First Corinthians

1 Corinthians (2013) - Lesson 11A

Chapter 11:1-16

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  • Last week we concluded our study of Paul’s explanation of Christian liberty

    • In three chapters, Paul addressed the Corinthians’ rights to consume meat sacrificed to idols

      • Paul addressed this topic in his letter because the Corinthians themselves had apparently asked about the practice 

      • He began the section in Chapter 8 with the introduction, “Now concerning…” which is the indication that Paul has moved to a new topic 

      • And then for the next three chapters, Paul worked his way through a series of points on the matter of eating meat

    • Paul has received other questions from Chloe and the delegation, and he will address each in turn in his letter

      • But Paul also introduces topics of his own along the way 

      • For example, in answering the question on meat, Paul introduced his own topic of Christian liberty 

      • We can see Paul wanted to make sure the church understood a larger context even as he addressed their particular concern 

  • As we enter Chapter 11 today, we find Paul moving even farther away from the question he was asked, yet remaining on the general topic of liberty 

1Cor. 11:1 Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.
1Cor. 11:2 Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you. 
  • We notice Paul doesn’t use the phrase “Now concerning…” 
    • This tells us Paul hasn’t yet moved on to a new question

    • Nevertheless, what follows is new subject matter 

    • Instead, Paul is about to raise a couple of new topics because he’s heard of abuses of liberty taking place in the church 

    • He introduces his concerns with a couple of statements 

  • Paul starts with an exhortation that the church should follow Paul’s lead, imitating Paul’s self-restraint from Chapter 10 

    • Remember at the end of Chapter 10 Paul says he became all things to all men, seeking to win them over to Christ 

    • Paul was willing to set aside any personal privilege or freedom if necessary to be more effective in serving Christ 

    • He did these things gladly, and he asks other Christians to see ministry and liberty in a similar way

  • Secondly, Paul offers the church a praise concerning their willingness to hold firmly to certain traditions Paul delivered to them during his visit 

    • For us, the word “tradition” can carry a negative sense 

      • Some religions rely on tradition to an unhealthy extent 

      • Relying on tradition instead of following the Lord 

    • But at other times, traditions can be good and useful if they are consistent with the word of God 

    • They can teach godliness or guide our conduct in helpful ways

  • In this case, the word for traditions in Greek refers to something handed down as an honored practice 

    • These are things worthy of respect and practice 

      • And Paul says the Corinthians showed the appropriate respect for traditions Paul handed down to them 

      • They observed them as taught and they stuck with them even after Paul left 

    • Remember, the Corinthian church was the first Greek church in history 

      • They had little prior exposure to Jewish thought and practice

      • They knew little or nothing of the promised Messiah 

      • Meanwhile, they had a culture replete with pagan traditions and practices they needed to unlearn 

      • We can’t underestimate how difficult this transition can be for any culture unfamiliar with the God of Israel or Christianity 

    • Christians have traditions that God’s word calls us to observe and hand down 

      • Practices like baptism, the Lord’s supper and gathering together 

      • These things are called traditions in the sense that they are cherished rituals handed down from generation to generation 

      • But they are not manmade traditions, so they are not optional or unimportant 

      • They have been handed down because they teach important spiritual lessons or witness to our faith 

    • We call these things tradition because they come with some degree of flexibility in the way the ritual is observed 

      • For example, baptism requires immersion in water, but it makes no difference if it’s a pool, river, lake or bathtub 

      • The Lord’s Supper requires the elements of bread and the pressing of grapes, but it makes no difference the form either takes 

      • In all cases, our only priority should be whether the proper message is being delivered through the observance of the tradition 

      • If the form of our observance distorts or changes the message, then we have ventured too far away and violated the tradition 

  • Paul says the Corinthians have been good to adopt and hold to the Christian traditions he delivered 

    • But in a couple of cases, the Corinthians were allowing their pursuit of liberty to interfere with their practice of these traditions and thereby distort the messages 

      • Paul will address two such examples in this chapter 

      • We’ll look at one example today and the other next week 

    • In v. 3 Paul moves directly into a discussion of the first tradition

1Cor. 11:3 But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. 
  • Paul says God is the Head of Christ, Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman 

    • Paul is speaking concerning the administration of the family 

      • Let’s look at each item on the list 

      • I’ve reordered Paul’s list a little so it moves from top to bottom

    • First, the Father is the Head of the Son, Christ 

      • This is an important principle of the Trinity 

      • We know God to be Three Persons and yet One God, which is a mystery in our limited understanding 

      • No One Person of the Godhead created any other member 

      • All Three coexisted from before the beginning, we’re told in scripture 

      • We can see all three present in the very opening verse of Genesis 

    • Nevertheless, we also find a distinction of roles within the Godhead 

      • For example, the Son obeys the Father, while the Father instructs the Son 

      • The Father gives a Bride to His Son, while the Son presents the Bride to the Father spotless 

      • The Son gives His Spirit to us, while the Spirit leads us to the Son

      • The Son prays to the Father, while the Father glorifies His Son

        • And so on…

      • These roles imply a certain hierarchy 

      • So Paul reminds the church that even Christ respects and honors the authority of the Father as His Head 

  • Moving down the chain of authority, Paul says Christ is the Head of every man

    • The word for man is aner, which is the word for husband 

      • So we see Paul is talking about leadership in a family 

      • He isn’t talking about society in general 

      • This is a discussion about the leadership structure in a single household

    • So a husband answers to Christ for his decisions and his leadership in his home 

      • Christ’s headship will be most clearly evident at the man’s judgment when the Lord will pass judgment on how he cared spiritually for his family 

      • But Christ’s authority over a husband doesn’t wait for that moment 

      • Everyday the Lord is working through His Spirit to guide Christian husbands to love and lead their wives and children

        • To be the teacher in the home 

        • To model obedience to Christ and His word 

        • To patiently guide and even discipline his family to ensure godliness reigns 

      • Husbands bear this responsibility and they can’t avoid or delegate it

  • Finally, Paul says the man is the head of a woman

    • Once again, Paul uses the word for husband here 

      • Also notice Paul doesn’t say a husband is the head of every woman 

      • In other words, a husband has leadership authority over his wife (and children obviously)

      • But men in general are not automatically over all woman 

      • Outside a family, men and women operate in equal terms 

    • Within a single family, however, there is a hierarchy that God Himself has directed for good purposes 

      • A husband has the responsibility, the privilege and burden for the spiritual welfare of his family 

      • And the family, both wife and children, are commanded by scripture to honor and respect the man’s role as leader 

      • We find plenty of other places where this truth is echoed

Col. 3:18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 
Eph. 5:22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
Eph. 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.
Eph. 5:24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. 
  • The command for a wife to respect her husband’s leadership role is not contingent upon the husband’s good performance 
    • Regardless of how well a husband leads, a wife is commanded to do her best to respect his authority in the home 

    • In fact, the Bible teaches that a wife can best encourage her husband to live up to his leadership responsibilities by remaining submitted to his authority despite his failings 

1Pet. 3:1 In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives,
1Pet. 3:2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. 
  • The principle is similar to the one we apply to children and parents 

    • No matter how fallible parents may be, a child is forever commanded to honor the parent and submit to their authority at least as long as they live in the home 

    • Only in circumstances when the parent is abusive or dangerously neglectful do they forfeit their authority 

    • Likewise, only in extreme circumstances when a husband crosses the line to become abusive or reckless should a wife consider challenging his authority

  • Interestingly, Paul doesn’t take a lot of time at this point to reinforce this truth 

    • His statement in v.3 is given more as a reminder to the church of past teaching 

      • Instead, Paul moves forward in the next verse to connect this spiritual truth to a tradition he wants to reinforce 

1Cor. 11:4 Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head.
1Cor. 11:5 But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. 
  • In vs.4-5 Paul reminds the church of the tradition for wearing various head coverings, whether men or women 

    • In Paul’s day, the Jewish and Christian cultural tradition was that men never wear head coverings in worship while women always wore a covering 

      • Paul says for a man to go against this tradition disgraces his head 

      • The Greek word for head is the same in every place we’ve seen it used in this chapter 

      • It’s the same Greek word in v.3 as it is in v.4

    • The word head has two meanings in Greek 

      • It can mean your skull of course 

      • But it can also mean a person of authority, as in Christ is the head of every man 

      • Paul uses the word in both senses in v.4 

    • Paul says that any many who wears a covering on his physical head is disgracing Christ, Who is his authority 

      • Likewise, a wife who arrives in church without a head covering is disgracing her head, that is her husband 

      • In fact, Paul says a wife who would dare to appear in church without a head covering is as disgraceful to her husband as a wife who shaved her head entirely! 

      • Why are these behaviors so problematic? 

      • And is Paul expecting all Christians everywhere to observe these rules, including us today? 

  • Before we can answer these questions, we must recognize the relationship between the tradition and the message they are communicating 

    • Remember, we said that traditions, even those mandated by scripture, exist to edify, educate and witness concerning a central truth 

      • They are not magic or hocus pocus, and they don’t exist for their own sake 

      • We aren’t called to observe them in a mindless, ritualistic manner 

      • We are supposed to follow a tradition with an appreciation of the underlying message it’s trying to communicate 

      • And in some cases, we may need to modify the ritual observance to better reflect the message in a changing culture 

      • In short, the message takes precedence over form in any tradition 

    • So before we can determine what aspects of the tradition of head coverings would apply today, we first need to ask what message did a head covering send in Paul’s day 

      • And in the next passage Paul explains the importance of these things in his day and culture 

1Cor. 11:6 For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head.
1Cor. 11:7 For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.
1Cor. 11:8 For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man;
1Cor. 11:9 for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.
1Cor. 11:10 Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 
  • In Paul’s day, a woman’s choice of whether she wore a head covering or how she wore her hair carried a certain message 

    • Specifically, failing to wear a head covering in the worship communicated she felt she was an equal in authority with her husband 

      • The head covering was a symbol that declared, “I am submitted to someone else” 

      • So if a married woman dispensed with her head covering, she was declaring loud and clear she was no longer submitted to her husband 

      • She was saying that she lacked respect for her husband’s authority 

      • That’s why Paul says in v.5 that such a woman disgraces her husband (her head) 

    • Any woman who did such a thing knew full well what she was doing and how her choice would be interpreted 

      • What would be communicated if you were on trial for a serious crime and you chose to show up in court wearing shorts and flip flops, while chewing gum loudly throughout the proceedings 

      • Do you think the judge would understand you were showing the court contempt? 

      • That’s what it meant for a woman to intentionally reject a head covering 

  • Paul says if a woman was willing to defy the head covering tradition, she might as well shave her head 

    • Paul is referring to another, similar tradition that expected a woman to grow her hair long 

      • If a woman chose to shave her head, she was sending a not-so- subtle message that she wanted to be viewed as an equal to a man 

      • Prostitutes usually cut their hair very short, as a way of advertising what kind of woman they were to their customers 

      • Also, the Law required that a woman caught in the act of adultery was required to have her hair cut off 

    • So Paul challenges any woman who wants to protest against submission by saying don’t make your protest in a subtle way…go all the way 

      • Paul says just shave your head and make sure everyone knows your true heart 

      • He says this to shame them for setting aside these traditions without giving a thought to the greater good of the body 

      • Perhaps some women began to defy the tradition out of a misguided view of liberty 

      • Whatever their purpose in it, their behavior ignored an important tradition engrained in the culture 

      • So it sent an unavoidable message of defiance

  • And then Paul moves to explain the full message behind the tradition 

    • The tradition of wearing head coverings was a testimony in Paul’s day to the order of Creation 

      • In v.7 Paul says God created man from nothing and in His own image 

        • This is a testimony to God’s power bringing Him glory 

      • So a tradition arose for men to leave their head uncovered as they worship to symbolize there is nothing between them and the Lord 

      • This tradition reflects the man as the chief authority in the home as God designed the family

    • But when God created Woman as a companion for Adam, He created her from Adam’s flesh 

      • God says a wife finds her chief purpose in the family in desiring, supporting and helping her husband 

      • Her creation from Adam’s body is a testimony of this intimate relationship with, spiritual dependence upon her husband 

      • So Paul says in v.9 that a wife is to the glory of her husband in the sense that she brings honor to her husband by submitting to his authority 

      • Therefore a tradition arose for a woman to wear a head covering in worship as a testimony that she is covered or protected by her husband 

    • Therefore, Paul says a woman ought to have this symbol of the man’s authority on her head when worshipping 

      • She was expected to keep this tradition because if she didn’t, she would communicate a defiant attitude 

      • Think of it like table manners

      • We eat with forks and knives because it’s a tradition 

      • And if we purposely defied the tradition, it would offend others unnecessarily 

      • So we keep the tradition because we agree with the principle of showing concern and kindness for others 

  • Of course this tradition says nothing about a woman’s access to the Lord or her relationship with the Lord 

    • No woman is required to work through a man in reaching the Lord 

      • And women are not lessor members of the body of Christ 

      • Paul makes that clear that men and women are equals in spiritual terms

1Cor. 11:11 However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.
1Cor. 11:12 For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God.
1Cor. 11:13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?
1Cor. 11:14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him,
1Cor. 11:15 but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering.
1Cor. 11:16 But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God. 
  • God has designed reproduction so that both man and woman are equally important to the process 

    • Ensuring that no man can say he isn’t dependent on a woman and vice versa 

    • Every man had a mother and every woman had a father 

    • And in that way, Paul says we all trace our origins to God 

  • But in the way God designed men and women, Paul says we can see clear, physical signs that God knowingly made men and women differently 

    • Men have traditionally kept short hair and women have traditionally valued long hair 

    • These traditions have existed from Adam and Eve until today 

  • Paul says these differences were designed by God to reflect the differences in the family roles 

    • A woman is glorified by having a covering of hair 

    • While men are dishonored by having a covering of hair 

    • These things are tradition based on the physical differences 

    • And these things send a message about God’s design for spiritual authority in the family 

  • So the big question for us…do we still share an obligation to observe this tradition? 

    • The answer is it depends 

      • If we find ourselves in a culture where head coverings still carry this meaning, then we should observe the tradition 

      • There are some places in the world and some Christian communities even in this country where these traditions persist 

      • If we are in these settings, then Paul’s instructions are fully appropriate for us

    • In many other places, though, the traditional meaning of head coverings has been forgotten 

      • So that today if a woman were to wear a head covering, few would understand its meaning 

      • More importantly, if a woman fails to wear a head covering, no one assumes she is defying her husband’s authority 

      • Our customs have changed to the point that the tradition is no longer meaningful 

    • Is it wrong for a church to maintain this custom? 

      • No. A church body certainly has freedom to resurrect this tradition and asks women to observe head coverings out of respect for its meaning 

      • On the other hand, other churches are equally free to pay no attention to head coverings 

      • Because the Biblical message of submission isn’t being undermined in the process 

  • Not every tradition can be set aside entirely, but I believe this is one that can be 

    • The message of wives living in submission to husbands will never change 

      • But how we choose to demonstrate that truth has and will change over time 

      • If we are chained to the ritual rather than to the message, we are at risk of becoming slaves to legalistic rules divorced from any meaning 

    • Instead, we want to remain focused on the teaching behind anything we practice