WEEK 4 – THE POWER TO LOVE OTHERS
1 CORINTHIANS 11:2-16
2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. 3 But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head. 7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come f rom woman, but woman f rom man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.
INTERDEPENDENT MEN AND WOMEN
Today’s reflection is longer, but not because this passage is more weighty than others. In fact, what we discuss about love in Chapter 13 this Thursday is the most important part of this letter - and other topics are more fundamental. However, this passage is one that is usually more difficult for us to understand and apply, and that often strikes us as controversial, or even offensive.
It is hard for us to understand the cultural context in first century Corinth. Also, what is meant by “head coverings,” as well as Paul’s theological reasoning, is not crystal clear to us. There are many different opinions and conjectures among believers. It is important for us to approach this text the way we approach all Scripture – as God-inspired and useful. It is also essential to maintain humility and honesty about any lack of clarity we have.
At the same time, when we encounter things in the Bible that are difficult to understand, it is a good opportunity to dig deeper. Often, this opens up new levels of understanding of God’s character, and leads us into a place of greater worship and faithfulness to him. Cultural norms certainly play into this situation, and it is hard for us to understand what those norms were. We have our own cultural norms about what is appropriate in certain situations. For example, it would be considered unacceptable for contemporary Americans if a man wore a ball cap to a formal dinner party, and it would probably be distracting if a man came to a church service without a shirt.
There are differences of opinion about what head coverings were. Many think they were veils, and that this was the normal attire of married women in Corinth. Others say that it meant having her hair put up on her head, and that this was the orderly and dignified way Corinthian women wore their hair in public – in contrast with the way the hair of prostitutes and participants in certain ecstatic pagan temple rituals hung down in a loose fashion. The male priests in the Roman religions wore a hood over their head, so the instruction to them not to cover their head is likely to differentiate them from the pagan religions, and also so that they would not be attired in what could easily be seen as an effeminate style.
For articles and a video that deal with these issues in more depth – and with slightly different perspectives - you can check it out in the links below!
“What is the Bible Saying in 1 Corinthians 11 about Head Coverings” (https://www.beautifulchristianlife.com/blog/bible-first-corinthians-11-head-coverings), “Biblical Basis for Women’s Service in the Church” by N.T. Wright (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSZPyZFWQI0 and http://ntwrightpage.com/2016/07/12/womens-service-in-the-church-the-biblical-basis), and “Head to Head about 1 Corinthians 11:3-16” (https://au.thegospelcoalition.org/article/head-to-head-about-1-corinthians-11/)
Here are a few takeaways for us:
It is clear that both men and women are to have active, verbal roles in the life of the church. The passage starts off saying that women should have their heads covered when praying or prophesying (v.5) – taking for granted that women praying and prophesying was a regular part of the church’s worship. This is also consistent with what we see throughout the New Testament. This passage is not excluding women from public ministry, but defining how men and women are to minister together in a spiritually and culturally appropriate way (see v. 10).
Gender distinctions are important to God, and thus we should maintain these in the way we dress. He made us “in His image, male and female” in the beginning. Living, interacting with one another, and worshipping as men and women, with masculine and feminine qualities, is important. We are both made in His image (Genesis 1:27), and the way God has made us is glorious (1 Corinthians 11:7).
Submitting to and honoring others is a good thing, and is an essential part of submitting to and honoring Christ as Lord. Jesus Himself willingly submits to the Father (see 1 Corinthians 11:3 and 15:28, John 14:28). We all have authorities we are called to honor, including one another (Ephesians 5:21), civil authorities (Romans 13:1), husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24, Colossians 3:18, 1 Peter 3:1-2), and parents (Ephesians 6:1, Colossians 3:20). Honoring and recognizing the authorities God has placed in our lives – while contrary to our cultural values and our flesh - is a good thing that honors God and blesses us.
Having “authority over our head” (or “on our head” in some translations, v. 10) – the result of living under God’s authority, with our lives submitted to Him and lined up with His ways – leads to us having authority as we serve Him and others. This is reminiscent of the centurion who described himself as a man who had authority because he was under authority in Matthew 8:9. The authority in our lives comes from being under God’s authority.
Being “in the Lord” (v. 11) is what brings us fully into our created purpose. (See also Galatians 3:28 about how our identity in Christ supersedes all other identities of gender, class, nationality or ethnicity.) Our created purpose is not to be in competition with each other – or independent of each other – but interdependent. None of us can live without the other, and our mutuality and interdependence reflects our Creator and Redeemer, and His intention for people, in a way nothing else can.
In what ways do you see the reality that Christ is your head as a blessing? In what ways is it difficult to have your will crossed?
What is your best understanding of how your manhood/womanhood affects the way you are to worship God and minister to others?
How might you intentionally honor those of a different gender from you in your church? How could you live more interdependently?