1 Corinthians 11

1 Corinthians 11  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 9
THE FRESH PARAGRAPH begins with verse 2, which stands in very direct contrast with verse 17. The Apostle had referred to the institution of the Lord’s Supper in chapter 10, as we have seen; and there had been grave disorders in connection with it, demanding very heavy censure. However there were certain matters as to which he could praise them. So first he utters a word of praise. Certain “ordinances,” or “directions,” had been given to them, and they had remembered Paul and observed them. So even in this we see the Apostle exemplifying what he had just been saying. He sought the profit of the Corinthians by praising them before he blamed them, and in this he followed Christ, for it is exactly His way, as exemplified in His messages to the seven churches in Rev. 2 and 3.
But even here there was something as to which the Corinthians were ignorant. It seems that they observed directions given as to the behavior of men and of women in connection with prayer and prophecy, without understanding the truth that governed those directions. That the man should engage in these spiritual exercises with uncovered head, and the woman with covered head, was not a mere whim, an arbitrary order. On the contrary it was in accord with the Divine order, established in connection with Christ. Three headships are mentioned in verse 3.
The highest of these springs from the fact that in becoming Man, that He might assume the office of Mediator, the Lord Jesus took the place of subjection. Isaiah had prophesied the coming of Jehovah’s Servant, who would have the ear of the learner, and never swerve from His direction: that is to say, Jehovah would be His Head and Director in all things. This was perfectly fulfilled in Christ; and the fact that He is now risen and glorified has not altered the position. He is still the Servant of the will of God (though never less than God Himself) and the pleasure of Jehovah is to prosper in His hand to eternity. So the Head of Christ is God.
But then Christ is the Head of the man, as distinguished from the woman. A certain order was established in creation since “Adam was first formed, then Eve” (1 Tim. 2:1313For Adam was first formed, then Eve. (1 Timothy 2:13)). That order is stated also in verses 8 and 9 of our chapter. She shared in his place and his distinctions, and even in the days of innocence headship was vested in Adam. Sin did not alter that headship, neither has the coming in of God’s grace in Christ. So Christ is the Head of man, and of every man. And the head of the woman is the man.
Every member of the human body is directed from the head. So the figure is very simple and expressive. It is a matter, in one word, of direction. The woman is to accept direction from the man. The man is to accept direction from Christ. And Christ accepts direction from God, and does so perfectly. For the rest, it is done very imperfectly. The great mass of menfolk do not recognize Christ at all; and at the present time there is a great uprising of womenfolk against the direction and leadership of men, and that—significantly enough—especially in Christendom. Still none of these things alter that which is the divine ideal and order.
Now if any believer, man or woman, has to do with God and His things, whether it be in praying (i.e., addressing oneself to Him), or in prophesying (i.e., speaking forth words from Him), there is to be the observance of these directions as to the uncovering or covering of the head, as a sign that God’s order is recognized and obeyed. Verses 14 and 15 further show that it is in keeping with this that the man has short and the woman long hair.
There is no contradiction between verse 5 of our chapter and verse 34 of chapter 14, for the simple reason that there speaking in the assembly is in question, whereas in our chapter the assembly does not come into view until verse 17 is reached. Only then do we begin to consider things that may happen when we “come together.” The praying or prophesying contemplated in verse 5 is not in connection with the formal assemblies of God’s saints.
It was when the Apostle turned to deal with things that were transpiring in connection with their assemblies that he found himself bound to blame them. They came together to no profit but the reverse. In the first chapter he had alluded to these divisions or schisms in their midst, and it was when they came together that they were so painfully manifest. They still came together in one place. Things had not reached such a pass that they refused to meet any longer as one, and met in different buildings. Yet there were internal splits or fissures in the assembly, with all their disastrous effects.
Tidings of this had reached Paul’s ears and he tells them plainly that he partly believed it, for he knew their carnal state. The word “heresies,” in verse 19 means, “sects,” or “schools of opinion;” (Gal. 5:2020Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, (Galatians 5:20)) and they are mentioned in Gal. 5:2020Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, (Galatians 5:20), amongst the terrible “works of the flesh” (Gal. 2:1616Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. (Galatians 2:16)). If saints are found in a fleshly condition, heresies crop up as sure as they are alive. Hence, says the Apostle to the fleshly Corinthians, “there must be heresies among you” (ch. 11:19). These heresies may have the effect of making manifest those foolishly “approved” by men: they will certainly reveal those who refuse this party making, and hence are “approved” of God.
What must be the judgment of the Spirit of God as to us today, in view of the way in which schools of opinion are flourishing in the church of God?
It is quite clear from the 20th verse that the Corinthian saints, though very numerous, were still meeting together in one building. They came together “in the church,” as verse eighteen puts it: but those words have no reference to a building of any kind, but rather to the fact that they came together “in assembly;” that is in their church or assembly character. Arid when they did so these sects, or parties became painfully manifest, and also their proceedings were very disorderly; so disorderly in fact that the apostle refuses to recognize their feasts, which they called, “the Lord’s supper,” (ch. 11:20) as being truly the supper of the Lord at all. They are not he says, the Lord’s Supper, but each one taking his own supper.
There is, we believe, a double contrast here. First, between “the Lord’s” and “his own.” They treated the matter as if they were the masters of it and hence could arrange it as they pleased and generally do as they liked. This led to outrageous disorder at Corinth-some getting nothing, and others getting so much of the wine as to be drunken. Similar gross disorder may be avoided today, but have not many assumed that they are masters of the situation when this holy ordinance is in question, and so felt themselves perfectly free to alter it to taste?-free to turn it into a mass, or a sacrifice, free to have it ornate, or choral, free to confine its ministration to a priestly caste and have it so frequently as to be almost continuous, free to have it only once in several months, or to abolish it altogether.
But there is also the contrast between the Lord’s supper which is a matter of fellowship, as chapter 10. has just unfolded, and “every one” (or “each one”) taking his own supper: that is, making it a purely individual matter. Even supposing that saints come together and observe the ordinance quite faultlessly, as regards all its externals, and yet treat it as a purely personal privilege, eliminating from it in their mind the thought that we do it as one body, they have missed the mark. It is not each one acting and eating for himself: it is rather all acting together.
Now the only remedy for disorder in connection with the Lord’s supper-even in apostolic days, be it noted—was to go back to the original institution in its spirit, its significance, its orderly simplicity. Paul did not argue on the subject. In verses 23 to 27, he simply reverts to what had been instituted by the Lord Himself. And he did so, not as having received authentic information from the other apostles who had been present, but as having received the ordinance directly from the Lord, by divinely-given revelation. This revelation confirms the account already given by the inspired evangelists, and clarifies its meaning. Much that passes as an “orderly” and “beautiful” celebration or observance of this institution is simply disorder in the divine estimation. Any “order”, however ornate or beautiful to human eyes, which is not the divine order, is disorder in the Divine eyes.
God has been pleased to give us four accounts of the institution of the Lord’s supper, and the fourth through Paul has its own peculiar importance, inasmuch as it makes it quite clear that it is to be observed by Gentile believers as much as by Jewish, and also that it is to continue “till He come.” The materials used are of the simplest—the bread, the cup—everyday sights in the homes of those days. The significance of the materials was very profound—“My body,” “the new testament in my blood” (ch. 11:25). And the whole spirit of the ordinance is “remembrance.” We are to remember Him in the circumstances in which once He was, in death, though we know Him as the One now glorified in heaven.
The supper of the Lord then begins with remembrance of Him in death. Much will flow out of this remembrance and we cannot fail to be conscious of blessing (it is, “the cup of blessing” (ch. 10:16)) and consequently bless God in return. But we must penetrate beneath the symbols to that which they symbolize. We must discern the body and blood of Christ; and discerning this, we shall be preserved from treating these holy things in an unholy or unworthy manner, as the Corinthians had been doing. The Lord did not hold them guiltless, and they were eating and drinking judgment (see, margin) to themselves. They were guilty in respect of dishonor done not merely to a loaf and a cup, but to the body and blood of Christ, symbolized by the loaf and the cup. This is the plain force of verses 27 and 29.
What then should we do? When the Lord smote Uzzah in judgment because he treated the Ark of God as though it had been an ordinary object (see 2 Sam. 6) David was displeased and left the Ark severely alone for a time. This was a mistake, which afterward he rectified by honoring the Ark, and treating it as had been commanded by God. Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians, in verses 28 to 30, exactly agree with this. God had interfered in judgment amongst them, many were weak and sickly and some had been removed by death. But this should not make them refuse to observe the Lord’s supper further. The rather it should make them examine themselves and partake in a spirit of self-judgment. There had been abuse, but the remedy for this was not disuse but rather a careful use, in obedience to the design of God.
The closing verses of the chapter give us an example of God’s chastening by way of retribution. They were being disciplined because of wrong committed. God chastens His children that they may not be judged with the world. And if only we judged ourselves we should be preserved from the evil and hence not need the hand of God upon us. Let us mark that! How excellent is the holy art of self-judgment; and how little practiced. Let us cultivate it more and more. By it we should be preserved from innumerable errors. The Corinthians evidently neglected it and much was wrong with them. The Apostle had corrected the most glaring of their errors when they partook of the Lord’s supper. There were others, but these could wait until he visited them in person: so he closes the chapter by saying, “the rest will I set in order when I come” (ch. 11:34).