Through Tradition, Modesty and Respect for One Another.
1 Corinthians 11
I graduated from Atlanta Bible College in 2003. I worked with a couple small churches after that, but found my “calling” in helping people through grief. Next month, my wife, Hannah, and I will celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary. Our marriage is almost old enough to vote. We have four children ranging in age from 12 to 3. In November 2021, we bought a purebred english mastiff puppy. We call her “Zippers” for her propensity to chew on jacket closures. This is the lens through which I see things, my source for some great sermon illustrations and the perspective from which I write today.
I am my parent’s oldest child. I was the first grandchild on both sides of the family. I had three whole years of life experience before my sister was born. I felt like I was practically an adult at age 13 when my youngest brother was born. When I went through grade school in DeKalb, Illinois, each student attended kindergarten through 4th grade at the elementary school closest to his or her home. Then “the whole city” converged on Clinton Rosette Middle School for 5th and 6th grade. Then, everyone transferred to Huntley Middle School for 7th and 8th grade. Finally, everyone went on to the last building of the journey, DeKalb High School. That means when I was a big 7th grader, my 4th grade little sister was still “two whole buildings behind me” in “baby school”, at Carl Littlejohn Elementary. I didn’t let her forget it. I mean it had “Little”, right there in the name. My sister and I would fight like cats and dogs growing up but if anyone else tried to mess with her, they’d better look out. Being “the big brother” or “the oldest” was a big part of my identity growing up. As adults, the three year chasm between my sister and I, does not seem so important. She’s about to finish her master’s degree and will probably make more money than me. My brother can definitely grow better facial hair than me. When we are together people have mistakenly thought he was my older brother. I’ll admit I don’t love having my sense of identity challenged. I think some of the early Christians in Corinth might have felt the same.
In 1998, I “officially” started dating the preacher’s kid, a “PK”, as they say. I quickly learned that people (including myself) make certain assumptions about how a pastor’s family members ought to behave. Sometimes there are unrealistic expectations. When you date a preacher’s daughter, people have some expectations for you too. Some are unspoken. Most of them should be. A lot of them aren’t. Churches are funny that way. People feel safe saying things they shouldn’t, or wouldn’t say elsewhere. If someone perceives you as too perfect, or not perfect enough, they might feel the need to take you down a notch, or give themselves a little ego boost by comparison. It’s kind of like social media.
Sometimes the point of what people are trying to say is correct, but it is lost because of the way they say it. If we aren’t careful, even discussing certain topics can ignite a public opinion forest fire. Polarizing material is pumped into our televisions and handheld devices every day. Maybe that’s why they call them devices; because they are so divisive. Lifelong friendships have been destroyed over which “side of the aisle” a person stands on certain topics. Gender equality is one of these “hot button topics”. At first glance it might look like 1 Corinthians 11 is “too hot for TV”. I suggest that it is not, but reader discretion is advised.
What is Paul talking about with all this head covering business in the first part of this chapter? Is he suggesting that women are somehow less important than men? Not at all.
As I understand it, the tradition of the time was for women to cover her head (and in some cases, her face too) while in public as a symbol of faithfulness to her husband. She was saving her beauty “for his eyes only”. An online Bible commentary on the subject explained that it was not completely unlike the message that would be conveyed by a woman wearing a big diamond engagement ring in today’s American culture. It said she is taken. It said, don’t event try to flirt with her. Prostitutes on the other hand, would not have covered their head in public. They wanted to draw attention to themselves. To do that in church, when the focus was supposed to be on worship, would have been quite provocative. Can you imagine if a woman came into church wearing “barely there beach attire” nowadays? It would be distracting for both men and women alike as was the case in the time Paul wrote this letter to the church in Corinth.
In case there was any question as to where Paul stood in regards to the value of women. He clears it up in 1 Corinthians 11:12 when he says: “For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.” So in the first part of 1 Corinthians chapter 11 Paul tries to build unity in the church by asking people to be modest.
The second half of 1 Corinthians chapter 11 is less controversial. Paul admonishes the Corinthians for abusing the opportunity for unity through communion. People in that time were eating without waiting for each other and totally missing the point of the exercise. It reminds me of obedient mastiffs and “Boy’s night waffles”.
My wife, Hannah, is a nurse. When my oldest son, Carter was little, Hannah would usually work the evening shift at the hospital. So when she worked, Carter and I had “‘Boy’s night!” Sometimes, I would make waffles and sausage for supper and we would load them all up with all the toppings we both liked: Chocolate chips, blueberries, strawberries, whipped cream, etc. Hannah would never buy all that stuff. So we called them “Boy’s Night Waffles”. As we had more kids, Carter still wanted Boy’s Night Waffles. But it became increasingly difficult with four children. It was like conducting an uncooperative orchestra to have all the waffles warm and the toppings cold and help the kids cut their food into reasonable bites so we could all eat at the same time. Now on the rare occasion that we have Boy’s Night Waffles, I just have the kids start eating as their food is handed to them. We don’t even try to eat at the same time on waffle night.
English mastiffs like our dog, are sometimes called gentle giants. They are known for their size. They are one of the largest breeds there is. A female, like ours, can easily be around 150 pounds. They can be intimidating looking, but they are generally very calm and don’t need a ton of vigorous exercise. These qualities match our family pretty well. I hope to use our dog Zippers as a therapy dog, so I have been going to obedience classes with her one or two times per week ever since she was small. A large part of what we do in class is walk in circles reminding her to watch me and not ahead of me or behind me. When we get to a doorway we practice having her wait and not allowing her to just run right in or out. When we put food in front of her she has to leave it until we say a release word. Zippers is pretty good at the waiting part. She’s not so good at the release word part. We have tried “OK” and “Free” and “Eat”. A lot of times she will not start eating unless one of us sits beside her. Paul would probably like this dog.
As I see it, 1 Corinthians Chapter 11 is meant to remind the reader, (originally, Christians at the church of Corinth in about 55 AD), about the importance of unity. Paul says he is glad that the Corinthians are following his teaching and traditions but, he wants to remind them that it is more important to follow Christ than following himself. He encourages the church to be modest and build unity over division.
- What traditions in your church have become a part of its identity?
- What are some behavioral differences you notice when you visit another congregation?
- What are two or three attitude adjustments your church should consider for the sake of unity?
- How does the Corinthian Communion service compare to those you have participated in?