Big Idea: What we do when we’re together should help people see Jesus.
1 Corinthians 11:1-16
There has been much written on this passage, especially in recent years. It will help us to remember the general concern that Paul is responding to. He is concerned that the behavior of the church, the body of Christ, will create a negative image of Christ. It is also true that Jesus elevated the status of women within the cultures of His day. Whether in Jewish or Greek culture women were considered inferior and subservient. Jesus in both action and teaching showed that women were equal in the eyes of God. Paul confirms this in his teaching in Ephesians 5:21 where he writes, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Mutual submission only makes sense within the church if it has no regard for gender.
What then is Paul concerned about. I think his concern is like the one he has regarding meat sacrificed to idols. He is concerned that behaviors that indicate immoral or disrespectful behavior in the culture outside the church would be brought inside the church. There was a time in our culture where it was expected that men would remove their hats as a sign of respect, whether saluting the flag or entering a church building. Even unbelievers understood this and expected it. What would an unbeliever think if he walked into a church gathering and discovered that many men were wearing the baseball caps of their favorite teams. It is very likely that he would think these men had little or no respect for the God they claimed to worship. This may not have been true, because a hat on the head is not a sure indicator of the attitude of the heart of the believer.
What Paul would be concerned about in this situation is the impression of God that this makes on the unbeliever. If the unbeliever regards wearing hats in the worship service as disrespectful, then he is likely to think that the deity being worshipped should not be considered worthy of worship. I’m certain this is not the impression that we would want to convey. If you ever wondered where the practice of women wearing hats in church and men removing their hats in church came from, now you know. I’m not suggesting that our previous attitude toward hats is a relevant application of the principles in this passage, but it easy to see how it could be interpreted that way.
Last evening, I thought of a current application of the principle I think Paul is trying to communicate. We are currently in China during the nationwide shutdown due to the spread of the coronavirus. One of the actions being taken to prevent the spread of the disease is the wearing of a face mask whenever we go outside. Face masks are a nuisance and uncomfortable. We haven’t heard of anyone who really enjoys wearing one. It is also likely that they do very little to prevent the spread of the disease. So, why do we wear them. We wear them because the mask communicates to everyone we meet that we care about them and are doing our best to cooperate to minimize the spread of the disease. This is especially important because we stick out as westerners in an Asian country. So, I limit my freedom to communicate my love to those around me.
This has been a difficult passage to comment on. That is not because it is unclear, but because Paul seems to be very clear. Yet, it doesn’t seem to fit our current cultural situation. This isn’t the only passage like this in the New Testament. I think we need to be careful about just dismissing passages like this. It is my opinion that these kinds of passages require more study and not less to search out the underlying principles. William Barclay in his commentary on 1 Corinthians has identified three principles:
• It is always better to err on the side of being too strict than on the side of being too lax. It is far better to abandon rights which may be a stumbling-block to some than to insist on them. It is the fashion to decry convention; but a man should always think twice before he defies it and shocks others. True, he must never be the slave of convention, but conventions do not usually come into being for nothing.
• Even after he has stressed the subordination of women, Paul goes on to stress even more directly the essential partnership of man and woman. Neither can live without the other. If there be subordination, it is in order that the partnership may be more fruitful and more lovely for both. other. If there be subordination, it is in order that the partnership may be more fruitful and more lovely for both.
• Paul finishes the passage with a rebuke to the man who argues for the sake of argument. Whatever the differences that may arise between men, there is no place in the Church for the deliberately contentious man or woman. There is a time to stand on principle; but there is never a time to be contentiously argumentative. There is no reason why people should not differ and yet remain at peace.
– The Letters to the Corinthians (The New Daily Study Bible) by William Barclay
Everyone wants to dismiss sections of scripture. Which ones do you dismiss? Which ones would you like to dismiss?
What principles do you find in this passage that you can apply today?
Why do we like to argue about passages like this?
How does it impact the world around us when we are continuously arguing with each other?
1 Corinthians 11:17-22
Have you ever had a church leader suggest that it would be better if their congregation did not get together? Remember, that Paul is very concerned about the impression the church, the body of Christ, makes on outsiders and unbelievers. How would you feel if you decided to investigate Christianity and showed up at the weekly love feast and you found division and conflict everywhere you looked? This is what Paul is concerned about.
The Lord’s Supper or communion is an essential part of the Christian worship experience. Its simple design was based on parts of the Passover meal that would have been very familiar to Jewish believers. Gentile believers would also have had food and worship connected before they accepted Christ based on Paul’s earlier concern about meat sacrificed to idols. I think there are three issues that Paul is concerned about: division, improper focus, and mistreatment of the poor.
Division – It is natural for people to divide into familiar groups when gathered for a social event. We are most comfortable with the people we have established relationships with. Church leadership must be intentional if one of the purposes of a church-wide meal is to explore new relationships. This is true even in churches that are very unified. The situation gets much worse in congregations where people are divided, regardless of the issue dividing them. When parties in the church are at war with one another it is almost impossible for a new person to find a group to stick with. The church in Corinth was divided and it was a contentious division. I imagine that it was obvious what the different groups were when the church gathered for their love feast. No signs over the seating areas would have been needed to know which group was which.
Improper Focus – One of the reasons that most churches today keep the elements of the communion service very simple is to avoid one of the problems that existed in Corinth. What is the focus of a potluck? I remember attending a potluck at a small congregation. I was traveling with my father who was representing the college he taught at. He came down ill and I became the representative at the potluck. I had never been to a potluck quite like this one. Every lady present wanted me to try her dish. There was no question that a competition was going on. This meal was not about Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. It wasn’t even about strengthening relationships in the congregation. I can’t remember any sense of division in the congregation, but it was apparent that this meal was about the food. It was all very good and I ate more than I should have. At least we gathered at one table and everyone had access to the same food. It was a good time of fellowship, but it wasn’t the Lord’s Supper.
When we participate in the Lord’s Supper the focus should be on Jesus. The elements of communion are intended to help us achieve that focus. Shared meals are a good thing, but when it gets mixed with communion every effort must be made to keep the focus on Jesus and not allow it to become about the food.
Mistreatment of the Poor – The congregation in Corinth was divided in multiple ways. One division was based on economic class. The wealthy ate with the wealthy and the poor at with the poor. The result was that the wealthy ate and drank too much while the poor went hungry. This would have been unacceptable even if this was simply a common meal shared by the people of the church. As a meal that was supposed to be about remembering Jesus’ sacrifice it created an image of the body of Christ inconsistent with who Jesus is.
How does your congregation celebrate the Lord’s Supper?
What takes your focus off Jesus when you are celebrating the Lord’s Supper?
How do the three issues mentioned show themselves in the church today?
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Jesus taught Paul many things. One of the things he taught Paul was the significance of the meal He initiated the night before He was crucified. The elements of this special memorial meal are very simple on the surface. Bread can be found in every culture. The forms are different, but it is still bread. There may be some cultures that don’t have access to wine, but these would be exceptions. I’m sure that a common beverage could be found to serve as a substitute. The point is that these elements are easily obtained almost everywhere.
This creates one of the challenges around Paul’s instructions. The elements are so simple it is easy to take them for granted. Many strategies have been developed to counter this. For Roman Catholics the elements become the literal body and blood of Christ in the hands of the priest. The Catholic mass is a celebration of the Lord’s Supper with the meal being the center of the service. The church I grew up in celebrated the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. The elements were a small cracker and a small cup of grape juice. The passage above would often be read as a meditation before taking the emblems. Many congregations take communion only once a month. I remember being in Scotland and going to a church that only took communion once a month. There was no question of its importance. After the regular service, they had a special service just for taking communion.
Regardless of how often your congregation celebrates communion or your belief about the nature of the elements, Paul has one final point to make. Communion is important to us as individuals, but it is even more important to the world around us. When we take communion, we are telling the world that we believe that God came to earth and died for us.
How often does your congregation celebrate communion?
How does taking communion affect you?
Describe the most meaningful communion service you’ve ever taken part in.
1 Corinthians 11:27-34
What does it mean to take communion in an unworthy manner? I think there are several possibilities. The first would be to take communion without an appreciation for the cost of Jesus’ sacrifice and the depth of my sin. If I come to communion thinking I’m perfect, or even thinking I’ve earned the right to partake is to totally misunderstand what this memorial meal is about. Communion is for sinners, so sin is not the unworthiness that Paul talks about.
There is another form of unworthiness that I think is very common in Corinth. This was a congregation in conflict. I’m sure in their division that many had offended and been offended. Broken relationships must have been everywhere. Jesus provides instruction in the Sermon on the Mount that I think is relevant here:
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24 NIV)
There have only been a few times when I have not partaken of communion when the trays passed by me. In all cases it was due to a broken relationship and my unwillingness to forgive or seek forgiveness. Jesus’ death was for our forgiveness. In my mind, taking communion when you are unwilling to forgive another is to take for granted the forgiveness that has been provided you through the blood of Jesus. This is unworthy.
One final way to partake unworthily is to turn communion into a work that somehow earns me credits in my quest for salvation. Our forgiveness was accomplished once and for all by the death of Jesus on the cross. A common misunderstanding is to think that taking communion is like an Old Testament sacrifice. The thought is that taking it provides me with forgiveness for the sins committed over the previous week. Communion is an opportunity to confess our sins to God. Deceiving ourselves into thinking that we are not in need of forgiveness because our good works have outweighed our sin might be the greatest unworthiness of all.
What do you do to keep yourself from taking communion in an unworthy manner?
How important is communion to God given Paul’s instruction here?
What have you learned about the purpose of our gathering together based on this entire chapter?
If the questions provided don’t seem to fit, try the ones below applied to either all, or a portion of this chapter.
“What stands out to you in this passage?”
“What do you think the main point is?”
“What would it look like if Christ-followers totally applied this lesson (or obeyed this principle) in their lives today?”
”What is one way you can apply this truth to your life this week?”