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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 11

Smith's WritingsSmith's Writings

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Verses 1-34

1 Corinthians 11 .

Chapters 11 to 14 contain instruction of the deepest importance to the people of God throughout the Christian period, inasmuch as they contemplate believers when gathered together in one place in any locality, and set before us God's order for such gatherings.

Amidst the confusion of Christendom, in which God's order has been so largely set aside by human order, it is the greatest mercy that we have an inspired record of God's mind for His people when come together. In our refusing all association with any form of gathering which sets aside God's order, it is still possible, by following the apostolic directions, to meet in humble obedience to God's word, and thus according to the simplicity of divine order.

A reference to 1Co_11:17-18 ; 1Co_11:20 ; 1Co_11:33-34 and 1Co_14:23 ; 1Co_14:26 ; 1Co_14:28 ; 1Co_14:34-35 will make it very clear that these chapters contemplate the people of God when assembled together in any given locality.

First, in 1Co_11:1-16 we are instructed as to God's order in creation as a necessary introduction to God's order in the assembly.

Secondly, in 1Co_11:17-34 we learn that the Lord Himself is the great rallying centre for His people, and that the highest motive that can gather God's people together is the remembrance of Himself in the celebration of the Lord's Supper. We are instructed as to the condition and conduct suited to this holy occasion.

Thirdly, in 1 Cor. 12 we are instructed as to the sovereign action of the Holy Spirit in distributing gifts in the body of Christ, “to every man severally as He will”, and that our gathering together is governed by the great fact that believers are members of the body of Christ, and the Holy Spirit is the power for all ministry.

Fourthly, in 1 Cor. 13 we learn that the spirit which animates the body of Christ is love, the spring of all true ministry.

Fifthly, in 1 Cor. 14 we are instructed as to the exercise of ministry in the assembly, so that all may be in love, to edification, and according to divine order.

Following upon the instructions in the early part of the Epistle that guide us as to our individual conduct, we have instructions as to God's order in creation to set us in right relations with one another as men and women, thus preparing us to take our place rightly in relation to one another in the assembly.

(V. 2). According to the grace that delights to recognise all that is of God in the saints, the apostle opens this fresh division of the Epistle with a word of praise. While there was so much in the assembly to condemn, the apostle can at least praise them that in all their questions they remembered him, and kept the ordinances, or “directions”, delivered to them.

(V. 3). With this word of approval the apostle passes on to give directions which would imply that another grave disorder existed among believers at Corinth. Women were apparently getting out of their true place of subjection, while men were yielding their place of authority.

To correct this disorder the apostle takes a way often adopted in Scripture to settle questions. In order to learn the principles involved in any question or difficulty, we are taken back to the first occasion of the principles being set forth. Here, a question having arisen as to the relative position of men and women, we are taken back to the order first established in creation. It is true that in Christ - in the new creation - “there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female”. In the old creation, as in the assembly, these distinctions still exist. Christianity, however great the common privileges it confers, does not set aside the order of creation, and, while in these mortal bodies in a scene where these differences exist, the Christian is responsible to observe this order.

The apostle asserts, as the first great truth in connection with creation, that “the Head of every man is Christ”. Here there is no reference to the Headship of Christ in relation to the church. It asserts that Christ, having become a Man and entered the scene of creation, necessarily takes the place of pre-eminence and authority over man. Moreover, “the head of the woman is the man; and the Head of Christ is God”. This latter assertion does not in anywise detract from the Deity of the Son. It is no question in this passage of Christ's place in the Godhead, but of the place He has taken in creation. This, then, is the simple and beautiful order of creation. The head of the woman is man; the Head of man is Christ; and the Head of Christ is God.

The source of all the lawlessness, disorder and consequent misery in this present world can be traced to the fall, when the woman was beguiled from her place of subjection to the man, and man failed in his place of authority over woman. In the creation order both the man and the woman have failed; but Christ has come into the creation scene, and with Him there is, and can be, no failure. From beginning to end of His wonderful path He was the perfectly subject Man, ever doing the will of God, even to death. While the failure of man has filled the scene with lawlessness and misery, the perfection of Christ will bring order and blessing to those who submit to Him as Head, and at last will introduce the new heavens and the new earth when God will be all in all.

In the Christian circle the blessing of the creation order should be enjoyed. If the woman were in subjection to the man, and the man were exercising right authority over the woman, as himself subject to Christ, the One Who, as Man, is perfectly subject to God, there would be order instead of confusion, and dependence upon each another instead of lawlessness.

(Vv. 4-6). The apostle proceeds to show the bearing of this creation order upon Christian men and women. He refers to the exercise of prayer and prophecy, in which, on the one hand, we speak to God on behalf of ourselves or others, and, on the other hand, we speak to men on behalf of God. In connection with praying or prophesying he speaks of the woman's head being covered as a sign of subjection, and the man's head uncovered as a sign of authority. If the man prays or prophesies with his head covered, he dishonours himself, for he professes to go to God in prayer for others, or to speak to men as from God, and at the same time he abandons the place of authority that God has given him. Under such circumstances can he wonder if neither God nor man will listen to him? As to the woman, if she prays or prophesies with her head uncovered, she professes to express her place of dependence upon God, or to come from God, and at the same time she is abandoning the place of subjection in which God has placed her. In either case they have dishonoured themselves, for every one out of his place is dishonoured before God. The uncovered woman is practically taking the place of a man who has his head shaven. The fact that it is a shame for a woman to have her head shaven should in itself teach her to be covered.

(V. 7). The apostle then gives us the reason for the creation order. Man was set in the creation to exercise dominion as the representative of God on the earth, and, as such, it was his responsibility to maintain authority. In carrying out his responsibility he would glorify God. The woman, in keeping her place of subjection, would be for the glory of the man.

(Vv. 8-10). The apostle reminds us that the woman was of the man and for the man. For this cause the woman should wear on her head that which is the sign that there is authority over her, so that there should be a testimony rendered, not only before men, but before the angels who are the interested spectators of God's order in creation, as well as the wisdom of His ways in the church. (See 1Co_4:9 ; Eph_3:10 .)

(Vv. 11, 12). Nevertheless, this question of authority and subjection in the creation order by no means weakens the fact that the man and the woman are dependent upon each another, a mutual dependence, however, that is to be taken up in the Lord. In the world men and women are throwing off their allegiance to God, and therefore increasingly seeking to be independent of one another. In Christianity we are brought back to dependence upon the Lord, and therefore upon one another, and to recognise that all things are of God. How can we be independent of the One from Whom we have our origin?

(Vv. 13-15). The apostle, having asserted the creation order, now appeals to nature, therein to learn what is comely. Inasmuch as, in her long hair, the woman has a natural covering, nature indicates her place of subjection, and tells us that a hidden woman is a beautiful woman, while a woman who cuts off her hair and apes the man is held in contempt by all. Even so, the man with long hair brings shame upon himself.

(V. 16). Finally, the apostle can appeal to custom. If any man is contentious, he is alone in a judgment that is contrary to the custom of the assemblies of God. Thus even custom, when no principle is concerned, can be invoked for the maintenance of order. Contempt of custom may indicate, as another has said, “neither conscience nor spirituality, but a fleshly love of differing from others, and at bottom sheer vanity”.

The apostle has thus spoken of what is true in creation (verses 3-10), of what is right “in the Lord” (verses 11, 12), of what is comely according to nature (verses 13-15), and what is allowed according to custom (verse 16), in order to show the true position of men and women in relation to one another.

In the portion that follows, the apostle passes on to speak of the maintenance of God's order when the people of God come together in assembly, for which the creation order has prepared us.

(V. 17). Alas, such grave disorder existed in the assembly at Corinth that the feast of remembrance, which should have been for their blessing, had become the occasion for bringing the governmental dealings of God upon them. Their coming together was not for the better, but for the worse.

(Vv. 18, 19). First, the coming together in assembly, instead of expressing their unity, as members of the one body, as set forth in the one loaf, only manifested the spirit of division that existed among them. There were divisions (or “schisms”) amongst them, which were leading to heresies (or “sects”) being formed in the assembly. The two words are distinct, conveying different ideas. The division, or schism (Gk. schisma), is a difference of opinion, thought and feeling existing within the assembly. A heresy (Gk. hairesis) is a sect, or party, formed among the saints to maintain a particular opinion, or to follow a chosen teacher. At Corinth both apparently existed within the assembly; but division or schism within, if unjudged, will soon lead to a heresy or sect without, or even the entire breaking up of the assembly into different sects. The condition of the assembly had apparently become so bad that God had allowed these divisions to work out into sects or parties, in order to make manifest those who stood for the truth, here called “the approved”. The evil had reached such a pass that there was no other way of maintaining a witness for the truth. It was necessary to allow the evil to declare itself, so that the truth might be made manifest. (Compare Tit_3:10 , where the heretic is to be rejected.)

(Vv. 20-22). When they came together, it was professedly to eat the Lord's Supper; practically it was to indulge in a feast of their own. The apostle says, “Each one in eating takes his own supper”. The Supper was instituted by the Lord at the end of the paschal feast. The Corinthians, apparently taking this as their example, came together for a preliminary social feast, at the end of which they partook of the Lord's Supper. Moreover, at this preliminary feast the poor were allowed to go hungry, while some were drinking to excess. But, apart from these excesses, the assembly was no place for social feasting. “Have ye not houses to eat and to drink in?”, asks the apostle; or were they putting to shame the poor, and despising the assembly of God, which embraces rich and poor? For the second time the apostle has to say, “I praise you not”. That they remembered the apostle and heeded his directions called forth his praise. For their divisions and abuse of the Lord's Supper he can only condemn them. They introduced into the assembly the social element which led to social distinctions and fleshly indulgence. Their coming together was thus a practical denial both of the Lord's Supper and the assembly of God.

(V. 23). To correct these scandals, the apostle brings forward the truth of the Supper as instituted by the Lord and revealed to him. It has been pointed out that the apostle had no special revelation as to baptism, which is an individual matter. With the Supper are found all the great truths connected with the one body that were specially given to Paul to make known. Although the Supper was given to the Twelve, it was not from them that Paul received his knowledge, but by special revelation from the Lord to be delivered to the Gentile believers. The apostle reminds us of the touching circumstances under which the Lord instituted the Supper. It was “the same night in which He was betrayed”. The very night on which the evil of man rose to its height the unselfish love of Christ was most blessedly displayed. When lust led to the betrayal, love instituted the Supper.

(Vv. 24, 25). No mystery surrounds this feast such as men delight to import into it. All is simplicity. It is the simple, but touching, memorial of the death of Christ. The bread speaks of His body - Himself. The cup speaks of His blood - His work. The symbols of the body and the blood are separate, speaking of a dead Christ. Both the bread and the cup were to be taken, said the Lord, “in remembrance of Me”. This gives the Supper its distinctive character; it is a Supper of remembrance, not a celebration of something existing at the moment, but a remembrance of something in the past. One has said, “The Lord's Supper is to remind us of Christ, of His death; not of our sins, but of our sins remitted and ourselves loved”. The cup is the new covenant in Christ's blood; not the old covenant sealed with the blood of bulls and goats, but the new covenant with all its blessings secured by the blood of Christ, a covenant that makes God known in grace, and in which sins are remembered no more.

(V. 26). In eating and drinking we “show the Lord's death till He come”, words which rebuke those who from any cause argue for its disuse. The feast is never to be set aside until He comes.

(V. 27). Having reminded the brethren of the true character of the Supper, the apostle returns to the scandals that existed in their midst, and warns them against partaking of the Supper in an unworthy manner. They were eating unworthily inasmuch as they were taking the Supper without judging their ways, and without discerning that of which the bread and the cup speak - the Lord's body and blood. They did not discern between an ordinary meal and that which was a memorial of the Lord's body given for us and His blood shed for us.

(Vv. 28, 29). To correct their unworthy ways, the apostle exhorts that each one should prove himself, and so let him eat. The proving, or self-judgment, of everything inconsistent with the death of Christ, is an individual act. Having proved himself, he is not to refrain from the Supper; on the contrary, the word is, “let him eat”. We are thus warned against partaking in an unworthy manner. In this verse the word “Lord” should be omitted. The reference is probably to the one body of which all Christians are members, while in verse 27 the Lord's actual body is in view. We must remember that the disorders at Corinth were setting aside both the Lord's Supper and the assembly (verses 20, 22).

(Vv. 30-32). The disorders existing among the Corinthian believers had brought the chastening hand of the Lord upon the assembly. As the direct outcome of this chastening, many were weak and sickly, and many slept. They were removed by death from the assembly on earth. This leads the apostle to assert the important principle that if we judged ourselves we should not be judged. It is not only our ways that we need to judge, but also ourselves - the secret motives, thoughts, affections that form the condition of soul. Refusing to judge ourselves, we come under the chastening of the Lord. Even so, it is grace that chastens us in the present, rather than condemns us as sinners with the world in the future.

In the course of the Epistle there is a solemn progress in the warnings of the apostle. In 1 Cor. 8 we are warned against wounding the consciences of our brethren, and thus sinning against Christ (verse 12). In 1 Cor. 9 we are warned to keep under the body lest, having preached to others, we are ourselves rejected (verse 27). In 1 Cor. 10 the warning is to take heed lest we provoke the Lord to jealousy (verse 22). It is a solemn thing to ignore the consciences of one's brethren; it may be a fatal thing to provoke the Lord to jealousy. So some found at Corinth, for in 1 Cor. 11 we read that the Lord, being provoked to jealousy, acts for His own glory, with the result that many were removed by death.

(Vv. 33, 34). It is a solemn consideration that many of the grave disorders at Corinth have no existence in Christendom today, not because God's order is followed, but because Christendom has entirely altered the true character of the Supper and introduced an order of man's devising. At Corinth there were scandalous abuses in the actual partaking of the Supper; nevertheless, they had not lost its meaning or changed its character. Christendom has indeed removed some of the gross abuses, but it has lost the true meaning of that to which the abuses were attached. Bad as was the Corinthian evil, that of Christendom is far worse. It has turned the Supper of remembrance into a means of grace. The feast, of which the Lord could say, “This do in remembrance of Me”, is partaken in the hope of receiving some blessing for self. The Supper that ministers to His heart is made the occasion for seeking grace for our souls. Worse still, the Supper of remembrance for the saints has been turned into an ordinance of salvation for sinners.

Moreover, while Christendom has sought to correct the unworthy way of partaking of the Supper, it admits to it unworthy people. The national churches cannot exclude from the Supper the unregenerate parishioner. The world is open to partake with the true believer. Further, not only has Christendom entirely altered the character of the Supper, but it has introduced its own order in the observance of it. In general none but a humanly authorised official can administer the Supper. It is striking that in the Epistle, which above all others speaks of God's order for the assembly, there is no mention of deacons, elders or bishops. In the very chapter that deals with gross irregularities there is no suggestion of correcting them by the appointment of an official to administer the Supper. The true character of the Supper is given, the right condition of the soul is insisted upon, but, in the administration of it, all is left to the free and unrestrained guidance of the Holy Spirit. In the chapter that follows we are instructed as to this manifestation of the Spirit in the assembly.

Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hsw/1-corinthians-11.html. 1832.
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