God our Father is constantly training us up and disciplining us with an aim to keep pride covered and to promote humility. An important and necessary attribute of God’s children — those being conformed to the image of His Son Jesus Christ, who Himself is the express image of the invisible God — is righteous judgment; or to say it another way, not to judge unrighteously (Deut. 1:16; 1 Pet. 2:23), as Olavi taught last Shabbat.
There is a portion in the Bible that has the effect of touching on this very matter amongst believers. It is a portion which both bothers and annoys many Christians, and it seems to touch a nerve that makes calm discussion difficult. I myself have seen that this portion is prone to legalism, hypocrisy, and irrelevance in the manner of how different believers and congregations have interpreted and applied the teaching. We have experienced all this even in our own congregation here.
This portion touches upon our attitude towards the Scriptures: are they wholly the Word of God to us, fully inspired by the Holy Spirit? Do we accept that they are written not only for those living at that time in the past, but also for us living at the end of the age, as it is written (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11)? (Remember the example of John the Baptizer’s mother and father with respect to the way of God in their day [Lk. 1:5-6]. Also how the writers of the N.T. made use of the whole range of O.T. writings as the basis for the truth and relevance of the new in Messiah.) Do we fear and love the LORD and His sayings, or do we belittle His way and wisdom in some sections of the Bible?
The apostle Paul was commissioned by the Lord Yeshua Himself to speak to the gentiles and also to Israel (Acts 9:15). The apostle Peter was forced to admit that Paul had received the spirit of wisdom and revelation with respect to his teaching and interpretation of the things of God (2 Pet. 3:15-16; Eph. 1:17).
Let’s read together the text that by its very context — laying between the subjects of the Lord’s Table and the Lord’s Supper — ought at least to be carefully considered. (This is also true of the chapters afterwards referring to the proper use and relevance of the spiritual gifts with love.)
1 Cor. 11:1-16
Paul addresses both men and women in the faith, both Jews and gentiles assembling together to worship God the Creator and Redeemer. While true that the culture of the day influenced the imagery of Paul’s teaching (as also in the rest of the Bible), even so culture is not the basis for the teaching. Rather Paul refers to priority in creation and to nature as proofs for what he is saying. ( This is similar to Yeshua and Paul speaking of the sanctity and mystery of marriage in connection with Adam and Eve, rather than merely the Law.) As in all things, we are to sanctify ourselves for the sake of others, and as a testimony that Jesus is our Lord.
Do you remember Naaman the Syrian who was a great man and soldier, but had leprosy? He came to the prophet of the Lord in Israel to be healed, but he got furious when Elisha told him to go do something small and simple for the healing. Naaman’s servants understood that pride prevented Naaman to accept the gift and grace of God. When he humbled himself and obeyed, he was healed and cleansed, and gave glory to the true God, the God of Israel (2 Kings 5:13-15). This passage in Corinthians reminds me of that, and so does the response to it of many believers. All kinds of excuses and explanations are put forward — by both men and women — to nullify this rather lengthy reproof and correction from Paul to the church: coverings for men is Jewish — the Levites did it (Lev. 8:9,13; ctr. Heb. 7:11-12); a cultural reference to prostitution then and there; equality of male and female in Christ; sufficiency of long hair for women; God answers prayers and gives prophecy also to those not complying; the wife submits to her husband; modest clothing is the principle.
While all these things are reasonable and suitable to the Messianic faith, Paul, the learned Jew, writing under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, does not relate to any of these excuses here, but rather speaks of dishonor and of glory, both to one’s “head” and to oneself. The issue here is not salvation or acceptance, but one of humble submission to God and to His Word as given us by the apostles whom He appointed to teach sound doctrine and instruct in righteousness. There is even a supernatural element here, for the angels have an interest in the matter!
What shall we say then, and what policy should we have? Verse 16 gives us the key, and the problem is that even this verse can be understood in two ways, and it has been. One thing that is clear, though, is that contention over the matter is to be avoided. Neither making a law for everyone nor judging one another (or another congregation) over this issue is to be tolerated. There is to be liberty of conscience before God and man, but the import of the teaching is to definitely encourage compliance within the public worship service especially. One has to ask him/herself what will please God our Father, and may have to give an account one day for the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Let us not lightly dismiss this teaching nor those who honor the Lord by their faith and conduct. May God help us to build up the church in love. Amen.