Keep Respect in Worship!
1 Corinthians 11:2-3, 16, 20-22, 27-29
By Paul Robison
 
 

In 2002, only 9% of adults said that children they saw in public were respectful towards adults.  In 2004, about 35% of school teachers polled said that they had given serious thought to abandoning their profession because of “intolerable student behavior” [which involved disrespect].  In 2005, 70% of people in another survey said that people today are ruder than they were 20-30 years ago (Larson/Elshof).  Could our lack of respect for our fellow man also carry over into our disrespect for God, our Creator?  A group which had become disrespectful toward others and God were the members of the church at Corinth in 56 A.D.  We saw last week in chapter 10 how Paul encouraged these brethren to be an obedient church.  In chapter 11, Paul wants them to be a respectful church.  Our theme for today is: Keep respect in worship!  Paul shows us four areas where we are to be respectful.
 
First of all, respect God's order in relationships.  Let's look now at 1 Corinthians 11:2-3: "Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.  But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God."  Remember, now in chapter 7, Paul began answering some questions that the Corinthian brethren had asked him.  The key way of knowing what topic Paul is addressing is the phrase "Now concerning ..."  So in chapters 7-10, Paul has been addressing moral issues, but in chapter 11, he changes gears and starts addressing some congregational issues.  The first issue in chapter 11 deals with the wearing of a head covering during worship (verses 2-16), and the second deals with how the members should conduct their fellowship meals and the Lord's Supper (verses 17-34).  Before going into his remarks about the wearing of a head covering, Paul lays down an important principle in verse 3.  One commentator states: 
"The headship established by God should not be disregarded.  To overlook God's distinctive function for men and women is disgraceful.  This is true in any culture. ... Paul wanted them to know the principle of headship.  A hierarchical structure exists in the universe.  This structure begins with God and moves downward to Christ who is over man, who in turn is over woman (v. 3).  This doctrine of headship is foundational to the entire passage" (Wilson).
To be the head of someone means to be the authority over (Oster).  Now some you might feel very squeamish about this principle.  It goes against our modern ideas of democracy, equality, and liberation.  But there is something important to remember here: "Headship is not dictatorship.  It is [also] about love, support, and respect" (Stacy).  Respect God's order in relationships.  Another preacher made this remark: "Regardless of the particular application at Corinth, the trans-cultural principle about male leadership and women’s submission to men in the church must be taught and respected in all times and places" (Owen).  Notice that he called this a "trans-cultural" principle.  This means that God's order in relationships was not just bound to the Jewish culture nor to the Corinthian culture, but it is a principle valid for all cultures in all times: God is the authority over Christ, Christ is the authority over man, and man is the authority over woman.  How can we know that this principle is one that is valid for all cultures?  It is because this principle goes all the way back to the creation of relationships.  When Paul makes reference to Adam and Eve, the principle was established as something God wanted to see universally put into practice.  Many cultures develop in Genesis 1-11 before the Jews ever come on the scene in chapter 12.  So, God's order in relationships is valid for all cultures in all ages.  Look at verses 8-9: "For man is not from woman, but woman from man.  Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man."  So we see in Paul's argumentation about proper head coverings that he appeals to God's order established at creation.  Notice another passage where Paul does much the same thing.  It's 1 Timothy 2:12-13: "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence."  Why does Paul take this position that might sound odd to our modern ears.  Notice his explanation in the next verse: "For Adam was formed first, then  Eve."  What is Paul doing here?  It is very clear that he is appealing once again to the creation where God's order in relationships was established.  Paul does not want that order disrespected during worship services.  Respect God's order in relationships.  So, is this passage teaching that American Christian women today must wear a hat in church?  No.  This is because the context of the command no longer applies to us today.  Only those women who were praying and prophesying in worship were commanded to wear the head covering, and that praying and prophesying are, in my opinion, the miraculous gifts given by the Holy Spirit.  Since the New Testament teaches that the age of miracles has ceased, Paul's instruction here would have no relevance for us today.  One commentator puts it this way: "This is one of those passages which have a purely local and temporary significance ... which has ceased to have any relevance for us  ... [yet it has] a very great importance, because Paul solves the problems by principles which are eternal" (Barclay).  So what should we apply from this passage?  Another commentator gives this good response:
"Positively, we understand that the principle must just as carefully be kept as in his day.  That principle, apparently, is that the [women] must conduct themselves in such a way ... that their loyalty and subjection ... is fully observed.  In Paul's culture, that was show by wearing a head covering; whatever it takes to show the same thing in our culture should be observed as a matter of obedience to this passage.  The reason for this is that Paul anchors his insistence on the covering ... in the headship relationship which is a matter of Divinely established creation order, and not in the shifting conventions of culture" (Picirilli). 
Wouldn't wearing her wedding band, dressing modestly, and learning silently be signs of submission in our culture?  Respect God's order in relationships!
 
Next, respect your congregation's good customs.  Notice now what Paul writes in verse 16: "But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God."  Listen to how some commentators view this statement.  One states: "In the face of such and attitude, Paul points to universal Christian custom; Christians have no other practice. ... [And] the addition 'nor do the churches of God' shows that what he has outlined is the common practice throughout the church" (Morris).  Another adds: "He insists that universal practice among his churches reinforces his appeal.  The Corinthians are obviously expected to follow his 'traditions' in this respect as well" (Halloday).  A third affirms: "If some of the Corinthians readers are still at loggerheads [or in disagreement] with Paul's position and instruction about devotional head-coverings, they should know how out-of-step they are with ... the rest of the churches" (Oster).  So, Paul was saying to the Corinthian brethren: "Look, don't be contentious about my instructions.  Just look around and you will see that other congregations are practicing what I have stated concerning head coverings."  Now, isn't there another principle here that's broader than just the context of Corinth?  Isn't Paul admonishing us to respect the good customs that other congregation's, and especially our own congregation, are practicing?  Won't this help to promote edification and peace in the local church body?  There was an interesting practice at a congregation in Madrid.  Whenever anyone wanted to become a Christian, he or she would not be baptized during the worship service.  The service would close, and then the candidate would be asked to explain why they wanted to become a Christian before the others.  After the explanation, those listeners would ask a series of questions: "How will this decision affect your family life?  How will you respond at school when your friends ridicule you?  What bad habits will have to be broken when you become a disciple?"  You see, the congregation here was helping the person to count the cost of being a disciple.  They did not want to immerse someone who had not first counted the cost.  Doesn't that sound like a good custom that maybe American churches should follow as well?  We have good customs here as well to help strengthen us as Christians.  Take full advantage of these without complaining!  Respect your congregation's good customs!  Keep respect in worship.
 
Next, respect all members' needs.  Now let's read verses 20-22: "Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper.  For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk.  What!  Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?  Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing?  What shall I say to you?  Shall I praise you in this?  I do not praise you."  Paul earlier praised the Corinthian brethren for putting into practice what he had already taught them.  But here, we see that Paul is not praising them.  What's going on here?  Let's hear some commentary.  One writer notes:
"The early Church had such a custom, a feast called the Agape or Love Feast.  To it all the Christians came, bringing what they could, the resources were pooled, and they sat down to a common meal. ...  It was a way of producing and nourishing real Christian fellowship. ... But in Corinth, the art of sharing had gotten lost. .... The result was that the meal at which the social differences between members of the Church should have been obliterated only succeeded in aggravating these same differences" (Barclay). 
Another adds: "It is fully possible that the 'ordinary meal' and the 'Lord's Supper' were fully intertwined, as was the Jewish Passover celebration, where during the course of the meal, the cup and the bread were singled out as having special significance, and the participants took of these accordingly.  If this is the proper picture, it is fully explicable that some members would be "drunken" by the time the bread and the wine were singled out and observed" (Halloday).  One more affirms:
"However, at Corith, the rich who brought bountiful provisions for such affairs were not sharing with the poor who had been able to bring little or nothing.  Some were actually having a big feast and then returning home before others arrived.  Drunkenness and gluttony were prevalent, in addition to the pitiless disregard of the poor and needy. ... What [Paul] condemned was their intemperance, disregard of the needs of others, and their shameless mixing of the Lord's Supper with a common meal" (Coffman). 
Respect all members' needs.  Isn't the church the one place where the barriers of race, economics, class, and politics should be broken down?  Shouldn't we be focusing on other members' needs more than upon our own while we are together?  Shouldn't our potlucks, our love feasts, be times where we are more concerned about how others are doing and growing spiritually than about how much food we can put on our plate and which dessert we're going to eat?  Someone gives us this good advice: "A life without love in it is like a heap of ashes upon a deserted hearth—with the fire dead, the laughter stilled, and the light extinguished. ... God knows we need all the unselfish love that can come to us.  My motto is: 'I am going your way, so let's travel hand in hand.  Let's help each other.  We will not be here for very long, for soon death will come ... Let's help one another while we can" (Tebbetts)!  Another encourages: "This then is Christianity—to smash the barriers and get next to your fellowman" (Faris).  Another admonishes: "When [members] wish to keep things to themselves and to their own circle, they are not even beginning to be Christian.  The true Christian cannot bear to have too much while others have too little; he finds his great privilege not in jealously guarding his privileges, but in giving them away" (Barclay).  Paul admonishes in Romans 14:19: "Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another."  Respect all members' needs.  Keep respect in worship!
 
Next, respect Christ's memorial.  Let's read now verses 27-29: "Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.  But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drink judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body."  Let's hear what some commentators say.  One writes: "... this meal is intended to be 'an acted sermon, an acted proclamation of the death it commemorates.' ... [At Corinth,] there was no remembrance, no proclamation, no anticipation.  Instead there was selfishness, rivalry, and chaos. ... Our worship must also give appropriate emphasis and serious purpose to the Lord's Supper.  We can no more turn it into a 'church picnic' today than they did then, without reaping the same horrible consequences" (Shelly).  Another adds: "So then to eat and drink unworthily is to do so with no sense of the greatness of the thing we do [with no reverence and no sense of love for what these symbols stand], and to do so while we are at variance with the brother for whom Christ died [every member in whose heart there is hatred, bitterness, and contempt against another member, as he or she comes to the table, eats and drinks unworthily]" (Barclay).  A third observes:
"If any person shall partake of this solemn rite without discernment of the event it memorializes, or without regard, to the obligations imposed by it, or without ... the due reverence and appreciation due such an ordinance—then such a person becomes guilty of the body and blood of Jesus, the meaning of this being that he, in a spiritual sense, has become a crucifier of the Lord Himself. ... The point is that no Christian should observe the Lord's Supper in any casual or flippant manner, treating it as something ordinary. ... Under Judaism, people remembered their sins; in Christ, they remember their Redeemer who has forgiven their sins" (Coffman). 
Respect Christ's memorial.  Here's an interesting idea for our consideration: "For the Greek the breakfast was a meal where all that was eaten was a little bread dipped in wine; the midday meal was eaten anywhere, even on the street or in a city square; the [supper] was the main meal of the day, where people sat down with no sense of hurry and not only satisfied their hunger but lingered long together.  The very word shows that the Christian meal ought to be a meal where people linger long in each other's company" (Barclay).  Have we turned the Lord's Supper into the Lord's Snack?  As we partake of the Lord's Supper are we looking backward to the cross, inward to our own lives and conduct, outward to our relationships with other members, and forward to Christ's coming again?  There's a moving story about how "Taps", the melody played a military funerals, came into being: “Reportedly, it all began in 1862 during the Civil War when Union Army Captain Robert Ellicombe was with his men near Harrison’s Landing in Virginia.  The Confederate Army was on the other side of the narrow strip of land.  During the night, Captain Ellicombe heard the moans of a soldier who lay severely wounded on the field.  Not knowing if it was a Union or Confederate soldier, the captain decided to risk his life and pulled the man to his camp.  When the captain finally reached his own lines, he discovered it was actually a dead Confederate soldier.  The captain lit a lantern and suddenly caught his breath and went numb with shock. In the dim light, he saw the face of his own son!  The boy had been studying music in the South when the war broke out.  Without telling his father, the boy enlisted in the Confederate Army.  The following morning, heartbroken, the father asked permission of his superiors to give his son a full military burial.  His request was only partially granted.  The captain had asked if he could have a group of army band members play a funeral dirge.  The request was turned down since the soldier was a Confederate.  But, out of respect for the father, they did say he could have one musician play.  The captain chose a bugler, and he asked the bugler to play a series of musical notes he had found on a piece of paper in the pocket of the dead youth’s uniform.  This wish was granted and this is how 'Taps' was born" (Sides).  That's a moving story isn't it?  Does Jesus' agony and shame still move us?  "This do in remembrance of Me."  Respect Christ's memorial!  Keep respect in worship!
 
Paul wanted the congregation at Corinth to be a respectful church.  Let's respect God's order, our congregation's good customs, all members' needs, and Christ's memorial!  Let's keep respect in worship.  Let's pray. 
 
“A son honors his father, and a servant his master.  If then I am the Father, where is My honor?  And if I am a Master, where is my reverence?” (Malachi 1:6).  It sounds like the Jews had lost their respect for God.  Have you lost your respect for Him too?  If so, you need to confess that sin today!  Don't put it off any longer!  Submit to His benevolent authority!