1 Cor. 11.1-16 can be a difficult passage. This is the start of a section in 1 Corinthians that will address various issues relating to the public worship of the church in Corinth. Paul wants to see the church united in their worship of the Lord. One way in which the church is called to be unified is by honoring the differences and order that God has put in place, while turning away from the sinful and divisive differences that we create. God has made people different. He has made them male and female, and later we will see that God has also given individuals different spiritual gifts in the church. In 1 Cor. 11.1-16 Paul addresses the issue of honoring God’s order in creation regarding men and women. As this passage raises a lot of questions, we followed an outline that asked and answered 4 questions about this text:
- What is the foundational principle? Paul makes his foundational principle very clear in v. 3. Paul tells us that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Paul makes a similar point in Ephesians 5 where he calls wives to submit to their husbands, and husbands to sacrificially love their wives. All Christians are called to some form(s) of submission in this world as we honor God. Submission is not inferiority. Paul makes this clear by telling us that the head of Christ is God the Father. We are saved through the submission of Jesus to the will of His Father. Submission is Christ-like; not ugly and oppressive. Whatever else Paul says in this text, he wants to make it clear that the church is called to honor this order in creation.
- How is Corinth struggling with this principle? In vv. 4-6 and 13-15 Paul addresses the specific and cultural way in which the church in Corinth was struggling with honoring God’s order in creation. He says that men should not cover their heads when praying or prophesying in worship, and women should cover their heads when doing the same thing. We don’t know all the cultural background of these practices. But it is clear that women covering their heads was a widely recognized cultural symbol of a woman’s marriage. This was a cultural symbol, but still very important. Paul does not dismiss it just because it is cultural. In fact, he says disregard of this practice was shameful. Paul is not naive enough to think that every Christian should dress exactly the same in every place and time. Cultures will have different ways of expressing God’s order in creation regarding men and women. We should be careful not to immediately reject things like this. It can create division and chaos in the church as it did in Corinth. We are called, not to ignore God’s created distinctions between men and women, but to honor them.
- What qualifications does Paul make? In vv. 7-12 Paul makes 2 important qualifications to what he is saying. 1) He says that woman is the glory of man. Men should never use the teachings regarding biblical headship to objectify, demean, or dishonor their wives, or women in general. The wife is the glory of her husband and should be treated as such. It dishonors God’s created order when men demean women. 2) Paul reminds us that both men and women are dependent on each other. After all, every man came into this world by a woman! We need each other. God has set things up in this way to remind us that we depend on each other.
- Where should our focus be? First, in v. 16 Paul tells us that our focus should be on peace in the church. Paul does not want sinful divisions amongst the body. When we come to worship the Lord we should come, not with the desire to draw attention to ourselves, but to serve one another, and honor the Lord. Second, Paul reminds us back in v. 3 that our focus should be on Christ. It is only by focusing on Jesus that men are reminded that their headship is a call to service and self-sacrifice. And it is only by focusing on Jesus that wives are reminded that their submission is a call to Christ-like humility. Focusing on Christ guards us from twisting these beautiful truths into something sinful.
May God use this text to equip us to worship Him together, men and women, as we honor our Creator! Here are the sermon questions and order of worship from Sunday’s bulletin: 1 Cor. 11.1-16 Notes.
-Pastor Nathan Hogan