Up until this point in his letter, Paul had addressed personal issues. From 11:20-14:40 he will give instructions on public worship by covering such topics as head coverings (11:2-16), the Lord's Supper (11:17-33), the proper use of spiritual gifts (12:1-31), the supremacy of love over other gifts (13:1-14:25), and orderly worship (14:26-39).
Head Coverings (11:2-16)
The main point of this section is irreverence in worship. Men wearing hats and women not covering their head had become a point of division within the church. The good news is that Christ brought equality before God and oneness in Christ regardless of race, sex, age, or social status, or economic position (Galatians 3:28). The difficult news was how to communicate that without breaking long held customs in the culture.
The Corinthians had freedom in Christ, but some women were flaunting it by not covering their heads when they were in public worship. In Jewish and Greco-Roman Eastern culture, a woman wore long hair and either a shawl or a hood over her head in public to symbolize submission and purity. If she did not, it was a sign of loose morals because temple prostitutes cut their hair short and did not cover. (The covering part is still true in Eastern Muslim cultures today.)
For the Christian women in this Eastern context to come to public worship without a covering was scandalous! Notice that, in this passage, the woman was allowed to participate in public worship by praying and prophesying (proclaiming God's message as it was given immediately by the Spirit). Women were equal in public worship, but there were still norms to follow that were appropriate for the time and culture in which the church existed. By the way, we will discuss "women being silent in church" from 1 Corinthians 14 in a few days.
When Paul talked of the headship between man and woman, he was not insinuating inequality. Rather he was proposing order so that there could be peace in the church and family. The role of captain over a private does not imply that that private is inferior as a person. The ranks in the military create order and rank in the church and family creates order too. If a woman abandoned her role in that order by not wearing a culturally appropriate head covering, she offended the cultural order and abandoned her husband's headship and glory (1 Corinthians 11:8, 9) because she was made from man (Genesis 2:18-25). This combined biblical truth and local custom.
Again, this does not mean the woman is inferior to man! They are mutually dependent on each other as equal partners. This mutuality is also punctuated by Paul when he states that the man would not be here if a woman had not given birth to him (11:11-12). On top of this, both men and women come from God, who is the ultimate head of everything!
According to Warren Wiersbe,
The woman's long hair is her glory, and it is given to her "instead of a covering" (literal translation). In other word, if local custom does not dictate a head-covering, her long hair can be her covering (emphasis mine). I do not think that Paul meant for all women in every culture to wear a shawl for a head-covering; but he did expect them to use their long hair as a covering and as a symbol of their submission to God's order. This is something that every woman can do.
In my ministry in different parts of the world, I have noticed that the basic principle of headship applies in every culture; but the means of demonstrating it differs from place to place. The important thing is the submission of the heart to the Lord and the public manifestation of obedience to God’s order.
(The Bible Exposition Commentary, 1 Co 11:3)The Lord's Supper (11:17-34)
The Lord's Supper is meant to remind us of Jesus' sacrificial death for our sins. On the night Jesus was betrayed he took the bread and the wine from the Passover feast and said, "This is my body and blood. Do this in remembrance of Me" (Luke 22:19-20). In partaking of the Lord's Supper, we are participating in His sacrifice for us (10:16-17) and looking with eager anticipation to His return (11:26).
Since the beginning of the church, the believers ate together for fellowship and sharing with those less privileged (Acts 2:42, 46). They were often referred to as Love Feasts (Agape). They finished this meal with the Lord's Supper. Instead of memorializing this selfless act of Christ, some selfishly ate and drank to excess while the less privileged went hungry.
Paul gave a pointed rebuke and reminded them that the Lord's Supper needed to be approached with reverence and respect; examining ourselves for unconfessed sin and selflessly considering others by waiting for them and sharing with those in need (this is not stated but implied from 11:22). If they were going to be more preoccupied with eating than with fellowship and the Lord's Supper, they should eat something at home before they come.
The head covering issue has been a controversial subject in many churches for years. I love Warren Wiersbe's sane approach to it in the quote above.
I was just in our Jesus Community this week, and one of the young couples had just celebrated their fifth anniversary. At their wedding, she told the pastor that she didn't want the word submission in her vows or his sermon. I smiled and hope to follow up on that!
I see submission in such a positive light. I love having someone care for me so much that he would love me like "Christ loves the church" (Ephesians 5:25). Who wouldn't want to submit to that? I was 31 years old when I got married. I was so happy to have someone to partner with in the journey. Someone has to pilot the ship, and I was glad to not have that role! But again, I have never been a person with major control issues and neither is my husband. I guess the problem lies in submitting to a man when either you or he or both are control freaks! So, I am not here to judge that. But I find freedom in headship rather than limitations.
In the long run, I think Paul demands so much more of the man than he does the woman! But we will get to that when we study Ephesians 5! Stay tuned!
What are your feelings about headship in a marriage and family? Think through it and dialogue with God and your loved ones about this issue.
Lord, thank You that You are the head over all of us! I pray for this young wife to see what You want her to see regarding headship and submission. I pray we could have honest dialogue about it with those we love. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.