1 Corinthians 11 contains some interesting and challenging passages. We get, for example, the culturally relevant (at the time) instructions about head-coverings and hair length. Most likely, one could write several pages trying to address that issue and how it works out in modern times. I would suggest that it also works out differently in differing cultures, but we will not thread that needle here and now. Grab a good, modern commentary on 1 Corinthians (I like the Teach the Text volume from Preben Vang) and consult a few experts.
The other primary theme of this chapter addresses the Lord’s Supper. Or, Communion, for those of you whose tradition uses that title. Paul addresses the habit of the Corinthian church when they got together for worship. At the time, it appears that the church had a significant problem with their worship gatherings. The church would gather, but then behave as if they were just there for themselves. Some of what we understand about the early church era’s worship services come from this chapter, as it is apparent that the church met for a meal and then observed the Lord’s Supper.
A major point that Paul addresses is this: the church’s failure to be truly together as they observed Communion led to God’s judgment on the church. How we behave as the body of Christ is important to Jesus—and He does not take lightly a group which reflects on His sacrifice by intense selfishness.
For a focal point, take the first verse of the chapter. Paul challenges the Corinthians to “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Now, first of all, we need to see that this sentence would close out 1 Corinthians 10 just as easily as it opens 1 Corinthians 11. That’s the beauty of a well-written imperative: it crosses boundary lines and links sections.
Throughout this chapter, it is evident that Paul’s concern is that the Corinthians put their effort into being like Jesus. This is true of the head covering issues—whatever the cultural issues affixed, the primary point is about identifying more with Jesus than with the world around them. The worship issues are about being focused on Jesus and not themselves. The Lord’s Supper is a marker of the cost of sin and imitating Christ will require being more like Him in that matter: counting the cost of the sin of others.
And the church is to imitate Paul just as he is imitating Jesus, rather than imitating anyone else.
What does this look like for us, then?
First, our heroes are defined for us. It is those who imitate Christ who we ought to imitate. Rather than pursuing a life just like this rockstar or that scientist, our life should be patterned on those who follow Jesus.
Second, this extends to how we interact with our culture—down to the nitpicking details of hairstyles and fashion trends. Now, I do not think this boils down into a simple to wear/not-to-wear list, but I think we have to think about whether what we do in relationship with our public appearance is imitating Jesus or not. Again, this takes some effort, otherwise the answer would be long hair, robes, sandals. That’s not the idea.
Third, this stretches our own interaction with others. How many of us are comfortable with our walk with Jesus enough to say “follow me?” Ultimately, it must reconnect to “as I follow Christ,” but really, are you confident that people will follow Jesus if they follow you? That’s a challenge for any of us to live up to.
Okay, let’s take a quick pass at the hair thing: to deal with this, the best answers are going to be found in Corinth in the first century. That’s where you need to look.
Next, the Lord’s Supper: examining oneself does not mean guaranteeing you are without sin. It should be understood as examine your heart and purposes in taking the bread and the cup. Are you unified with the body? Are you humbling accepting God’s grace?
Then you are taking the bread and cup in a worthy manner. Otherwise, who ever could? None of us.