1 Corinthians 11 – Concerning Women, and the Lord’s Supper
A. Instruction concerning women in the worship service.
1. (1) A call to follow the example of Paul.
Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.
a. Imitate me: Paul knew he followed Jesus, so he did not hesitate to tell the Corinthian Christians to imitate his walk with the Lord. He knew the Corinthian Christians needed examples, and he was willing to be such an example.
i. Paul simply did what he told his young associate Timothy to do: Be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity (1 Timothy 4:12).
ii. How few today are willing to say what Paul said! Instead, because of compromise and ungodliness, we are quick to say, “Don’t look at me, look at Jesus.” While it is true we must all ultimately look to Jesus, every one of us should be an example of those who look to Jesus.
iii. In the specific context, it is a little difficult to know if Paul’s words here relate to the context before or after. Does Paul refer back to 1 Corinthians 10, and therefore mean, “Follow my example as I seek to bless others instead of pleasing myself,” or does Paul refer to what is to follow in 1 Corinthians 11, and therefore mean, “Follow my example as I respect God’s order and authority in the church”? Though he most likely connects it with what went before in 1 Corinthians 10, Paul was a good example in both cases.
b. Just as I also imitate Christ: Paul knew he was an example, and a good example at that. He also knew that it was not “Paul” who was a worthy example, but “Paul the follower of Jesus” who was the example.
i. This also sets a limit and a direction on the way we imitate others. Just as I also imitate Christ has the idea of “follow me as much as you see me following Jesus.”
2. (2-3) The principle of headship.
Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
a. I praise you brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions: Paul again speaks sarcastically to the Corinthian Christians. In fact, they did not remember Paul in all things; they disregarded him as they sought fit. Additionally, they did not keep the traditions as they should have.
i. Keep the traditions is a scary phrase to many Christians. It brings forth the idea that Christians are to be bound by ancient, outdated traditions in their conduct and worship. But the traditions Paul delivered to the Corinthian Christians were simply the teachings and practices of the apostles, received from Jesus. Paul was not talking about ceremonies and rituals, but about basic teaching and doctrine.
b. The head of every man is Christ, the head of every woman is man, and the head of Christ is God: With these words, Paul sets a foundation for his teaching in the rest of the chapter. Simply put, Paul makes it clear that God has established principles of order, authority, and accountability.
i. Head is an important word in this chapter. Some consider head to mean nothing more than source, in the sense that the head of a river is its source. Though this word can mean this, Paul is not simply saying, “Man came from Jesus, woman came from man, and Jesus came from God.” Though that simple understanding is true, it goes much deeper, because in Biblical thinking a source has inherent authority. If something comes from me, there is some appropriate authority I have over it.
ii. In its full sense, head has the idea of headship and authority. It means to have the appropriate responsibility to lead, and the matching accountability. It is right and appropriate to submit to someone who is our head.
iii. With this understanding, we see Paul describes three “headship” relationships: Jesus is head of every man; man is the head of woman, and God (the Father) is head of Christ. Because Paul connects the three relationships, the principles of headship are the same among them.
c. Therefore, women in the Church have two options in their attitude towards their head: They imitate the kind of attitude men have towards Christ, showing a rebelliousness that must be won over; or women can imitate the kind of attitude Christ displayed towards God the Father, loving submission to Him as an equal.
i. The idea of headship and authority is important to God. In His great plan for the ages, one great thing God looks for from man is voluntary submission. This is what Jesus showed in His life over and over again, and this is exactly what God looks for from both men and women, though it will be expressed in different ways.
ii. It is essential to understand that being under authority does not equal inferiority. Jesus was totally under the authority of God the Father (John 5:19 and 8:28), yet He is equally God (John 1:1, 8:58, and 10:30). When God calls women in the church to recognize the headship of men, it is not because women are unequal or inferior, but because there is a God-ordained order of authority to be respected.
3. (4-6) The application of the principle of headship among the Corinthian Christians.
Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered.
a. Dishonors his head . . . dishonors her head: Because of this order of authority, it is inappropriate for men to pray under a head covering, and inappropriate for women to pray without a head covering.
b. The idea of a head covering was important in this (and many other) ancient cultures. To wear the head covering (or veil in some translations), was a public symbol of being under the authority and protection of another.
i. “It was a custom, both among the Greeks and Romans, and among the Jews an express law, that no woman should be seen abroad without a veil. This was, and is, a common custom through all the east, and none but public prostitutes go without veils.” (Clarke)
ii. In some cultures today, wearing a hat or some other kind of head covering is a picture of humility and modesty. In the same way, the head covering had an important cultural meaning among the ancient Corinthians.
iii. “The use of the word ‘veil,’ . . . is an unfortunate one since it tends to call to mind the full veil of contemporary Moslem cultures, which covers everything but the eyes. This is unknown in antiquity, at least from the evidence of paintings and sculpture.” (Fee)
c. So for a man praying or prophesying, having his head covered was to say by his actions, “I am not in authority here. I am under the authority of others.” Because God has established that the head of woman is man (1 Corinthians 11:3), it dishonors Jesus (his head) for a man to say this by wearing of a head covering.
d. On the same principle, for a woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered says by her actions “I am not under authority here.” And because God has established that the head of woman is man (1 Corinthians 11:3), it dishonors the men (her head) for a woman to say this by refusing to wear a head covering.
i. Under these words of Paul, women are free to pray or prophesy, but only when as they demonstrate that they are under the authority of the male leadership of the church.
e. That is one and the same as if her head was shaved: If a woman refuses to demonstrate being under authority, she may as well be shaved of her hair (let her also be shorn). In some ancient cultures, the shaving of a woman’s head was the punishment given to an adulteress.
i. Having a woman’s head shorn or shaved meant different things in different cultures. In Jewish law, it was the mark of adultery (Numbers 5:11-31). In the Greek world, it could be the mark of a prostitute or lesbian.
f. Among the Corinthian Christians, there were probably certain “spiritual” women who declared that since Jesus, they did not need to demonstrate with a hairstyle or head covering that they were under anyone’s authority. In essence, Paul says to these women, “If you are going to forsake your head covering, go all the way and shave your head, and identify yourself with the women of the world, in all their shame.”
4. (7-10) Why is it important to respect the principle of headship in the church?
For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.
a. The reason first stated is found in 1 Corinthians 11:3 – the head of woman is man. God has established an order of authority, the principle of male headship, both in the church (1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Timothy 2) and the home (Ephesians 5:23).
b. He is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. A second reason is found in the order of creation: God created Adam first, and gave Him responsibility over Eve.
i. Since one reason for male headship is the order and manner in which God created man and woman – something which was present before the fall – this passage makes it clear that before and after the fall, God has ordained there be a difference in the roles between genders, even in the church. The fall did not cause the difference in gender roles (in the church and in the home), and the difference in roles is not erased by our new life in Jesus.
ii. Trapp on woman is the glory of the man: “Either because he may glory in her, if she be good; or because she is to honour him, and give glory to him.” Clarke also observes: “As the man is, among the creatures, the representative of the glory and perfections of God, so that the fear of him and dread of him are in every beast of the field . . . so the woman is, in the house and family, the representative of the power and authority of the man.” Poole adds: “But the woman is the glory of the man, created for the honour of the man, and for his help and assistance, and originally made out of man, so as man may glory of her, as Adam did of Eve, Gen. Ii. 23, This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.”
iii. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man: Simply put, Adam was not created for Eve, but Eve was created for Adam – and this principle applies to every “Adam” and every “Eve” through history. Genesis 2:18 declares God’s intention in creating Eve: I will make him a helper comparable to him. Eve was created to be a helper to Adam, meaning that Adam was “head” over Eve, and she was called to share and help his vision and agenda. Genesis 2:22 says, He brought her to the man. Adam was not brought to Eve, but Eve was brought to Adam – her head. It is an idea offensive to the spirit of our age, but the Bible in this passage clearly teaches that (in the church and in the home) man was not made for the benefit of woman, but woman for the benefit of man. “For the man, signifies to serve and help the man.” (Poole)
c. Because of the angels: A third reason God has established male headship in the church is the presence of angels in corporate worship.
i. Angels are present at any assembly of Christians for worship and they note any departure from reverent order. Apparently, angels are offended by any violation of propriety.
ii. Passages such as this remind us that our struggle is bigger than ourselves. God has eternal things to teach the universe through us (Ephesians 3:10-11, 1 Corinthians 4:9, and 1 Peter 1:12).
iii. John Stott, commenting on Ephesians 3, explains the broader idea: “It is as if a great drama is being enacted. History is the theatre, the world is the stage, and the church members in every land are the actors. God himself has written the play, and he directs and produces it. Act by act, scene by scene, the story continues to unfold. But who are the audience? They are the cosmic intelligences, the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.”
iv. “And so it teaches us, that the good angels, who are ministering spirits for the good of God’s elect, at all times have a special ministration, or at least are more particularly present, in the assemblies of people for religious worship, observing the persons, carriage, and demeanour; the sense of which ought to awe all persons attending those services, from any incident and unworthy behaviour.” (Poole)
d. Significantly, none of these three reasons are culture-dependent. The order and manner of creation and the presence of angels do not depend on culture. We cannot say, “Paul said this just because of the thinking of the Corinthian culture or the place of women in that culture.” The principles are eternal, but the out-working of the principles may differ according to culture.
e. In this, we see God has established a clear chain of authority in both the home and in the church, and in those spheres, God has ordained that men are the “head,” that is, that they have the place of authority and responsibility.
i. Our culture, having rejected the idea in a difference in role between men and women, now rejects the idea of any difference between men and women. The driving trends in our culture point towards men who are more like women, and women who are more like men – and styles, clothes, perfumes, and all the rest are pushing this thought.
ii. The Bible is just as specific that there is no general submission of women unto men commanded in society, only in the spheres of the home and in the church. God has not commanded in His word that men have exclusive authority in politics, business, education, and so on.
iii. It also does not mean that every woman in the church is under the authority of every man – ridiculous! Instead it means that those who lead the church – pastors and ruling elders – must be men, and women must respect their authority, not because of their gender, but because of their office.
iv. The failure of men to lead in the home and in the church, and to lead in the way Jesus would lead, has been a chief cause of the rejection of male authority, and is inexcusable.
v. Some feel this recognition and submission to authority is an unbearable burden; that it means, “I have to say that I’m inferior, I’m nothing, and I have to recognize this other person as superior.” Not at all! Inferiority or superiority has nothing to do with it. Remember the relationship between God the Father and God the Son – they are completely equal in their being, but have different roles when it comes to authority.
vi. Some may say that the church cannot work, or cannot work well, unless we get along with the times and put women into positions of spiritual and doctrinal authority in the church. From the standpoint of what works in our culture, they may be right. But how can such a church say they are led by the word of God?
f. The issues of headship and submission should be seen in their broader context, not just as a struggle between men and women, but as a struggle with the issue of authority in general. Since the 1960’s, there has been a massive change in the way we see and accept authority.
i. Citizens do not have the same respect for government’s authority; students do not have the same respect for the teacher’s authority; women do not have the same respect for men’s authority; children do not have the same respect for parent’s authority; employees do not have the same respect for their employer’s authority; people do not have the same respect for the police’s authority; and Christians no longer have the same respect for church authority.
ii. It’s important to ask: have the changes been good? Do we feel safer? Are we more confident in our culture? Have television and other entertainment gotten better or worse? In fact, our society is presently in, and rushing towards, complete anarchy – the state where no authority is accepted, and the only thing that matters is what I want to do.
iii. It is fair to describe our present moral state as one of anarchy. There is no moral authority in our culture. When it comes to morality, the only thing that matters is what one wants to do. And in a civil sense, many neighborhoods in our nation are given over to anarchy. Do you think that government’s authority is accepted in gang-infested portions of our inner city? The only thing that matters is what one wants to do.
iv. We must see the broader attack on authority as a direct Satanic strategy to destroy our society and millions of individual lives. The devil is accomplishing this with two main attacks: first, the corruption of authority; second, the rejection of authority.
v. These ideas of authority and submission to authority are so important to God that they are part of His very being. The First Person of the Holy Trinity is called the Father; the Second Person of the Holy Trinity is called the Son. Inherent in those titles is a relationship of authority and submission to authority. The Father exercises authority over the Son, and the Son submits to the Father’s authority – and this is in the very nature and being of God! Our failure to exercise Biblical authority, and our failure to submit to Biblical authority, isn’t just wrong and sad, it sins against the very nature of God. Remember 1 Samuel 15:23: For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.
5. (11-12) Headship in light of the interdependence of men and women.
Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.
a. Nevertheless: On top of all Paul has said about male headship in the church, it would be wrong to consider headship as the only dynamic at work between men and women in the church. They must also remember neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man. Men and women need each other, so there is no place for a “lording over” of the men over the women.
i. “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 is subordination, it is in order that the partnership may be more fruitful and lovely for both.” (Barclay)
b. Though Paul has recognized the order of creation, and related it to the principle of male headship in the church, he is also careful to remember even so man also comes through woman. There is a critical interdependence that must be recognized, within the framework of male headship in the church and in the home.
i. “But on the other side, since the creation of the first man, all men are by the woman, who conceives them in her womb, suckles them at her breasts, is concerned in their education while children, and dandled upon her knees; the man therefore hath no reason to despise and too much to trample upon the woman.” (Poole)
ii. Therefore the man who rules in the church or in the home without love, without recognizing the important and vital place God has given women, is not doing God’s will.
iii. “A man who can only rule by stamping his foot had better remain single. But a man who knows how to govern his house by the love of the Lord, through sacrificial submission to the Lord, is the man who is going to make a perfect husband. The woman who cannot submit to an authority like that had better remain single.” (Redpath)
iv. G. Campbell Morgan recalls the story of the older Christian woman who had never married, explaining “I never met a man who could master me.” She had the right idea.
6. (13-16) Appealing to experience, nature, common sense, and apostolic authority.
Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering. But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.
a. Judge among yourselves: Paul appeals to something the Corinthian Christians should be able to figure out on their own.
b. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Here, Paul speaks to those Christians who come from a Jewish environment. In the Jewish community, even men covered their heads while praying. It was therefore inconceivable for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered. Their own experience taught them that women should observe the custom of the head covering when the church meets.
c. Does not even nature itself teach: In both Jewish and Greek cultures, short hair was common for men. Therefore it was a dishonor for a man to wear long hair, because it was considered feminine.
i. From as long as we have known, women have generally worn their hair longer than men have. In some cultures and at some times, men have worn their hair longer than other times, but no matter how long men have worn their hair women in general have always worn their hair longer.
ii. Based on this verse, many people have thought that it is a sin for a man to wear long hair, or at least hair that is considered long by the culture. But long hair in itself can be no sin; after all, Paul apparently had long hair for a time in Corinth as a part of a vow (Acts 18:18). But, the vow would not have meant anything if long hair was the norm; that’s what Paul is getting at.
iii. While it is true that it is wrong for a man to take the appearance of a woman (Deuteronomy 22:5), longer hair on a man is not necessarily an indication of this. It is far better for most preachers to be concerned about the length of their sermons instead of the length of people’s hair.
d. Her hair is given to her for a covering: Because women wear their hair longer than men do, Paul thinks of this longer hair as “nature’s veil.” If nature has given women long hair as a covering, that in itself points to the woman’s need to be covered (according to the ancient Corinthian custom).
e. If anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom: In this appeal to apostolic authority, Paul tells the Corinthian Christians to not be contentious, especially because the other churches of God have adopted their custom according to God’s truth.
B. Instruction concerning observance of the Lord’s Supper.
1. (17-19) Introduction to the problem.
Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you.
a. You come together not for the better but for the worse: Paul writes to the Corinthian Christians the way he might write to many congregations today. When they come together, it is not for the better but for the worse! It was to their credit that they gathered together (something neglected by too many Christians today, in disobedience to Hebrews 10:25); but sadly, it was not for the better but for the worse.
b. A large part of the problem with the gatherings of the Corinthian Christians was that there were divisions among them, something Paul had heard and could believe, knowing the history and the character of the Corinthian Christians.
i. Paul already spoke to the problem of divisions among the Corinthian Christians in 1 Corinthians 1:10-17. There, the approach was more theological. Here, the approach is more practical, dealing with the problem of division as it shows itself in the Corinthian Christians during their gatherings.
c. There must also be factions: We usually think of factions and divisions among Christians as nothing but a problem. But Paul reveals a purpose God has in allowing factions: that those who are approved may be recognized among you. God allows factions so that, over time, those who really belong to God would be made evident.
2. (20-22) The bad conduct of the Corinthian Christians at their common meal.
Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.
a. When you come together in one place: In this, Paul refers to the early church custom of combining the love-feast (like a shared-dish supper) and the Lord’s Supper.
i. Because the risen Jesus so often ate with His disciples, it made sense to the early church that eating together went together with celebrating the Lord’s Supper.
b. Sadly, the Corinthian Christians acted selfishly at their common meals: each one takes his own supper ahead of the others, and one is hungry and another is drunk. Their selfish conduct at the common meal disgraced their observance of the Lord’s Supper.
i. In the modern church, the Lord’s Supper is commonly celebrated in an atmosphere of dignity. But the Corinthian Christians came from a culture where the pagans commonly had wild, riotous banquets given in honor of a pagan god. This is how it might not seem so strange to the Corinthian Christians to even get drunk at a church common meal.
c. One takes his supper ahead of the others . . . one is hungry: Why would some be hungry at the church common meals? Because among the Corinthian Christians, some were more wealthy than others, and the poorer ones were being neglected (Or do you . . . shame those who have nothing?).
i. In that day, at common meals, it was expected that the “upper class” would receive better and more food than the “lower class.” This cultural custom was carried over into the church, and the Christians weren’t really sharing with one another. At the agape feast, the rich brought more food and the poor brought less food; but in Corinth they were not sharing the food fairly.
ii. Ancient culture, much more than modern American culture, was extremely class conscious. It was respect of these class divisions that grieved Paul so much.
iii. Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God: Paul’s message is both strong and plain – “If you want to eat or drink selfishly, do it at home!”
d. Using repetition, Paul makes it clear: I do not praise you is repeated three times in this brief section. The apostle is not happy with the Corinthian Christians at this point.
3. (23-26) How to conduct the true Lord’s Supper.
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.
a. For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: Paul didn’t just make this up, he received it from the Lord. It came to him from the Lord either personally or through the other apostles.
i. “Some think that Paul received this from the Lord by immediate revelation . . . Others think that he received it from St. Luke’s writings (for the words are quoted according to his Gospel). Others think he received it from some other of the apostles. Certain it is, that he did receive it from the Lord; how, is uncertain.” (Poole)
b. On the same night in which He was betrayed: Paul, in remembering the events of the night before Jesus’ crucifixion, recalls that Jesus was not only executed by a foreign power, He was betrayed by His own.
c. And when He had given thanks: In theology, and in church custom, the Lord’s Supper is often called the eucharist. This word comes from the ancient Greek phrase used here for given thanks.
d. He broke it and said: In conducting a communion service, Paul puts the emphasis on remembering Jesus, on what He said about the meaning of His own death for us.
i. We remember the Last Supper was actually a Passover meal, when Jesus, together with the disciples, according to Biblical commands and Jewish traditions, celebrated the remembrance of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt to the Promised Land, beginning in the book of Exodus.
ii. The breaking of bread and the drinking of wine were important parts of the Passover celebration. Jesus took these important pictures and reminders of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, and added to them the meanings connected with His own death on the cross for us.
e. This is My body: In taking the bread, we are called to remember Jesus’ body broken for you. The Passover meal featured unleavened bread, made without yeast both because yeast is a picture of sin and corruption in the Bible, and because in bread, yeast needs time to work – and in their haste to leave Egypt, the Israelites had no time to let their bread rise.
i. The unleavened bread used at a Passover meal had the scorch-mark “stripes” and holes from baking that looked like “pierce” marks. In the same way, the body of Jesus was broken for us. He was without sin (as the bread had no leaven), and His body bore stripes and was pierced (as the bread appeared to be).
f. This cup is the new covenant in My blood: In receiving the cup, we are called to remember the blood of Jesus and the new covenant. The Passover meal featured several cups of wine, each with a different title. The cup Jesus referred to was known as the cup of redemption, and Jesus added to the idea of redemption from slavery in Egypt the idea that His blood confirmed a new covenant that changed our relationship with God.
i. What mere man could have the audacity to institute a new covenant between God and man? But here, Jesus founds a new covenant, sealed with blood, even as the old covenant was sealed with blood (Exodus 24:8).
ii. What is the new covenant all about?
· It is about an inner transformation, that cleanses us from all sin: For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more (Jeremiah 31:34)
· It is about God’s Word and will in us: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts (Jeremiah 31:33)
· It is about a new, close, relationship with God: I will be their God, and they shall be My people (Jeremiah 31:33)
iii. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, we can have a new covenant relationship with God. But many Christians live as if there is no inner transformation. They live as if there is no cleansing from sin. They live as if there is no word and will of God in our hearts. They live as if there is no new and close relationship with God.
g. You proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes: While the Lord’s Supper does look back to what Jesus did on the cross, it also looks forward to the coming of Jesus, and the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9).
i. In Matthew 26:29, Jesus spoke of His longing expectation for the day when He would take communion with His people in heaven, which is the ultimate Lord’s Supper.
h. The precise nature of the bread and the cup in communion has been the source of great theological controversy.
i. The Roman Catholic Church holds the idea of transubstantiation, teaching that the bread and the wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus.
ii. Martin Luther held the idea of consubstantiation, teaching the bread remains bread and the wine remains wine, but by faith they are the same as Jesus’ actual body. Luther did not believe in the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, but he did not go far from it.
iii. John Calvin taught that Jesus’ presence in the bread and wine was real, but only spiritual, not physical. Zwingli taught that the bread and wine are mere symbols that represent the body and blood of Jesus. When the Swiss Reformers debated the issue with Martin Luther at Marburg, there was a huge contention. Luther insisted on some kind of physical presence because Jesus said this is My body. He insisted over and over again, writing it on the velvet of the table, Hoc est corpus meum – “this is My body” in Latin. Zwingli replied, “Jesus also said I am the vine,” and “I am the door,” but we understand what He was saying. Luther replied, “I don’t know, but if Christ told me to eat dung I would do it knowing that it was good for me.” Luther was so strong on this because he saw it as an issue of believing Christ’s words, and because he thought Zwingli was compromising, he said he was of another spirit (andere geist). Ironically, Luther later read Calvin’s writings on the Lord’s Supper (which were essentially the same as Zwingli’s) and seemed to agree with Calvin’s views.
iv. Scripturally, we can understand that the bread and the wine are not mere symbols, but they are powerful pictures to partake of and to enter into as we see the Lord’s Supper as the new Passover.
f. You proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes: Proclaim is the same word translated “preach” in other places. When we take communion, we preach a sermon to God Himself, to the Devil and all his allies, and to the world who watches.
i. “As you break bread and bow your heart before Him, what sort of sermon are you preaching? Often we have broken bread together around the Lord’s table, and then we have gone out to do just what those disciples did – we have denied Him.” (Redpath)
4. (27-28) How to prepare your conduct in receiving the Lord’s Supper.
Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
a. Whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord: Paul warns the Corinthian Christians to treat the Lord’s Supper with reverence, and to practice it in a spirit of self-examination. However, this is not written with the thought of excluding ourselves from the table, but of preparing us to receive with the right heart.
i. The King James Version of 1 Corinthians 11:27 has caused some misunderstanding in this regard: Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. The word unworthily has made some Christians believe they have to “make themselves worthy” to receive communion, or if they have sinned they were unworthy to come and remember what Jesus did on the cross for them.
ii. This is a serious misunderstanding, because if anyone needs to remember the work of Jesus on the cross, it is the one who has sinned! When we are repentant, our sin should drive us to our Savior, not away from Him. However, if a Christian is in sin, and stubbornly unrepentant, they are mocking what Jesus did on the cross to cleanse them from their sin.
iii. We can never really make ourselves “worthy” of what Jesus did for us on the cross. He did it because of His great love, not because some of us were so worthy. As we take the bread and cup, we should not stare at the floor or struggle to achieve some sort of spiritual feeling. We should simply open our heart to Jesus and recognize His presence with us – in fact, in us!
b. Poole on as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup: “From hence it appears, that the bread and wine is not (as papists say) transubstantiated, or turned into the very substance of the flesh and blood of Christ, when the communicants eat it and drink it. It is still the same bread and cup it was.”
c. Let a man examine himself: Again, not in a morbid display of self-checking to see if we are worthy of what Jesus did for us; but in a honest appraisal to see if, as we receive communion, we are conducting ourselves in way honoring to the Lord.
i. The idea is plain: examine yourself, but then let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup. The idea is not to keep people away from the table of communion, but to prepare them to receive it in the right way.
5. (29-32) The potential results of being guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.
a. Eats and drinks judgment to himself: Irreverent conduct at the Lord’s Supper invites God’s corrective discipline; so we should judge ourselves so we would not be judged. If we will discipline ourselves, the Lord will not need to with His hand of correction.
i. The words “not discerning the Lord’s body” are used by Roman Catholics to support their doctrine of transubstantiation. Their thinking is, “See, the Corinthians did not understand they were actually receiving the real body and the real blood of Jesus, and that is why they were guilty.” But this is a very narrow foundation that a huge building has been built upon. It is just as easy – and just as valid – to see the Lord’s body as a reference to the church family, and it was the lack of respect and love for the church family that caused the problems of selfishness among the Corinthian Christians.
b. The judgment is significant: For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. Evidently, among the Corinthian Christians, some experienced illness and some had even died as a result of God’s corrective discipline.
i. In writing eats and drinks judgment, Paul does not refer to eternal judgment, but to corrective judgment. There is no article “the” before “judgment,” so it is not the judgment. This chastening is not a judge condemning a criminal; it is a father correcting disobedient children.
ii. As mentioned in 1 John 5:16, there is sin leading to death, and Ananias and Saphira in Acts 5 seem to be examples of this. Apparently, a believer can sin to the point where God believes it is just best to bring them home, probably because they have in some way compromised their testimony so significantly that they should just come on home to God.
iii. However, it is certainly presumptuous to think this about every case of an untimely death of a believer, or to use it as an enticement to suicide for the guilt-ridden Christian. Our lives are in God’s hands, and if He sees fit to bring one of His children home, that is fine.
c. We are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world: This makes it clear Paul knew none of the Corinthian Christians, even those who died as a result of God’s corrective judgment, had lost their salvation. They were chastened so that they would not be condemned with the world.
6. (33-34) Summary: how to act at the church common meal.
Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come.
a. Wait for one another: It isn’t just good manners, it shows love towards others. If you wait for one another, then everyone gets enough to eat, instead of some being gorged and others going home hungry.
b. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home: Don’t “pig out” at the church common meal, because it might mean someone else doesn’t get enough to eat. If you are that hungry, eat at home!
c. Lest you come together for judgment: Because of this simple selfishness, the Corinthian Christians brought the judgment of God upon themselves, just for the sake of food! Paul wants to put it all in perspective and remind them that it isn’t worth it at all.
d. And the rest I will set in order when I come: Paul knows he isn’t dealing with the whole issue here. There is more to say, but Paul will leave it for another time. Wouldn’t we love to know all that is behind these words, what the rest of it was about?
©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission