The Woman’s Place in the Assembly of Saints
I Cor. 11:2-16
In the following chapters Paul gives infallible direction to the Church concerning matters of order in divine assembly. Chap. 11 touches on two of these namely: the woman’s place in the service and, the proper observance of the Lord’s Supper. Our present lesson treats the first of these two. God’s Word deals with living issues. Let scientists argue what the other side of the moon looks like, God’s Word touches actual life.
In studying this lesson bear in mind the peculiar situation in Corinth. The purpose of these verses is not to bind women today to veil-wearing nor to stipulate how long her hair should be. The purpose of these verses is to remind women of all ages that God in the beginning made the woman subject to man (her own husband in particular) and she is to observe that in the church. In Corinth an unveiled woman meant an emancipated woman, and therefore the present passage emphasizes it as a woman’s task to let her subjection be known.
After commending the Corinthians for keeping the Apostolic ordinances and being concerned about the Truth, (vs. 2) Paul proceeds to re-emphasize a point of that Truth. The point is (vs. 3) that salvation is an orderly thing. Christ is the head of every man, man is the head of the woman, God is the head of Christ. Headship here refers to authority, government. Christ came to earth to do God’s will (not His own) and thus subjected Himself to God. Redeemed man is subjected to Christ. And now the woman must be subjected, to the man. This principle is binding for all ages. A point of divine order.
If a man has a covering (or a veil) over his head (vs. 4) he denies the position God originally gave him, puts himself on the level of the woman and brings shame upon himself. If a woman appears in the assembly with her head unveiled (vs. 5) she puts herself on the level of the man. She might as well be shaved, have her hair cut, so everyone could despise her (vs. 6). Then we have disorder.
What is the relation of man to woman?
Man is the image and glory of God (vs. 7). God put man in the glory-position of being “first”, having government and authority from God. In that sense he is the image and glory of God. The woman was “second”. She is (to reveal by her conduct) the glory of the man (vs. 7). If she lords it over the man she simply says that man has no glory. She is to take her proper place toward him and enhance his glory position. Therefore the man ought to have an uncovered head, the woman a covering.
How was it in the beginning? Yes, beginnings are important with God. Christ went back to beginnings too in the matter of divorce. Man was first (vs. 8). Eve was created out of Adam. First in time but also in purpose. Eve was created a helpmeet for Adam, not vice versa (vs. 9). Because of this creation ordinance the woman ought to have a covering upon her head to declare that she is under the power of the man (vs. 10). The angels respect authority, and they (as present in the assembly) rejoice to see respect for authority in the church. Women, let the angels see your respect for authority.
Don’t conclude now that the woman is inferior. Neither man nor woman is complete without the other (vs. 11-12). In the Lord all are alike inheritors of glory. They need each other. As the woman is of the man, so in turn the man is also by (that is, born of) the woman. So God made the relationships. What is a king without subjects, and what are subjects without a king? God created the sexes for (toward) one another. Let each take the assigned place. And while, in Corinth, it is necessary to show this by wearing a veil, wear a veil.
Even nature teaches you that the woman’s long hair suggests a covering, the man’s shorter hair suggests his authority (vs. 13-15). But we want no contentions in the church (vs. 16). Let each take the place Christ has assigned, that is good for you and for the reputation of the church.
Questions for Discussion
1. Does vs. 5 suggest that at that time women prayed and prophesied? Cf. I Tim. 2:8-15. Also I Cor. 14:34.
2. Women have ability to teach and they did teach (cf. Lois and Eunice, Priscilla, etc.). What are the restrictions? Which are the opportunities left? I Cor. 14:34 is evidently a restriction.
3. Abraham had to hearken to Sarah once upon a time (Cf. Gen. 21:12).
The Lord’s Supper as Christ Instituted It
(I Cor. 11:17-34)
In the first part of the chapter Paul has dealt with the place of women in the church. In this part he deals with the Lord’s Supper and how it is to be observed when the church comes together. Paul cannot praise them. They profane the Lord’s Supper. They celebrate it after their own whims. So Paul has to say to them: (vs 20) as for the way you are celebrating it, it is not the Lord’s Supper at all. Christ would not recognize it. I have received from the Lord what the Lord’s Supper is (vs. 23) and you must hold yourself to Christ’s institution (vs. 26-28). Because you are not doing it, God is manifestly judging you (vs. 30).
To understand this situation, it seems that the congregation came together weekly to eat and drink religiously. They had, what we might call, the “love-feasts”. Each brought a basket, together they ate. After the meal they likely took some of the bread and the wine and went right on into a celebration of the Holy Supper. When Paul says in vs. 17 that they come together for worse, sin must have crept into this church custom, as sin has a way of creeping into everything we do. It’s in vs. 21 that Paul points his finger at the sin. He says: every one of you just goes ahead to get his hands on as much of the food as he can. Instead of waiting for (and’ on, vs. 33) one another, the rich men with their big baskets of food got all they wanted, and their few select friends got enough too. They became drunk. But the Christian slaves, and other poor people, who had no baskets, just went hungry and looked on while the others ate. So, while some were stuffed with food, and others hungry, they commenced to celebrate the Communion.
That is not the Lord’s Supper (vs. 20).
I heard, says Paul, that there are schisms among you (vs. 18, divisions). Worse yet, these schisms reveal that you have heresies. A schism is a heresy coming out into the open. A heresy is a departure from the revealed faith. There must be heresies among you (vs. 19). When heretics stand out, the faithful stand out too. God uses them for the purification of the church and for underscoring what grace the faithful have. The approved of God become manifest.
To return to the matter of the Lord’s Supper then, if you are hungry, eat at home (vs. 22, 34). You despise the church of God by treading upon the poor and you glory as a “have” over against a “have-not”. The Lord’s Supper as Christ commanded me to institute it in the churches is quite a different thing (23-26). There Christ, on the night when He stood with His face toward the Cross, hesitated not to give Himself for His Church. You people bring baskets of food and each seizes what he can, selfishly. But not so with Christ. Christ GAVE His own Body, His Blood, His Life. He did not serve Himself. He GAVE Himself for His people.
Beware of partaking unworthily, as an unfit, (vs. 27). If you profess to be proclaiming the death of Christ, but in the meantime deny His death by your selfish conduct, you profane the Communion Table. You make it seem as if Christ’s death is calculated to support you in your wickedness. Paul condemns not only the particular sin of these Corinthians but all profanation (Catechism Ques. 82).
Examine yourself (vs. 28). Instead of stuffing yourself with worldly lusts and then casually going to the Table, examine yourself, know your sins, be truly
penitent and so come to the table. In Corinth God had evidently made very plain His judgment against profaners. God sent judgments (vs. 30). Some became sick, some impotent, some had actually died. God was literally judging among them. It is better that we judge (or scrutinize) ourselves and conclude that we are being disciplined of the Lord for our wrong doing. God chastises those Whom He loves, to deliver them from the condemnation under which the world lies (vs. 32). So holy is, then, the Communion. God stands guard over it with great jealousy. He knows you and me. Let our self-examination lead, not to Phariseeism, but to richer faith in Christ’s meritorious work, and to give ourselves for one another as Christ gave Himself for us.
Questions for Discussion
1. Acts 2:42 and 2:46, Acts 20:11 speak about breaking of bread. Discuss. Did they do it every day, every week, or what? Could we conclude that Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper to be observed as often as the faithful came together?
2. “Discerning the Lord’s Body.” (vs. 29). Did they fail to see the Lord’s Body IN the bread, as connected with the bread, or what? John. 6:54.
3. Wherein does the self-examination consist? (Cf. Lord’s Supper Form). Cf. also Catechism Ques. 81.
Flood of Spiritual Gifts
(I Cor. 12:1-11)
The lake was far too small. The flooding rains came. The rising waters burst through gates and dams, swirled over piers and beaches and covered the country for miles around. That thought comes to me ag. I approach chapter 12 of Corinthians about how the Spirit flooded the Church with gifts. A river flows from the throne of God (Ezek. 47). A fountain is opened (Joel 3:18). The Spirit of the ascended Christ comes into the Church and it floods the church with the riches of Him, “In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Cf. 2:3).
I Cor. 12 is evidence of how the Spirit of Christ has come, how it saturates, as it were, the believers, runs over the hearts and lips of the faithful and becomes a grand display of what God can do for them that fear Him. Gifts of healing, of interpretation, of miracles, all kinds of gifts. Joel had spoken of it that sons and daughters would prophesy, that old men, young men, servants and maidens would be energized (Joel 2). Pentecost was proof of it (Acts 2). Signs shall follow them said Jesus (Mk. 16:17-18) and here in Corinth it still rained “charismata” — (special gifts). Where such energizing powers filled the early church it is needful that there be order. The Corinthians must know the why and the wherefore of these gifts, be careful in using them in dedication and humility. Where there is so much energy, order is extremely necessary.
So in vs. 1 Paul begins his directive concerning these gifts and their use unto edification. I do not want you to be ignorant about these things, says Paul, neither do I want you to become sectarian or superstitious with what you have. Formerly many of the Corinthians were heathens, blindly letting Satan and his heathen priests lead them to idols (vs. 2). And what could a dumb idol do for his devotees. A dumb idol cannot speak, nor give gifts. But the God we worship can speak and, speaking, He can bless us with gifts from the sky and you see these gifts in the church. Even to open our mouths to confess Jesus, that is a gift of God (Matt. 16:17). If anyone in the church claims to have the “gift” but meanwhile says: let Jesus be cursed, mark that man as a liar. Where the Spirit of God is, there you hear the good confession. The greatest gift we have from heaven is this: that we have grace to confess Him.
From vs. 4 forward, Paul enumerates or rather takes inventory of the gifts God gave unto the believers. There are varieties of gifts (vs. 4) and Paul will explain that in just a moment, but he wants first to emphasize that they all come to the believers and are distributed to them, parceled out to them, by the same Holy Spirit. Paul, in vs. 4-6, points the Church to the Triune God as the “overflowing fountain of all good.” What have we that we have not received?
With these gifts we must serve the general good (vs. 7). God gives to each as he pleases, and each is to use his gift unto the profit of others. That is the communion of saints (Catechism 55). The Corinthians are in danger of abusing the gifts and using them for selfish designs. Grieve not the Holy Spirit, brethren. Remember the communion of saints. Let each church member today too discover the gift he has of God and then use that gift “for the advantage and salvation of other members.” So Paul enumerates the various gifts which they had in the early church. Notice the sovereign distribution; the diversity. Nine kinds of gifts are mentioned. Here is a brother in the church who has the “word of wisdom”, i.e., he receives special revelations and sees things others do not see (I Cor. 14:26). Here is one who has a word of knowledge, i.e., he can exegete, explain and expound revelation. This one has the gift of faith, i.e. special ability to testify of the Christian doctrine so that no man can resist him (Acts 6:10). Another has the power to heal the sick, another to work such miracles as raising the dead, still another can give prophecy (Acts 21:11), another is a genius at judging whether a given message comes from God or from the imagination of some unstable person. Another speaks in foreign languages and still another translates and applies what was said (vs. 8-10).
And all this gift-display is worked by the Spirit. There is ONE God. The gifts reveal that unity and the communion of saints must reflect a unity also. All these things come from God, in service to the brotherhood, they must return to God.
Questions for Discussion
1. Is it correct to say that the early church had these special gifts, but we have lost them? Is the church poorer today than it was then, or richer?
2. Some have the work of special office in the church, same hold general duties, but how will all function? Or what does the communion of saints (Cat. Q. 55) mean in practical church life today?
3. Would you speak of unbelievers as being “talented” or having gifts to do certain things?
Many Members, One Body
(I Cor. 12:12-20)
As in Ephesians 4 and Romans 12, here too the Scripture distinguishes the church from anything there is in the world. It is unique. It is His new creation in Christ. Paul is still speaking in this connection of the “gifts” which God has sovereignly given to His Church. THE gift is the Holy Spirit, and that Spirit divides to every man severally as He will (vs. 11). If therefore every believer has a gift, what then? Shall they live along side of each other, or compete with each other, or be jealous of and envious toward one another? By no means. Christ is ONE. Is Christ divided?, Paul had earlier asked in this epistle to the Corinthians?
Vs. 12 starts out, not with an “and” but with a “for”, explaining Vs. 11. Unity amid variety. The Church of Christ is presented under the figure of a human body. As the body has many members, yet all the members are one body. . .so also is Christ. You might have expected Scripture to say: so also is the Church, but it says: so also is Christ. Pointing up, I think, the mystical union between Christ and the saints. We have something of this also in Joh. 17:21 and again when that voice from heaven says to the church-persecuting Saul: “why persecutest thou me” (I underscore the word ‘me’) Acts 9:4. Christ is ONE, and this glorious unity is seen in the Spirit-united saints.
This glorious unity is further elucidated in vs. 13. By one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, rubbing out the racial and social distinctions. In Christ all become one. The baptism refers to that mighty work of the Spirit in the elect whereby they are engrafted into Christ and all are made to drink into one Spirit, i.e., became genuinely partakers of that One Spirit. Our unity therefore lies in our being engrafted into Christ. A thing the believers in Corinth did actually experience.
“For the body is not one member, but many.” vs. 14. There are Jews, Gentiles, bond, free and there are differences of gifts, etc. As in the human body there are feet, hands, ayes and ears, so in the church there are many members and all members of the body are useful. Paul speaks of this also in Eph. 4:16 and Rom. 12.
In vs. 15-17 he emphasizes unity and cooperation between the believers. Suppose the foot should complain that since it is not the hand, it is not of the body. Is that a correct conclusion? By no means. And suppose the ear should get the notion that since it is not the eye, it is of no use to the body. That too would be the wrong conclusion. The body needs ears as well as eyes. The body needs the many members and its welfare depends on these members functioning according to the gift. What would you have if the whole body were an eye, what would it do for hearing? If the whole body were hearing, what would it do for smelling? Would that not be chaos?
Very wisely and sovereignly God has set each individual member in the body so that it can carry its peculiar function toward the welfare of the entire body. If there were but one member there could be no body, neither could it be a body if there were not various members.
All this the Corinthians must remember. Some coveted the gifts others had, some sought to outreach others, some compared themselves to others and concluded that they were useless. Let it not be so in the church. God has “set” the members in the body, and they must be neither proud nor envious. The primary thing is to be so filled with the Spirit and so united in that Spirit, that they may function as servants of Christ.
That is the communion of saints. God Himself creates that communion in Christ and the believers are exhorted to reveal it in their congregational living. Let there be no schism, no jealousy, no selfish ambitions, but unity.
Questions for Discussion
1. What is the pluriformity of the Church?
2. “I baptize with water” said John in John 1:26, 33, but Christ baptizeth with the Holy Spirit (Joh. 1:33). Distinguish.
3. Bear in mind Eph. 4:7-16 in discussion of the present lesson.