Keeping the Ordinances

Chapters eleven to fourteen of I Corinthians cover the third basic problem that was affecting the local assembly at Corinth, i.e. the manner of their behaviour at their public church gatherings when they came together, 11. 17, 18, 20, 33.

It should be noted here, however:

that the apostle had previously given clear instruction to the Corinthian believers regarding order in their church meetings, 11. 2. The Greek word paradosis, here translated ‘ordinance’, and ‘tradition’ in 2 Thessalonians 2. 15; 3. 6, simply means teaching handed down and covers Christian doctrine in general;

that the instructions given were for all the churches of the saints or the churches of Cod, 14. 33, 34; 11. 16. The first epistle was addressed to ‘all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ’, 1. 2; while the second epistle was addressed to ‘all the saints which are in all Achaia, 2 Cor. 1. 1 – an area that probably included the believers at Cenchrea, Rom. 16. 1 and at Athens, Acts 17. 16, some 50 to 100 kilometres away.

Chapter 11 deals with two major problem areas:

1. The Ordinance of the Head Covering

In chapter 11, verses 1-17 the apostle states a number of abiding biblical facts or principles concerning the relative positions of men and women in creation, and applies them to their respective positions within the local church fellowship.

1. Within the Godhead, Christ, the Son, recognized the headship of the Father, v. 3. Jesus, during His life was always subject to the will of the Father, Heb. 10. 7; Luke, 22. 42. He ‘took upon him the form of a servant’, Phil. 2. 7.

2.. Christ, by reason of His superiority in Person, and sinless life
possessed headship and authority over created man, v. 3.

The man acknowledges Christ’s place of headship by not wearing a covering on his head when engaging in public prayer and ministry, vv. 4, 7; to do otherwise is to dishonour his Head-Christ.

3. In the work of creation it was the man, not the woman, who was first created in ‘the image and likeness of God’, v. 7; 1 Tim. 2. 13. The woman was ‘of the man, v. 8, ‘for’ the man, v. 9, ‘taken out of man. Gen. 2. 23. In 1 Timothy 2. 14 Paul adds that it was the woman, not the man, who was originally deceived by Satan. For these reasons the man is said to possess a place of headship over the woman. This does not imply inferiority to the man for the woman is the ‘glory of the man’, v. 7 and each is dependent on the other ‘in the Lord’, vv. 11, 12. Headship involves the responsibility to direct, not to dominate; to sustain and support, not subdue, Eph. 5. 25-29.

4. The difference between the two sexes is shown in that, by nature, long hair is distinctly feminine and natural; but for the male it is said to be ‘shameful’ and embarrassing, vv. 14, 15.

Thus in public gatherings of the church the woman acknowledges the place of headship that God has conferred on Christ and the man by placing a veil over her head, thus covering her personal glory-a fact that is observed by the angels who constantly live in subjection to God, Isa. 6. 3. The word for ‘covering’ in vv. 6, 7-katalupto- simply means to cover with something; but the ‘covering’ that refers to long hair, v. 15 is peribehiiim meaning to throw a mantle or garment around the whole body-it is translated ‘vesture’ in Hebrews 1. 12.

If a woman refuses to cover her hair she thereby takes the position of a man and ought, to be consistent, to cut her hair off, v. 5. To the average woman this would be a shameful thing to do for her hair is a God-given symbol of her modesty, beauty and glory, vv. 6, 15.

It is not a question here of the actual state of the heart, as in verse 28 where each believer is exhorted to examine himself at the Lord’s supper. The wearing of, or refusal to wear, the veil gives no indication of the spiritual condition of either person-only God can judge that! But to refuse the sign is very much like a person who, while professing loyalty to the Queen, refuses to fly her flag-the symbol of her queenly authority over her subjects. Other people may not be concerned but the Queen herself would certainly take notice!

In the church at Corinth it appears that some of the more vocal sisters, trading on their equality with men ‘in Christ’, Col. 3. 11, considered they had a right to public prayer and teaching in church gatherings provided they were covered.

Paul did not endorse this practice: on the contrary the statement in verse 16, ‘if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God’, indicates his disapproval of a practice that related only to the church at Corinth. Nor is there any suggestion in this chapter that Paul was thinking in terms of Gentile or Jewish culture or custom: instructions given in all these chapters are stated to be the ‘commandments of the Lord’, 14. 37.

One of the major causes of Israel’s downfall in Old Testament times was their persistent practice of setting aside the commands of God and adopting the heathen customs of the nations about them. And it is surely a sign of spiritual weakness and worldliness that the church of God today finds it necessary to bring the customs of the world into the church in order to make Christianity more relevant and acceptable to those out of Christ. Wherever local culture is contrary to the word of God, then the word, not culture, takes priority. Fashion, culture and custom change to suit the whims of the people but the biblical commands and principles are abiding.

2. The Ordinance of the Lord’s Supper

New Testament Christians loved to socialize and share together in feasts of love, Jude 12. They broke bread (ate meals) from house to house, Acts 2. 46, at any time, or after their church gatherings, Acts 20. 11.

The problem at Corinth was that the believers did not distinguish between the social meal and the Lord’s supper: the more well-to-do members were indulging to excess while others were neglected, v. 21. This resulted in a low spiritual state among them, party division, v. 18, and severe judgment from the Lord-some were weak and sickly and others had been taken in death, vv. 29-31. Their gatherings did them more harm than good, v. 17.

In contrast to all this Paul reminds them that the observance of the Lord’s supper, impressed on him personally by the Lord himself, v. 23, was an occasion demanding the deepest heart examination and spiritual discernment, vv. 28, 29. It was certainly the first and main reason for which the New Testament churches gathered, Acts 2. 42; 20. 7, in obedience to the express command of the Lord himself, vv. 21-25.

Five things may be noted regarding the supper:-

1. It is an Act of Remembrance. ‘This do in the remembrance of me’, v. 24. Jesus knew prior to His death and departure that He would be unknown physically to believers in succeeding ages, hence in remarkable grace He gave to His church two visible, tangible emblems by which He could be remembered-a loaf of bread, indicating His real human body, later to be broken on the cross; and a cup of wine, indicating His blood later to be shed for the redemption of His people.

There is something quite unique about the supper of the Lord, for in a sense we meet at Calvary itself and, in thought, call to mind the events of the tragic, yet triumphant day. What would we have done had we really been there? Would we have stood dumb in shocked horror and distress at the cruel callous nature of men, and at the same time marvelled at the magnificent, uncomplaining response of the Lord in such meekness and humility. Is it not a sad reflection on our unspiritual, ungrateful natures that we can become more occupied with the blessings His death brings to us than with the One who suffered thus to set us free?

It is a Public Confession of the Gospel itself. ‘Ye do shew (proclaim, announce) the Lord’s death’, v. 26, At the supper the local assembly openly confesses before the world and all heavenly beings that final and complete reconciliation between Cod and man has been effected for all time in the death and shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The broken loaf and poured out wine arc a vivid, real reminder that the work of redemption is finished and peace for all time has been established in the ‘blood of his cross’, Col. 1. 20.

It Expresses the Oneness that exists between the Believer and Christ. The Hebrew families that were saved on Passover night by the blood on the door later ate of the body of the lamb that died for them, Exod. 12. 8. Hebrew priests and Levites who served in the tabernacle ate of the offerings they offered to God – whether flesh or meal, 1 Cor. 10. 18.

These Old Testament types arc fulfilled in a spiritual sense in the New Testament, for every believer who trusts Christ for salvation at the same time becomes identified with the Lord Himself; Christ, by the Holy Spirit, takes up residence within him, John 14. 23, imparting to the soul the life-giving nourishment of His own spiritual strength, power and divine life, hence His words, ‘He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and 1 in him,’ John 6. 56. ‘My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed’, John 6. 55.

But this spiritual activity of the Holy Spirit was expressed in a very real and literal sense when in the upper room Jesus gave bread and wine to His disciples and said, ‘This is my body … this is … my blood’, Luke 22. 19, 20. True, only bread, only wine, for there is no virtue or power in the emblems themselves; but there is a very real sense in which the believer looks beyond the outward sign and sees the Person of the Lord Himself. ‘We are members … of his flesh, and of his bones’, Eph. 5. 30; ‘He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit’, 1 Cor. 6. 17.

This, in turn, requires intense heart examination on the part of each person who partakes of the emblems, for in so doing we identify ourselves with Him in His sufferings and death. The supper therefore demands full confession and putting away of anything that may grieve the Holy Spirit and incur the displeasure of the Lord Himself, v. 28.

4. It is an Expression of the Unity of the Body of Christ. ‘We being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread’, 10. 17. To partake together of the one loaf and one cup is the ultimate and final act that links believers together as members of the one body. The supper belongs to the body: when we sit at the table we see ourselves as members of the whole church of God. Though only two or three may be present, yet in spirit and in thought we meet with the people of God in all parts of the world, outside the barriers that Christendom has raised to separate us. At the one table we unite in spirit with believers everywhere to exercise our priestly privilege to offer to the one Lord united worship and praise from grateful hearts and souls.

5. It is a Reminder of the Lori’s Return. ‘Ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come’, v. 26, The emblems on the table, like letters we receive from loved ones in distant countries, are a tangible reminder that Christ is not a dead Person of the past, but a resurrected, though absent, Person who is very much alive.

One day, perhaps sooner than we think, the Lord will return as He promised and the emblems will no longer be required. Faith will give place to sight, time to eternity, the world to heaven. The members of the body will be finally united to the Head and all will be gathered in perfect union in the likeness of the Son himself, Eph. 4. 13; 1 John 3. 1-3.


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