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This is a continuation of Applying 1 Corinthians 10.
And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ. (1 Cor. 11:1)
Paul begins this chapter on a sour note of arrogance as he once again tells the Corinthians to strive to imitate a sinful, pompous mortal instead of focusing directly on Christ.
I am so glad that you always keep me in your thoughts, and that you are following the teachings I passed on to you. But there is one thing I want you to know: The head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is Yahweh. A man dishonors his head if he covers his head while praying or prophesying. But a woman dishonors her head if she prays or prophesies without a covering on her head, for this is the same as shaving her head. Yes, if she refuses to wear a head covering, she should cut off all her hair! But since it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut or her head shaved, she should wear a covering. (1 Cor. 11:2-6)
This chapter is filled with instructions that have resulted in endless warring between male and female Christians. Of course the first place we go wrong is to treat the words of a man like Paul as Divinely inspired. By now we should realize that the man rarely says anything that’s worth keeping. This business about who should cover what is more meaningless guff.
Roll back the clock a ways, and it was considered utterly lewd for American women to let their ankles be seen in public. Now we walk around in flip-flops and shorts and it’s not considered immoral. Cultural definitions of “proper” and “improper” are in a constant state of flux. In Paul’s day, the Jews found it shockingly brazen for a woman to not have her head covered in public. Such behavior was viewed as an act of rebellion, whereas men covering their heads in church was viewed as weirdly effeminate.
We have to remember that the port city of Corinth is a cultural melting pot. Is it correct for Paul to demand that all believers conform to his culture’s views? No, it’s not. The Jews don’t own the church in Corinth, and Yahweh has made it very clear that He doesn’t want any cultural discrimination. In his letter to the church in Galatia, Paul will write:
There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:28)
Yet here he’s insisting that all believers in Corinth conform to meaningless Jewish dress codes. To suggest that God is offended by your head décor when you pray or speak for Him is like saying that God will get mad if you try to talk to Him while you’re wearing jeans or a nose ring. In our last chapter, we talked about how important it is to have a proper understanding of how God judges you. Paul keeps trying to make a big fuss over meaningless externals when he should be teaching that God cares about the heart. If the Holy Spirit tells you personally not to wear earrings for some reason and you wear them anyway, then clearly you are guilty of willful defiance. But if He hasn’t said anything to you about jewelry, then you’re not sinning to wear some. We need to be looking to God to define what is a moral issue and what isn’t. When we instead try to rely on the advice of a guy who lived 2,000 years ago, we’re going to end up making a federal issue over something as meaningless as how long or short our hair is.
A man should not wear anything on his head when worshiping, for man is made in God’s image and reflects God’s glory. And woman reflects man’s glory. For the first man didn’t come from woman, but the first woman came from man. And man was not made for woman, but woman was made for man. (1 Cor. 11:7-9)
A man does not reflect God’s glory, and a woman doesn’t reflect the glory of man. Paul is way too obsessed with the topic of glory. We need to realize that all Jewish men were raised from the cradle to be condescending little bigots who viewed women as inferior to them. We should expect a guy like Paul to have a condescending attitude towards women—not because he’s trying to be a jerk, but because this is how he has been taught to think by others. So he teaches that man is some independent, superior creature while women were created for men. Oh, baloney. Both men and women were created for God.
Let’s be honest about how much we try and use the story of Adam and Eve to justify gender discrimination. God made Adam first. Paul tries to say that this is a sign that God views all men as superior. Well, before God made Adam, He made the sun and the stars and the creatures of earth. So if we’re going to play order of creation games, then God must think fish, birds, and trees are better than people. After all, God made humans last. Obviously the last is a loser, right? No? Well, if we want to argue that last is the best, then that means Eve is superior to Adam because she was the very last one God made. Do you see how foolish such arguments are? If you’re a man with a superiority complex, then of course you’re going to interpret God’s “It is not good for man to be alone” comment as a sign that women were created for the sole purpose of amusing men. But you could just as easily interpret God’s comment as evidence that man was failing to please Him. In other words, we could argue that God created Eve to compensate for His disappointment with Adam.
Because of his cultural brainwashing, Paul wants people to think that men are superior in God’s eyes. He’s learning that this is no longer correct, which is why he makes that comment in Galatians about gender being irrelevant under the New Covenant. But you’re still going to find a lot of bigotry woven into Paul’s language whenever he discusses gender issues. We need to cut the guy some slack in this area. You don’t get over a lifetime of prejudice overnight.
So why did God make men and women? Because He likes variety. Also because He intended humans to be communal creatures with differences that complement and enhance each other. We do not have one God, we have three. When They said that They made humans in Their image, part of what They were referring to is how humans were designed to be unique individuals who can come together and form communities which are greater than the sum of their individual components. Yahweh is not a clone of Jesus or the Holy Spirit. He is Yahweh. There are things about Yahweh which are unique to Yahweh. It’s the same with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Yet when these Three get together, something really awesome happens. We see echoes of this in our human relationships. There is something indescribably special about the union that is created between a man and a woman in a God centered marriage. Whenever humans come together in harmony, something really neat happens—even when all the humans are the same gender. Five men on a battlefield can form a deep heart bond with each other which lasts the rest of their lives. In the same way, a group of women can come together and experience something very special. But the greatest mystery of all is what happens when a man and a woman come together and we see the two genders complementing each other.
God designed men and women to fit together like jigsaw pieces in every area. In anatomical design, physical abilities, cognitive processing, emotional processing, and natural instincts, men and women are not clones of each other. Each gender is designed to be different, yet when used correctly, these differences can fit together and create something that didn’t exist before. God built an intense desire for women into men and vice versa. One sex isn’t superior to the other. Instead, each one feels like they need the other to feel complete. Adam was designed to need Eve, and God helped him realize this by making Adam spend the first part of his existence without her. Then God designed Eve to need Adam and when He brought them together, there was great joy. So when Paul talks like men are independent creatures whose creation had nothing to do with women, he is talking like a fool.
For this reason, and because the angels are watching, a woman should wear a covering on her head to show she is under authority. (1 Cor. 11:10)
It is because these head coverings are being used to affirm domination and superiority that they need to go. If they’d just been head coverings, it wouldn’t have mattered. But ordering a woman to keep her head covered as a means of publicly expressing her inferiority to men and to God is garbage.
Notice how Paul says women should concern themselves with what angels think. Good grief, this man is absurd. No, you really shouldn’t get up in the morning saying, “What should I wear to church? Hm, what outfit would make the best impression on the angels?” We aren’t living to impress angels, we’re living for God. Don’t let Paul’s idolatrous obsession with angelic creatures drag you down.
But among the Lord’s people, women are not independent of men, and men are not independent of women. For although the first woman came from man, every other man was born from a woman, and everything comes from God. (1 Cor. 11:11-12)
By now we should be learning to expect this kind of doubletalk from Paul. First he makes a big fuss out of the fact that men are superior to women, then he starts stressing equality by pointing out the rather obvious fact that there wouldn’t be any men in the world if it weren’t for women’s ability to have babies. If Adam was supposed to be so superior, how come he couldn’t make more of his own kind? Because he wasn’t superior, he was just different. To God, different does not always have to mean better or worse.
Judge for yourselves. Is it right for a woman to pray to God in public without covering her head? Isn’t it obvious that it’s disgraceful for a man to have long hair? And isn’t long hair a woman’s pride and joy? For it has been given to her as a covering. But if anyone wants to argue about this, I simply say that we have no other custom than this, and neither do God’s other churches. (1 Cor. 11:13-16)
Depending on what culture you live in today, it might not seem at all “obvious” to you that men shouldn’t have long hair. And by the way, the ancient Jews prided themselves on being hairy dudes and their idea of short hair would be considered long in many modern cultures today. This emphatic little speech Paul makes is nothing more than him expressing his own cultural bias.
Now as soon as anyone comes up with a scenario in which they say it is wrong for people to pray to God, you know you’re hearing from Satan. You won’t see the day that God tells you not to talk to Him. But here Paul has the gall to tell women that it’s wrong for them to pray to God unless their current outfit meets with Paul’s personal approval. How do you think God feels about leaders in the Church telling members of His flock not to talk to Him? Paul says this is the kind of command he’s giving at every church he goes to. In other words, he’s encouraging certain people to feel rejected by God based on how they are dressed in a given moment. Talk about something that is “obviously” wrong.
In the things I tell you now I do not praise you, because when you come together you do more harm than good. First, I hear that there are divisions among you when you meet as a church, 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.
When you meet together, you are not really interested in the Lord’s Supper. For some of you hurry to eat your own meal without sharing with others. As a result, some go hungry while others get drunk. What? Don’t you have your own homes for eating and drinking? Or do you really want to disgrace God’s church and shame the poor? What am I supposed to say? Do you want me to praise you? Well, I certainly will not praise you for this! (1 Cor. 11:17-22)
What we call Communion today is a stripped down version of what the early Christians did. For them the Lord’s Supper was a full meal. After all, Jesus was having Passover when He made His famous speech about bread and wine. Passover was an annual holiday for the Jews which consisted of several symbolic elements. Two of those elements (the third cup and the bread which is eaten at the end of the meal) became specifically associated with Christ. The sip of grape juice and the single cracker or small bit of bread that many Christians take today during their church service Communion rituals weren’t anything like what the early believers did. For them, the Lord’s Supper was just that—a supper. But of course whenever there’s a nice spread of food laid out, people can get piggish, and in Corinth, the Lord’s Supper has turned into a disgusting display of gluttony. People are shoving their way to the front of the line and stuffing their faces so fast that many never even get a turn to eat. While some are laughing their heads off and stumbling around drunk, others are going hungry. Paul is rightfully disgusted. In an attempt to shame everyone back into obedience, he reminds them all of what the focus of this meal is supposed to be.
For I pass on to you what I received from Jesus Himself. On the night when He was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to Yahweh for it. Then He broke it in pieces and said, “This is My body, which is given for you. Do this to remember Me.” In the same way, He took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the New Covenant between Yahweh and His people—an agreement confirmed with My blood. Do this to remember Me as often as you drink it.” For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing Christ’s death until He comes again.
So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of Jesus unworthily is guilty of sinning against the Body and Blood of the Jesus. That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup. For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honoring the Body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself. (1 Cor. 11:23-29)
Our Gods hate hypocrisy, and when we use the worship of Them as an excuse to wallow in carnality, we are asking for trouble. This principle applies to more than just Communion. What about these revolting flesh fests that we call our worship concerts? Who is it that we’re worshiping as we turn off the lights and watch musicians prance about on stage entertaining us all with their theatrical movements and special media effects? As we applaud and scream our approval of the ones who are making our flesh feel so good, do we think God is fooled? Do we really go to these things to worship our Creators? No, we go to them for the same reason that the unsaved go to rock concerts. We’re all just wanting to feel that rush of sensuality. There’s nothing wrong with just rocking out until we start trying to pretend that’s not what we’re doing. The next time you find yourself belting out some praise song to God, stop and think about the words you are saying. Do you really mean what you’re singing to Him? Most of the time, the honest answer will be no.
That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died. If we were properly evaluating ourselves, we would not be judged, but when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord, so that we may not be condemned with the world. (1 Cor. 11:30-32)
There are a lot of health problems going around in the Corinthian church. A lot of people are falling ill and some have even died. Paul says this wave of illness is an act of Divine discipline. He urges the Corinthians to start doing some sober self-evaluation before they participate in the Lord’s Supper so that they can make sure their hearts are in the right place. It would have been better if he’d told them to seek guidance from the Holy Spirit instead of describing a self-evaluation process, but Paul is terrible about turning people’s focus onto God. In the last chapter he had the Corinthians fretting over what other people might think instead of focusing on God’s opinion. Now he tells them to evaluate themselves instead of consciously seeking God’s input. We do not keep ourselves on track in this life. It doesn’t matter if you are righteous in your own eyes—your own evaluation is worthless. It is God’s opinion that matters, and we should be asking Him to have His way in our lives.
So, my dear brothers and sisters, when you gather for the Lord’s Supper, wait for each other. If you are really hungry, eat at home so you won’t bring judgment upon yourselves when you meet together. I’ll give you instructions about the other matters after I arrive. (1 Cor. 11:33-34)
Whenever food is being shared, the size of the group needs to be taken into account. If it’s a large group, there isn’t going to be as much to go around. Paul says hungry people should eat at home to take the edge off of their appetites so they won’t be tempted to stuff their faces. Well, yes, this is basic manners.
Now the Corinthians have asked other questions that Paul doesn’t want to take the time to answer in this letter. He plans to return to Corinth soon, so he’s saving some issues until then. Meanwhile, he wants to move on to other topics.
UP NEXT: Applying 1 Corinthians 12: A Bunch of Guff about Gifts