The First Epistle to the Corinthians
7- On the Practices of Worship (Ch. 11)
This chapter contains the teaching of St. Paul concerning some negative practices during worship in the newborn Church, which arose from the difference in traditions between the conservative Jewish society and the more liberal Greek/Roman society.
The First teaching revolves around the appropriateness of women praying without covering their heads. The issue appears as a local social issue; but St. Paul takes this opportunity to lay firm foundations of worship that will preserve the Church reverence and the woman’s self-respect and modesty during prayer, so as not to offend a weak beginner, or distract the mind of a worshiper by her appearance, if she cares only for her freedom and does not care for others. However, love and unity in the Church require that I will forgo my freedom if it will cause an offense to my brethren. This is the same principle that St. Paul stressed when he dealt with eating of what was offered to the idols. (Ch. 8)
+ St. Paul affirms that, considering the time and the place, it is not appropriate for the woman to pray to God with her head uncovered (11:13). He provides the following reasons:
1. Man does not cover his head while praying or prophesying because he is in the image and glory of God and his head is Christ. Therefore, it is dishonor for him to cover his head.
2. Also, he is the head of the woman. She was created for him and not the reverse. If she prays or prophesies with an uncovered head, this dishonors her head as if she has cut her hair, and it is ugly for the woman to cut or shave her hair (11: 2- 9).
3. Nature itself teaches us that “if a woman has long hair it is for her glory, for long hair is given to her as a cover” for her beauty and purity. On the contrary, “if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him” (11: 14, 15).
+ However, St. Paul wants to confirm that, other than what is mentioned above, there is no difference between man and woman. Neither a woman is less than the man, nor is the man less than the woman. Even though, the woman was created from man, “man is also (born) from the woman” (11:11,12).
+ At the end, he does not want the Church to let this issue cause division or conflict of opinions. “If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God” (11:16). This issue may be subject to social change.
The second teaching relates to the meal of love (Agape), which preceded the Eucharist in the Church of Corinth (later on it followed the Eucharist, and this became a tradition in many Churches particularly Eastern Churches). St. Paul was informed about the discrimination between the rich and the poor and the disorder and racing over the food, so that some are overfilled and others receive nothing, which made him criticize this conduct that is void of love and also reflects lack of respect to the house of God and the sacraments. He says, “What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing?” (11:17–22). “Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. But if one is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment” (11:33). It is inappropriate that the differences in social classes show up in the Church, the one body of Christ.
The third teaching relates to the preceding teachings where he speaks on the eminence and sanctity of the Eucharist, which implies that the events that precede and follow the Eucharist should be done with respect and awe, and without any insolence or disorder.
+ After this follows the oldest text on the institution of the sacrament of the Lord Supper on the night of the His sufferings, as handed directly to St. Paul by the Lord. (This epistle was written years before any of the four gospels).
“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do in remembrance of Me” (11:23–26). He stresses that everyone should examine him/herself before coming to receive communion of the body and blood of Christ, to repent and be ready; otherwise, he/she will be “guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” (11:27). “For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (11:29). God will discipline those who are careless with weakness, sickness, even death (11:30). He or she who condemns himself will be spared judgment (11: 31,32).
+ It is evident from the words of St. Paul, how the Church, since her early days, was dealing with the Eucharist as communion of the true body and blood of Christ, not in an abstract or imaginative way, but as a true reality of faith, based on the words of the Lord on the night of His sufferings. The believers should come to this sacrament in repentance and readiness, with all fear and submission, lest they fall into the Judgment.
8- On Spiritual Gifts (Ch. 12-14)
In these 3 chapters, St. Paul dealt with a fundamental subject in Church life for all ages. That is the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to the Church members and how to use them to build the Church and not to be used for any selfish purpose.
First: The Spiritual Gifts (Ch. 12)
+ As a basic concept, the Holy Spirit gives us the belief in Christ as Lord. On the other hand, blaspheming against the Lord and His glory, like those Jews who say “Jesus be cursed” is alienation from the Spirit of God (12:3).
+ There is one Spirit and one Lord, but the gifts are diverse, and the services and works are varied “But it is the same God who works all in all” (12: 4-6).
+ Among the gifts: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing (anointment of the sick), working of power (like miracles and expulsion of demons [exorcism]), prophesy, discernment of spirits (1John 4:1-3), speaking in tongues, and interpretation of tongues “But one and the same Spirit works all these things” (12:7-11); [adding to that “helps” (ministry of the poor, elderly, orphans, widows, and strangers) and also gifts of “administrations” (managing daily Church business that do not stop, and many are done by indispensable unknown soldiers) (12:28)].
+ Concerning the ministries: there are the apostles (the pillars of the Church), the prophets (Bible interpreters, preachers, and missionaries), and the teachers (who were responsible for teaching the Gospel before it was written and spread).
+ In the Church, the gifts complement each other as the members of the body complement each other, whether small or big they all work together for the benefit of the body, and none can be dispensed of, “ On the contrary those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable… and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty (because of their importance)”. Therefore, members of the Church “should have the same care for one another”, regardless of differences of race, origin, or social status, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free – and have all been made to drink into one Spirit” (12:12-26, compare with Ro. 12: 4-8).
(To be continued)