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1 Corinthians 11

By Pastor Doug
The doctrine of headship; the Lord's supper

1 Corinthians 11:2-12

This might be confusing when you first read it.  You might say, 'I thought they weren't holding to Paul's teachings and that was the problem.'  Some believe this is biting sarcasm from Paul and he is saying this to help them realize they hadn't remembered him and weren't holding to his teachings.  Paul is not beyond sarcasm; however, I don't think Paul would say 'follow me' and 'I am an example of Christ' and then use such cold sarcasm. 

I believe Paul is sincere here.  In this verse he praises some and later in verse 17 he says he doesn't praise them.  Here, in his praise, he is talking to those in the assembly that were holding to the teachings.  They had remembered what they had been taught and they were following Paul's example.  And with all the negative stuff Paul had said to the Corinthian church, he wanted to offer encouragement to those who deserved it.  For those that weren't following his teachings, this may have just been a source of conviction.  It might have been his way of pointing out that some were following the teachings to those that were not.

The 'traditions of verse two isn't the kind of traditions we might think of, but Paul is referring to the doctrines and teachings he brought them, as well as what has been handed down by the apostles and Christ himself.  Remember, they didn't have a New Testament.  Christ that was concealed in the Old Testament law (their only bible at the time) was still being revealed to the church.  The doctrines we learn from the bible were still being written down at this time. 

The third verse seems like a strange transition but Paul was laying the groundwork for the idea that there was to be order in their worship.  In the study of Exodus and Leviticus you see the building of the tabernacle, the calling of the priests and then God teaching the priests and people how to use this for their worship.  This wasn't religious system or recipes to finding God; the entire tabernacle and all the details of it were a pattern of heaven. 

And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it.  [The New King James Version (Ex 25:8–9). (1982). Thomas Nelson.]

How much more important is us to consider we are the tabernacle of God when we come together in worship, word, fellowship meals and the table for communion.  There must be order and reverence and that starts with authority and accountability.

To be the 'head of' is a position of authority but also accountability and responsibility.  He starts by reminding every man that he is under the authority of Christ.  That man was also in the place of authority over woman.  For a man, that might be wife, daughters or others in His home or under his care.  As Christ submitted Himself to the Father, man submits himself to Christ and woman submits herself to man. 

  • Jesus submitted to the Father:  God the Father and God the son are equal in the Godhead.  Yet, the Son yielded to the Father.  Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane,

"Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done." [The New King James Version. (1982). (Lk 22:42). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.]

 The Father is head over Christ and Jesus submitted to the authority of the Father.  It doesn't mean Jesus is less God than God the Father or the Holy Spirit.  The submission to the authority does not imply inferiority.

  • Men are to submit to the authority and headship of Christ, as He submitted to the Father.  Men are to be an example to follow, to lead their families, to be a model of Christ for others.  This is man's God-ordained role; one which the world works against and seems to be winning.  Most men walk on the wide path, seeking acceptance by the world and other men, submitted to cultural and peer pressure.  Man's submission is obviously to a greater authority and power.

Then women are to submit to the authority and headship of man.  Because of that authority, each man has a responsibility and will be accountable.  This authority isn't for guys to poke out their chest and Lord it over a woman.  Man's authority is one of servant leadership.  Each man is accountable and will be held responsible for the actions taken in that role as head.  The submission to the authority does not imply inferiority.

This is an interesting thought right after Paul invited them to imitate him.  The men of Corinth could see Paul's submission to Jesus as Paul followed the pattern of submission established by Jesus towards the Father.  This left the women looking at the men of Corinth – who, for the most part, had not submitted but were being rebellious.  Some of the women were no doubt following this lead.  Although, they might see the pattern of submission set down by Christ and submit to their head in spite of what their husbands had done.


1 Corinthians 11:4-6

This doctrine of headship is the order of things.  Now Paul can deal with the issue at hand.  There are many debates about the coverings and why this was an issue.  It comes down to a few points that would apply to us.  Paul uses a wordplay to make his point. 

  1. The men who covered their head (physical) while prophesying or praying, dishonored their head (authority).
    1. Roman religious practices called for the head to be covered.  Some Corinthians may have held onto this from their old life.  In doing so, bringing pagan worship practice into the worship of God.
    2. The head of man is Christ; coving their head dishonored Jesus.  He is their covering.
  2. The woman who prayed and prophesied with her head uncovered dishonored her head.
    1. By the woman maintaining her covering, the distinction between men and women is maintained.  There is no gender confusion – gender is important to God.   There are two.
    2. Culturally, the covering of a woman was an indication of humility, indicating she was under the authority of man.  In public, this acted as a protection that kept unwanted advances from mean. 
    3. Removing her covering once inside the church could be perceived as an availability toward men.  It would be a distraction to men, even sexually revealing, because the norm outside of worship was to be covered. 
    4. The 'head' of woman is man – she would bring dishonor to the man in authority over her.  It was also an act of defiance, rebellion.
      1. Praying and prophesying without her covering, would be as if she shaved her head.
      2. This was viewed as brazenly defiant.
      3. The shaved head of a woman was shameful; something done in many cultures to an adulterer.

Paul argues this point further by looking at creation.  Man was created in the image of God, by the hand of God.  Woman was created from man.  She is also subsequently created in the image of God, but comes to be by way of the rib of Adam.  The woman is the glory of man.  She was created for the man.  The covering of the woman then is the symbol of authority on her head.

Paul then says something odd, "because of the angels."  Isn't it interesting that even the angels come into play on this?  It's important, even to those ministering spirits to know and see the order of things.  The order of headship should not be forgotten, so as not to offend or affect the angels.  Fascinating!

Worship, prayer and prophesying in the name of Christ is serious business, eternal business, beyond what we can truly comprehend.  Paul gives us a sense of this in Ephesians:

To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; 10 to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, 11 according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.  [The New King James Version (Eph 3:8–12). (1982). Thomas Nelson.]

John Stott commented on this passage:

It is as if a great drama is being enacted. History is the theatre, the world is the stage, and 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. We are to think of them as spectators of the drama of salvation. Thus 'the history of the Christian church becomes a graduate school for angels'.

[Stott, J. R. W. (1979). God's new society: the message of Ephesians (pp. 123–124). InterVarsity Press.]


1 Corinthians 11:11-12

Paul brings balance to perspective to his 'headship' argument.  Men and women need each other.  They were created differently for different purposes and together they are quite a competent team.  If both want to be submitted to the other, it won't work.  If neither accepts responsibility, it will fail.  Likewise, if both want to operate as the head, they will clash.  There can only be one place of authority.

Three reasons given for this headship:

  1. Men and women are distinct, different and not God.
  2. Man was not created for woman, but woman was created for man.
  3. Because of the angels.
  4. Men & women need each other.


1 Corinthians 11:13-16

Paul offers a final proof of the concept of covering from nature.  This kind of argument was popular among some of the philosophers at that time.  Paul commands them to judge for themselves.  The very nature of the differences between men and women shows that regardless of cultural customs women have always tended to have longer hair than men.  Paul sees this long hair as a kind of natural covering for the woman.  He uses it as proof of the order of things.

The custom of that time was that the women keep their head covered as a show of submission.  There was no other practice that was acceptable at that time.  Paul isn't giving this covering to us as a doctrine for the church.  It was a tradition.  It was the way things were done at that time to show they were under authority.  He wanted them to know this.

It is the enemy and his use of the pagan cultures to gray the lines of sexuality and work towards degrading the roles of men and women.  The Greeks and Romans were pretty famous for their paganism and false gods.  The further you get from the God of the bible the more this authority and headship is messed up.  The further you get from Jesus Christ, the more messed up the distinction between the sexes and their roles in society is likely to be.  That's what was happening in Corinth.  It was a pagan society and amidst the immorality and idolatry the roles of men and women were messed up.  When these people stepped out of that world and became Christians, they brought some of their old ways with them.  The fractured roles of men and women were just one of these things.  Paul was writing them to re-establish the right order.

God established this order for His purpose and His glory and for our good.  Without a godly standard, we end up all messed up.  A godless society will never end up at the right place regarding headship because if you have a wrong view of God you have submitted to the wrong headship and you've started in the wrong place.


1 Corinthians 11:17-22

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.  [The New King James Version (1 Co 11:25). (1982). Thomas Nelson]

From the beginning, breaking bread together was foundational to the church.  Relationships are established, we get to know people and share in their life.  Ministry opportunities flourish in this atmosphere as we share in our spiritual gifts.  As we gather, we can see servants, helpers, compassion, prayer, giving, administration, admonishment and encouragement; all in the same setting.  This is a connection to the fellowship offerings of the tabernacle; it was sharing a meal with others in the presence of the Lord. 

Paul started this section with praise for them, but he could not offer praise for their conduct at the table.  This is the second item under the heading; "when you gather to worship."  Paul addressed these issues to establish order, reverence, humility and holiness among the believers.   The Lord's supper was established by Jesus.  The way we act when we come together and do this reveal our heart and attitude to the Lord.  There is honor in doing this well, it's His order of things. 

These gatherings were worship gatherings and they were coming together for the worse and not for better.  What was happening was not edifying, building up and unifying of the church.  In the church were some people of means.  As the church met in homes, their homes were probably meeting places and the location of these feasts.  The norm of the Greco-Roman culture was a banquet that seated the wealthy and prominent near the host.  They would be served fine food and wine.  The 'lesser' guests were in another room, barely in site of the host, and were served inferior food and wine, often eliciting complaint.  This seating and eating by class made its way into the church.  It was hardly unifying; one could hardly feel as if they had come together as one body of believer in the name of the Lord.   This worsened, or at least maintained, the divisions that existed in the church.

The upper class in Corinth did not work with their hands; they would be appalled at the thought.  They looked down at those who did work with their hands.  Their gatherings tended to honor those of the same class.  The working men would arrive at the gatherings later, after work.  They would be seated in these rooms for the lesser class and apparently at times they food would be gone.  Paul made it clear, what they were doing was not considered eating the Lord's Supper.  Some were stuffed with fine food while others went hungry.  Some were even drunk.

Imagine a fellowship mean at church where you were seated by class; suddenly everyone would be aware of where their status in the world.  This stands in great contrast to our standing in heaven where we are one body under one Lord.  Imagine coming late and finding all the food gone and half the people were stumbling drunk.  It's hardly a picture we want associated with the church.  The exclamation, "What!" displays Paul's astonishment of such a thing. 

Paul wanted to re-establish their priority of coming together; it was for fellowship at the table, for communion with the Lord.  If they were so hungry they couldn't wait, they needed to eat at home.  If they desired to gluttonously gorge themselves or drink themselves into a stupor, they needed to stay home and do it.  If the entire purpose was eating, just stay home!  To come together as they were despised the church and shame some of their own brethren. 

There simply was nothing praiseworthy of these gatherings.

It is normal for there to be differences among believers.  We don't all believe exactly the same, we don't have to all act the same and do all the same things.  Everyone is at a different place in their walk with the Lord (spiritual maturity).  Isn't it amazing that a hundred people can pick up the same bible, seek after the same God, trust in the same Lord, be saved by the same shed blood, receive the same gift of grace, be filled with the same Holy Spirit, be glory bound to the same heaven to spend eternity together, yet, if you start a discussion with those same people about bible translations, end times theology, viewpoint on baptism, gifts of the Spirit, color of carpet and walls, politics or countless other topics, then those same believers will be at each other's throats in a matter of minutes.

God made us all different with different.  We know each of us has part, and in our part we have different passions.  We have different things that motivate us and drive us and the very things that make us good at our gift also keep us from understanding someone else's gift.  We fall easily into the trap of thinking everyone should think as I think, view everything as we do and believe like we believe.  When we discover that's not the case we are shocked at times.  All these other things should be secondary to the single identity; that of being named in Christ.


1 Corinthians 11:23-26

This is one of the traditions Paul spoke about in verse 2.  Paul received this directly from the Lord; making clear it was not his idea or any other man, but the Lord himself.  Paul became a messenger to deliver this to Corinth and the rest of the church.  He had previously instructed them, but delivered it again to re-establish the order and reverence.

It was on the night he was betrayed that Jesus instituted this supper.  Paul described exactly what the Lord told him about that night.  Imagine hearing that directly from Jesus.  This had to be a profound moment in Paul's life.  Jesus took the bread, he gave thanks for it and then he broke it.

"Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me."  [The New King James Version (1 Co 11:25). (1982). Thomas Nelson]

What was 'broken?'  Jesus' body wasn't broken in any way.  To be that perfect sacrifice, no bones could be broken.  While it was normal for the leg bones to be broken to speed up death as Sabbath drew near, in Jesus case, His legs were not broken but His side was pierced.  It was the bread that was broken.  Jesus gave thanks and broke it and shared it. 

47 Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. 50 This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world."  [The New King James Version (1 Co 11:25). (1982). Thomas Nelson]

Jesus is that bread; its life, provision, sustenance.  To break bread is to share of the same provision; as we break bread at the table of remembrance, we share in a meal with the Lord.  It's communion with Him; it's eternal life in Him.

What we know as the 'Last Supper' was a Passover meal.  The celebration of Passover was originally given to the Jews as a means of remembering the exodus from Egypt.  It was a celebration of God's people coming out of their bondage.  God gave them specific instruction on this; not just to remember it but how to remember it properly.  Humanity has a bad habit of forgetting or rewriting history.  The Passover meal was a recounting of the bitterness of bondage and the great work of the Lord to lead His people from that to the Promised land.  Matzo bread represents the unleavened bread of the Israelites fleeing Egypt.  They had no time for their bread to rise, but baked it without leaven in haste.  This bread appears to have been pierced and striped (see Isaiah 53). 

Somewhere over the years a Jewish Passover tradition developed; as part of the Passover meal three pieces of matzo (unleavened bread) are stacked together.  The middle piece of matzo is then removed and broken; then it wrapped in linen and hidden away for a short time.  This is a great picture of Jesus Christ.  The 3 pieces of bread are the Father the son and the Holy Spirit.  The center bread, Jesus Christ, is broken and wrapped in linen out of site for a short time; as his body was broken and striped for our transgression (Isaiah 53:5) and was hidden away in death for 3 days.

Jesus took the picture of the Passover bread and associated it with Him.  Jesus said, "I am the bread of life."  And as we know leaven is a picture of corruption and sin, this matzo was without leaven as Jesus was without sin.  Bread was a main staple of the diet.  It provided nourishment and life.  When Jesus broke the bread, He said using it as a picture of His body given for us.  Jesus' life was given so that you may have life.   As the Passover was the celebration of the Israelites coming out of their bondage, the Lord's Supper is a celebration for each one of us of our coming out of bondage.  We celebrate coming out of our own bondage to sin and being saved from a destiny of eternal death.  When we take the bread of the Lord's Supper, we do so in Remembrance of Jesus.

After supper, Jesus took the cup.  This implies that he blessed and broke the bread at the beginning of this meal.  The Passover was then eaten.  After the mean, Jesus took this cup.  There is a lot of discussion of the Jewish traditions and which cup this was.  Most of the discussion revolves around whether this was the 3rd or 4th cup.   Most traditions say the 3rd cup was the cup of redemption

This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." [The New King James Version (1 Co 11:25). (1982). Thomas Nelson]

This covenant was established by blood (life); made possible by the blood of Jesus Christ.  That blood paid for our sins and is the source of our redemption. 

Eating the bread and drinking became a way to proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.  This death and resurrection made our life in Him available.  The concern at Corinth is that they were not proclaiming Christ's death; they were not remembering Him.  They were taking care of self.   They were divided.  

In Corinth the Lord's supper was part of a meal.  For us that meal is taken as a cracker or bread and juice.  It's interesting in that it doesn't say specifically how we do this or how often we do this.  The important thing is that we do it.  During Covid, we got creative in sharing this together.  Did Jesus anticipate us taking communion on Skype or Facebook live? 

When we take the Lord's Supper we are proclaiming the Lord's death.  The word 'proclaiming' is the same word used for preaching.  We are preaching a sermon when we take the Lord's Supper; to ourselves and to others.  We are saying I recognize and remember that Jesus Christ was beaten and whipped and nailed to a tree.  He took the punishment I deserve.  By his shed blood a New Covenant was made available to me.  By this work I am redeemed and set free, no longer a slave to the world or sin.

As we break bread and drink from the cup we should ask ourselves what sermon we are preaching.  What are we proclaiming?  The disciples broke bread with the Lord that night and they swore allegiance to Him.  Peter said he would never deny Christ.  Yet, by the night's end, many of them had all run off.  Once they were removed from this quiet place with the Lord they began to deny him and by morning Peter had done what he was sure he would never do.  He had denied the Lord.  That's why it is so important we take the Lord's supper on a regular basis.  We need to be reminded.  We are to take the bread and the cup and remember him and preach Jesus Christ until He comes.  The bread and cup are looking back and remembering.  The preaching until He comes is looking forward in faith, knowing He is coming soon.

This description of the Lord's Supper by Paul is what the institution was supposed to look like.  When Paul wrote this to the Corinthians it is believed to be the first written instruction of the institution of the Lord's Supper.  Paul wasn't copying what he read in the gospels because they hadn't been written yet.  Paul was giving them a firsthand account of what he received from the Lord.  That was the Lord's account of what he did at that table on that night before he was betrayed.  I think that's amazing.

So, we do this.  However, there is an expiration date; a day when this institution is no longer applicable.  This expires when the Lord comes.  We will no longer be remembering, but experiencing the completion of our redemption.  We will be glorifying Him forever.  We will be feasting in the presence of the Lord in the marriage supper of the Lamb.  What a day that will be.


1 Corinthians 11:27-32

It seems like such a simple thing; a small cracker or piece of bread and a tiny cup of juice.  However, the meaning is profound, bigger than we can truly know.  Paul concludes that we must be careful not to eat of this in an unworthy manner.  It's serious business. 

The word 'examine' is a word used to talk about checking a metal to see if it is genuine.  If you were about to purchase some silver or gold, you would examine them to see if they were authentic.  This self-examination was important, it was the opportunity to keep one's self from judgment.  This worthiness was not speaking if we are worthy of receiving it; for none of us are worthy.  We are saved by grace, not worthiness.  This means we receive it in a worthy manner; in recognition of the meaning, in reverence and humility.   We acknowledge the bread and juice not just as symbols but pictures of Jesus Christ and the His finished work. 

To bring judgment on ourself; to make our self-guilty of the body and blood was to liken ourselves to those who nailed Jesus to the cross.   They treated Jesus like a common criminal, like any other man, deserving to death.   

Paul informed them that their irreverent way of treating the Lord's Supper and made some of them weak and sick; some had even died.  To align ourselves with the world, to look at communion as the world did could bring the condemnation reserved for the world.  We can expect the Lord's chastening in this.  Does this still happen today?  It certainly can.  Maybe some of us have even experienced it in the past and not recognized what it was.  We shouldn't presume that every sickness or untimely death is God's judgment of this.  But we should place a guard on our attitude; and place a guard on this institution (not the traditions of the institution).  We can judge ourselves and check our own heart or God may do it for us.  When we are judged by Him it is in the form of discipline.


1 Corinthians 11:33-34

This goes right back to what Paul said back in Chapter 10, whatever you do, do it for the glory of God.  And whatever it is that you are doing, do it so that you are not seeking your own profit, but seeking the profit of other men, so they may be saved.  In the atmosphere of communion, we look out for others, waiting for them. 

Those who instigated this problem could eat at home.  This thought may go as far as saying, their food wasn't even necessary.  God could use them, but in their selfishness, God doesn't need them, He will provide in another way.  Their actions could bring judgment on them, woe to them if they stumbled others by their actions.


©2006, 2010, 2016, 2022 Doug Ford, Calvary Chapel Sweetwater