Spiritual Equality

  1. Message:  1 Corinthians 11 contains some of the most misunderstood passages written about men and women and their behavior for corporate gatherings. It begins with instructions about head coverings and is compared with proper cultural understanding about men and women during their time. There is so much to know about their back story and their culture in order to understand why these two things were relevant to each other. I read the footnotes in my bible to gain some understanding of the background because I’m definitely not a bible scholar or a historian. The church of Corinth was located in Greece so the believers there came from of background of pagan religion where they worshipped tons of different gods. It was common to learn of new gods and add them to their list of deities without ever turning from one to serve another because they were polytheists. The gospel of Jesus Christ was new to them and unlike anything they had ever heard because it was exclusive and the only one to demand that they forsake the other gods and acknowledge that there is only one God. Many had probably accepted the gospel, but had not yet let go of the other gods or pagan practices of worship. The head covering for the men was in reference to a pagan practice where men wore a toga and covered their heads in worship, and the women shaved their heads as a pagan sacrifice. It seems they were using these pagan rituals to worship God and this is why Paul was addressing this. He seems to be using their cultural understanding of men and women to relate to this point. Women wore long hair and it was culturally shameful for her to shave her head. Her long hair, beauty and behavior was seen as a direct reflection on her husband and he held complete authority over her. This cultural reference was not so much a directive point. It was an understood cultural way that Paul used as a comparison to the way a man should be with Christ. From there Paul moves right into communion and he is calling them out once again for pagan and cultural practices. Instead of coming to together in unity and as equals for the Lord’s Supper, they were selfishly observing the cultural classes where the rich ate first and the poor ate last so there was probably nothing left for them. Paul was calling them out on this selfish behavior where he said they weren’t really observing the Lord’s Supper at all because “each one eats his supper ahead of others so one person is hungry while another gets drunk”. He asked them “don’t you have homes to eat or drink in or do you look down on the church of God and embarrass those who have nothing”.  From here Paul talks about taking the Lord’s Supper unworthily. I had always been taught that this passage was about unforgiveness. Communion is addressed with unforgiveness in another passage, but the context of this passage suggests that the selfishness and failure to “recognize the body” is what caused them to take communion unworthily. His “therefore” statement in verse 33 was that they wait for each other when they come together for communion. In other words, no more demanding their cultural rights to be honored above each other based on financial or any other privileged class. They were instructed to eat at home and come together as equals which meant they were to lay down their cultural rights of demanding honor and privilege ahead of each other.
  2. Command: There is no place for selfishness or status in the body of Christ.
  3. Promise: We are all co-laborers and Jesus even shares
  4. Warning: In any culture we have to fight the tendency of seeing ourselves above or beneath each other because we are culturally trained by what we experience.
  5. Application:  I don’t think it was any coincidence that the previous two chapters we read were about laying aside our rights. Out of context it appears that Paul was randomly addressing multiple different topics but reading this with some of the cultural and historical things in mind I can see how this was all one smooth fluid thought that despite cultural views and beliefs when we come together as the body of Christ we lay aside our cultural rights and privileges and treat each other as equals. Jesus set this example for us when he layed aside his rightful place of honor to live among us and be crucified. After he was raised he made us joint-heirs with him in the inheritance of heaven. We live in a very different culture in this day and age, but also in this country. We live in a country that recognizes “all men are created equal” in our constitution because the forefathers of our country were Christians. This is not the cultural way in many other countries and even with this constitutional belief in America, we have a history marked with so much failure in this very belief. I believe this applies to us just as much today as it did then. In the body of Christ we are all equals and need to treat each other with honor and unselfishness. We are not to carry an expectation of receiving anything ahead of anyone else. There are no celebrities, leaders, rich people, talented people or educated people who carry any higher status than anyone else. We are all co-laborers in the body and there is no such thing as “my ministry” when we are all co-laborers of one ministry.

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