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Head Coverings and Communion

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: 1 Corinthians 11:2–34

To glorify the Lord as we are called to do, our worship must align with biblical truth and principles and come from humble hearts that are right with Him. We must examine our hearts for sin and measure our actions by God’s Word.


As we set sail into the eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul is going to give some guidelines for worship services. His primary concern is that God will be glorified in how we worship Him when we gather together.

Paul will give us some guiding principles that will work in any culture and in any generation. We call these “timeless principles.” Now certain worship practices might be tied to culture without violating Scripture. The church services in Africa and India and Hungary where I have preached were all different. The music was different, and so were the instruments. In one African church, all they used were big drums, and everybody clapped as they sang with joy to the Lord.

What Paul is going to do here is provide some guiding principles for any church in any culture, whether it is an underground church in China or a city church in America.

Paul begins by addressing an issue that might be foreign to many people today. He writes in verse 3, “The head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.”

The reference to Christ and God the Father makes it clear that headship is not a reference to superiority or inferiority. God the Father and God the Son are equal in essence—equally divine. The husband and wife are also equal partners and heirs of the coming kingdom. Paul is talking here about function and order. “Headship” refers to function, even within the Trinity.

There are cults today that believe Jesus can’t be equal with the Father because He obeyed the Father’s will. They do not understand the difference between equality in essence and subordination in function. Just as God the Father has functional authority over God the Son, who submitted to His Father’s will, so the husband has a functional authority in his home—which by the way, means he is going to answer to God for how he shepherded his home.

In all my years of pastoring, I have never once had a woman tell me that she was upset with her husband because he wanted to be the spiritual leader in their home and shepherd her and their children the best that he could. But I have heard from women who longed for their husbands to take the lead in the home.

That does not mean the husband makes all the decisions. I can assure you that if it were not for my wife’s organizational ability, and creativity, and devotion to our home and our four children, none of us would have survived for more than a month.

But the man—as the head of the home—will stand before God one day and give a unique accounting of his loving and sacrificial leadership. That is what headship is all about.

When we understand headship, this difficult passage begins to make much more sense. Here is what Paul writes in verses 4-5:

Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven.

Paul is speaking here of a church service; and he says a man’s head should be uncovered, or he dishonors his “head,” which is Christ. But a woman is to cover her head so she does not dishonor her “head,” which is her husband.

This sounds rather strange to us today. Back in Paul’s day, women wore long hair, but in public they covered their heads with a shawl. The covering was not only a cultural sign of submission to their husbands, but it distinguished them from the temple prostitutes who literally let down their hair in public.[1]

For Christian women to appear uncovered in public—and especially in a worship service—would have been disgraceful. And this was evidently happening in Corinth. We are not told why, but in the context of this letter, it is likely that women were carrying their freedom in Christ too far. They might have been challenging their husbands’ authority as well. What we do know is they were discrediting the church’s testimony to their world. Verse 6 implies that they were being viewed in the same category as women whose heads were entirely shaved, which back in Paul’s day was a sign of immorality.[2]

Although long hair and head coverings communicated submission at a certain time—in Paul’s world—the principles of submission and headship are timeless. Wives are to honor their husbands, and husbands are to accept their role as shepherds in the home and in the local church. Paul ties this to God’s created order in verses 6 through 9. And he makes an interesting comment in verse 10 that even the angels are watching our reverence for God’s created order.

A woman who covers her head today might be viewed as part of a sect or following some religious regulation; few today would connect it to submission to her husband.

In verse 17 Paul brings up another problem in the church. This one is related to the Lord’s Supper.  

We know from the book of Acts that the early church often ate meals together (Acts 2:46). These shared meals became known as “love feasts.” They were much like church potlucks, but culminated with the observance of the Lord’s Supper. Unfortunately, this divided church was ruining this ordinance of Communion.

The people were dividing into little cliques (verse 18), ignoring others in the church. In verse 21 Paul reveals that poor members had little to eat, while wealthier members indulged themselves, and some of them even got drunk.

Paul puts it rather bluntly when he writes, “It is not the Lord’s supper that you eat” (verse 20). In other words, “I don’t know what you are doing, but it certainly is not observing Communion.”

Paul then reminds them of the Lord’s instructions:

The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 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.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (verses 23-25)

There in the upper room, Jesus instituted this ordinance of Communion—bread to represent His body and the cup to identify with His shed blood. The Lord’s Supper was designed to remember Him!

Paul also says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (verse 26). So, communion not only remembers His death; it also reminds us that He is coming back!

Now Paul adds a warning in verse 27 not to approach the Lord’s Supper in a disgraceful, “unworthy manner.” Beloved, Communion is not some thoughtless ritual. It is not a speed drill at the end of a service you try to do in less than five minutes. We are to treat it seriously and reflect on its meaning. To not do this actually invites the Lord’s discipline. Paul writes in verses 29-30 that some people in the church were physically sick, and some had even died early because they had treated Communion with hypocrisy, selfishness, and total disregard for the Lord’s sacrifice.

This is why Paul writes here in verse 28, “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”

The church has been given two ordinances. One is water immersion, or baptism—which is derived from the Greek word. This is the ordinance of identification with Christ. The other is Communion, which is the ordinance of rededication to Christ. Every time we partake of it is a time of revival as we set our hearts on Christ with fresh commitment and love.

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