What about Head Coverings, Paul?”  (1 Corinthians 11:2-16)

Many wanted for me to post my notes from the sermon this past Sunday.  Check them out below.  Please forgive any mistakes in grammar or spelling.  May it glorify God and build up His people.

Gender is a hot topic in our culture right now.  There are really 3 views regarding gender in our world today.  First, there is the view that seems to believe Gender is nothing more than a social construct.  Whatever culture says, they choose to follow.  While this is a loudly proclaimed view today, it is the minority, both currently and historically.  As we’ll see, even many who claim “gender is a construct” will in the same breathe affirm, “There are distinctions between genders.”

Let me give you this example.  Transgenderism has, for lack of a better phrase, “come out” in strength over the last couple of years.  While they may say that gender is a construct, if gender is nothing more than a construct, how can they be justified to say they “feel” like a gender other than they are?  How can they say that, from a young age, they always “acted and played like a girl” or “acted and played like a boy.”  If there are no distinctions between men and women at a deep fundamental level, these statements are nonsense.  In fact, the transgender community often has far more traditional gender roles than conservative Christians do!

So, I think we see that everyone can see what God says in Genesis 1:27, “Male and female God created them.”  But, there remains two other views regarding gender, both of what are a distortion.  Our text this morning addresses these abuses.

First, there is the modern day feminism movement.  Now, I think those who began this movement would be very upset about where it has gone.  While feminism was supposed to be about “equal rights for both male and female” it has become far more about hating men and freedom to have sex.  Modern feminism is a worldview that sees men as evil, and to increase their “freedom” while minimizing their responsibility will bring a path to conquering this great evil.

Many will take verses in the Bible to back this up.  “Look at Deborah in Judges!”  But, ignore that Deborah being given this role was considered a judgement upon Israel.  Also, they seem to ignore the lack of connection between Deborah’s role as judge and God’s expectation for leadership in the church and home.  “In Christ there is no male and female!” says Galatians 3:28.  This verse is true- in Christ men and women are equally loved by God- but this does not remove where the Bible is clear about the distinctions between men and women, not in value, but in role.

Then there is misogyny.  Men who think their macho walk around commanding women to “submit” and “make him a sandwich.”  They will take the verses in the Scripture about headship and distort them.  Those verses are about being a servant leader, not a jerk.  A distinction in role is not the same as a distinction in value.  Charles Darwin said something along this line,

“a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than can women—whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of the senses and hands. If two lists were made of the most eminent men and women in poetry, painting, sculpture, music (inclusive of both composition and performance), history, science, and philosophy, with half-a-dozen names under each subject, the two lists would not bear comparison. We may also infer, from the law of the deviation from averages, so well illustrated by Mr. Galton, in his work on “Hereditary Genius” that . . . the average of mental power in man must be above that of women”

Our text this morning, though controversial as it is, helps us to find a biblical middle ground in the gender confusion of our day.

Paul is writing to the Corinthian church, who has had all sorts of confusion.  In fact, according to chapter 7 verse 1, the Corinthians wrote Paul a letter asking him questions.  One of the things that can make some of the passage is difficult is because we have Paul’s answers, but we do not have the questions they asked.  This is important to consider as we consider this passage this morning.

The Place: Corporate Worship (11:16 and 17)

It is important to note that Paul, from chapter 11-14 begins to address issues in public worship.  These are issues related to when the church gathers.  I think this makes sense due to the language in verse 16 and 17.  We begins with an encouragement to them in this morning’s section, but then turns to correct them on the Lord’s Supper and Spiritual Gifts.

Notice, he commends them.  They had maintained the tradition he has passed on to them, just as he delivered it.

The Principle: Headship (v. 2-3)

He starts with the principle he wants to communicate, before he turns to the precedent and the practice.

Christ is the “head” of every man.  To be the “head” is to be the authority.  He rules and reigns over all men.  All men will give an account of their life to Christ.  But, we must note, to be a “head” is a good thing.  Christ’s headship over us is a loving headship.

He then turns to say “the head of a wife is her husband.”  Husbands are the head.  Christ is the head and authority over all, and this leadership is a loving leadership.  So, also, the leadership of men in the home and in the church is to be a loving leadership.  In doing so, Christ is reflected.  Christ does not domineer, but sacrifices and sanctifies.  Consider Ephesians 5:25-28.  The headship of Christ requires sacrifice (5:25), its goal is sanctification (5:26-27), and its foundation is love (28)!

God’s design is that men take the lead as heads in the home and church.  Men, do you display God’s design for this?  Men, do you take this responsibility?

“And the head of Christ is God”  In other words, even within the Trinity, there was authority.  Christ submitted to the will of the Father.  In coming to earth, in dying on the cross, in full obedience to His word.

Authority is a part of life.  Life in the family, even life within the Triune community of God!  Just like a dance, someone has got to lead, and someone has to follow.  Will we enter into the tango of God’s design?  Ask yourself: Authority is a good and loving thing, will we submit to authority in our lives?  All of us have authority over us.  Will we be authorities who are faithful with God’s intention?  All of us have authority over someone.  How are we doing with God’s design for authority?  Do we hate it?  Do we gladly submit to it?

The Precedent:

  1. 4 He presents what was the core issue for the women in Corinth. They lived as if they had no authority. They were praying and prophesying without their heads covered.  This was a practice that showed the authority that God intended- for men to take the lead in the church and the home.  They were forsaking this.  Now, maybe the men in Corinth were not worth following?  Regardless, this was an issue because God’s design was being disregarded.

But, notice, this idea of authority should not support the idea of misogyny.  In fact, many churches who may hold to a more literal application of this text, often dismiss the actual command.  He is calling women to action!  Women- pray and prophesy!  But, make sure to do so with proper obedience to God’s design for men and women.  Women- embrace God’s design for you!  He commands you to be active in the church!  Don’t let men push you around or suppress your God given gifts.

But, don’t be like the Corinthian women who threw off all concern for God’s design for men and women and who forsook his word on gender.  Paul laid a precedent for not doing this…

Shame (5-6)

A women who prays or prophecies with her “head uncovered” dishonors her head.  He is speaking of how it brings shame upon her- as if her very head was shaven (v. 6)!  In the 1st century culture, having a shaved head was disgraceful.  You no longer looked like a women.  Gender is something that God created, and it is a joyful thing to live out.

To be anything other than God created is a shame for you.  He continues in this vein by laying the precedent from creation.

Creation (7-9)

First, “man is the image of God” and “women is the glory of men.”  Paul calls us to consider the order of creation back in Genesis.  Adam was made first, Eve was made from Adam.  Both equally valued, but created differently, with different purposes.  Notice, women was created for men.  Moses, the author of Genesis, refers to Eve as a “Helpmate.”

This might be a controversial teaching in this day, but, God created men to lead, and women to support.  Back to the tango- someone has got to lead the tango and someone has to follow.  Both are equally needed and equally important.  In fact, consider what Paul says in verse 11-12

Interdependence: We need each other (11-12)

While he made men and women different, they both need each other.  Neither are independent of the other (v. 11).  In fact, men, you must recognize, before you mistreat women- you couldn’t have gotten here without one (v. 12)!  And ultimately, both men and women answer to God at the end of the day for how they live.  Paul continues to lay this precedent and give us three more things to consider in addition to the shame, creation, and interdependence.

Nature (13-15)

This argument goes right alongside creation and interdependence.  This is just how things are.  Women’s hair serves a covering- as something that makes them clearly a women.  However long a man’s hair may get, it will never be as glorious- it ends up being a shame in comparison.

Her hair is glorious.  Many would argue that hair is the covering Paul is commanding them to have.  That they should respect the nature order by keeping their hair.

The last two pieces of this precedent are very unique…

Angels (10)

This is probably the most perplexing verse in the whole book!  Why should we consider the angels?  There may be aspects of this verse that are lost on us.  I would argue that the angels rejoice in seeing the New Testament people of God worship.  Consider the way that this whole section is about new covenant worship.

Also, consider the way Peter speaks, “It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:12).

Angels cannot understand the feeling of being lost, or the amazing love of Christ to die to rescue sinners.  Angels look at us and wonder and long to be us!  They see the way we worship, and we should consider our unique position.  Also, it is a lesson not to be a fallen lesson.

Churches (16)

Do not be contentious, this is the practice in all the churches of God.  Those who would be contentious about this issue, are standing against the very practice Paul is laying out.  Paul commands similar things in other passages of Scripture, this is not a new novel invention.

The Practice: Head Covering

Now, the most controversial end of this text is the consideration of head coverings specifically.  What does this mean?  Is Paul commanding women to wear hats in church?  Some see this text as referring to a literal application.  What should we think?  A few observations:

  • Most churches who practice a literal application of these verses, do not generally allow women to actually obey the verse. Paul is commanding women to be involved, not in the background.
  • Does Paul command headcoverings elsewhere? In fact, there are tons of place where Paul mentions women’s dress, and never mentions head coverings.  Let me give an example, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.” – 1 Timothy 2:9-10  Notice, no mention of head coverings.
  • Paul’s principle seems to universal while the practice seems to be culture specific.

So, what is Paul saying?  Consider these words:

Women can pray and prophesy in public, but they must do so with a demeanor and attitude that supports male headship because in that culture wearing a head covering communicated a submissive demeanor and feminine adornment. – Thomas Schreiner

In other words- prophesy and pray- but do it in a womanly way.  Be a Godly woman, and be unafraid about it!

Application:  So, what can I take from this passage?

  • Men, this text calls you to step up! Women want you to be the heads.  They want you to take the lead.  Honestly, in many of the ministries in this church, women seem to be taking the lead.  God is calling the men of every church to step up and be the heads.
  • Women, this text is not calling you to shut up! In fact, this text is calling you to speak and be involved in every aspect of the ministry God would have you be involved in.  There are limits that God puts on men and women in life.  Don’t see these limits as reasons to shut up, see them as reasons to step out in all God has called you too.  Did you know God desired women to be fearless?  Consider 1 Peter 3:5-6, “For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.”
  • May we value God’s expectations for corporate worship above our own. May we submit to the Lord, and not expect His word to submit to us.
  • May we not see authority as death, but as life! Christ’s submission to authority meant our life!  Consider Philippians 2:5-12.  Jesus submitted Himself to the authority of Father to give everlasting life.  Will you submit yourself to Him today?

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