The Veiled Woman
1 Corinthians 11:1-16
Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you. But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God. Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering. But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God. (vv. 1-16)
In our study of this epistle we have noticed that in the first six chapters the apostle brings before the Corinthian church certain matters that require correction and instruction. We can be very thankful that God providentially permitted so many things to come up in the early church in order that they might be corrected by apostolic authority during that first century of the Christian era, because similar things come up continually in the churches of God down through the years. The remarkable fact is that there are no circumstances that can arise, no sins that may cause trouble and distress, no irregularities that may appear, that are not already met and provided for right here in the epistles of the New Testament. Because these things were rife in the beginning of the church’s history they were met by the Holy Spirit through inspired man, and all we need to do today is to walk in obedience to the Word.
In those first six chapters the apostle deals with such questions as divisions among Christians, schisms of various kinds, immorality getting into the church of God, Christians going to law one with another, and other things that disturb the peace of the church.
Beginning with chapter 7 and going right on to the end of the epistle, Paul takes up certain things concerning which the church wrote for instruction and help. He says in the opening verse of chapter 7, “Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me,” and he deals first with the question of marriage and divorce, the relationship of a Christian wife to a heathen husband or a Christian husband to a heathen wife. And then in chapters 8 and 9 he takes up the question of meats offered to idols and the Christian’s relationship to idol temples. He carries that on over into chapter 10 and shows how carefully the Christian ought to walk apart from everything that savors of idolatry.
And now in chapter 11 he touches on another problem that was disturbing the early church. In order to properly understand this portion we need to try to visualize conditions existing in those distant days. Corinth was a very loose, a very dissolute city. I question if any of the great cities in which the apostle preached the gospel were worse in character in this respect than the city of Corinth. We are rapidly getting into the same condition, for we are living in a day when everything like purity and chastity is looked upon as a joke, and people are utterly cynical and indifferent in regard to personal morality. The literature of our day reeks with filth and impurity, pictures are vile and lewd, theaters and movies, they tell me, are characterized by the same thing. Low ideas of morals and behavior are prevalent. Corinth was a city in which this could be seen at the very worst.
In that city looseness of every kind had to be faced by the early church, and the apostle was desirous that Christian women should not permit anything in their behavior that would allow the least cloud upon their purity. Loose women in those days went bareheaded, and were found in the streets unblushingly seeking those who might be companions with them in their sin and wickedness. Women who sought to live in chastity and purity were very particular never to appear in public unveiled. The unveiled woman was the careless woman, the immoral woman; the veiled woman was the careful wife or mother who was concerned about her character and her reputation. It would seem that after Christianity came to Corinth and converted women rejoiced in a liberty they had never known in the old pagan days, that some of them were inclined to be rather careless and indifferent as to the customs of the day and were saying perhaps, “We are all one in Christ; Paul himself has taught us that in the new creation there is neither male nor female, and so there is no reason now why Christian women should be subject to any of the conventionalities of the day. We can go unveiled and bareheaded in public places, and we need not be concerned about it.” The Corinthians wrote to Paul to get his judgment in this matter and this is his answer, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” In other words, I am about to give you instruction, instruction which I have a right to give as a divinely appointed apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. I seek in all things to be subject to Christ. When He speaks, I endeavor to obey. Now, in what I am going to put before you I trust you will have the same spirit, that you will seek to follow me in this, to be led by me as I seek to be led by the Lord Jesus Christ. In all matters in which you have been obedient to the instructions formerly given, I praise you-”I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.” He was the one who under God had founded the church at Corinth. He had given instruction ere leaving them as to how things should be carried on, and though now he had to touch on a rather delicate subject and one which some among them might resent, he first of all gave them credit for all their past obedience to the instruction they had received.
When he says, “And keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you,” he is not simply referring to the two Christian ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, though these would certainly be included. It is unthinkable that any subject Christian should ever set to one side these ordinances of the Christian church, but the word here has a much wider meaning than that. It refers to the instruction given to them regarding a great many things which have to do with the happy fellowship of saints. A little while ago these people had been idolaters, led by Satan, captive at his will; now they were redeemed and seeking to walk together in Christian fellowship. There must be subjection to the revealed will of God in order to have happy fellowship in the church.
He now takes up this question of woman’s place in nature and in the church, and I wish you would bear in mind that he is not speaking, as he does elsewhere, of woman’s place in the new creation. In the new creation, as already intimated, there are no distinctions. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). We are all one in Christ. We were all sinners alike, we have all been redeemed alike, we are all indwelt by the Holy Spirit alike, we have all been baptized into one body alike, and so all these distinctions vanish and we think of one another as members of Christ. But this does not alter the fact that we still have our place in nature and must maintain that place. The Christian is not to be careless as to his responsibilities. You will see how important this is if I illustrate in this way: According to the Word of God I am a heavenly citizen. Suppose I say, “Inasmuch as I am a heavenly citizen, I have no responsibilities to any country here on earth,” I will soon have to reckon with the income tax collector and other authorities. I will soon find out that though I may pride myself on being a citizen of heaven only and may say that I have no responsibilities here, the governors of this world are not satisfied to have it so and I shall have to learn by experience that I have responsibilities, I have earthly relationships that must be maintained. Just so, although there is neither male nor female in the new creation, yet we have our places to fill in nature and in the church.
“I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” Somebody may say, “But is not Christ the head of every woman?” Yes, in the new creation Christ is the Head, and men and women are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones, but this verse emphasizes the fact that it is not that of which he now speaks. In creation the Head of every man is Christ. When God made man He said, “Let us make man in our image,” and He had Christ in view, and when the first man came into the world, he came as the type of Him which was to come. And so the Head of every man is Christ, and man is to be subject to Christ and to represent Christ. But God did not leave man alone in the world; He said, “I will make him an helpmeet,” and so He created woman and said to the woman, “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Genesis 3:16). He gave Eve to Adam, and she saw in Adam her head, and that relationship still exists. The head of woman is the man. I suspect there are some women in our modern day who would resent that, they would like to make the head of the man the woman. They resent the thought that God has given to woman anything that looks like a subject or inferior place. Let us put aside any thought of inferiority. The point is that it is the responsibility of the husband to care for and to protect the wife-”Giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel” (1 Peter 3:7). The woman, when she agrees to take a man’s name, tacitly consents to what we have here. Some extremely modern women do refuse to take their husbands’ names. They say, “We will not subject ourselves in any way, as we would in taking a man’s name.” I would say to you, young women, if you have any thought of getting married, do not marry a man until you are willing to accept him as your head and take his name. Otherwise it is far better that you should remain single where you can run things to suit yourself!
“The head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” Why does he bring Christ in here? I take it that someone might say, “But I refuse to take that place of subjection,” and he would say, “Remember, the Lord Jesus took that place. He humbled Himself, but it is His glory to be in that place.” When the Son of God became Man, He took the place of subjection which He will keep for all eternity-”The Head of Christ is God.”
And then he says, “Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.” Notice how he meets their difficulty. If a man should stand up in public to pray or to preach (the word prophesieth really means “preach”), wearing a covering on his head, he would be dishonoring his Head. Not that which is above his neck, but dishonoring his Head which is Christ. If I stood in this pulpit preaching with my hat on, every one of you would rightfully say, “Has he no respect for the Master whom he professes to serve?” I come into the presence of God and Christ and of the angels who are learning the wisdom of God in the church, and I remove my hat. For the same reason when a woman comes into the church, she keeps her hat on. “Every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head.” Who is her head? The man. She shows by uncovering her head that she wants to be like the man; she dishonors her head when she says, “I am not going to take any subject place, I have as much right to have my hat off in a public meeting as a man.” It does not say that she dishonors the Lord Jesus Christ. She may be quite unconscious of dishonoring any one, but I am giving what the Word of God says.
Concerning this and other matters it has well been said, “Some things are commanded because they are right, other things are right because they are commanded.” “Thou shalt not steal.” The commandment did not make it wrong to steal, it was always wrong to steal. “But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.” This is right because it is commanded. God has spoken and it is very often in little things like this that we test our state, whether there is self-will working or whether one is ready to be subject to the Word of God.
In that pagan city it would have been a great shame and disgrace for a woman to have appeared in public with her head uncovered, it would have marked her out as an immoral person. Of course we must recognize that customs change, but nevertheless the principle of this chapter abides. God is calling Christian women to modesty of deportment, that in this way they may be distinguished from worldly women. Here he says, “If the woman be not covered” (the word is really “veiled”), if she does not have a veil covering her hair, let her come out and be just like a man. Let her go to the barber shop and have her beautiful locks all shorn, as many do today. I do not understand why women want to be so manlike. I think a womanly woman is one of the sweetest and most beautiful creatures God ever made. I like a womanly woman and a manly man, but I wonder if any one really admires a manly woman or a womanly man! Let each one hold to his proper place in creation, but if not willing to cover her head, let the woman come out and be shorn and shaven.
“For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God.” God had said, “Let us make man in our image.” “But the woman is the glory of the man.” She is of so much finer character than the man, she is so superior to the man in many ways that he feels ashamed to see her getting out of her place and lowering herself by trying to take the place of a man. I wonder sometimes whether women have any idea how even worldly men express their disgust in the days in which we live at the manlike behavior of women in public places. I have been on railroad trains, in hotels or restaurants, and when women have, for instance, taken out a cigarette and begun to smoke, I have heard even unsaved men say, “What are we coming to? I am glad I did not have a mother like that.” Even unsaved men hate to see women copying men, and Christian women should be absolutely above reproach.
“For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man.” The woman was taken from man. An old writer says, “When God created man, He made him of the dust of the ground; when He created woman, He took her from the man. He did not take her from his head in order that she might lord it over him; He did not take her from his feet that he might trample upon her, but He took her from his side, close to his heart, in order that she might be his companion and that he might love and care for her.” And so we read, “Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.”
Passing over the tenth verse for a moment and continuing with the eleventh, we read, “Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man [through creation], even so is the man also by the woman [through birth]; but all things of God.” So every one has his place to fill in creation and none can take the place of the other.
What about that tenth verse which comes in parenthetically? “For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.” This is admittedly a somewhat difficult verse. In the margin of our Bibles we have, “power-in sign that she is under the power or authority of her husband.” I think that marginal note was probably put in by some worthy brother in years gone by who may have had a little difficulty in maintaining his position as head of the house! I question that this is what it means. You see, if a woman in a city like Corinth appeared in a public place with uncovered head, it would at once expose her to insult. Therefore, when going shopping or visiting her friends or going to the Christian services, she put the veil, the covering, over her head and walked down the street unmolested. Her covering was her power. I spent the first six years of my Christian experience as an officer in the Salvation Army. In those days I often had occasion to see how that beautiful little blue bonnet was the power of the Salvation Army lassie. I remember going into a saloon on the Barbary Coast in San Francisco seeking the lost. Two of our Salvation Army lassies appeared, and I noticed that everybody treated them respectfully and nicely excepting one man, a half-drunken sailor. When the Salvation Army girl approached him with her paper, he turned toward her and made a movement as though he would have kissed her, and in a moment as she drew back five of those ungodly men sprang to their feet, knocked him down, thrashed him within an inch of his life, and then threw him out into the gutter for the police. Her bonnet was her power on her head. There were lots of other girls there, God help them, that nobody would have fought for or protected. There they were with their brazen faces and uncovered heads, but this little lassie’s power was her bonnet, and so the apostle is saying, “Women, you are not belittling yourselves, you are not degrading yourselves when you show proper respect by appearing in public places with your heads covered. You are simply availing yourself of that which is your protection against insult.”
But what does the expression, “Because of the angels” mean? It is a little difficult to know, after nineteen centuries, just what was in the mind of the apostle. Did he mean, as many think, that whenever the Christian company are gathered together, God’s holy angels in heaven are looking down with delight upon the scene, and that they note everything that savors of subjection and obedience to the Word of God, note it with approval, but also observe with disapproval everything that savors of self-will and insubjection? We are told that angels are learning the wisdom of God in us, that is, in the church, and so the apostle may be saying, “Let the angel hosts see in Christian women a reverence, a modesty, and a respect for holy things which is not found in the women of the world.” If that is the meaning, it is very beautiful. We read of one class of those holy angels called the seraphim. Every one had six wings, “with twain he covered his face, with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.” Angels cover their faces in the presence of God and the angels looking down see the covered women sitting in reverence and modesty in the presence of God, and approve. That may be the meaning.
William Thomson in his volume, The Land and the Book, points out that ever since the days of the apostle John the word angel has been used for a minister in the church, and in some eastern churches the ministers are still called the angels of the churches. In those oriental lands even until very recent times the women and men were segregated as they gathered together that there might be nothing to disturb the equanimity of the men. But the “angel” stood on a platform and saw both groups, and Dr. Thomson points out that practically none of these angels had ever looked upon the uncovered face of a woman except his mother or sister or some other near relative, and he says that no one who has not seen for himself conditions under which they work can understand why the apostle should tell Christian women that they should keep their faces veiled because of the angels or ministers. He would be so disconcerted by looking into the unveiled faces of so many women that he might get his mind off from his message! This is at least most suggestive.
“Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?” Should she not take that reverent attitude? It is perfectly right for me to pray with my head uncovered, but a woman is to cover her head as a sign of reverent subjection.
And now he goes back to nature and says, “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? but if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.” Somebody says, “That settles the question. Her hair is her covering.” But the apostle says that if she is not veiled she is to let her hair be shorn. She has that natural covering which distinguishes her from man and over that she puts a veil. Why? Because her hair is her glory. Is not that most striking? In the presence of God she covers her chief beauty in order that no mind may be turned from Christ to her beautiful hair. It is precious to think of Mary of Bethany and of the poor woman in Luke 7 who washed the feet of Jesus and wiped them with their hair. They cast their glory at His feet.
In closing he says, “If any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God”-if people are going to make a fuss about a matter of this kind, all I have to say is we have no such custom. If women will persist in being disorderly in this way, you cannot discipline them, you cannot put them out of the church. I have laid down God’s Word, now let women settle it themselves as to how far they will subject themselves to the Word of the living God.
What is the real importance of this? It is the test of whether our wills are subject to God or whether we are going to be subject to the fashions and order of the day in which we live. The Christian is one who has forsaken the world for Christ’s sake, has turned his back on the fashion of this world that passeth away in order that he may subject himself to Another, even the Lord from heaven, and I do beg of you, my brother and sister, remember the word, “Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.” You settle it with God as to just how far a passage like this, having to do with customs of long ago, still has authority over your conscience at the present time, but do not go beyond conscience. Seek to be obedient in all things to the Word of the living God, for this is the path of blessing.
The Lord’s Supper
1 Corinthians 11:17-26
Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not. For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come. (vv. 17-26)
We have here perhaps the fullest instruction concerning the correct observance of the Lord’s Supper that is given us in Scripture. It is very evident that it was intended to occupy a very large place in the hearts and minds of Christians during the dispensation in which our blessed Lord is absent in body, sitting on the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens. It was intended to call Him very vividly to mind in order that His people might be so occupied with Him that, as they went forth afterward in service, Christ Himself might be the joy of their hearts. Apparently at a very early day Christians began to misunderstand the Lord’s Supper.
It is rather a sad commentary upon our fallen human nature that everything God has given us has been abused by man. No physical appetites that He has given have not been abused, and there are very few privileges we have that have not often been misused. Under law, God gave Israel the Sabbath, and you would think that men would have recognized in that a part of His gracious provision for the comfort of His creatures when He said, “Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God” (Exodus 20:9-10). But the Sabbath became a loathing to many people because they connected with it all kinds of laws and prohibitions which God Himself had not put upon it, so that our Lord Jesus had to reprove the men of His day by saying, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). And so it is with other observances in Old Testament times.
The same is true in connection with the two ordinances of the Christian church, the Lord’s Supper and baptism. They were designed to continue in the church until the end of the present age, until the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him. But people either go to the extreme of making these ordinances saving sacraments or are inclined to become very careless about them. The fact is that neither baptism nor the Lord’s Supper has anything to do with the salvation of our souls, except that they picture the way in which we are saved-through the death and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. And yet they are of great importance because they help to draw our hearts out to Him and to give us a more vivid realization of our identification with Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.
In the early church the Lord’s Supper was observed very frequently; for a time at least it was observed every day. In the early chapters of Acts it is set forth that they daily participated in the breaking of bread. Afterward it was observed on the first day of the week, as Acts 20:7 would seem to show. I am sure that the oftener we gather together “to show the Lord’s death until he come,” the greater blessing comes to us and the greater glory to the Lord Jesus Christ, and yet in the early church they fell into ways in which this ordinance was abused. The apostle, for instance, writing here says he cannot praise them for the way they attempted to celebrate the Lord’s Supper-”I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse.” It is possible then even to assemble to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and go away not benefited but rather harmed. How was it that they were celebrating it for the worse rather than for the better? In the first place there was a spirit of faction working among them. Instead of recognizing that the Lord’s Supper speaks of the unity of the whole church of God, and that all alike participate in that one loaf and cup which set forth the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Corinthians were grouping together, in one place, it is true, but under various heads. Some said, as it were, “I am of Paul, the teacher; I am of Apollos, the preacher; I am of Cephas, the exhorter,” and some said, “We do not recognize these gifts at all, we are only of Christ.” It is just as bad to make Christ’s name the head of a party as any other name. Christ is the Head of all believers and not merely of some little group. “When ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved [of yourselves] may be made manifest among you.” You are making a great deal of leaders instead of being taken up with Jesus Christ.
Then too they were linking the agape, the love feast of which Jude speaks, with the Lord’s Supper. Many of these early Christians were slaves and could not get away from their duties very often. Wlien they came together, they evidently put in just as many hours as they could, and so brought their food with them and between gatherings they would spread it out and partake together. They fell into the habit of linking the Lord’s Supper with this fellowship. Some had a great deal to partake of while others had nothing; some drank even to inebriation, and some were left without enough for their needs. “When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. WTiat? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not?” The rich spread feasts while the poor were left without anything, and so he says, “It is far better to do your eating at home.” He is not insisting that it is wrong for Christians to come together for love-feasts, for Jude speaks of these, but if it is a question of separating believer from believer, it is far better to eat at home. “What shall I say to you?” he asks; “shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.”
Having reproved them for their misbehavior at the Table, he lays down clearly the revelation that the risen Christ gave him from heaven concerning the proper observance of this service. First, “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you.” Paul never knew the Lord here on earth, he was not with the Twelve in the upper room when Jesus instituted this ordinance; therefore, he must have received this as a direct revelation from heaven. That is very significant, for there must be something extremely precious to our risen Savior about the frequent observance of the Lord’s Supper if He, the glorified One, gave to His apostle a special declaration from the glory regarding it. And this is what He told him: “That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread.” Why does the apostle slip in the expression, “In which he was betrayed,” if not for us to realize that the Lord’s Supper was meant to appeal to the hearts of His people and so to remind them that in that very night when our blessed Savior was to know to the fullest the untrustworthiness, the wickedness, the treachery, the perfidy of the human heart, He gave this feast in order that His people might have before them the continual expression of His loving heart in giving Himself for them.
There is something very tender here. “The Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread.” Judas evidently was not present when He did this. There is a question as to that, but if you follow carefully through the accounts in the different Gospels, I think you will see that Judas was present at the Passover Feast, but when that was concluded, the Savior said, “ That thou doest, do quickly…[And] he…went immediately out: and it was night” (John 13:27, 30). Jesus had said before, “The hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table” (Luke 22:21). But Judas went out, and in his absence the Savior gave this memorial feast to His own. That is very suggestive, for it is only for those who have been redeemed by His precious blood that the Lord’s Supper is given. It is not for the unsaved, it is not for those who are hoping to be saved; it is for those who are in the joy of accomplished redemption, who know Christ as Savior. To them the Lord spake when He took that bread and gave thanks and said, “Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.”
Some tell us that the Lord meant that the bread and the wine are changed into the actual body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ when we give thanks to God for it. Others say this is not true, but that when you receive the bread in some special sense you are actually receiving the body of Christ. I do not think it necessary to go into these various views, for the Lord sat at that table in His complete human body and did not divide that among the disciples. When He took the loaf and said, “This is my body,” His own hands held that loaf, so it seems to me the simple and clear meaning is that it in the bread on the Lord’s table we have set forth in picture the precious, holy body of our Lord Jesus Christ. But it certainly is true that as we receive that bread with honest sincere hearts, with minds occupied with Christ, we do receive our blessed Lord in faith in a sense that is not true at other times. Thus far we are willing to go with the sacramentalists. It is a memorial, and it is one that makes Christ very real to us and gives a very definite sense of His presence.
A member of a great church in Christendom said to me at one time, “We believe in the real presence of the Savior in the sacrament, and you believe in His real absence.” “Oh, no,” I said, “you are mistaken. We simply do not believe that the bread and the wine are actually changed into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ, but we do believe in the real presence in Spirit of our blessed Lord, for He has said, ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’” (Matthew 18:20). And there is no time when Christ’s presence is so definitely realized and so distinctly felt as when remembering Him in the breaking of bread. He said, “Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.” The Lord’s Supper is a continual reminder of the vicarious character of His death, and that is one reason why our blessed Lord is so desirous that it should be celebrated frequently.
Then we read, “After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.” On every table where there stands a glass of wine (I do not speak now of whether it be fermented or unfermented), the fruit of the vine, partaken of by the people of God, it is a standing testimony to the fact that redemption is alone through His precious atoning blood. If people deny the vicarious character of the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, I cannot understand how with consistency they can participate in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper for, “As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do [proclaim] (the word translated ‘show,’ is elsewhere in the New Testament translated ‘preach’) the Lord’s death till he come.” Wherever Christians eat this bread and drink this cup, participating in the Lord’s Supper, they are preaching a sermon. By their very actions they are declaring that His death was not merely that of a martyr for righteousness’ sake, but that it was death as a sacrifice, that He died for sinners, that He shed His blood for sinners.
A dear Japanese man who attended some of our meetings in Sacramento, California, was troubled about his soul, but it seemed impossible to bring him to Christ because of his love for money. He would say, “If I accept this Jesus as my Savior, I do not see how I can make money.”
So we told him he would have to make the choice of being rich on earth and poor in eternity, or poor on earth and rich in eternity. When I use the pronoun “we,” I refer to a Japanese evangelist who was associated with me at the time, and through whom I met this man. A year went by, I returned to the city of Sacramento for meetings, and one night was preaching the gospel on the street corner. In the audience I saw this little Japanese man. There was an expression of concern on his face that stirred my heart. At the close of the meeting he stepped up and shook my hand and said, “I so glad to see you again.”
I said, “And so am I glad to see you. Have you accepted Christ as your Savior yet?”
Tears filled his eyes and he said, “No, I fight against Him. I cannot give up. If I accept Him, I cannot make money. Do you have some meetings here where you are speaking?”
I said, “Yes,” and told him where the meetings were being held.
He said, “Do you have a meeting on Sunday where you eat the bread and drink the wine showing how Jesus died?”
I said, “Yes, next Sunday morning.”
“I come,” he said.
So on the Sunday morning we had gathered together to participate in the Lord’s Supper, and as the meeting commenced this Japanese man came in and sat close up in the front. I was praying that God might speak to him, and as the meeting went on it was evident that he was greatly perturbed. Finally the people of God partook of the bread and the fruit of the vine, and this heathen Japanese sat and looked on. Just as the elements were replaced on the table, he rose and said, “I like to pray.”
I thought, “My! I wish I had told him that he would not be expected to take part in the meeting!”
But he prayed like this: “O God, I all broke up. For one whole year I fight You. I fight You hard. Your Spirit break me all to pieces. O God, today I see Your people eating the bread, drinking the wine, tell how Jesus died for sinners like me. O God, You love me so You give Your Son to die for me. I cannot fight You any more. I give up, I take Him as my Savior.”
It did not spoil our meeting at all to have him take part with such a prayer. We realized that this simple ordinance had preached to him for, “As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do [preach] the Lord’s death till he come.” At the close of the meeting we gathered about him to rejoice with him, and then he turned to me and said, “Jesus say before He go away, when you believe Him, you bury in water, show old life gone, new life begin. I like bury.”
“You want to be baptized?” I asked. “I will see you during the week and perhaps we can do it next Sunday.”
Referring to the Japanese evangelist, he said, “A year ago he tell me Jesus Christ coming back again, so?”
“Yes,” I said, “that is true.”
“He coming soon?”
“He not come before next Sunday?”
“Well, I couldn’t say, He might come before then.”
“Then I no like to wait till next Sunday, I like show I no fight any more, I like be buried today.”
I said, “Forgive me for trying to put it off; we will go down to the river this afternoon.”
And so in the afternoon he came dressed in his best with the Japanese mayor, as we called the richest man in the Japanese settlement, and forty other Japanese merchants behind him. We preached the Word and he gave his testimony, and then he was buried in the waters of baptism.
The Lord’s Supper, if given the place our Savior intended it to have, will constantly preach to the world, and will say more than any words of ours can say: “As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do [preach] the Lord’s death till he come.”
You may have known the Lord Jesus Christ for years, but I wonder whether this ordinance is precious to you. I am afraid to some it is just a legal thing, a feeling that one ought to come and take the Lord’s Supper because He has commanded it. Let me suggest that it is not so much a command as a request. When our Savior says, “This do in remembrance of me,” He does not mean, “You must do this,” but rather, “I would like to have you do this.” It is as though a loved one were dying and before slipping away should call the children around the bed and handing each one of them a photograph would say, “Here are pictures of myself; I am going to leave you, you won’t see me again for a little while, but I would like each of you to take one of these pictures. I wish you would cherish it and from time to time take it out and look at it, and as you do, remember me.” Would it be a task to do that in response to the request of a loving mother or a precious father or possibly a darling child? Surely not. If you loved that one, you would be delighted again and again to take down that picture and as you looked at it, you would say, “There is the one who loved me and is now gone from me, but I am so glad in this way I can call my dear one afresh to mind.” That is the place the Lord’s Supper has in the church of God. There is nothing legal about it, you do not have to participate in the Lord’s Supper if you do not want to. You can go to heaven by trusting the Savior even if you have never once partaken of the cup that speaks of His suffering and death, but if your heart is filled with love for Him, you will be glad from time to time to gather with His people to remember Him. If you are unsaved, you may have thought of the Lord’s Supper as a means whereby you might obtain salvation. Perhaps you have come to the Communion Table and hoped that thereby you might obtain the evidence that your sins were forgiven. My dear friend, the message of the Lord’s Supper is this, “ Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and…was buried, and…rose again” (1 Corinthians 15:3). What you need is not an ordinance, for the sacrament cannot save you, but you need the blessed Savior Himself; you need to trust the One whose death is pictured in the Lord’s Supper, the Savior who gave Himself for you.
The Importance Of Self-Judgment
1 Corinthians 11:27-34
Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world. Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another. And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come. (vv. 27-34)
We have in the two Christian ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, two witnesses to the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, His vicarious atoning death, which our Lord has set in His church to be observed until the end of the age, until He shall return. In these ordinances we have constant testimony to the death that our Savior died on Calvary. Baptism is the initiatory ordinance of the Christian faith; the Lord’s Supper is to be observed frequently throughout the believer’s life until he shall see his Savior face to face.
We come now to consider the portion beginning with verse 27 which deals with the state and condition of believers as they approach the Table of the Lord. “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” Very solemn words these. They should surely put a check upon the carelessness and the levity of our hearts. How often some of us have been guilty of approaching the Table of the Lord in a very careless spirit, and perhaps with considerable levity, forgetting that we have here something which in the eyes of God is most sacred, most holy.
What does it mean to eat the bread and to drink the cup unworthily? A misapprehension of this term, “unworthily, “has kept some conscientious people from ever approaching the Table. They reason like this, “I never can be sure that I am worthy. I know my Savior is worthy, that all holiness, all purity, all goodness are His, but I am so conscious of the impurities that surge up from my own evil heart, I am so conscious of my frequent failure in thought, word, and deed, that if it is a question of worthiness I dare not come to the Table of the Lord, I dare not receive those sacred elements, for I am very far from being worthy.” Let me say to you, my conscientious friend, that the word here is not “unworthy,” but is rather “unworthily,” referring not to the person, but to the state of mind in which one comes to the Table of the Lord. Of course in ourselves we are altogether unworthy, but we have found acceptance in the worthy One, and in Christ every believer is worthy to approach the Table of the Lord. I remember reading of an aged saint oppressed by a sense of his unworthiness. He bowed weeping as the sacred emblems were going around and refused to touch the bread. When the deacon offered it, he sobbed, “I am too great a sinner to receive that which is so holy,” and the aged Highland minister exclaimed, “Take it, mon, take it; it is for sinners and for none else that Jesus died.” Oh, yes, my very acknowledgment of my sinnership is that which gives me the right to come because, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). If I truly feel my sinfulness, confess it, and put my trust in the Savior of sinners, then in Him I find my worthiness.
But here it is not an adjective, it is an adverb, “unworthily.” It refers, you see, to manner or behavior. What is the meaning? If I come to the Table of the Lord in a light, frivolous, careless way; if, as the bread and the wine are being prayed over, I am thinking of a thousand and one other things, perhaps occupied with the business of the week, or recalling the latest foolish story I have heard; if when the bread and the cup are actually passed to me, I am not thinking of the Savior of whom they speak, but perfunctorily participating in it as a religious ordinance, I am taking the loaf and the cup unworthily. Or perhaps I come altogether unprepared, I have spent no time with God in the morning thinking of the solemnity of all this, I rush into His presence bringing strange fire, as it were, and I fail to recognize that in the loaf and the cup we have set forth the precious body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. To partake in such a spirit is to do so unworthily. “Whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” It is as though I crucify Him afresh and put Him to an open shame in forgetting that it was my sins that caused His death upon the cross. I act as though He had never yet died. I fail to realize what these symbols set forth.
Then am I to remain away from the Table? Not if I am a Christian. “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.” Observe, it does not say, “Let a man examine himself, and so let him refrain from participating,” but, “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat.” No matter what he sees in himself of that which is evil and unholy, if he judges himself before God and confesses his own unholiness, he is in a state of soul where he is free to participate in this sacred service. In other words, he is to come into the presence of God with self-judgment. He who does not do this “eateth and drinketh damnation [or judgment] to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” He only exposes himself the more to divine judgment because of his frivolous behavior.
You say, “In what sense does he fail to discern the Lord’s body?” Let me illustrate in this way. How frequently we have gone to a funeral service and have seen before us the casket containing all that was mortal of some loved one. What a solemn time it was. What would you think of some light, flippant person coming into such a service and perhaps hardly taking his seat before he leans over to the person next to him and says, “By the way, I heard a most amusing story; let me tell it to you while we wait for the minister to begin.” Every respectable person would look upon him with indignation and say, “What is the matter with the foolish man? Does he fail to discern the body of our dear one lying there?” The bread and wine upon the Table of the Lord set forth the precious body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ and any one coming into such a scene carelessly, failing to discern the Lord’s body, does not recognize that this is a memorial of death, this is a remembrance of the One who died for our sins.
Because these Corinthians had allowed themselves to become very careless in this matter the apostle says, “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” Just what does he mean? What does the word sleep mean? If you go through the Epistles of Paul carefully, you will see that it is a term used over and over again for the death of the believer. It is not the sleep of the soul, but the sleep of the body. When the believer dies, the spirit is absent from the body and present with the Lord. Let me direct your attention to that lovely word in the third chapter of the epistle to the Ephesians where it says, “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and on earth is named.” Notice this, “the whole family.” By this he means all of God’s children, the entire redeemed family. And where does he locate the family? Part of it in heaven and part on earth. If Saint Paul were a “soul sleeper,” he would have said, “Of whom the whole family in the grave and on earth is named.” But he did not think of our departed loved ones in Christ as being in the grave, but in heaven. Elsewhere in Scripture we find that death for the believer is “to depart and be with Christ, which is far better,” and yet the word “sleep” is used many times, but only in reference to the body. The tired, weary bodies of believers are put to sleep to rest until awakened on the resurrection morning.
It is a blessed thing to sleep in Christ, and yet there is such a thing as a believer being put to sleep before his due time. We read, “The ungodly shall not live out half their days,” and it is quite true that even godly persons may so fail, so fall into sin, that God may not permit them to live on to a green old age, but may take them home in youth or in middle life. I would not say that when a young believer dies it is always an act of discipline, for many a young saint has been taken away from the evil to come, in grace rather than in judgment. Some ripen earlier than others, some of us develop so slowly it will take fifty or sixty or seventy years to bring us to spiritual maturity, but there are others like Borden of Yale who ripen so young that the Lord can say, “I am going to pluck that fruit and take it home to heaven, it is ready early.” On the other hand, very frequently early death is an evidence of the Lord’s discipline. That is what Paul is saying to the Corinthians, “You have been dishonoring me at the Table of the Lord, approaching it in a light frivolous manner; you have been given to levity and have misused this sacred ordinance and mingled it with a feast for yourselves. Therefore, many of you are weak, many of you are sickly, and many of you sleep.” Sickness is one way by which the Lord often chastens His people. Chastening is not necessarily punishment, but it is educational, and the Lord uses sickness in order to bring us to realize our littleness, our insufficiency, and the importance of living only for eternity. Many a young or middle-aged Christian has gone on perhaps for years without much recognition of the Lord’s authority over his life, and then sickness has come, and for long weary weeks or months and sometimes years that dear one has been laid aside. At first very restlessly he has asked, “O God, why do I have to suffer? Why cannot I go out to enjoy things with others?” But little by little there comes a change, and by-and-by there is a chastened spirit, and the sick one says, “Lord, perhaps Thou hast lessons to teach me which I would not learn while in health and strength; make me a ready pupil in Thy school,” and God uses the chastening to lead that believer into deeper fellowship with Himself. It is a very serious thing to be under the hand of God in chastening. I am afraid that some of us are more or less under it almost all our days because we are so slow to learn our lessons, so self-willed; it takes us so long to get to the place where we judge ourselves in the presence of God so that His hand may be lifted.
“If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.” This is a call to self-judgment. But how am I to judge myself? By bringing my inmost thoughts, my ways, my outward behavior into the light of the Word of God and asking myself, “Are these thoughts of mine, is this behavior of mine, in accordance with what is here written?” And if I find that there is something in which I am continuing, certain ambitions I am cherishing that are contrary to the Word, if I find that this Word has something to say to me personally about my thoughts and ways, then I am to turn to God and confess my failure, acknowledge my sin, and seek by His grace to walk in obedience to His Word. And as I thus judge myself I come out from under the place of discipline, “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.”
In regard to this matter of self-judgment, God’s Word should always be the standard of judgment. He says something in His Word and I say, “Oh, yes, I see it there on the page of the Bible, but certainly it has no application to me.” Yet it is God’s direct Word to my soul, and I am putting away a good conscience, and so I need not expect to hear Him speak to me again until I am ready to listen to Him in this matter. Why should He reveal other things to me when I refuse to bow to Him in this? When you read the Bible, do you read it to become acquainted with it as literature, to become familiar with its history, its philosophy, to derive help from its comforting passages, or do you read it in order that you may obey it, make it the Man of your Counsel?
Let me give you a word of personal testimony. For the first six years of my Christian life I was largely dependent upon what I called the Spirit’s guidance. I knew very little of the guidance of the Word. When perplexed, I would say, “I will ask the Lord what His will is,” and as I felt impressed I would act. But I found as I read my Bible that I was often going contrary to the written Word. I shall never forget the night I knelt before God, and opened my Bible to a passage of Scripture on the subject of baptism, which I had been avoiding for years. I would say, “I am going to ask the Lord about it,” and then I thought I had an inward feeling that baptism of the Holy Spirit was all I needed, and every time I read a Scripture and saw baptism before me I dodged it. I had a lot of dodging to do, for there were a great many Scriptures that had to do with that subject, but finally before the open Word I said, “Blessed God, by Thy grace from today on I will never try to dodge one thing that is written in Thy Word for Thy people in this age. If Thou wilt make it clear to me, by Thy grace I will walk in obedience to it,” and from that time I had blessing I had never experienced before. Two weeks after that I went down to the seaside and was buried with Him in baptism, and a week later I sat at the Table of the Lord. I had said, “All you need is to feed mentally upon the body and blood of Christ, you do not need the outward symbols.” One by one many things came before me that I had tried to make myself believe were all right, but I found they were contrary to His Word. I have sought conscientiously now for many years to yield obedience when God speaks. I do not always understand why He tells me to do certain things, but it is not necessary for me to understand, the thing for me is to obey, to do what God has asked me to do, and it is as we obey the Word that we are kept clean. “ Christ…loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:25-26). And so, as we judge ourselves, as we obey the Word and confess our failures, we come out from under the judgment of the Lord.
“But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.” When we are judged, when we become the objects of divine discipline, when God has to deal with us because we will not judge ourselves, it is in order that we may not be condemned with the world. The unsaved man is going to be dealt with in the day of judgment, the child of God is judged by the Father in this life. “Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Hebrews 12:6). Every bit of pleasure and enjoyment that the worldling is going to know he has in this life. Sometimes people say, “I do not understand it, I am a Christian, and yet it seems to me I have nothing but trouble. I look at the people of the world and they seem to take things so easily.” You do not need to be surprised at that, the worldling gets all his heaven right here.
The Christian gets all the sorrow, all the trouble, all the tears he will ever have right here. When he is chastened of the Lord, and comes under the rod and is beaten for his naughtiness, when God has to deal with him here, that is in order that he “should not be condemned with the world.” And when he gets to heaven there will be no more punishment. Yonder, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes”; and they will be “forever with the Lord.” But until we get home, let us remember we are here to glorify our Lord. That is the only thing worth living for, there is nothing else that matters, just to live for Jesus, to glorify Him. We have only a little while to do it and I do not want any thought of ease or pleasure or having a good time in this world to keep me from being one whom God can use until called to Himself.
The apostle closes this portion by saying, “Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another.” That is very sweet, for the Lord’s Supper is a matter of fellowship, that is why we observe it together, that is why we read, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). And so we tarry and together show the Lord’s death until He comes. This is not something to gratify appetite. “If any man hunger, let him eat at home.” Just a morsel of bread, just a sip of wine will do. It is only a reminder. We are to come together, not to condemnation but in a serious manner, so truly occupied with Christ that we will have the Lord’s approval.
We come now to the last words of the chapter. I like to think of them as not merely the words of the apostle Paul to the Corinthians but as the words of our blessed Master to the whole church. “And the rest will I set in order when I come.” There is so much that we can never regulate, so much that will never be right down here, so many things that are out of gear in our individual lives, in our families, and in the church of God. We may try to set them in order, but we readily blunder. He says, “Walk in obedience to My Word, and the rest will I set in order when I come. I will be back soon, and what a day it will be!”
I have searched this old Book for a great many years and have never found in it one Scripture that would intimate that I must put one moment between this present hour and the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. He may come today, but I rejoice to know that all who have put their trust in Him are ready to meet Him when He returns.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Easter