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Lowell Brueckner

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1 Corinthians 11


Chapter 11

A clear difference between men and women

1.      Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
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, and the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.
4.      Every man who prays of 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.
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.
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.

To be able to give a recommendation conscientiously, such as Paul does in verse 1, tells of his assurance of his own true and successful discipleship. He was wholeheartedly and truly submitted to Christ, therefore he could enlist followers. However, the statement also suggests a limitation, as there must always be among imperfect human beings… follow me only to the extent that I follow Christ. It is necessary to comment, as well, that biblical definitions give a different connotation to that which immediately comes into our mind, when we see the word imitator. It should express Paul’s desire that through his example, he would turn every head towards Christ, as the writer of Hebrews states, “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (He.12:2).

We can break this chapter almost in half by these words in verse 2, “I commend you,” and these in verse 17, “I do not commend you”. He commends them, because they take his ministry and his teaching seriously, putting them into practice. You will notice that there were apostolic traditions in the early church, differing from ordinances and biblical instruction, perhaps, as there may be in the church today. Traditions must be limited, so they do not take the place or overrule God’s commandments. They pertain, especially, to good order and testimony before society, I think, rather than spiritual principle.

We might take as an example the practice of foot washing, which was a tradition in the culture of Jesus’ day. When a visitor came to a home, a slave or a servant would wash his feet, because, wearing only sandals, the feet would be dirty upon arrival. This was common curtesy. Down through the years, generally, the church has seen Christ’s command to his disciples to literally wash one another’s feet, as a tradition particularly for the First Century (Jn.13:14). To practice it today, would be a ritual without a practical basis, and would be out-of-touch with the customs of these times. It would give the unbelievers good cause to mock the practice and the people involved. However, there are many practical ways, in which a Christian can humbly serve his brothers and sisters, considering them better and more important than himself, and thereby fulfill Christ’s command.

Paul has already forbidden the Corinthian custom of knowingly eating foods offered to idols. Similarly, the custom of a woman wearing a head covering, seemed to be a cultural tradition, by the careful study of Paul’s teaching, although we do not have much historical evidence, one way or another. John MacArthur comments: “The phrase (verse 4) ‘has something on his head’, literally means ‘having down from head’, and is usually taken to refer to a veil. The context here implies that in Corinth such a head covering would have been completely ridiculous for a man and completely proper for a woman… It seems, therefore, that Paul is not stating a divine universal requirement but simply acknowledging a local custom, which did reflect divine principle… Dress is largely cultural and, unless what a person wears is immodest or sexually suggestive, it has no moral or spiritual significance.”

According to verses 6, 14 and 15, common practice showed that it was a shame for a woman to shave her head or to go without a covering on her head. Prostitutes practiced shaving or cutting their hair short.  Likewise, it was a shame for a man to publicly cover his head or have long hair. Should a Christian man or woman think it “unworldly” to publicly go against such established customs, he or she will only draw attention to himself/herself and make himself/herself a public spectacle. The apostle shows that such practices are not wise and are probably done out of rebellion. There were feminist movements in the Roman Empire and plenty of homosexuality and so there was a possibility of them infiltrating the church. And that is the important point to take from this passage. It is proper before society, the church and God that there should be clear distinction between men and women. God is against the unisex movement.  

One prays before God and prophesies before men. Prophesy is different from preaching; it is received directly from God in a moment. Both praying and prophesying, a man should clearly show himself to be a man, and a woman should look and act like a woman. Paul also teaches that a woman is given long hair naturally, as a cover and glory (v.15), regardless of the custom in Corinth or anywhere else in the world. One thing is clear… a head covering is purely symbolic. It is a secondary concern, at best. It is a sign, Paul says (v.10), and a symbol is only of value, if it represents the condition of the heart. I cannot imagine angels being impressed by a physical cloth. Even if there is no symbol to be seen, God and angels will honor the woman with a submissive spirit.

Please notice that the word head in verse 3 does not refer at all to the physical head, but is totally spiritual. Let me also add this truth: Submission is not a burden, but a beautiful privilege. We follow Christ in submission, which He so wonderfully manifested even unto death in the Gospels because: “The head of Christ is God.” It is a man’s privilege and benefit to be subject to Christ and a wife has the privilege and benefit of being subject to her husband.

Those who put emphasis on outward, physical things, in every case, are really immature Christians, and need eyes and understanding that sees beneath the surface. Those who judge people by their dress, certainly lack spiritual discernment. I remember two different individuals on two different occasions telling me of seeing certain ladies in a public place and thought that they must be Christians. They said similarly: “She had a long dress that reached to her ankles, wore dark colors, no make-up or jewelry, and had long hair wrapped in a bun.” “My Lord,” I thought, “is that the best they can do!” I’m not against these ladies at all, but these men only showed me a huge dose of religious carnality. Mature Christians tend to overlook such pettiness unless, of course, a person’s whole demeanor, desires and dress, are worldly. Paul states that one thing is never to be “customary” in the church and that is contentiousness over such issues: “If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God” (v.16).

Paul does not teach any kind of sexual superiority, in fact, Christianity wonderfully teaches the equality of men and women. Please notice verses 8 and 9: “Man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.” However, now notice verses 11 and 12: “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.” That clearly shows equality in the Lord and a recognition of His purpose in both men and women and cause for mutual respect and dependence! No woman would exist if God had not taken her from man; likewise, no man would exist if he had not been born of a woman. We add this truth from Peter concerning a husband and wife partnership: “Being heirs together of the grace of life” (1 P.3:7).

Men who act like women and women who act like men turn my stomach. Men and women are different and take different roles in life. The role of a man is to be the head of a wife. That means, he provides, cares for and protects her. God gives him the necessary attributes in order to do that. Likewise, the woman is given capabilities to do what a man cannot. And so, the home is blessed and the church is edified.

Wives pray and prophesy. To say that wives silently cover their heads, while men do all the praying and prophesying, requires a lot of stretching and twisting of Scripture. This is especially true, when we read what Joel prophesied, “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy… even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy” (Ac.2:16-18). Philip had four daughters, who prophesied (Ac.21:9).

The importance and significance of the Lord’s Supper

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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.

Christian services can reach such a low state that it would be better, if they would not take place at all. They do more harm than good. That was Paul’s assessment of the gatherings in Corinth and in this last half of chapter 11, beginning with verse 17, he finds nothing for which to commend them. Paul will take us into a Corinthian meeting and we will observe and take apostolic instruction, along with them, for our benefit.

Christians commonly ate together in New Testament times. The Lord encouraged the practice, by His own example. “When the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, ‘I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you…’” (Lk.22:14,15). This emphatic statement indicated more than a simple wish, but an intense desire. He passed on to his disciples His longing for fellowship around a table and often accepted invitations to eat with people. The table sometimes became a pulpit.

We will find an openness and freedom in the New Testament church that is almost non-existent in modern times. However, the Corinthians were taking advantage of the informal atmosphere to indulge their flesh. The tendency in human nature to overreact may be the reason our gatherings today are programmed to the minute and tightly controlled. Besides fellowship, the purpose of the Lord’s Day meal was to share with one another, especially to feed and help the poor among them. Paul seems to indicate that, as it was in the final Passover with His disciples, where the Lord initiated His Table, so the practice continued in the early church. It was part of their worship.

Jude called these gatherings “agape feasts” and, as Paul, complained of their misuse: “These are spots in your feasts of charity (literally agape feasts) when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear” (Jude 1:12). We can see the need for this teaching in the early church, because Jude found it necessary to follow Peter’s warnings in his second epistle (2 P.2).

You remember that Paul challenged the various divisions in Corinth from the beginning of his letter and now we observe the members separating into their favorite groups at the meal (18).  Paul’s reason for partly believing this, was based on spiritual principle. In ways like this, heresies (stemming directly from the Greek word hairesis, meaning a party or disunion, heresy, sect) occurred and the apostle actually states that they are necessary. False doctrines spring from these sects, as does moral collapse, as we have already seen in chapter 5. However, there is a reason that this must happen, and that reason is that the genuine saints will stand out clearly, when disunion takes place. The Bible teaches this spiritual principle throughout its pages, that through all the disorder and malpractice, God carries on His work of perfecting the saints (19).

The meal together may be called “the Lord’s Supper”, or “agape feast”, as we have learned, but practically, in Corinth it is nothing of the kind (20). That is seen by its unchristian, selfish characteristics. Some quickly take to eating the things that they have brought, before others are ready, and the poor, who have brought nothing, go hungry. Some imbibed wine to the point of drunkenness (21). We see what Paul meant, when he said, it was not the Lord’s Supper. Nothing of the kind.

The worst thing about disorder is that it destoys the benefit and the glory of true worship. The “love-feast” element, the very reason for having a meal together, was missing. There was no real fellowship and no demonstration of godly love. It was a fleshly free-for-all. The apostle resorts to questions, in order that the individuals will question and examine their own hearts. Do you have houses to eat in? When you eat privately, you may eat as you please, but the Lord’s Supper is for a demonstration of Christian concern and respect for one another. Do you despise the church? Obviously they did. There is no place for any commendation (22).

Drastically different from the disorderly Corinthian church meal, Paul takes us back to the original communion table at the last Passover that Christ shared with His disciples. So often, it is necessary to go back and learn from the past, before we can go forward. The Holy Spirit takes of Christ and shows it to us. That Passover took place on the night that Jesus was betrayed, at the onset of His great selfless sacrifice (23). Paul quotes the Lord directly. After the meal, He took bread, gave thanks to the Father, broke it and taught, “Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me" (KJV)

The day following the miraculous meal in the desert, feeding thousands, Jesus taught about the Bread from heaven. He began with the great principle of faith: “This is the work of God, that ye believe in him whom he has sent” (Jn.6:29). God’s work is not what we do for God, but Jesus meant that it is our part to trust wholly in the work of the Messiah: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bead, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (Jn.6:51).

At the initiation of His table, He took bread and said, “This is my body.” He broke it and envisioned his suffering on the cross: “It is broken for you.” It was His sacrifice, the only work, by which we have our salvation. To remember Him, through the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, is to come under the influence of His Spirit, in order to discern and display His character in it (24).

Paul continues: “Also he took the cup… saying ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood.’” God’s covenants are always blood covenants. They portray death, because the life, which is in the blood, is poured out for those who participate in His covenant. He alone works the terms of the New Covenant, while man stands in faith to receive the terms. (See the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis, chapter 15). “Whoever… drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (Jn.6:56). So we must “drink” his blood to be in covenant with Him; that is, receive it into our souls, trusting only in it, to become part of us and give us its life. That is the covenant (25). 

His death, displayed through His mystical body, the church, demonstrates His likeness through it. The way of the cross is the way of the church, in the Spirit and likeness of Christ. If the ordinance is not performed in this spirit, it is of no use. It is strictly a ritual without substance (26). Paul said that to eat and drink without proclaiming the Lord’s death is to eat and drink unworthily. That does not mean that we are ever worthy to partake… we are always most unworthy… but it means that we are to practice the ordinance in a worthy manner. It is a most serious offense against Christ to come to the table with a careless, unprepared heart. The Corinthians were far from demonstrating the character of Christ in their practice.

An unrepentant sinner does not have a part at all in the body and blood of the Lord and a careless Christian will experience serious disciplinary measures, if he attempts to partake without discerning the significance of the moment. Sin nailed Christ to the cross and to approach His table with unconfessed sin is to be guilty of His body and blood (27). The communion table is a time of self-examination, of testing the heart, of bringing the attitude to its proper place. I mean, that there is to be a proper attitude towards the observance of the Lord’s death, a proper attitude towards God and also towards one another. It is a time for forgiveness and restitution among the brothers and sisters. Clearly, the attitudes portrayed in verses 21 and 22 are totally out of order (28). 

 The last two paragraphs show us how a believer is to judge himself. If he does not, he will fall under the judgment of God (29). The judgment of God is a direct result of carelessness (such as in verse 28), selfishness (as in verse 21), inconsideration of others in the church (as in verse 22), bringing upon us sickness and even death. All this could be avoided by self-examination (31). Please understand that this sickness and death is physical and literal. I realize that some falsely have tried to spiritualize this verse (30).  

Understand, as well, that anyone, who displays an unsanctified lifestyle will not be saved. No true forgiveness has taken place, if sanctification does not follow. This principle is clearly taught in Paul’s epistles (Ga.5:21 and Eph.4:17-20; 5:5-6). It is also taught near the end of the New Testament in Revelation 21:8, 27. Therefore the judgment of God is merciful (32). It is His discipline upon sons and daughters. Where we fail, God takes over in dealing with His children, administering judgment in temporal things – up to and including natural death – in order to spare them eternal damnation with the unregenerate. God is a faithful and perfectly effective Father (see He.12:5-11).

Paul finally emphasized the correction of two faults, which he brought up at the early part of this portion… hurrying to eat, before the others generally are ready and shamefully feasting and drinking (33-34 with 21), and thereby actually harming the church and bringing judgment upon it, rather than edification. Here the apostle ends his dissertation, and postpones other related subjects, in order to deal with them personally upon his future visit to Corinth.  


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