1 - 6 Head Covering and Hair Dress – I
1 Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. 2 Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you. 3 But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. 4 Every man who has [something] on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. 5 But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head.
V1. Paul says that we should imitate him, just as he also imitated Christ. How he did that, he said in the last verse of the previous chapter. His aim was to win many people for Christ. In no way he wanted to be a hindrance for people to accept the gospel. In this way Paul imitated his Lord and you can imitate Paul in your turn.
V2. Paul already had given a lot of exhortations. That was very necessary. We also need to be exhorted. But yet there is also something for which he praises them. The Corinthians have not forgotten about him, they even remembered him in all things. That has pleased him. Besides that, they kept the traditions just as he delivered those to them. He really appreciated that.
You can also look positively at the fact that he had to correct them in their way of dealing with these traditions, like the Lord’s Supper, about which he speaks later in this chapter. The positive thing is not to justify the wrong, but it is the fact that they were approachable. He could correct them in their wrong doings and trust that they would listen to him. Anyway, Paul saw good things with the Corinthians.
V3. Then he speaks about an issue that currently is one of the most widely discussed matters, namely the role of man and woman in everyday life. In the world around you, things are dealt with quite differently than what you read in the first part of this chapter. You may even have to reread it several times before you get a clear mind on that. The order of rank which is indicated in verse 3 has been totally done away with in the world around you. God and Christ: people do not believe that anymore. And the thought of the man as the head of the woman is totally out of fashion and wrong so that people make every effort to destroy this thought.
I said that verse 3 indicates an order of rank. I mean this: God is at the head, then Christ, then the man and then the woman. To many people the impression arises because of this rank order – and that is why people kick and scream – as if the woman is just dangling at the bottom of this list and therefore has the position of being neglected totally. That is absolutely not the case! Paul actually refers to the creation of man and woman. There you see that the man is created first and that the woman originates from him. She came out of his side, which means as one who is placed at his side.
The man is the head of creation, but he himself also has a Head above him and that is Christ. He is responsible to Him. In all things he needs to ask his Head how to behave himself towards his wife, in the family, in society and in the church.
Christ is not only his Head, but also his Example, for you read that the Head of Christ is God. That of course doesn’t refer to Christ as the eternal Son, but to Him as Man. As Man the Lord Jesus has fully subjected Himself to the will of God. ‘To be subjected to’ may sound quite subservient, but it is about a position of submission towards another person. By paying attention to his Head, Christ, a man can be ‘head’ of the woman in a right way. In that way he will not manage her, but he will instruct her in a way that makes her heed easily.
V4. How can this order of rank be made visible? How can it be made visible that people observe the order of creation? Christ is not on earth anymore as Man, but the creature ‘man’ is. Man is the image of God. Therefore he is also called to represent this order of rank. The best expression is to be seen at praying and prophesying. At praying man addresses himself to God and at prophesying God addresses Himself to man. In both cases that happens through the mouth of man. If we compare praying to prophesying, then it is clear that it is about praying out loud in the presence of other people. After all, prophesying is not useful when there are no listeners.
If a man prays to God or prophesies to people, he ought to consider the place God gave him as a visible head of this creation. Therefore he is not allowed to pray or prophesy with his head covered. In the visible creation there is no creature he is submitted to, for that is what the head covering indicates, as it is indicated in the following verses. In case he has his head covered, he would then dishonor his invisible Head, Christ in heaven. Do you know why? Because by covering his head he would give the impression that he is submitted to another head besides Christ.
V5. Regarding woman it is quite something else. She ought to have her head covered in case she prays or prophesies in the presence of others. In that way she declares that she doesn’t abandon her position of being submitted to man when she does something a man is supposed to do. This regards cases when there are no men. When those are present, it is their responsibility to pray or to prophesy. When it regards praying, the instruction for men is written in 1 Timothy 2 that they should pray everywhere (1Tim 2:8).
It is important to always remember that it concerns everybody’s official place in creation. The place for a public action is for the man. The woman has a more modest place. In case she comes forward by praying or prophesying, than she is supposed to cover her head, in order not to give the impression that she takes the position of the man. Otherwise she would dishonor her head, the man. By the way: this praying or prophesying by the woman is somewhere else than in the church. In 1 Corinthians 14 it is said in an unmistakable way, that women are not allowed to speak in the church (1Cor 14:34).
It may seem to you that this is all going a bit too far to relate so many things to whether or not to cover the head. Nevertheless it is really important, simply because God says so. To the visible and invisible world He wants a testimony of His order in the creation. It is like the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in paradise. What was the reason that Adam and Eve were not allowed to eat from that? Its fruit was not worse than that of the other trees, was it? But it was simply because God said that. That must have been sufficient not to eat from it. God wants us to accept what He says; He connects a blessing to it. We lose that blessing by doing things willfully and do not listen to Him, like Adam and Eve acted willfully and lost the blessing.
V6. There is one more thing related to the head covering of woman and that is her hair. If she doesn’t want to cover her head, let her be shorn. Why is that? Because her long hair is her glory (verse 15). If she prays or prophesies with her head uncovered, she places herself in the position of the man. In that way she doesn’t honor him as her head.
The Old Testament deals with the hair of the woman in two verses. Both verses are written in a section whereas the relation between man and woman is at issue. The first verse is in Numbers 5 where you can read that the "priest shall then ... let [the hair of] the woman's head go loose” (Num 5:18). It is about a case whereas a man is suspecting his wife to be unfaithful to him. The second verse is in Deuteronomy 21 where you read that her head has to be shaved (Deu 21:12). There it is about a woman who is taken captive. In both cases the hair of the woman is related to dishonor and shame.
Do you know that right after the Second World War (1940-1945) women, who were suspected of having had a relationship with German soldiers, were shorn also? With this in mind the first part of verse 6 also becomes clearer.
Nevertheless Paul wants to assume that a woman is aware of the shame when she has her hair cut off or even her head shaved. He reverts the terms in the second part of verse 6 directly and says that if it is a shame for a woman to cut her hair off, she should therefore cover her head. You see here how closely the head covering and the hair dress are connected to each other.
Now read 1 Corinthians 11:1-6 again.
Reflection: Why is it important that each person stands in his own place and also takes up his position?
7 - 16 Head Covering and Hair Dress – II
7 For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. 8 For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; 9 for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. 10 Therefore the woman ought to have [a symbol of] authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man [has his birth] through the woman; and all things originate from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God [with her head] uncovered? 14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.
V7. The man is “the image and glory of God”. The significance of this is far from small. That means as much as: Man ought to be the visible representative of God on earth. God also expects from man that he shows (as it were, expresses) the features and attributes of His being. Therefore he ought not to cover his head. Woman in her turn is the glory of man. She can show something of him by showing some of his characteristics in her action. These matters are the result of the way God created both of them. “For it was Adam who was first formed, [and] then Eve” (1Tim 2:13). When Adam was created, God took one of his ribs and made Eve from it (Gen 2:21).
V8-9. Besides the order of creation of man and woman, there is also the reason of the creation of woman. Woman was created for Adam’s sake and not Adam for Eve’s sake. Eve was given to Adam as a suitable helper for him. That doesn’t mean that a man doesn’t ever have to help his wife. On the contrary, man should help his wife as much as and whenever he can, because he loves her. But that doesn’t change anything in the verses here.
We must persistently adhere to what is written here, because there are powers that are making every effort to reverse this order from God in creation. In the world around you the movement of emancipation is gaining ground more and more. In this fight for emancipation people want to break with these verses. Feminism is promoting to let woman be the head of man. The fact that this is happening in the world is not something strange, but it also affects the believers.
V10. That “the woman ought to have [a symbol of] authority on her head”, is more often experienced as a burden than a privilege. The head covering is here called “[a symbol of] authority” because it is a sign of the authority to which she is submitted. Man is after all her head. Surely, God always looks at the heart first and what the thoughts of the heart are. For there it makes a difference whether a person does something only because ‘people’ say so, or he does it from a conscious obedience and love for Him. But God has also given us visible signs. By these signs angels are able to see whether a person does or does not consider the order that God has put in creation.
The head covering at praying and prophesying is the visible proof that a woman by no means wants to take the place of man towards God or men. Here it is also written that it is “because of the angels”. That appears to be a strange reason for the head covering. Nevertheless it is rather significant that they are mentioned here.
Angels are spectators. They were there when God made the foundations of the earth (Job 38:4). They watch the earth and are very interested in the ways God goes with the earth. They saw man’s failings in the time which was written in the Old Testament. After that they saw the perfect life of the Lord Jesus: they were there when He was born, when He was tempted in the desert, when He was in agony in Gethsemane, when He rose from the grave and when He went back to heaven. You can read all this in the Gospels.
The redemption work that the Lord Jesus fulfilled, He did not fulfill for angels, but for guilty people. Now the angels are observing if the believing woman above all, through whom sin came into the world, is considering the order God has ordained. Therefore it is not about something that is culture-bound. That is not what the angels are interested in. Their concern is the order of God’s creation, which remains to exist as long as this earth remains to exist. Believers have the privilege and the responsibility to put back the order of God, while the world takes, led by the devil, a course that is right against it.
Angels are also called spectators with regard to the church (Eph 3:10). Now the question is asked if the woman ought to cover her head when the church gathers. After all she is not allowed to pray or prophesy out loud there, as we shall see in chapter 14. Nevertheless the woman is to cover her head when the church gathers, because she is a picture of the church (Eph 5:22-24).
When the church gathers there are men and women. During the gathering they do things out loud together, such as singing and saying amen. By covering their head they send out the message to the angels that they are aware of their position as woman. It is an impressive testimony to the invisible and intelligent world when they see that believers act according to God’s order in a world that totally rejects this order.
V11. Here it is said that man and woman have their place together “in the Lord”. ‘In the Lord’ there is no distinction. ‘In the Lord’ means that they both stand before Him and they can serve Him together as their Lord in harmony. He is Lord for both man and woman. When they both are aware of that and consider that in all things, then the right balance in their relationship with one another will keep them from problems.
V12. This balance is also reflected in this verse. It is true that woman originates from the man, but after Adam the only way for a man to enter the world was through the woman. That decorates the woman. Of course nothing will ever change the fact that God is the origin of every life. He is the Creator of each man and each woman.
V13. Paul pointed out different reasons for the woman to be convinced that when she prays or prophesies, she ought to have her head covered. He pointed at the order of creation in verses 3-9. After that he stated the angels as spectators (verse 10). In verses 13-14 he gives another reason, which is the natural sense. He appeals to the discernment ability of the believers, for that is the meaning of “judge for yourselves”.
They had to examine this matter spiritually and make a conclusion; then they finally had to make a decision. To be able to make a conclusion they needed a measure. For you cannot consider such a matter on your own initiative, because then you will have a purely emotional conclusion. The only way to come to a right judgment or conclusion you ought to bow your knees before the Lord, asking Him for light and insight, in order to explore the Scripture in this respect and to willingly subject yourself heartily to the outcome.
V14. The question if it is appropriate that a woman prays to God without a head covering introduces easily the lesson of nature in connection to the hair of man and woman. The head covering and the hair are closely connected to one another. In the Bible long hair is connected to subjection: to relinquish certain rights and be committed to another person. Because God has given man a position on the forefront, he is ought not to have long hair, while long hair is an ornament for the woman. It decorates her. That’s the teaching of nature.
It is unnatural when a man has long hair and a woman has short hair. Some people may disagree with that, but that doesn’t change the fact that nature does teach us this, for that is what God says in His Word here. So it might be that many people say that homosexuality is normal and natural, and yet nature teaches the opposite. In Romans 1 homosexual relations are called ‘against nature’ (Rom 1:26).
V15. The long hair of a woman is given to her for a covering, whereby she shows her modesty and commitment towards the man. Of course her long hair is only useful when she reflects this modesty and commitment in her conduct. Then the glory, which is related to having long hair, will be fully her part.
I do not concern myself with the discussion of what the standard length of long hair should be. In Luke 7 and in John 12 you find an indication (Lk 7:38,44; Jn 12:3). In the histories described there, we see that the hair of each of the women who came to the Lord was long enough to dry His feet with. Further on in Revelation 9 there is another indication. There you read about “hair like the hair of a woman” (Rev 9:8). Since there is no difference in the substance of the hair, the indication undoubtedly concerns the length of the hair. Therefore a clear difference should be visible between the hair length of man and of woman.
V16. Whoever wants to argue that is his business. Anyway, the apostle has no such custom and neither has any local church. All of this can be equally clear to all people. Too often it is made confusing, complex and difficult because we do not simply adhere anymore to what God’s Word says. Also in this respect the world has got a great influence on the mind of believers. This influence also comes out in the appearances. God says here: long hair is a glory to woman. Which woman dares to claim this glory without compromise?
Please note that the point in these verses is the normal standard. There are women, who due to illness or other causes cannot help that they do not have long hair.
Now read 1 Corinthians 11:7-16 again.
Reflection: Why is this section so important for the practice of the Christian life?
17 - 22 How To Gather At One Place
17 But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you. 20 Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, 21 for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? 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 will not praise you.
V17. Paul is giving an instruction. It is possible that he is referring to the previous verses, but it is also possible that he is referring to the following verses. There is surely a connection with the previous verses. Imagine that man or woman doesn’t take the right place in the order of God’s creation (for that’s the point in the verses 1-16), do you think that each of them would take the right place in the church of God? I think not.
Apparently the believers at Corinth did not gather to have a good time with one another. They gathered for the worse. Of course they were not intending to, but that appeared to be the result in the practice of their gathering.
V18. How did it become apparent that they did not experience their gatherings for the good, but for the worse? First of all, that was expressed in the fact that there were divisions among them. In the first chapter Paul had to admonish them for that. There were divisions among them. Read that again in chapter 1 (1Cor 1:10-12).
A division causes dissension within a local church. On the outside it seems that all believers still belong together. They all still come together to the same place at the same time, but they do not come together with the same desire. They fall apart in different groups. In the case of the Corinthians the spirit of division revealed itself during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, because there was a distinction between poor and rich. In our time it can be an equally big danger. It is possible that believers with a high social position quickly get a leading role in church, exactly because they have such an important function in society. That should not be allowed.
The cause of divisions is also due to other human factors. A good speaker for instance, may impress some people, but to others it can be good manners. These aspects should not play a role in the gatherings of the church. When the church gathers, only one thing is important and that is that each believer takes his place as a member of the church.
Taking that place has got nothing to do with one’s place in society or with one’s natural capacities, but with the work of the Lord Jesus at the cross. That is the origin of the church. Each person who knows that the Lord Jesus has fulfilled that work for him also, is a member of the church. And each member of the church has his own unique place in that church and also the responsibility to be guided by the Holy Spirit.
V19. Nevertheless it can happen that when the believers come together as a church, things happen that are not from the Holy Spirit, but are invented by the believers themselves. It is about matters that are condemned by the Word of God. Division in a local church for example, is inexcusable. That should be confessed as sin. When such situations happen, God uses them to reveal “those who are approved”. The ‘approved’ are they who bow to God’s Word and sense that such a situation is not to His glory. They shall confess the wrong and not participate in the division.
In verse 19 there is a mention of “factions” (or: sects). A faction goes a step further than a division. A division is something within a still existing whole. In case of a faction, the division has separated them in such a way that they go separate ways openly.
It is important to understand the meaning of a faction or sect. A faction or sect is not what it is normally taken to mean. Normally people speak of a sect when it is about a religious community that has separated itself from the big churches. Sometimes it is indeed a sect, but it doesn’t have to be. Biblically, a sect is each religious community that believes that another unity, besides the unity of the believers, is also important with which you must agree to be a member of it.
Let me repeat for the record: the believers at Corinth were divided; there were dissensions because some people were attracted to Paul, others to Peter and still others to Apollos. If this is not judged, it can reach such a point that believers get separated from each other. Then factions become reality. Church history provides the shameful proofs.
The true unity on the contrary, is the unity of the church. That unity is presented by a body. Each believer is a member of it. There is a mention of a faction when people have to endorse a doctrine or confession, defined by people (how biblical that may be, however) to be able to belong to that certain religious community. The Word of God doesn’t acknowledge the membership of a church community, but speaks only of the body of Christ.
V20. The gathering of a church, whereby the believers gather as believers, nothing more and nothing less, is a special occasion. Is it not wonderful that that can happen at several occasions? In Acts 2:42 you can read on which occasion the church right after its beginning gathered, and what we still can do again and again.
We can still as the church, as they did in those days, gather to break the bread. That is the main topic in the part you have before you. We can also gather to pray and also to examine “the apostles’ teaching”, which means: to collectively study the Word of God and also act accordingly. To persevere in the teaching of the apostles is not only examining their teaching with perseverance, but also persevere in what they have taught. For the healthy growth of a local church, the latter is very essential. In 1 Corinthians 14 you will see more matters that concern the gathering of a church.
Matthew 18 speaks about a wonderful promise in connection to the gathering of the church. The Lord Jesus says there: “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Mt 18:20). You cannot apply this verse at any occasion where two or three believers meet one another. From the context of Matthew 18 it becomes clear that it is about the gathering of the church (Mt 18:15-20). And where does the church gather? There, where believers come together in the Name of the Lord Jesus. That means, where they consider His glory and His authority, according to the Bible, for that is what’s embedded in the ‘Name’ of the Lord Jesus.
V21. The Corinthians gathered together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, but they certainly did not do it reverentially. They were used to have a fellowship meal preceding the Lord’s Supper. Everybody brought food and drink of their own, which means only the ones who could afford it. There were also believers who couldn’t afford anything. Instead of sharing their riches with the poor ones, the rich people were eating and drinking as if they were at a feast. The contraries were expressed in such a way that some of them were hungry and others were drunk from drinking too much wine.
V22. Although they gathered at one place and were willing to eat the Lord’s Supper, Paul says here that that was out of the question, because of their shameless conduct towards the other members. Their excessive behavior, whereby they did not consider their fellow-brothers and -sisters, their fellow members of the body, was in fact also in contempt of the church of God. They embarrassed those who had nothing. No, the apostle couldn’t praise them in this.
Another thing: It is about the Supper of the Lord. It is His meal. That means that is about the Supper, which belongs to Him. Therefore He alone has the right to invite to partake in His Supper. No man or group can do that. The essence of the Lord’s Supper is described in a special way in the next verses.
Now read 1 Corinthians 11:17-22 again.
Reflection: When do the believers come together as a church?
23 - 26 The Lord’s Supper
23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which 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 [He took] the cup also 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.
The impressive thing of these verses lies in the contrast with the previous verses. There the chaotic situation of the Corinthians is pictured, as it became apparent when they celebrated the Lord’s Supper. It was a just a mess. They dealt in a very unholy way with holy things. How do you respond to that? Does Paul put the church at Corinth aside? No, first he points out the wrong and then he tells them what the real and special meaning of the Lord’s Supper is.
It is very significant that Paul could address the Corinthians in that way. So the situation was not totally hopeless. They could still be corrected and restoration was still possible. That is different from nowadays Christianity. Due to human institutions that have slipped into many churches and groups, it is not possible anymore to celebrate the Lord’s Supper according to how the Lord Jesus introduced it in the last night of His life on earth before the cross. The whole ecclesiastical structure should be abandoned in order to have room for what Paul says here in all simplicity and in a very moving way.
V23. Paul takes you to “the night in which He [the Lord Jesus] was betrayed”. That is the moment in the life of the Lord at which He certainly had the right to be occupied with Himself and with everything that awaited Him. That was the moment when Judas, one of His disciples, betrayed Him with a kiss. It was right before that moment, when the Lord Jesus introduced His Supper with a view for His disciples to remember Him when He would not be on earth anymore.
Paul had directly “received from the Lord”, because the Lord’s Supper fits totally in his ministry. After all, Paul is the man who is used by the Lord to make everything known about the church, which is originated through the death, the resurrection and the glorification of the Lord Jesus. In his conversion he was already given to understand that the church on the earth and the Lord Jesus in heaven are one. When he persecuted the church he heard from heaven: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4).
That Paul is exactly the one who receives the order to pass on this institution, proves that the Lord’s Supper is a part of the Christian’s life, thus also yours. It is a remembrance meal whereby you always remember a Savior Who was willing to die for you and all people who have accepted Him in faith.
If you ponder on the Lord’s Supper, do you then realize that His lips asked: “Do this in remembrance of Me”? Therefore the Lord Jesus took bread while celebrating the Passover. The Passover, which He was celebrating with His disciples, was a remembrance of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. The institution of the Passover is described in Exodus 12 (Exo 12:1-14). But what the Lord Jesus established during the celebration of the Passover was not related to Israel in the first place, but to the church. As long as the church dwells on earth, she can express her intimate and indissoluble alliance with the Lord Jesus through the celebration of His Supper. When you join a gathering where the Lord’s Supper is celebrated, your heart will be filled with a great gratitude.
The Lord Jesus took bread. It is stated so simply. Yet it is very exceptional. The exceptional thing about it is not the bread. The bread is just plain bread. It does not go through an uncommon change by pronouncing an extraordinary prayer of blessing, as the roman catholic church teaches. It remains plain bread. The exceptional thing about it is what the bread presents.
You can compare it to a photo of somebody who you love very much. The material of the photo is plain paper. The point is who is on that photo. If somebody spat on that photo, you would be very offended, not because of the paper, but because of their contempt for the person who is on the photo. It is the same idea with the bread during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The Lord Jesus said about the bread: “This is My body, which is for you.” It is an awful thing to deal with that inappropriately.
V24. When you join the gathering and you see the bread, you can remember that the Lord Jesus, the eternal Son, has become Man and has taken on a body, without ever losing it again. In that body he lived thirty-three years on earth. In His body he has glorified God in a perfect way. In that body He suffered as well.
Try to realize: He became captured, while He could activate twelve legions of angels with one sigh to heaven to consume all (Mt 26:53). Such capture did not happen gently at all. Evil people laid their violent hands upon His holy body and hauled Him before the courts. In spite of the declaration that had to be given again and again, that He hadn’t done anything for which He should be punished, they spat in His holy face, tore His clothes off from His body and tore His holy back open by scourging Him terribly.
Beaten up like that, He had to walk with the cross on His back to the place of execution. At that place brutal hands of soldiers grabbed His holy hands with which He did nothing except to bless and hurried to hit them cruelly with nails on the cross.
Then they raised the cross. The Savior was hanging there on the cross! He was mocked and provoked to come down from the cross. Still He remained hanging on the cross. Imagine what would have happened if He had come down from the cross. Then you and I would have been lost forever. His love for you and me kept Him on that cross, yet the worst still had to happen.
The suffering He underwent till then was done to Him by people. That suffering could not take away sins. It just only increased the guilt of man. What still had to happen and the only thing through which we could be redeemed from our sins, was that He would bear “our sins in His body” on the cross (1Pet 2:24). In the three hours of darkness His holy body was burdened with our sins and was struck by God. This is how He died. It is poignant to be continually aware of that, when you see the broken bread before you.
V25. Also the cup represents something. That represents the blood of the Lord Jesus, which He shed. The blood is of such great value, that God can therefore forgive sins. That forgiveness is a great thing, something you can be amazed of again and again and for which you can express your gratitude towards God again and again.
How often would you like to celebrate the Lord’s Supper? It is written: “As often as.” From the beginning of Acts you can understand that the first Christians daily came together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Further on in Acts the first day of the week is mentioned as a day on which the bread was broken (Acts 20:7). This first day of the week is called in Revelation 1 “the Lord’s day” (Rev 1:10). Do you remember that the Supper is called “the Lord’s Supper” in verse 20? So there is a clear connection between ‘the Lord’s day’ and ‘the Lord’s Supper’. Therefore Sunday seems to be the most suitable day to celebrate it.
Another indication is that the Lord Jesus came on that day, being the first day of the week, after His resurrection in the midst of His disciples (Jn 20:19,26). On that day He likes to meet with His own, so that they may worship Him. Is there a more suitable way than through the celebration of that remembrance meal?
V26. Therefore when you eat the bread and drink from the cup, you proclaim “the Lord’s death”. Can you imagine two words that are so contradictory and yet are made so closely related here than ‘death’ and ‘Lord’? Nevertheless your hopeless situation cannot possibly be brought forward in a more striking way. In order to save you, no less than the death of the Prince of life was necessary.
Therefore you say, though without words, so much when you participate in the Lord’s Supper. It is a proclamation to whoever wants to see it, whether it is people or angels that you owe everything to a Lord Who died. When that is a reality for you, then the result will be that you will not allow anything anymore in your life the Lord had to die for. That should be really out of the question.
By impressing upon them the amazing thing about the Lord’s death again, Paul wanted to persuade the Corinthians to confess their wrong practices and to put them away. Isn’t that a wonderful way to bring believers onto the straight path?
We must realize that every time we have proclaimed the death of the Lord, it could have been the last time. With the celebration of the Lord’s Supper we remember His death, while we know that He lives. For we proclaim His death “until He comes”. What an amazing prospect!
Now read 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 again.
Reflection: What does the Lord’s Supper represent?
27 - 34 How To Participate In the Lord’s Supper
27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28 But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world. 33 So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment. The remaining matters I will arrange when I come.
V27. I hope that you are impressed by the Lord’s Supper; that is to say by what it presents: Christ and His reconciling death. Then you can imagine that God is very displeased when Christians trivialize the Lord’s Supper. God tolerates ignorance, but He does not tolerate it when this holy institution is being abused.
In most cases when believers are of the opinion that the Lord’s Supper serves to strengthen faith, it is a matter of ignorance. The Lord’s Supper is not to strengthen faith, but to remember a Savior Who died. It is not that believers receive something, like a word of encouragement, when they partake of the Lord’s Supper, but they come to do something and to bring something. They proclaim the death of a Beloved and thank Him that He wanted to enter death. It is possible to remember His death and at the same time thank Him because He is the living One in their midst.
It is another thing when, as at Corinth, the believers deal with the Lord’s Supper in a wrong way. Then they do not realize anymore what the bread and wine represent. It can easily happen that you eat of the bread and drink of the cup totally thoughtlessly. You do it unconsciously. Suddenly you realize what you have done. Then you confess to God that you were absent in your thoughts again. Fortunately He knows that such a thing can happen.
It is another thing when the Lord’s Supper becomes just routine, meaningless again and again. With the Corinthians the point was that they used bread and wine “in an unworthy manner”. So the wrong thing was the way they dealt with the bread and the wine. They ate of the bread to satisfy their hunger and they drank from the wine to quench their thirst. They forgot the real essence.
This “unworthy manner” has got nothing to do with being worthy or unworthy of the person who partakes of the Lord’s Supper. Each true member of the church has been made worthy through the work of the Lord Jesus to partake of it. Therefore you should not cease from partaking of the Lord’s Supper because you feel unworthy to do that.
The only reason for the believer not to be worthy of partaking is, when there is a sin in the believer’s life, and that a sin which is not being confessed. In chapter 5 this was extensively paid attention to. The warning here is not to partake of the Lord’s Supper inconsiderately, for you would make yourself guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.
V28. Each person who takes the Lord’s Supper seriously, will recoil from that and therefore examine himself. This self-examination, this “examine yourself”, is essential. Do you want to know how that works? When you ponder on meeting the Lord in the gathering, you also directly become aware of His holiness, that He knows everything about you. Do you have any fear by that thought? Can you frankly look Him in the eyes?
Self-examination always has its effect. It may have the result that you’re reminded of things that are wrong; then you can put them away. The result can also be that you are sincerely not aware of anything wrong; in that case you may frankly partake of the Lord’s Supper. In Matthew 5 you read what the Lord Jesus says that I just put in my own words (Mt 5:23-24).
Staying away from the Lord’s Supper or not partaking when bread and wine are being passed on, are in no case a solution. In that way you let sin conquer over your love for the Lord Jesus. No, examine yourself, take away the hindrance or the wrong and eat in such a way of the bread and drink in such a way of the cup.
V29. He who is not willing to examine and judge himself, easily eats and drinks judgment to himself, which God shall execute over him or her. God guards the honor of His Son. He cannot possibly act as if He is not interested in how we deal with the remembrance of His Son. He also loves His own that much that He will not allow them to continue in that way. He loves them to enjoy the full value of this institution. Therefore He is obliged to chasten all who do not take into account this which they hold in their hands, as sanctified, and which is represented by the bread and the wine of the Lord’s Supper.
‘Not discerning the Lord’s body’ means that the believers do not relate an exceptional meaning to the bread of the Lord’s Supper. Their hearts are cold and aren’t touched by it anymore. Then God has to speak clearly to them.
V30. Therefore many believers at Corinth were weak and sick, and quite a few of them have even already passed away. These things must have said a lot to the Corinthians. It is not the intention of Paul here to say that each weakness or sickness of the body or each death is a cause of sin. God could have had other plans with it. At Corinth, however, all this was the cause of that.
Nowadays it can also be the case that a local church is being addressed by God explicitly, when suddenly several believers show weakness and sickness and that even believers are being taken away by death. Of course it is a good thing that the believers of that church pray at prayer meetings for the weak, the sick and the relatives of the dead, but it should also be the idea that they ask the Lord why these things happen, what the cause of that is.
It is certainly not meant that weakness, sickness and death only happen to the ones who are to blame. That may be the case, but at Corinth the whole church had to be addressed, because the state of the whole was not good. It is also possible that God took away some faithful believers to bring the unfaithful to their senses. So we have no certain indications which we could relate to God’s ways of acting, except that, through such occurrences, God wants to point us to situations that are not good.
V31. We can prevent that God has to judge us, by judging ourselves. You are able and even called to judge yourself. Judging yourself implies that you yourself can discern whether you do or do not walk in the path of the Lord. If you have done something wrong, you will judge what you’ve done wrong. You will not only judge the deed, but also yourself and the condition of your heart, because you could only do that wrong deed because you were not close to the Lord.
V32. If we do not judge ourselves, then the Lord will chasten us. As said already: He loves us so much that He will not allow us to continue to live in sin. If He doesn’t chasten us, we would then perish together with the world under God’s judgment when He will judge this world.
V33-34. After these serious verses about the judgment and discipline of the Lord, Paul appeals to the Corinthians to consider one another. He who eats his usual meal at home, will not risk misusing the Lord’s Supper by satisfying his hunger with the bread of it, which would cause a judgment to the gathering. When the believers prepare themselves well at home for the gathering, then the gathering will be a blessing and not a judgment to all who are present.
The preparation for the gathering is very important. You do not just take a few minutes on Saturday evening, and surely not just an hour before the gathering begins. However it is also important to be occupied with the things of the Lord as a family as well as personally then. The preparation for the gathering is a matter you should be involved with during the whole week, your whole life. The death of the Lord you (maybe?) proclaim influences every aspect of your life. Is it not?
By saying all this Paul didn’t say all that was on his mind regarding this issue. There are things he wanted to save till he would be with them. Those things are not written in the Bible. It would not be a good thing to have records of everything formally. The Word of God as we have it now is enough for all times and all circumstances. We have received the Holy Spirit to be able to cope with our circumstances at any time by the means of what Paul did pass on to us. He who submits to God’s Word and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, shall experience the blessing thereof.
Now read 1 Corinthians 11:27-34 again.
Reflection: How do you judge yourself?