1 Corinthians 11:2-16 - Instructions for Public Worship

In this section, Paul touches on three issues: 1) divisions in the church at Corinth, 2) marriage relationships, 3) proper attitudes and conduct in worship. Let’s look at each one.

Divisions in the church

1. In Paul’s time, Jewish women always covered their heads in worship. Greek women (Gentiles) did not. What was Paul’s solution? What do you think of it?

A: Paul’s solution that all women should wear a head covering comes from his desire for unity among church members and for respect (or appropriateness) in the worship service. It builds on the principle in earlier chapters that if anything you do offends other people, in this case Christians, and if it divides the church, then change your ways to promote unity in the church. Thus, Paul told the women who were not wearing a head covering to wear one, not because it was a scriptural command, but because it kept the congregation from dividing over a petty issue that served only to take people’s minds off Christ.

2. Like a military chain of command, Paul lays out God’s lines of authority. What are they? (Verse 11:3)

A: Verse 3: God—Christ—man—woman. Most Bible translations use the word “head” to indicate authority, but the footnote in the NLT is interesting in that it equates being the head with “the source” and being “responsible to.” In order for the world to function and for the church to function, God laid out lines of authority and submission in certain relationships to prevent chaos. Paul reiterates that here.

Marriage Relationships

3. Paul emphasizes that a woman must not dishonor her husband (vs 5), she must reflect his glory (vs 7) and show that she is under his authority (vs 10). What do you think of this? What do you think a member of NOW would say to this?

A: This is God’s line of authority, not something that Paul made up. Some commentators find a lasting principle in this passage requiring wives, in all ways, to show respect for their husbands by submitting to their authority—not merely by a particular style of attire but by Godly lives. After all, God made the wife out of man’s body to be his helper and companion. Thus, she is to honor her husband by submitting to him as her head. Other commentators feel that what Paul was saying reflected only marriage relationships at that time in Corinth and he was writing about a temporary cultural issue of covering or not covering one’s head that does not apply today. You’ll have to decide for yourself which of these is correct.

4. The husband having authority over the wife implies that the wife must be submissive. Does bing submissive mean that the wife should surrender? Withdraw? Be apathetic? Does it mean she is inferior?

A: No, absolutely not. As I said before, God ordained submission in certain relationships so they would function smoothly and minimize confusion and chaos. Submission does not mean withdrawal, surrender, apathy or that one party is inferior. All people were created in God’s image and all have equal value. Submission does mean mutual commitment and cooperation. God calls for submission among equals. He did not make the man superior; he made a way for man and woman to work together. Jesus is equal to God, yet Jesus submitted to God to carry out God’s plan for salvation of all of us. Likewise, although the wife is equal to her husband, she should submit to him for the sake of their marriage and family.

Submission between equals is submission by choice, not by force. We serve God by being submissive to our spouses, church leaders and government authorities.

Although there should be lines of authority in marriage, there should not be lines of superiority. God created men and women with unique and complementary characteristics. We should use our unique gifts not to belittle one another but to strengthen our marriages and glorify God.

Proper attitudes and conduct in worship

5. In this section, Paul’s main concern is irreverence in worship. This sometimes get lost in the discussion of covering one’s head and long and short hair, and lines of authority and submission. What is the central principle here? (Verses 4, 7)

A: In our worship, we must honor God and Christ. God made man in his image and man should show his respect for God and reflect God’s glory, especially in worship.

6. Why does Paul mention that “angels are watching” in Verse 10?

A: Angels are perhaps mentioned because they are interested in all aspects of a Christian’s salvation and are sensitive to decorum in worship. Michael Marlowe has an entire long page of his Bible commentary web site devoted to this one verse. He summarizes, “In Jewish tradition, and also in the early Church, angels are said to be present at sacred gatherings and sacred times, to watch over and to join with the saints in their spiritual exercises. Any serious offense against propriety during these sacred moments will stir up the disapproval of these angelic helpers of the saints, perhaps causing them to depart; and any good deed they witness will bring all the more aid from them.”

7. Answer this next question bearing in mind that Paul’s letter did, in fact, focus on some specific cultural issues of Corinth that do not apply today. How do people dishonor Christ in worship services today?

A: Christians must be conscious of how their actions appear in their culture in light of what is considered honorable, respectful behavior. In Guatemala, for example, where I have taken several missions trips, people are quite offended if women wear slacks, shorts, or even a short skirt to church. Here in the US, I still wear a jacket and tie to church even though others come in torn jeans and a backward baseball cap. Personally, I find that offensive and to me it dishonors God. I also find it offensive when members of our praise team appear in dirty jeans and when our pastor gives a sermon wearing a T-shirt.

8. If you feel that people in a church are dishonoring God, what should you do?

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