On Proper Behavior Before and During Worship
[1st Corinthians chapter 11]
First, my apologies for my recent absence and many thanks to all my readers who have waited patiently while my website was being rebuilt. My former Internet hosting account with Yahoo was hacked beyond repair, which is to say that Yahoo’s tech support was clueless about how to recover my website and my extensive list of professional contacts. That’s right, it all got wiped out and I am now using a different company. Now, however, it’s time to get back to focusing on the promotion of Jesus Christ and His agenda, which is to reach out across the Web and help save souls through this on-line church, and to get the message of salvation to those persons on the Internet who would normally not be found in traditional churches or denominations. We all have so little time left before His return, which is why the message I am passing along has such a sense of urgency. The world as we have known it is dying from rampant pollution, pointless wars that have no end, overpopulation, potentially catastrophic climate change, and the overuse and mis-allocation of natural resources. And so it is time for all of us to get our minds off all the negative forces that make up our dying world, and to begin to focus on and engage with the forces of good. In so doing, the best way to begin to do this is to focus our hearts and minds on Jesus, whose Spirit causes us to rise up and stand against the forces of evil. That brings me to the topic of 1st Corinthians chapter 11, which delves into what is fitting and proper in the course of worshiping Christ, who is the world’s only remaining hope.
I’m going to skim through the first 13 verses of chapter 11 without much comment due to some rather antiquated concepts about dress and personal grooming taught from a 1st century perspective. The most important is verse 1, which simply says, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ”, and this is timeless advice any way you look at it. We learn to follow the example of Christ by reading his Word and putting it into practice, and this should be an ongoing practice for everyone because faith in Jesus is serious business, especially in a world where we are surrounded by evil on all sides. Paul then writes in 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”. Although these values were very relevant when St. Paul first wrote them 2,000 years ago, the part that says, “the head of every woman is man” is no longer true in today’s world, where modern values dictate that men and women are equals and that there is parity between the two genders. Such thinking would have been considered heretical in Paul’s time.
I grew up in a household where the father totally dominated everything and everybody else, both inside and outside the marriage and the family. The end result was a dysfunctional family that was ruled by fear and intimidation instead of by love and unity as it should have been. In short, the relationship between the father and the other family members was abusive. Abusiveness and domestic violence such as what I experienced when I was growing up simply have no place in any household, and that is doubly true for a Christian household regardless of church membership or denomination. And so I have seen this precept misused by “religious” people over and over again. Jesus does not rule over us by domination and control, He does so out of love, grace and mercy (“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”). The remainder of these first 13 verses is where Paul writes, mainly from his own viewpoint, about the type of dress right down to the length and style of the believer’s hair. Very seldom will you see me disagree with anything in the Bible, but this is one of those rare exceptions. Paul even gets into whether or not people should cover their heads during prayers (as if that matters).
It is common to see me in church wearing casual clothes such as shorts in the summer (it gets plenty hot in the summer here in Atlanta where I live) or jeans in the winter. I find it most unfortunate that some churches use these verses as an excuse to dress up like they are going to a fashion show instead of to a house of worship. I have been in churches where men and women alike were wearing literally thousands of dollars in high-end clothing and jewelry, and these types of people invariably sneer at those who don’t – or can’t – afford to dress as they do. Remember what Jesus said when He was teaching in the temple at Jerusalem, and I paraphrase: it matters a lot more what is on the inside of a believer than what is on the outside. External appearances don’t count for very much in the church of the last days before His return. God is far more interested in the state of our souls than in the state of our wardrobe.
The apostle Paul seems to at least attempt to clarify this when he wrote in verses 11 and 12, “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.” It is difficult to tell whether Paul is offering this as a continuation of his train of thought in the previous verses, or that it is a caveat for the same. At any rate, I will now continue with this study by returning to the verse-by-verse teaching that you all have become used to, beginning at verse 17.
“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! For I received of the Lord what I already passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, 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.” (1 Corinthians chapter 11, verses 17-26 NIV)
Let me stop at this point and give a little cultural and historical perspective on what Paul is writing about. First of all, we must understand that Jesus Christ walked the earth as a Jewish man, and consequently the vast majority of new converts in the early church were mostly Jewish as well. It was actually Paul that first brought the message of salvation through Christ to non-Jews, first in ancient Israel and soon after to Greece and what is now modern-day Turkey, and ultimately to Rome, capital of the infamous empire of its day that could arguably be called the world’s first superpower like the USA is today. The Jews of that time had a time-honored tradition that dated all the way back to the time of Moses. They would gather together on the Sabbath and have a celebratory banquet similar to pot-luck dinners today. The Jewish term for this celebration is “Shabbot” , and this tradition is still celebrated today in synagogues the world over as well as no small number of Christian churches such as this who embrace the Spiritual connection between Christianity and Judaism.
In the time of the early church, there were a lot of poor and destitute persons, many of whom did not always have enough to eat. Besides coming to worship the Prince of Peace, there can be no doubt that they looked forward to attending Shabbot on the sabbath because this was one day out of the week when they knew they could get a pretty good meal. Based on what Paul wrote in this passage, the services in that day and time must have been pretty rowdy by today’s standards, and some believers were apparently far more devout than others. People would show up before the service began, eat up all the food and drink up all the wine and then leave, when in fact the feast did not begin until after the service was over, as well it should. This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “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?” It’s pretty clear that Paul was upset with these people who showed callous disregard for the sacredness of the celebration. Paul then reminds them in no uncertain terms of why they gather together to commemorate the Last Supper, and he scolds them for having no appreciation for this solemn occasion, and for total contempt towards those in attendance who were less fortunate. He then finishes making his point beginning in verse 27 while giving the Corinthian church a very stern warning (as well he should have).
“Therefore, 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. 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. 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 does not result in judgment. And when I come I will give further directions.” (1 Corinthians 11, verses 27-34 NIV)
Going to church, whether it is to have a service, revival, or a pot-luck dinner, is a solemn and momentous occasion. Going to church is not so much a religious obligation as it is a celebration of the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. Let us therefore examine ourselves to keep from coming under God’s judgment so we will not be “condemned with the world”. When our physical lives on earth are over – and everybody has their time including me – we look forward to spending an eternity with our Lord and Savior in heaven, remembering that we would not be there if it weren’t for Him. The time to begin preparing for this is now. Worshiping God is serious business. Church is not a social club, or just a nice place to network or to sneak a peek at the opposite sex, and it most definitely is not a fashion show like I mentioned at the beginning of this study. Worshiping Jesus Christ is a sacred and highly spiritual co-mingling with Him, and it isn’t always done in church. I pray every day, sometimes at home, sometimes on the bus or the subway, or when I am walking down the street. I can take my church with me everywhere I go if I want to. After all, since Jesus – and the guardian angels that He surrounds me with – is always with me, it seems fitting and proper that I should want to reciprocate.
And so should the rest of us.