In his recent book, Return to Order, John Horvat pictures a young man who is wearing a pair of jeans with holes in the knees. It seems the young man has deliberately bought them that way. It’s funny to me, because I recall my own kids having a conversation with their grandmother about trying to get her to purchase jeans with holes already in them, and her utter amazement and exasperation that anyone would want them that way when you could have clothes without holes, rips or stains. I suppose her mindset came from living through the Great Depression, when clothes often had holes but you wished they didn’t. When I was a kid, she put patches over the knee-holes of numerous pairs of jeans I wore out, to cover the fashion fau paux. Horvat’s book makes the point that clothing’s purpose is to help us be modest. He writes, “When you present yourself properly to others, you are modest. When you control yourself in your external actions and manners in society, you are modest. When you act erratically and speak in a manner that offends and disregards others, you are immodest.” His call for the church is to return to the kind of thinking that rejects the “me-ism” of our society, where the desire (as reflected in the clothing we sometimes choose) is a desire to “…be carefree, uninhibited, and self-sufficient.” It is a good analogy for the church body to consider as we come to our text today and our need to consider others in the church body.
To Commend or Not Commend. That Is the Question.
In chapter 11, Paul addresses a question by the Corinthians that needs immediate attention. There are other issues for sure (cf. v. 34b), but this is major for Paul. The question revolves around how some of the church body is being ignored when the church meets together.
The chapter revolves around the key word commend. Paul begins by telling the church that for the most part, they had listened well the last time he was there and had taught them “the traditions” that came from Christ himself. Paul indicates he is not asking them to do anything he himself does not do. Paul imitates Christ and so, they should follow him in these matters. The traditions were the essential and core teachings about Christ and the church. They were, therefore, to be carefully guarded and kept without compromise. This is why Paul is so serious about the topic he is about to discuss.
Despite the mostly positive things Paul hears about the Corinthian church, there is a gaping hole in their understanding of community. It may appear to the reader Paul is addressing two subjects in this chapter – head coverings and baptism. And he does, but there is a bigger point. Paul states it in an overarching principle in verse 3: “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.” In other words, there is a divinely designed order in the way God has structured relationships. Even Christ himself has a role to fulfill in relationship to God the Father. It is because they clearly don’t understand this that Paul now gives the most serious example of it in verses 17 through the end of the chapter in their practice of the Lord’s Supper.
“Covering” the Body
Sometimes, because of our privilege or our position, we can be like the proverbial bull in a china shop. Because we are used to operating our way, we fail to recognize, or simply choose to ignore, who or what we are destroying in the process. Do we take the time in our relationships with one another to really recognize the needs and concerns of those we call our brothers and sisters, or do we just “do our thang” and not worry about how our actions affect others? We may forget that relationships in the body of Christ are not just Sunday morning relationships. They include how we consider the relationship of husbands toward wives, and wives toward husbands. They include parents putting themselves in the shoes of their kids and kids thinking a bit more about what it is to be a parent. It includes how we think and consider those who have lost loved ones and are hurting, or those who struggle with singleness and deal daily with loneliness. In what ways do we leave out certain ones among us, or ignore struggles or needs? We fail to see the holes. And this is, to Paul, the ultimate form of immodesty, where we don’t care about “covering” the rest of the body.
Looking Out for Others
All of this requires us to think more deeply about others than ourselves. This is Paul’s point. Paul clearly states that failure to “recognize” the body is serious business. In fact, later in Philippians 2:3-4 we get a glimpse of how Paul thinks about this when he says, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Paul will enlarge on this idea of improving in our recognition of one another, when he states that, “…God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another” (12:24b-25). To think of our willingness to participate in the Lord’s Supper, which pictures and proclaims Christ giving himself for our sakes, and yet fail to give ourselves to one another is unacceptable (cf. 11:29-30). Next time you are around other believers, take time to really listen and ask about their needs and concerns. Look to see who might be looked over or ignored and do your best to express Christ’s love.