Proper Worship Behavior

Proper Worship Behavior

In this morning’s passage Paul turns his focus specifically to what is—or isn’t—appropriate behavior during public worship. Specifically in this chapter he addresses two areas. First, head coverings for men and women and what these coverings symbolically represent. Second, the eating of meals within the context of the church family and how these are connected to Jesus’ giving his body and blood for us. As always, we’re going to try to determine what aspects of Paul’s teaching are specific to the many problems that divide the Corinthian church, but also try to glean principles that we can apply to our own situation as believers living with and for Christ in the 21st century.

So first: why in the world is Paul so concerned about the proper head covering for women and men during worship? After an initial—and relatively rare—word of praise for the Corinthians for remembering Paul and holding to the traditions he’s passed on to them in verse 2, he then turns to the connection between being a “head” and one’s head covering. His initial statement in verse 3 is, “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.” And the million-dollar question that divides scholars and believers alike, is this: What in the world does Paul mean by “head”? Because however we understand it, that definition must be able to be applied to each of the three relationships stated:

man to Christ,

woman (or possibly wife) to man (or possibly husband),

and Christ to God.

And it’s the inclusion of this third, Christ to God that, at least in my understanding, eliminates one of the views, that of subordination or the idea that one is lower in rank, position, or possibly even importance. Because Christ isn’t less than God; he isn’t lower than God in rank, position, or importance because he is God and ever has been God even prior to his Incarnation. So God being Christ’s head can’t mean Christ is less than the Father in any sense of the word.

But if “head” in the sense of one person being subordinate to another doesn’t work within Paul’s triad, head in the sense of “source” does since Christ as God, did come from God. Or, another was of stating this, since Christ was sent from God, God was his source. And because Christ was with God and one with God, then Christ is the source of every man. Again “Christ” here is referring to Jesus Christ’s eternal nature, the fact that he is, was, and ever will be eternal God and is one with the Father and Holy Spirit. So Christ’s existence as God preexists his taking on human bodily form in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Now in speaking of the man and woman part of the triad, Paul is alluding to humanity’s original creation. And since Christ is God, then what is said of God even in the Old Testament is also true of Christ. So when we read in Genesis 2:7, “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being,” in a very real sense Christ is the source of Adam, the first man,[1] for Chris is God and is one with God.

Similarly in Genesis 2 we learn of the circumstances of woman, or Eve’s, creation. We’re told how given that the animals weren’t suitable companions for Adam “21 …the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.” Again, it is in this sense that man is the source of woman. Therefore the triad is complete:

Christ is the head or source of every man since man came from God;

Man is the head or source of woman since woman came from man;

And God is the head or source of Christ since Christ came from God.

But even if we allow that “head” here means “source” we still have to ask, why is it so important that our worship reflect these realities? Beginning with men, Paul states in verse 4, “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered [some translations say ‘with long hair’] dishonors his head” and he therefore states at the beginning of verse 7, “A man ought not to cover his head [or ‘have long hair’].” Now one reference I found indicated that part of the reason for the differences in translation—head covered versus have long hair—is that the Greek phrase meaning literally “down from the head” could refer either to long hair that hangs loose or to a veil or even a piece of cloth that covers or is pulled over the head. This same source indicated, “At this time Roman men sometimes practiced the custom of pulling the loose folds of their toga over their head as an act of piety in worship of pagan gods.[2] Therefore the point would be that men ought not express any dishonor to Christ by praying as the pagans did. For men to cover their heads—or again, possibly to have long hair—during worship was obstructing or impeding the truth that men came from and belonged to Christ and suggested instead that they worshipped another god. For men, a head covering indicated that they were independent of Christ and depending on something other than him.

Similarly in addressing women Paul states in verses 5–6: “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. 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.” At this time, for women to participate in worship—Paul specifically mentions that they prayed or prophesied during worship indicating that the issue here isn’t that of leading in worship. But for them to do so with uncovered heads or with their cut short blurred the fact that they came from men. Or, again, to put it another way, it indicated they were independent of men. Possibly and more specifically for a married woman to have her head uncovered indicated her independence from her husband since in first century culture, wearing a veil was a sign of being married.[3] And not only that but for a woman to have an uncovered head may have indicated not only that she was unmarried but additionally that she was sexually available.[4]

Now in verse 7 Paul states that man is the image and glory of God. This is so since man comes from and points to God, so glory has the sense of pointing to or manifesting the presence and reality of God. So, too, woman is the glory of man in that she comes from and points to man as her source. The creation of woman completes God’s intended creation of humans made male and female, both made equally in God’s image.[5] And as suggested by Adam’s exclamation upon first seeing Eve— “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man”[6]—in a very real sense Adam realized that he was incomplete without Eve for humans need not only the animals or created order but we need other humans as companions. So Eve’s glory points to or manifests the presence and reality of man as her origin. As the existence of man points to God as his source, so the existence of woman points to man as her source.

Now just as the head or source of Christ is God and he delights in the oneness he has with the Father and Holy Spirit, so, too, the head or source of man is God and he should delight in the oneness he has with his Maker. And this identification at this time was expressed by men not wearing a head covering during worship. Finally, man is the head or source of woman and she should delight in the oneness God intended between men and women. As stated in verses 8 and 9 Paul again emphasizes how “…man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.” And at this time, this identification was expressed by women wearing a head covering during worship or having long hair. So what is at issue is that how we present ourselves in worship should be consistent and in keeping with our identity as God’s creation.

But then Paul adds in verse 10, “It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels.” And honestly, I think this is one those verses that is difficult for us to make sense of because how can we ever determine what it means that “because of the angels” a woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head? How can the angels, of all things, be the reason women should have their head covered? One possibility is that this is an acknowledgment that even during the time of worship angels or invisible heavenly beings are present and their presence provides us with all the more reason to demonstrate propriety in how we worship.[7] Whatever this particular portion may mean, in verses 11 and 12 Paul states the crux of the matter: “11 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.” Our union with Christ Jesus, our Lord, testifies to our union with one another. Though man (Adam) may be the proximate cause of woman (Eve), and thereafter both men and women are born of women, ultimately the buck stops with God for, as we saw last week, he is the One who created everything. He is the one through whom and for whom everything lives and moves and has its being. Everything comes from God and he created us to be dependent upon him and upon each other. In the Lord, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. As God’s family we need and belong to not only him but also each other.

Now it’s difficult to come up with any modern-day equivalent of what is taking place in this church. As I was trying to come up with one, I initially thought that perhaps for men, since what was at issue was a symbol indicating their independence from God, today it might be wearing a Buddhist lotus flower in their lapel or some other symbol that is at odds with a belief in God who has revealed himself in Christ; and for women, since what was at issue was a symbol indicating their independence from men, today it might be a brooch or pendant with a fish riding a bicycle, symbolizing the well known statement popularized by Gloria Steinem that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle—in other words, not at all. But in a Google search I learned that a bicycle-riding fish could also serve as an apt expression for men’s independence from God since Irina Dunn, the woman to whom Steinem attributed the original quotation, had paraphrased an unknown philosopher’s statement that “Man needs God like a fish needs a bicycle”[8]—again, not at all. So if this morning any man or woman were to be wearing something with a bicycle-riding fish, it would be similar to what was taking place at the church in Corinth.

Well, in the second part of this letter Paul turns to a different type of abuse during worship related to the Lord’s Supper. Turning to verse 17, Paul states, “In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good.” Now we need to understand that these gatherings are occurring in the context of eating meals. And, having walked through the previous chapters in this letter together, we should no longer be surprised that there are abuses taking place. So Paul continues in verses 18 and 19, “18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.” So given the divisions that have been evident from the beginning of this letter, it isn’t surprising that the differences that exist revolve around seeking to prove which among them has God’s approval.

Paul then identifies specifically the abuse to which he’s referring in verses 20–21: “20 …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.” Within the context of gathering together to eat during which the Lord’s Supper was celebrated at this time,[9] some were bringing their own meals without sharing it with others and apparently there were even some who were getting drunk. Therefore what was being practiced wasn’t the Lord’s Supper because if it were, they would have been sharing it with one another. Yet because the wealthy were ignoring the poor, allowing them to remain hungry, this meal was anything but something that could be associated with God in Christ. This is why Paul admonishes them in verse 22: “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!”

And then Paul contrasts this selfish, self-seeking, uncharitable behavior with none other than Jesus’ behavior at the Last Supper. So, Paul says, beginning in verse 23: “23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’”[10] On the night he was betrayed by one of the inner circle of twelve disciples, Jesus took the bread, thanked God for it—as a matter of fact, one word we use for the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, is a transliteration of the Greek word for giving thanks.[11] In thanking God for the bread, Jesus was acknowledging that God is the One who gave it. Then he broke it and in breaking it he connected this bread with the later breaking of his own body that would take place on the cross. And he told his disciples that each time they broke bread, they should remember how Jesus their Lord broke his body for them. This then should be our model. This is how we should view even our daily bread—as a reminder of God’s provision in Christ that is to be shared with everyone.

So, too, verses 25–26, “25 In the same way, after supper”—again, this would have been the Passover meal celebrated in conjunction with the Lord’s Supper[12]—“he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Again, the example of Christ is one of gratitude combined with the selfless giving and sharing of all that we are and all that we have with others. And, again, as a reminder of God’s provision in Christ.

And in verse 27 we’re presented with a nuance we don’t often think about in the context of Paul’s letter. Having rebuked the selfishness of these believers who were neglecting the poor and then contrasted this with the Lord Jesus’ generosity in giving up his own body and blood that others might come to a saving faith and knowledge of him and so have eternal life, Paul next says, “27 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. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.” What we yet again see happening here is God in Christ identifying with those who are his. For believers who have food, to eat recklessly in front of those who do not, is to sin against Christ’s body and blood for we are one in him. And if Jesus Christ literally gave up his physical body and blood; if Jesus Christ literally died that he might, by sending his Holy Spirit, give us his eternal life and make us one not only with our Father in heaven but also with each other, then we, too, are called to share our earthly lives and all that we have with one another—even something as mundane albeit as necesary as food.

Each week during the service, during the pastoral prayer we include a moment of “Asking for God’s help and Confessing our Sin.” In doing so we need to remember that in “examining ourselves,” we shouldn’t only be concerned about any ways in which we may have sinned against and/or neglected our wonderful and kind Maker and Redeemer, but we should also be concerned about any ways in which we may have sinned against and/or neglected each other. Brothers and sisters, we have been made to live for God not independently, but as a family. As we continue to see time and again, God made us for himself, yes, but let us thank God that he has also made us for each other that we might not have to share the joys and sorrows of life alone but in sharing them can thereby have our joys multiplied and our sorrows lessened.

Let us pray…



Read I Corinthians 11:33 before pronouncing blessing on the meal! “So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together.”



[1] NIV BibleGateway note: The Hebrew for man (adam) sounds like and may be related to the Hebrew for ground (adamah); it is also the name Adam (see verse 20).

[2] Crossway ESV Study Bible, emphasis added.

[3] Crossway ESV Study Bible.

[4] Crossway ESV Study Bible.

[5] Genesis 1:27: So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

[6] Genesis 2:22–25: 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. 23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” 24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. 25 Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

[7] Crossway ESV Study Bible. The note also adds that elsewhere in the New Testament the fact that angels are watching is offered as a reason for obeying God’s commands. I Timothy 5:21: I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism. Hebrews 13:2: Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. I Peter 1:12: It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

[8] Irina Dunn, a distinguished Australian educator, journalist and politician, coined the phrase back in 1970 when she was a student at the University of Sydney. <>

[9] Zondervan NIV Study Bible: “The early church held the agape (“love”) feast in connection with the Lord’s Supper…. Perhaps the meal was something like a present-day potluck dinner….but because of their cliques the rich ate much and the poor were left hungry.”

[10] For Gospel accounts of the institution of the Lord’s Supper see Matthew 26:26–30: 26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” 30 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Mark 14:22–26: 22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”23 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.24 “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. 25 “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”26 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Luke 22:17–20: 17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

[11] Euxaristeo.

[12] Zondervan NIV Study Bible.

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