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Extending Honor to Whom Honor is Due

 

1 Corinthians 11:1-34

 

Jim Davis

 

The pagan world was much different from the Jewish world around Jerusalem. The teaching of the law and the prophets shaped the Jewish culture. The world beyond Jewish influence was shaped by the practices that surrounded the pagan temples. Preaching Christ to the ancient pagan world was a tremendous challenge for the first century Christians. Paul’s epistles expound the challenges Christians faced as the gospel was heralded in the pagan world. We could learn much about reaching a world in a changing culture if we would study the New Testament teaching to those churches established in the pagan world.

 

Surprisingly, the ancient gospel reveals the wisdom to cross seemingly insurmountable barriers in every generation. Those teaching in the pagan world were forced to cross racial, social, cultural and religious barriers with effectiveness and efficiency. Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians seeks to give us principles to enable us to become all things to all men and women in every generation while remaining faithful to the message proclaimed. This is no small challenge for the church today; it is probably our greatest failure. We know how to talk the talk with those who have been churched all their lives, but do we know how to speak the message effectively to those outside Christ with no knowledge of the Bible.

 

We know what the church expects us to say, and we know how they expect us to say it. The question is do we know what to say to that person that walks in the door of the church building that has never heard about Christ. Do we know how to face the problems that arise within the church as we seek to incorporate new converts into the body of Christ? Or, are we so afraid of compromising the message of the gospel that it makes us ineffective in its proclamation.

 

We usually do one of three things when we face the challenges of presenting the gospel effectively to a non-believing world. We may seek to isolate ourselves from the influence of the world. We may seek to compromise God’s standards to make the gospel more palatable to non-believers. We can choose to enter into our world with the gospel with the help and wisdom of God to salvage souls.

 

Understanding God’s Order

 

What do you do when the arrogance of religion faces the revelry of a pagan society? First, we must remember the attitude with which we meet the challenges test our sincerity in Christ. How we meet the challenges actually reveals the ones who are approved by God (11:19). Corinth attitudes in meeting the difficulties gave them a chance to prove themselves. However, Corinth’s worship services were doing more harm than good (11:17, 18).

 

Paul entered Corinth as an ambassador who sought to bring peace to the differing warring factions within the church at Corinth. He sought to reconcile the church in the midst of a conflicting culture. He did so by first setting an example for them, and secondly by respecting them in spite of their differences.

 

As a good ambassador Paul sought to please everybody in every way, but he was doing it for the good of others (10:31-33). He wasn’t doing it to enhance his own standing. He did not develop an attitude of distain for those he was seeking to teach. Paul was compassionate to the erring, because he understood their importance in God’s scheme of things.

 

1 Corinthians 11:1-10

“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

 

“I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them on to you.

 

“Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head-it is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head” (NIV).

 

Paul sought to take them back to the beginning as he emphasized God’s place of honor for each person.  Paul writes, “Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” Quoting this verse today almost immediately creates a gender gap because we automatically start thinking that someone is trying to put us in our place. This results because we allow our culture to shape our view of what Paul is saying. Paul is simply reminding each person of his or her place in the scheme of things. You can’t remind a person of his/her place in God’s scheme of things without reminding them of how important it is for them to fill their assigned role.

 

It is difficult for us to grasp the significance of what Paul is saying, for our society seeks to place each of us in competition with the other. This is especially true in regards to our gender roles. The best way you can build self-esteem is by understanding how God has made you—by understanding where God has designed you to function. Comparing ourselves with others will never allow us to understand our importance in the eyes of God. When you understand God’s estimation of your role, you will never underestimate your importance in God’s order.

 

When we dishonor the role God has placed us in we bring dishonor upon ourselves. Paul says, “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head-it is just as though her head were shaved.” There may be discussions over the specific cultural practices Paul refers too, but whatever the specific practices were, they were reflecting dishonor upon the position God had placed each of them in.

 

Paul not only pointed out God’s order of things, but he also pointed the world’s view of things. The very nature of what they were practicing from the world’s point of view told them that they were wrong.

 

1 Corinthians 11:11-16

In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice-nor do the churches of God” (NIV).

 

In 11:1-16 Paul makes no allusion where the dishonorable attitude is manifested, i.e., where prophesying is done, but his concern is the attitude with which they are doing it. They were showing disrespect for the role God assigned each. God’s order of things told them this, and the very nature of the conflict told them this. They were failing to understand their need for mutual submission to each other in God’s assigned order. Paul writes, “In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.”

 

There is no hint that the difference between male and female is a matter of inferiority or inequality. Serving in different capacities in no way makes one person better than the other. Each is dependent upon the other.

 

The very design of the position that God has placed each of in places each of us in submission to each other. We may occupy differing positions in God’s order, but the ideal of dependency upon each other brings equality. Of necessity dependency brings men and women in submission to each other. Too often, our freedom in Christ may want us to live independent of others. Paul hastens to stress the partnership of man and woman. Neither can live, nor even exist without the other. This partnership is designed that each can be more fruitful and lovely. It is not a partnership designed to breed contention.

 

Often, when conflict occurs everything becomes confusing. It becomes difficult to deal with the arguments coming from conflicting points of view. Sometimes when this happens the only way to get a clear view of our purpose is to scrap all the arguments and recognize the simplest principles involved. Jesus often did this rather than engage in the endless arguments of legalism. He did this by saying everything the law and the prophets spoke hinged upon one single principle—to love your neighbor as you love yourself. For those who had made endless laws about how to love their neighbor as themselves, Jesus simply said, So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets”  (Matthew 7:12 NIV). This allowed those confused by endless religious rules to reduce what was taught to one simple principle that would make it possible for them to start making sense out of what was being taught.

 

In chapters 11-14 Paul reduces his discussion to one single principle—the proper respect for each other’s role in God’s order of things. I can’t begin to respect the role of others until I respect the role God has given me. When I understand my God given role I will see no need to be in competition with the roles God has given others. Whatever the practices of the time, those practices were violating God’s respect for the role of men and women.

 

Worship Tainted In A Divided Church

 

The violation of God’s order of things tainted the worship and function of the church at Corinth. It is inevitable that disrespect for God given roles affect the fellowship.

 

1 Corinthians 11:17-22

“In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God's approval. When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don't you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not! (NIV).

 

Troublesome times test troubled hearts. Paul writes, “No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.” I certainly don’t relish trouble, but troubles can be beneficial. The real test comes not when things are going our way, but when we are not getting our way. These times give us a chance to see what we are made of. To be honest, sometimes I don’t like what I see in myself when I don’t get my way—when I don’t get the respect I think I deserve.

 

Corinth’s fellowships were tense and divisive. It was because they were not responding to each other with improper respect. Humiliation ruled as they allowed some to go hungry and others to revel in gluttony and drunkenness.

 

There is no praise from God when we show contempt for fellow Christians; it’s equal to holding God in contempt. Paul asks, “Do you despise the church of God?” We despise the Lord’s church when we seek to humiliate those who have nothing to offer. Paul writes, “So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment” (1 Corinthians 11:33-34 NIV).

 

Paul reduces the problem to its simplest common denominator—the sacrifice of Christ. A divided Church violates the sacrifice of Christ. “When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else.”

 

 

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night 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." In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes” (NIV)

 

There is no way I can live wrong and worship right.

 

Matthew 5:23-24

"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (NIV).

 

I cannot offer a gift to God nor accept a gift from God, i.e. the provision of the Lord’s Supper,  while seeking to humiliate the position God has given others. Paul writes, “ . . .whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord” (11:27 NIV). Accepting the sacrifice of Christ brings me face to face with my need to share his sacrificial gift with others. I share the sacrificial gift of Christ when I honor others with the sacrifice Christ has honored me with—when I esteem others better than myself.

 

Philippians 2:1-11

“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

 

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus . . .”

 

It is crucial that I examine myself in regards to my attitude toward others as I eat at the Lord’s Table. If we would take time to judge ourselves, we would not come under the judgment of God.

 

1 Corinthians 11:28-32

A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world” (NIV).

 

Failing to respect others brings God’s judgment upon me. Eating meat that destroys the weak brother/sister brings God’s judgment upon me (8:11-13). When others become distressed over what I am doing I am not acting in love (Romans 14:15). In such cases  I am not esteeming them as Christ has esteemed me.  Refusing to act in love brings God’s judgment upon ourselves and the church.

 

Failing to respect others makes me spiritually weak. Our spiritual strength is revealed when we can forgo our rights so that others an enjoy their rights. The sacrifice of  discipline that produces strong Christians (9:24-27), and qualifies us for the prize of our calling.

 

Conclusion:

 

1 Corinthians 11:33-34

“So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment” (NIV).

 

Remember when the Lord convicts us of wrong in these matters his judgment is so that we won’t be condemned with the world.