Reading for Monday, Sept 10: 1 Cor 11
Paul now moves to address three issues related to corporate worship: head coverings (11:2-16), the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34), and elevating one’s spiritual gift above another (12:1-14:40). Behavior in the corporate assembly seems to be an issue in Corinth. Based on Paul’s comments, we can surmise that some of the women in Corinth are disrupting the corporate assembly by praying and prophesying with uncovered heads. The ESV Study Bible has a few notes that I find helpful here: “By uncovering their heads in public worship, Paul says, they bring shame instead of glory to their husbands, and this is not proper. Since a woman’s head covering in first-century Roman society was a sign of marriage, Paul’s practical concern in this passage is not with the relationship between women and men generally but with the relationship between husband and wife. A married woman who uncovered her head in public would have brought shame to her husband. The action may have connoted sexual availability or simply have been a sign of being unmarried. In cultures where women’s head coverings are not a sign of being married, wives do not need to cover their heads in worship, but they could obey this command by wearing some other physical symbol of being married (such as a wedding ring).”
The behavior of these wives is an affront to the leadership role of the husband. The head covering issue is a cultural expression of a lack of respect — for one’s husband and also for God, who entrusts spiritual leadership to the male. “If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God,” (v16).
Paul then moves to another issue, one that deserves our attention as well: the observance of the Lord’s Supper. Paul has no words of commendation for Corinth here, “because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse,” (v17). What is intended as a unity meal has become a divisive practice in Corinth. In their selfishness, the Corinthians are allowing class elitism to take control of their time around the table. “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat,” (v20). The lack of communion — communal interaction between brothers and sisters, fellowship and acceptance and, most of all, love — negates the practice, making it nothing more than a meal rooted in favoritism.
But this leads to a great teaching on the propriety of this observance. This new covenant remembrance declares the Lord’s death until he returns (v26). Eating in an unworthy manner is condemned (v27). Examination and discernment are essential (v28-29). This is the characteristic practice of the Christian church.