1 Corinthians 11




Covering the Head During Worship (11:1-16)

1 Paul says: Follow my example. Can we, like Paul, say to our Christian friends: “Follow my example”? How good is our example?

Why could Paul say to others, “Follow my example”? Because Paul himself followed Christ’s example. We can ask others to follow our example only to the extent that we ourselves follow Christ’s example. It is Christ they need to follow, not us.

When others hear our good words, they may perhaps heed us; but when they see our good lives they will follow us. To give witness by word is good, but to give witness by one’s entire life is better. Words and deeds together are more effective than words alone.

2 The teachings that Paul has passed on to the Corinthians are the teachings of the twelve apostles,33 which teaching Paul had himself received from the apostles (see 2 Thessalonians 2:15). Almost all the teachings of Paul came either from the twelve apostles or by a direct revelation from Christ (Galatians 1:12). Only on a very few subjects did Paul give any teaching based on his own opinion (1 Corinthians 7:12,25,40).

Several times in this letter, Paul has had to rebuke the Corinthian Christians for their behavior. But in this verse he has some good words for them. Whenever it was necessary for Paul to rebuke others, he always tried to say something good about them as well. This is a good policy for all those in authority to follow.

… the head of Christ is God. Christ is equal to God (see John 10:30; Philippians 2:6-7). But while Christ lived on earth, He was also a man, God’s Son, and God was His Father (see 1 Corinthians 3:23). This is why Jesus said, “… the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28).

Just as the head of Christ is God, so the head of every man is Christ (see Ephe-sians 1:22; Colossians 1:18). And just as the members of a body are under the authority of the head, so we, the “members” of Christ’s body, are under the authority of Christ.

In the same way, the head of the woman is man. Here Paul is talking about married women. Unmarried women are not under the authority of men (see Ephesians 5:2224 and comment).

This is how God created the world. God has the highest authority of all. Then comes Christ’s authority. And then under Christ’s authority, God has placed man. And under the husband, God has placed the wife.

Let husbands remember, however, that they must love their wives just as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25). Wives must submit to their husband’s authority, but husbands must not abuse their authority. The wife is not the slave of her husband; rather, she is his friend and helper.34

Let us also remember that in Christ the husband and wife are spiritually equal (see Galatians 3:28; 1 Peter 3:7 and comments). Some people believe that the wife must get the permission of her husband before she can be baptized. But this teaching cannot be correct, because both husband and wife equally and individually have been given the promise of salvation through faith in Christ. Each person is responsible for his or her own response to the call of God.

4 It was customary among the Greeks of Paul’s time for those under the authority of others to wear some kind of covering on their heads. For example, slaves were required to wear hats. Wives covered their heads when they went outside their homes. But ordinary male citizens did not cover their heads in public places.

Therefore, according to Paul’s teaching, if a man covers his head while praying or prophesying in a church or other public place, he is acting as if he were under the authority of another person. But such a man is under the authority of Christ alone. Therefore, if he covers his head, he dishonors his head—that is, he dishonors Christ. He dishonors Christ because he is acting as if he were under the authority of someone else instead of Christ.

5 According to the custom of Paul’s time, wives were required to cover their heads when they went outside their homes. Otherwise, they would be acting like men; that is, they would appear to be taking the authority that belonged to their husbands. Thus, a woman who worships in public without covering her head dishonors her head—that is, she dishonors her husband.

Not only that, in Paul’s time only evil women such as prostitutes went outside without covering their head. Therefore, if an honorable housewife went outside without her head covered, she was acting like a prostitute, and was thus dishonoring both herself and her husband.

Christians have two main opinions about the teaching Paul gives in this section. Many Christians today believe that Paul’s teaching is meant to apply only to the period in which he lived. These Christians say that Paul’s teaching is based on the customs of his own time, and not on the customs of our time. According to this opinion, then, it is perfectly all right today for men to cover their heads in public and for women not to cover their heads in public.

All Christians agree that believers of each generation should follow the customs of their own time, as long as those customs are not opposed to God’s law. If believers do not follow local customs, they will of fend their neighbors unnecessarily and bring dishonor on Christ.

In each situation the important question is: What is God’s law? Because God’s law is unchangeable. The danger in holding the opinion of this first group of Christians is that we might begin to take other difficult Bible teachings and say that they don’t apply to us either. Where does one draw the line?

The second group of Christians believes that in this section Paul is stating God’s unchangeable law. They say Paul is writing here not just for his own time, but for all time. According to this second opinion, Christians of today must abide by the teaching Paul has given here. And Paul’s central teaching in this section is that God has established different levels of authority: first God’s own authority, then Christ’s, then the husband’s, and then the wife’s.

Therefore, this second group of Christians believe that Christian wives should always cover their head during public worship as a sign that they are under the authority of their husbands. But husbands should not cover their heads during public worship, because they have authority over their wives.

Some Christians believe that a woman’s long hair counts as a suitable covering for her head (see verse 15). If this is so, then a wife would need no other covering.

Let us remember that in this section Paul is talking about covering one’s head during public worship—in particular, while praying and prophesying in public—whether in a home or church or some other meeting place. At all other times, a husband is free to cover his head, and a wife is free to leave her head uncovered.

6 In Paul’s time, prostitutes and other evil women were punished by having their hair cut of f and their heads shaved. Therefore, Paul says here that if any wife prays in public with her head uncovered, she is like a prostitute whose hair has been cut off; she is disgraced!

7 Except for slaves, Greek men of Paul’s time did not wear hats. A man was free; he was the image and glory of God. Therefore, he didn’t need to wear a hat.

According to Genesis 1:27, men and women were both created in the image of God. But because the man was created first, he is the glory of God, Paul says. And because woman was created from man, she is the glory of man (Genesis 2:18,21-23).

8-9 For man did not come from woman, but the woman from man. The first woman, Eve, was created from one of the ribs of the first man, Adam (Genesis 2:21-22).

God made the woman for the man, so that the man might have a helper suitable for him (Genesis 2:18).

10 After Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, God placed her under Adam’s authority (Genesis 3:16). That is why a wife must wear a sign of her husband’s authority; that is, she must cover her head in public. If she does not cover her head, she is considered a dishonorable woman.

Paul says that a wife must also cover her head because of the angels. Many people believe that angels are present during the services of the church. Thus Paul’s meaning is that wives must cover their heads during public worship in order not to of fend the angels who are present.

11 God created man and woman to live together in dependence upon each other. They were created to become one flesh in marriage (Genesis 2:23-24). If they are “one flesh,” how can they live independently of each other?

12 The man should not be proud and put down the woman. Let him remember that it was a woman who gave him birth!

But even though children are born from a woman’s body, it is God alone who has the power to create life. … everything comes from God.

13 The Corinthian Christians ought to have known that wives should cover their heads; even the non-believing Greeks knew that.

But remember: Paul’s teaching about covering one’s head applies only when one is praying and prophesying in a public worship service, not at other times (verses 4-5).

14 Throughout the Roman Empire in Paul’s time, men wore their hair shorter than women did. A man was despised if he let his hair grow as long as a woman’s.

Does Paul mean that men should never have long hair, no matter what generation they belong to or what country they live in? Some Christians think that Paul was only writing about his own time. But others think that Paul intends this teaching for all men of every generation; they say that a man’s hair should always be shorter than a woman’s hair.

It is possible for true Christians to have different understandings of Paul’s teaching here. Each Christian, with the help of the Holy Spirit, must study these verses and decide in his own mind what Paul’s meaning is. But we must not judge or condemn another believer who may have a different opinion from ours on these smaller matters. To dif fer with each other on small matters is all right; but to judge each other is not. Do not split the church by arguing over hair length!

15 Throughout history, women have usually worn their hair long. Paul says that the very nature of things (verse 14) teaches that this is suitable. A woman’s long hair is like a covering provided by God. Indeed, many people think that this verse teaches that a woman’s long hair is the only covering she ever needs (see verse 5 and comment).

16 The Corinthians should not become contentious over this matter; let them just accept what Paul says. Paul is not giving them some strange new teaching; he is giving them the same teaching he has given to all the other churches.

The Lord’s Supper (11:17-34)

17-18 In verse 2, Paul praised the Corinthians; now he must correct them.

There were many divisions in the Corinthian church. Some of these divisions concerned which apostle to follow (1 Corinthians 1:11-12). Other divisions existed between the rich and the poor, between socially important believers and ordinary believers. When there are divisions like this, it is better not to meet at all! … your meetings do more harm than good, Paul tells the Corinthians.

19 Among any group of Christians there will always be different ideas and points of view on many matters. This is not wrong. However, when such dif ferences arise among Christians, it is essential that all sides act with love and humility toward each other. Only those demonstrating love and humility have God’s approval. Those who are proud and create strif e and division in the church do not have God’s approval. No harm comes from the humble expression of different ideas concerning smaller matters. Harm comes when believers judge each other and oppose each other over such matters.

20 In the Corinthian church, the LORD’S SUPPER was being celebrated together with an ordinary meal—just as Christ celebrated His last Passover meal with His disciples. Thus, when the Corinthian Christians met together for the Lord’s Supper, they didn’t eat and drink only the bread and wine, but they had a complete meal. But the Corinthians had forgotten the real meaning and purpose of the Lord’s Supper. They were meeting together to have a good time, to eat their fill, and to get drunk on wine! (verse 21). Under such circumstances it was impossible to truly celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

21  In the Corinthian church, each person who attended the Lord’s Supper brought with him his own food from home. The rich brought much food; the poor brought little. But the rich did not share their food with the poor; therefore, the poor of ten went hungry. The more important members of the church went right ahead and ate without waiting for anybody else. (The church members who were slaves or servants usually came late, because they first had to serve their own masters at home before coming to the Lord’s Supper.)

22  if the rich and important members of the church were going to act this way, says Paul, let them first eat their regular meal at home and then come to the Lord’s Supper. The way they were behaving dishonored and grieved Christ. Where was their respect for the church, which was Christ’s body? Where was their love for their poorer brothers? They may have called the Lord’s Supper a “love feast,” but the only love they were showing was for themselves.

23  Paul had received special instructions from the Lord concerning the Lord’s Supper. Certainly Paul learned about Jesus’ last supper from the twelve disciples. But Paul also must have received a direct revelation from Jesus concerning the Lord’s Supper and how it was to be observed in the churches (see Galatians 1:11-12).

The first Lord’s Supper took place on the night [Jesus] was betrayed. Seeing how much Jesus suffered for them, how can the Corinthian believers regard the Lord’s Supper as a time for having fun and getting drunk?

24  The Lord Jesus took bread and said, “This is my body” (see Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 10:16 and comments).

The Lord Jesus sacrificed His body for us, that through His death we might receive eternal life. We must never forget that tremendous fact. Indeed, one reason for celebrating the Lord’s Supper over and over is so that we might always keep fresh in our minds what Jesus did for us.

Jesus said: “… do this (eat this bread) in remembrance of me.” Just as ordinary bread (food) is necessary for our bodies, so spiritual “bread” is necessary for our spirits. Jesus is our spiritual bread (see John 6:51,53-54).

25 Jesus said: “This cup is the new COVENANT in my blood.” According to Mark 14:24, Jesus also said: “This is my blood of the covenant.” The meaning of these two sayings is the same (see Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:23-24; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 10:16 and comments).

By the word cup Paul means the contents of the cup. At Jesus’ last supper, He and His disciples drank wine. But Paul is not saying here that we must drink only wine at the Lord’s Supper. Many Christians drink some kind of fruit juice when they celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

The new covenant mentioned here is the promise given to men and women by God that if they will believe in His Son Jesus, He will forgive their sins and give them eternal life. Under the old covenant, God had given men His law; under the new covenant, He has given men His Son. Now, through His Son and through the Holy Spirit, God has written a new “law,” not on tablets of stone as the old covenant was, but on men’s hearts (see Jeremiah 31:31-34; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Hebrews 8:8-10 and comments).

Therefore, the blood of Jesus is the sign of this new covenant. For it is through His blood (that is, His sacrif icial death on the cross) that we receive salvation and eternal life.

As with the bread, Jesus took the cup and said: “… do this (drink this cup) in remembrance of me.35

26 When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we proclaim the Lord’s death; that is, we witness to all men that Christ died for our salvation and that He rose again. Let the whole world know what Christ has done; we are witnesses to it.

We must proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. That is, we must continue to observe the Lord’s Supper until Jesus comes to earth again. After He comes we won’t need to celebrate the Lord’s Supper any more, because from that time on we shall be celebrating it with Him in heaven (see Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25).

27 The Corinthians were celebrating the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner (verses 20-22). To celebrate the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner means to celebrate it without confessing one’s sins, without loving one’s brother, without humility. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper in such an unworthy manner, we are sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. It is as if we were crucifying Christ all over again, breaking His body and shedding His blood anew.

28 Therefore, before we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we must carefully examine ourselves to see if there is any unconfessed sin in our life. If there is, we must at once confess it and repent of it, and then ask forgiveness from God (see 1 John 1:9). Only then will it be all right to eat the bread and drink from the cup at the Lord’s Supper.

29 To eat and drink without recognizing the body of the Lord means to celebrate the Lord’s Supper without honoring Jesus’ body and without remembering His death. To eat and drink without recognizing the body of the Lord means to celebrate the Lord’s Supper without caring about Jesus’ suffering, His sacrif ice. The Corinthians celebrated the Lord’s Supper as if they were eating an ordinary meal. They celebrated the Supper, but they forgot the Lord!

If we celebrate the Lord’s Supper without recognizing, or caring, about Christ’s body, we will surely bring God’s judgment upon ourselves; that is, God will punish us for sinning against the body and blood of Christ (verse 27). That judgment, or punishment, is not the same as the last judgment of unbelievers; rather, it is “discipline” (verse 32) given by God to those who partake of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner.

30 At the time Paul wrote this letter, God had already begun to discipline (or punish) the Corinthian Christians for their unworthy behavior. God had made many of them weak and sick; He had even allowed some of them to “fall asleep,” that is, to die (see 1 Corinthians 5:5). What severe discipline the Corinthians needed! How severely will God have to discipline us?

31 But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment—that is, we would not come under God’s discipline. Here, to “judge ourselves” means to examine ourselves. Paul’s meaning in this verse, then, is this: if we examined ourselves, we would not need to be disciplined by God. When we examine ourselves, we can discover our sin, and repent of it. And when we truly repent, we will not need to bear God’s judgment or punishment for that sin. Because as soon as we have repented of a sin and asked for forgiveness, God will immediately forgive us (see 1 John 1:9 and comment). Then, after we have been forgiven, we can celebrate the Lord’s Supper freely and joyfully, and we shall receive, not judgment, but blessing.

32 When we are being judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined. When Paul says we are “being judged,” he is not talking about the last judgment that will come upon unbelievers. He is talking about the punishment or DISCIPLINE of believers. God disciplines us so that we will not be condemned with the world—that is, condemned with the world of unbelieving men at the last judgment. When we sin and do not immediately repent of it, God needs to discipline us (see Hebrews 12:5-7,10-11 and comment). Without God’s discipline, it is possible to fall away from Christ. It is through God’s discipline that we are kept on the right path; it is through His discipline that we are spared being condemned with unbelievers.

33-34 Having rebuked the Corinthian Christians for what they have done wrong (verses 20-22), Paul now tells them how they should celebrate the Lord’s Supper. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home. The Corinthians should not come to the Lord’s Supper to fill their stomachs but to worship the Lord!