For an introduction to this series, click here.
The first part of this chapter with its discussion of hair and head coverings is frankly a mystery to me. I think we can derive some general principles from this, but there is so much here that is tied up in 1st century Greek culture, and most of that context is lost to us some 1900 years later. Thankfully head coverings and hair are not the issues they were 30 years ago.
Paul begins the discussion with this: "But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. 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. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head." (11:3-6)
Paul says that a woman should have her head covered when she prays or prophesies in the church, while a man should have his head uncovered. Later, Paul makes it clear that a woman's hair is given to her for a covering. Apparently, this was an issue in the Corinthian church, because (and I forgot to say this earlier) chapters 7-15 of this chapter are Paul's response to a letter he received from the church at Corinth, asking him some questions about things. I find it interesting that Paul does not have a problem with women praying publicly in the assembly. Most of our Baptist churches are not as generous in this area as Paul.
Paul continues: "For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God." (11:7-12)
This passage is one of the ones liberal theologians will always use to help prove their theory that Paul was sexist. The idea that God has different roles for men and women is kind of blasphemous to our enlightened, modern, 21st Century mindset. But that does not change the truth. It does not mean that men are better than women, any more than it means Christ is more God than the Holy Spirit, since Christ's role is above the Holy Spirit. Now what does "because of the angels" mean? I have no idea.
"Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God." (11:14-16)
This passage makes it very clear that Paul is talking about hair, and not other physical coverings. There was a lady in the church I attended in Houston who always wore a black doily (that's the best way I know to describe it) on her head. It matched her dark hair and was usually hard to see. There are some people who interpret this chapter that way; I do not. It was never an issue, and so if a lady wants to do that and not make it an issue with those who don't, I see no problem. But clearly Paul is saying that the covering he is referring to here is natural hair, not some additional covering. Once again, as far as nature teaching us about men's hair, and what constitutes long or short, once again, I have no idea.
Next Paul deals with the Lord's Supper and with general eating in the church: "When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not." (11:20-22)
Apparently these people were making a full meal of the Lord's Supper. Paul does not strictly forbid this practice, but he does condemn the way they were doing it: the rich people in the church were bringing their own food and were refusing to share it with everyone. This is terribly petty and selfish, not the way the church should behave.
After recalling what is written in the Gospels about how Christ instituted the Lord's Supper, Paul says this: "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world." (11:27-32, ESV)
My grandma who just passed away, dear saint that she was, was afraid of the Lord's Supper because of this passage. Most of the time she would not go to communion service. None of us is "worthy" of fellowship with God. This is not what this passage is talking about. We are to treat the Lord's Supper with the respect and seriousness it deserves. We are not to be flippant, but remember that the elements are a picture of the death of Christ for us. And we are certainly not to use the Lord's Supper as a way to show off our wealth and exclude other members of the church, which was exactly what some in this church were doing.