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Worship Worthy of God — 1 Corinthians 11.2-34

Introduction

Our workplaces can be very outcome driven.

Very pragmatic.

We value getting things done.

Getting things done is key to making a profit.

I struggled in a previous workplace. My boss was eager to win any job he could. He didn’t want jobs going to competitors. So he’d lower the price. He’d agree to very tight deadlines.

What about the good of his employees? Staff morale?

Could we keep staying back for another project?

What about process?

How important is it to reflect the company’s values in the way we go about getting things done?

Were we going to be that company that turned over staff because we didn’t look after them?

Would we be known as the company that does things on the cheap?

That cuts corners and does shabby work to get things done?

Do the ends justify the means?

This outcome driven thinking creeps into the church.

We’re about winning people to Jesus right?

But will any method do?

Can we just let relationships fester because we’ve got more important things to do?

Can we put pressure on people to get them across the line? Or is that counter-productive?

We feel the urgency of evangelism. But what kind of message do we model if we don’t go about things God’s way?

If we don’t follow his pattern and process?

We could argue that some parts of the Bible are uncomfortable. They make us feel a bit awkward. Squeamish.

Can we just put them to the side and get on with the main game?

A major theme in the OT is that we can’t just worship God any old way we like. God laid out a pattern of worthy worship. But often God’s people ignored it to their own peril.

They approached God casually on their terms. They ignore the fact that God is a holy God. He sets the pattern for worthy worship.

We too are prone to approaching God on our terms.

We can buy the age-old lie that we really do have something to offer God. Bit-by-bit our focus shifts from God. Who he is and what he does for us gets sidelined by who we are and what we do for him.

Notice how the object of worship changes?

We live in a consumerist culture. We’re out to pick and choose what suits us, what we like.

It’s easy to sit back on the sidelines making comments. We become critical.

“I wish our music was more like this.”

“That was a dud sermon. I didn’t get anything out of it.”

“We’re so outdated. I wish we were trendy and polished like the church down the road.”

We can be pragmatic in our worship. If it works do it.

Big churches go for a campus model. The latest and greatest guru is streamed from one location to another.

Then there’s pressure from outside the church. we rub shoulders with people who have a strong sense of what Christians should be about.

“Those guys are always banging on about Jesus. But where’s the practical help?”

“Loaves and fishes at Ashfield. That’s real Christian action.”

“All this judgement against the gay community. And I thought Christians were meant to be tolerant!”

We could go on.

It’s worth asking: what does it look like to worship in a way that’s worthy of God today? How can our times together be worship that’s worthy of God?

Where are we?

Where are we in 1 Corinthians?

Paul’s pattern of exposing the church and calling them to a better vision is grounded in something HUGE.

The people in Corinth were already God’s set apart people. So are you and I. Set aside to belong to God. To show his goodness to a broken world.

God’s not left us on our own to do that. He’s given us gifts and abilities placing us in a wider family.

He’s committed to us for the long haul. He’ll make sure where standing on that final day.

It’s on this foundation Paul’s been calling for change. He’s been exposing places of blurred vision and bringing things into sharp focus.

Last week we saw we need to be alert to the dangers of freedom. God calls us to a better vision.

Instead of growing complacent with our blessings we’re alert to the temptations we’re facing. God’s faithful. He promises a way out so that we can endure testing.

Instead of joining ourselves to idols or becoming too friendly with the world we stay loyal to the Lord. He’s our husband. We stay faithful to him true to our vows.

Instead of going after whatever we want we limit our freedom for the good of others. Whatever we do we do it for God’s glory. We do what builds others up. We keep the path clear of obstacles so others can see Jesus.

1. Worship worthy of God reflects his pattern for men and women (11:2-16)

These threads of freedom and living for God’s glory run into chapter 11. It’s more connected that I’d seen before:

  • It flows on from the dangers of freedom
  • Also the concern for the good of others and not putting a stumbling block in someone’s way.

Today’s passage highlights a difficulty of reading a letter in the NT. We’re listening to one side of the conversation.

Maybe you’re familiar with this in your household. Someone’s on the phone. You hear the ‘yeahs’, ‘mhhms’ of your spouse or housemate. But you don’t hear the questions being asked at the other end.

You can piece bits and pieces together from longer bits of conversation at your end. But not everything’s clear.

This is what it’s like for us reading Paul’s letter to Christians in Corinth. We can piece together a certain picture from what Paul has written to them. But we don’t get the other side.

We have the confidence that we have what God wants us to have. He hasn’t held back anything he wants us to know from knowing him.

So we place weight on what is very clear. What’s taught consistently across Scripture. What we know from the Bible itself. Careful not to give too much weight to speculation about what might have been happening at the time.

Let’s unpack Paul’s first point in 11:2-16: worship worthy of God reflects his pattern for men and women (x2).

Paul starts by praising the Corinthians in v2:

I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you.

Why does he praise them?

They remember him and hold to what he’s taught them.

He’s seeing the good in them.

They’re holding on to the central truths about Jesus. It’s not what we might think when we hear ‘traditions’—rituals, religious clothing, bells and smells.

There’s a but in v3.

There’s something the Corinthians need to take to heart if their worship will be worthy of God:

But 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.

I think this functions as a heading. A summary drawing our attention to the main point of v2-16.

It’s about reflecting God’s pattern for men and women.

I’ve tried to show this visually:

Christ
Man

Man
woman

God
Christ

Paul’s highlighting that the pattern for us as men and women takes mirrors the pattern within God himself.

We’ll come back to this slide in a moment.

The Bible shows us that is three persons in one. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Each is fully God.

But each is different. There is order. A pattern for relationships.

Jesus came to bring glory to the Father. He submits to the Father.

The Spirit doesn’t draw attention to himself. He brings people to see Jesus. He shows us the character of the Father.

Like this pattern man submits to Christ’s authority.

Woman also submits to Christ’s authority but does so by submitting to man.

Christ is also under authority. He submits to the Father’s authority.

One of our problems is that we think that two people being equal means they have to do the same thing. We think we can’t have difference and hierarchy without someone being inferior than the other in worth.1

Claire Smith says it’s ‘not a case of either equality or order, but both equality and sameness, and order and difference.

How is this pattern for men and women to play out in Corinth?

Firstly, men weren’t to cover their head in v4:

Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head.

In contrast women were to cover their heads. Look at v5:

But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved.

What’s going on here?

It seems to be about clothing with meaning.

Men without head coverings. Women with head coverings.

What did the head coverings mean?

It’s hard to be sure. Let me highlight two possibilities:

1. A sign of authority2

  • A veil worn by married women.

  • It was a symbol of husband’s authority in marriage.

  • Paul teaches us in this chapter that this veil is a helpful symbol beyond marriage. It also pictures the authority God intends between men and women.

It’s reminds me of my years in the Salvation Army.

They adopt military language. Pastors aren’t called pastors. There’s different rank based on years of service and training.

It’s shown in their uniform. On the shoulder is a colour tab indicating rank. You might have an envoy, captain or major. The highest human leader is the General who overseas the Salvation Army at an international level.3

Clothing with meaning. Saying something about order and authority.

Another option is:

2. Modesty or propriety4

  • The veil was for covering hair alone.

  • It said something about modesty and propriety.

  • So ‘High class’ mistresses of influential Corinthians didn’t wear one.

  • Slaves had shaved heads.

  • So did women guilty of adultery.

  • It’s possibility that prostitutes at pagan temples were also without this veil.

In this case women in Corinth may have been expressing freedom in worship.

“Perhaps we can let our head coverings go?”

Carried away in the church gathering.

So it’s possible that a women with an uncovered head would have been seen as immodest and distracting.

The bottom line is that we don’t want speculation to drive the way we interpret the Bible.

We can’t be certain what the head coverings meant. But we can be certain that God wants us to reflects his pattern for men and women. This is part of worship that’s worthy to God.

It’s helpful to know that Paul gives women great dignity and opportunity for their day.

Back in Jewish synagogues it seems men and women were separate. Much like we see when we visit a Mosque today.

Women were out of sight behind a screen.

Here he pictures women in. They’re part of the gathering.

They also have a part to play in the meeting. They pray and prophesy.

Paul’s underscoring something about the way they are to pray and prophesy. With their heads covered.

An uncovered or shaved head was considered shameful in v6:

For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.

Paul continues to highlight God’s pattern for men and women in v7:

A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.

The reason a man shouldn’t cover his head is a difference between man and woman.

We need to slow down here to process what he’s saying.

There’s a difference between image and glory.

Notice that he says ‘he is the image and glory of God’.

He doesn’t then say ‘woman is the image and glory of man’. Instead he says, ‘woman is the glory of man.’

Man and woman are both in the image of God.

Woman is NOT in man’s image. Woman is in God’s image.

Woman is also the glory of man.

What does that mean?

He tells us in the next verses. Women came from man in v8-9:

For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.

When the Lord made people he made Adam first. Then he made Eve. He made Eve from Adam’s ribs.

In God’s wisdom he decided to make man first.

He didn’t make woman first and then create man as a companion for woman. He made man first and made woman as a companion for man.

It’s worth saying that this teaching can and has been abused by Christian men in church history.

There have been challenges from our culture that have been good for the church. Helping us ask hard questions about assumptions we’ve had. About roles in the home. About what submission means.

I think Paul was aware of this possibility for abuse. He’s argued strongly of a pattern for authority between men and women.

He doesn’t want us to misunderstand him. Women are in no way inferior to men. Look at v11-12:

Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.

We need each other. We were made to complement each other.

It’s only as we’re together as men and women that God’s image can be reflected.

Man can’t fulfil God’s purposes without woman. Neither can woman without man.

Both genders come from God.

You’ll notice I’ve skipped past v10. It’s tricky. Let’s read it:

It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels.

A woman having authority over her own head is okay. Or the alternative translation of having a sign of authority on her.

But what about the angels?

The best explanation I’ve comes back to what Paul has said earlier in the letter. Christian men and women will have some involvement in God’s judgement. Even judging angels.

A woman knows her place in all that God has made. One day she’ll judge angels.

So she wears a head covering to recognise man’s authority. She accepts she equal to man in dignity and worth but has a different role.

The main point in this chapter is that men and women reflect God’s pattern in the way they pray or prophesy.

Next Paul appeals to nature—our intuitive sense of things in v14-15:

Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.

What’s this all about?

I think Paul’s appealing to our sense that men have a masculine look about them. Women have a feminine look.

Of course there’s a spectrum: ‘tom boys’ and ‘girly girls’; ‘metro’ guys who are sensitive and the ’rough and tumble’ guy.

But we know that a man to trying to look like a woman is unnatural.

A woman to trying to look like a man is unnatural.

I don’t think it can mean long hair is always disgraceful for men. Men, like Samson and others took a Nazarite vow in the OT. This was a commitment not to cut hair.

Paul himself took a Nazarite vow for a season.

I think Paul’s pointing us again to God’s pattern for men and women. Our sense that we’re different.

Paul’s saying:

“Don’t ignore God’s pointers in the world around us. God made us this way. Don’t throw your common sense and decency out the window when you get together. Focus on Jesus and honour God’s patterns.”5

What do we do about all this?

Some Christians say head coverings are necessary today.

This is ‘The Head Covering Movement’ based in the US. They think Paul’s instruction for head coverings apply today.

Claire Smith came across a group like this in the UK as a young traveller. She walked in and saw all the women with heads covered.

She didn’t want to offend anyone so quickly walked out.

But someone followed her and invited her back. They cared more about welcoming her as a visitor than her lack of head covering.

It blew some of her stereotypes out the window. This group valued love above strict adherence to covering.

The issue is: what’s the principle here? What’s the application in our culture now?

The principle is clear: worship worthy of God reflects his pattern for men and women.

Some think head coverings for women is a timeless application for all cultures and places.

But there may be other ways to reflect this pattern in our culture.

One way has been the practice of women taking their husband’s name. It’s been a way of saying she’s joining herself to husband’s family. He’s the head.6

But this is losing its meaning in Western culture.

At TJT it means the blokes here need to step up in love. We’re called to be more than passive observers.

Men, when we do that we can leave a vacuum tempting women to lead in ways that are different to God’s pattern.

We don’t serve for self-interest. For status. We step up to do what God intends for us.

We do it forgetting about ourselves and thinking of the good of everyone.

Women, it may mean resisting taking hold of the reins in our time together. If men are being passive it can be a further barrier if women jump in filling the shoes that were left for them.

Instead the Lord calls you to trust men to lead as God intends.

I love what’s happening with the reflection spot in our gatherings.

This is such a helpful way for women to pray and prophesy. To bring us helpful thoughts about how you see Scripture bearing on your life and situation.

We appreciate the way you’re serving us in this way and are all the richer for it.

Where to next?

2. Worship worthy of God is concerned for the whole gathered family. (11:17-34)

Paul has a second point to make about worship worthy of God.

In v17-34 he says worship worthy of God is concerned for the whole family. (x2)

He zeros in on concern for all the church family meeting together while sharing the Lord’s Supper.

In contrast to the first section Paul has no praise for the Corinthians in this in v17:

In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good.

He doesn’t mince his words here! ‘Your meetings do more harm than good.’

Imagine that. God’s family gets together for encouragement, to growing in maturity, to know Jesus.

The Corinthians were so off track that their meetings caused more damage than good.

It’s not that there are differences. Paul expects differences among the church in v19:

No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.

As we get together there’s the visible church. The people we see.

But there may be a difference between who we see with our eyes and those who are actually part of the Lord’s family.

People will be coming for different reasons. There’s a mix of those who are God’s family and those who aren’t in our gathering.

Paul expects that.

Something else is going down in Corinth in v20:

So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk.

The church gets together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Their getting it so wrong Paul says it can’t be the Lord’s supper.

Why?

They’re practicing favouritism. Including select people and excluding others.

Paul’s exposing something awful here. They’re not concerned for the good of the whole family.

Listen to Paul’s tone in v22:

Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!

“You’ve lost the plot in this matter guys!”

At this time Christians in Corinth probably met in small house churches. They were small, informal get togethers.

This is quite different to how our Western churches share the Lord’s Supper.

Anglican’s have the common cup of wine to drink from. You go up and kneel to receive the biscuit.

Us Pressy’s have the little plastic cups of grape juice. We break off some bread.

It’s all quite formal. There’s a process to follow.

In Corinth Christians were gathering to share a meal in a home.

Think something like our all in immediate family lunches. Everyone that’s part of the family unit comes along.

Except these private suppers meant some weren’t seen as worth inviting.

“Jimmy, he’s not really one of us. His clothes are bit daggy.”

“Sue, she’s hard work. We’d have a better time if we didn’t invite her along.”

So such people were left hungry.

Some of the privileged went along. They got drunk on the wine making a mockery of what the meal pictured.

What exactly does the Lord’s Supper picture?

That’s where Paul goes next.

I’m not going to re-read v23-26. Danny will read this shortly as we share this meal together this morning.

I think we can distill the Lord’s Supper to this:

  • Jesus re-purposed the Passover meal as a picture of his new rescue.
  • He says, “It’s about me. This bread pictures my body. The cup pictures my blood. The new deal God promised is here in ME.”

Eating this meal together keeps our focus on this rescue.
Jesus’ died for our sin against God. He’s made a way for us to be right with God.

We proclaim his death until he returns.

Now is the time for others to turn to him and believe. He’s coming to put things right once and for all.

We’re now God’s covenant community. We’re the ones that are part of the new deal he promised.

Sins are forgiven.

God’s laws are written on our hearts.

We know God and are known by him.

What did this mean for the Corinthians?

They were worshipping the Lord in an unworthy manner. Look at v27:

So then, 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.

To eat and drink at the Lord’s Supper in the way they did was very serious.

They excluded others. They shamed the poor among them.

Some went hungry. Others got drunk.

No wonder Paul said it’s not the Lord’s Supper they were eating.

Such unworthy worship is equal to sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.

The very things picture in the meal they were supposed to be sharing.

He’s saying, “Look guys, what you’re doing is the very thing that put Jesus on the cross in the first place. This is a sinful abuse of your freedom.”

What’s it look like for them to worship in a way that’s worthy of God?

First, it involves self-examination in v28:

Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup.

I don’t think this is the silent, individual ‘me and God’ time that’s become the norm in our churches.

You know how everyone goes back to their own seat ignoring everyone else around?

You might get that if you read v28 in isolation.

But the context is the abuse of a family meal. Excluding those on the outer. Picking favourites.

The examination is about a lack of concern for brothers and sisters. Not being concerned for the whole family.

Dysfunctional relationships.

Their meals had become like estranged family get togethers.

There’s tension in the air. You’re together in the one place. But if you put one foot wrong things could quickly unravel.

There’s a lack of love.

Eating the Lord’s Supper with this way has grave consequences. Look at v29:

For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.

Coming together with such bad relationships fails to see what the meal is about.

We’re taking part in what Christ has done for us. His body is pictured in the bread.

It’s to drink judgement on ourselves.

Paul says that the Corinthians are already experiencing judgment in v30:

That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.

They were actually weak and sick. Some had died.

This was God’s judgment on their unworthy worship.

Paul shows us this is God’s discipline, not condemnation in v32:

Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.

There’s a difference between punishment and discipline.

God disciplines us as our children. He does it for our good.

It’s so we won’t finally be condemned with the rest of the world.

It’s opportunity to repent. To turn back to God and change our ways.

Our kids ran across the street in front of our place last year. Without a parent.

One was carried away in a silly mood. The other followed.

We came down on them like a ton of bricks.

Our discipline was for their good. There was something greater at stake.

If they didn’t heed the lesson being hit by a car was a grave possibility.

Our firm discipline was to spare them a worse consequence.

It’s like this with God.

What else did worthy worship look like for the Corinthians with the Lord’s Supper?

It’s being concerned for the good of the whole family in v33-34:

So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. 34 Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment.

They were to eat together. Not splinter off and ignore those in need.

They were to think of each other’s good.

Those who were hungry and tempted to fill their empty stomach with the Lord’s Supper were eat at home beforehand.

This wasn’t just food. The bread and wine are pictures of Christ’s body and blood.

They were to make sure there was enough to go around so that everyone could be part of it.

Not just thinking about themselves and their stomachs.

What does this it mean for us to worship the Lord in a worthy way? To be concerned for the whole gathered family?

As I’ve sat with this passage I’ve been challenged to address distance in relationships with church family.

Hayley and I tend to feel insecure if we perceive distance creeping in.

We’re self-conscious.

“Was it something we did? Or said?”

“We owned our fault there. They said it’s okay. Is it really okay?”

We struggle to take initiative to resolve things. To address what we see as distance—whether it’s real or just imagined.

Our stepping back in insecurity makes things worse.

The Lord calls us out of our introspection and fears. He calls us to move towards the others. To seek their good.

“I know this happened. I can’t help but feel there’s still some distance between us. Is there something else we need to address?”

If we don’t do this we’ll just to keep relating to the part of the family where relationships feel sweet.

This kind of subtle distance and reaction in our relationships is unhealthy for the whole family.

It’s a step towards family dysfunction. Estrangement. Division.

Our ongoing struggle with sin means there’ll be ongoing issues to address in family life.

We don’t have to be perfect to eat the Lord’s Supper. It pictures our unworthiness. Yet Jesus makes us worthy to take part.

We do it in a way that’s sensitive to these relational issues concerned for the whole family.

Conclusion

Well, we started by asking, do the ends justify the means?

Can we chase after an outcome any old way?

Or does the process matter?

We’ve seen that it does when it comes to our worship being worthy of God.

We’ve seen:

  1. Worship worthy of God mirrors his pattern for men and women
  2. Worship worthy of God is concerned for the whole family.

Pray

Let’s ask for the Lord’s help as we seek to live this out together.

Heavenly Father,

You show us that You are concerned for process. You don’t just want outcomes. You want us to reflect You and Your pattern in the way we do life together.

We confess that some Your patterns for men and women can be hard for us to hear. We live in a culture that’s moved away from Your patterns. But we’re also aware that we as Your people have misused and abused the Bible’s teaching.

In Your mercy please help us. Help us to live as a people that reflect the way You’ve designed us to work together as men and women. Equal and yet different.

We praise You that we see this in Your very being as Father, Son and Spirit. Patterns of order and submission. Harmony in relating. Working together for what’s good. Equality but not sameness.

We ask that You would help us being concerned for the whole family here. May we not turn aside in exclusive groups. May we feel the weight of being Your covenant community. Of sharing Christ’s body and blood together.

As issues come up between them give us the ability to move toward each other. To work through conflict and differences. To picture Your reconciling love as we relate together.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.


  1. Claire Smith. ↩︎

  2. See Claire Smith. ↩︎

  3. Influenced by Claire Smith’s nursing illustration, God’s good design, p70. ↩︎

  4. See David Prior, BST. ↩︎

  5. Prior, BST. ↩︎

  6. Claire Smith. ↩︎