As we see, the focus was not on us doing something to be saved but on remembering what Jesus did to save us.
"Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself." NIV translation
What does Paul mean by an "unworthy manner"? We see from the instructions that Jesus gave concerning communion that it is to be done as we remember what He has done for us. They were coming together and eating like it was a regular meal and he warns them that they are bringing judgment on themselves.
"That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world." NIV translation
We see that the judgment that Paul speaks of is physical sickness and even dying physically. We might ask ourselves how this can be and we see that this judgment is actually discipline to get them back to remembering what Jesus has done.
"So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. And when I come I will give further directions." NIV translation
Paul's final words on the subject of communion reminds them that it is not about getting food in the belly but remembering Christ. He assures them that when he visits them he will show them what he means by worthy communion.