Summary: As Paul addresses the problems at Corinth, he now begins to address the problems in their worship.
A. You know, funny things happen in church from time to time.
1. Whether it be the collection that gets dropped and the coins that roll around.
2. Or the fussy child that has to be taken out of the auditorium and shouts on the way out, “I don’t want to go out…somebody help me!”
3. I remember as a child getting a kick out of watching our beloved Doris Horning who always fell asleep during church, but had the curious ability to almost fall over, yet not fall over. She would lean to one side, then the other, and then forward.
4. She entertained many a child over the years.
B. But not everything that happens at church is funny.
1. Paul has already mentioned a number of very serious issues facing the church at Corinth.
2. As we move into chapter 11, we see that Paul is addressing several problems concerning the worship practices of the Corinthian community.
3. In the first section, verses 2-16, Paul discusses the issue of head coverings, which apparently was triggered by something the Corinthians had written him about.
4. In the second section, verses 17-34, Paul reacts to a report he had received about divisions occurring in their celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
5. Throughout this chapter, and the rest of the section that goes through chapter 14, Paul’s purpose is to encourage the Corinthians to conduct themselves in worship in a manner that respects God’s order of things, is motivated by love, and conducive to the common good.
6. As accustomed as most of us are to worship that is sober and orderly, it is hard for us to even visualize what was happening at Corinth.
7. So, let’s work hard to try to understand exactly what was happening in Corinth, and then see what we can learn from their mistakes.
I. Women, Head-Coverings and Propriety (11:2-16)
A. From what Paul writes to the Corinthians, it seems that they have appealed to Paul’s own teaching in order to argue for certain practices that seek to erase the distinctions between men and women in worship- practices of which Paul now expresses disapproval.
1. Paul’s reply no doubt came as a surprise to some of the Corinthians.
2. Rather than endorsing the freedom of the women to pray and prophesy without a head covering, he instructs them instead to maintain the discipline symbolized by head coverings.
B. Paul’s arguments about this subject are very difficult to understand for three reasons.
1. First, his line of argument is – by any standard – labored and convoluted.
2. Second, we are not sure how to interpret some of the key terms in his argument.
3. And third, we have to admit that there is a great deal we do not know about head coverings at Corinth and in the Greco-Roman world at large in the first century.
4. We know that heavy veils were worn by women at Jerusalem and throughout the East generally.
5. But there is good evidence to the effect that Greek and Roman women did not always follow the same custom.
C. Paul begins by praising the Corinthians for their general fidelity to “the traditions” he had delivered them.
1. Paul then called attention to the order of authority and submission which heaven has established and insisted that the Christians at Corinth respect that order.
2. Look at verse 3, “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.”
3. Christ is God’s equal in nature and essence, but He became subordinate to the Godhead for the sake of a particular function.
4. In the same way, woman is man’s equal in nature and essence, but she is subordinate to him for the sake of a particular function.
5. Women are to be subject to men and are to respect the leadership God has given them in the affairs of the church.
6. The appropriate signs of their acceptance of God’s order of authority at Corinth would be for the man to keep his head uncovered (11:4) and for the woman to keep her head covered in worship settings (11:5).
7. The word for “veil” actually occurs nowhere in the passage, and that’s why the NIV simply uses the word “cover.”
8. So what was the cover? Was it a traditional veil? Or was it just a way of wearing her hair?
9. In light of verses 13-15, in which Paul is clearly discussing hair, and in which he affirms that a woman’s long hair is “given to her for a covering,” some interpreters have suggested that the whole passage deals not with wearing a veil, but with having the hair bound or unbound.