ROLE OF WOMEN IN THE CHURCH
1 CORINTHIANS 11:1-16
One of the pressing issues that was seen in the 20th century was the role of women in society. With the advent of the Womenís Rights movement, women were bombarded with all sorts of propaganda that did away with the old stereotypes of women who were happy to have a husband to care for her and her children. She was told instead that she needed to get a career if she was to have any worth. Years have come and gone and women who bought into that propaganda are today disillusioned.
The issue was not unique to the 20th century. It has existed through all the ages and it existed in ancient Corinth.
Plato, the famous Greek philosopher, had been a major proponent of womenís rights. He maintained that there should be an absolute equality of the sexes. But most people did not agree with that stance. Throughout most of the ancient world, women held something of a second class position.
The debate for womenís liberation took a drastic turn in 180 B.C. when there was a mass poisoning of husbands in Rome. From that time on, women in the Roman Empire began to enjoy more and more freedom. By the time of the first century, women had the right to own property, to engage in business and to marry and to divorce whom they wished.
However, they still could not hold public office and they were still not considered to be the equal of men.
It was in this setting that Christianity came to Corinth. Paul taught that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). Whereas in Judaism only men were permitted to partake of circumcision, the sign of Godís Old Testament covenant, in Christianity both men and women were baptized into the church.
For this reason, Christianity had become very popular among the women of Corinth. Before long, there may have been womenís Bible studies springing up around the city, teaching the equality of women.
It would not have been long before this new teaching began to be reflected in the service of the church. Women began to change their style of dress. Instead of wearing the traditional veil over their head, they began coming to church with unveiled heads. Paul addresses this situation.
THE IMPORTANCE OF TRADITIONS
Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.2 Now I praise you because you remember me in everything, and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you. (1 Corinthians 11:1-2).
Traditions are good. Our family has some traditions. There are certain things that we de every Thanksgiving and every Christmas. These things have become a tradition.
The church also contains a number of traditions. When we sing the Gloria Patri after collecting an offering or when we affirm the Apostles Creed or when we pray the Lordís Prayer, we are observing traditions.
When I was younger, I used to think that we Christians ought to get rid of all of the traditions in the church and go back to only those things that are specifically mentioned in the Bible. But Iím older now and I have learned something of the importance of traditions.
Traditions are good because they give us a sense of continuity and a sense of unity. They bind us together with our past. They let us know that we are members of a spiritual heritage going back thousands of years.
When we affirm the Apostles Creed, we are reminded that Christians have been affirming those same words for generation after generation. We are reminded of the lineage in which we share. Our religion is not one that has only recently been conceived. It has stood the test of time.
At the same time, we ought to note that there is a danger to traditions. It is that we lose sight of the meaning behind our traditions. That is what happened to the Pharisees. Over hundreds of years, they had built up a series of traditions. But they had begun to focus on the tradition and to forget about the truth behind the tradition. They faithfully kept the Sabbath but, instead of using it to benefit man, they turned it into a burden for man. They observed the ceremonial washing of their hands, but ignored their spiritual pollution.
It is for this reason that, as Paul prepares to discuss the tradition of the veiled woman, he does not begin with the tradition, but with the Scriptural truth behind the tradition.
THE PRINCIPLE OF SUBORDINATION
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. (1 Corinthians 11:3).
I want you to notice right at the outset that Paul does not merely say that "man is the head of the woman" and leave it at that. This passage and others have been used in the past as a club to beat down Christian women and to say that they are second class citizens.
Does this passage teach that women have an unworthy role in the church? Does it imply that they lose privileges by becoming Christians? Not at all. I think it is for this reason that Paul presents three distinct areas of subordination within Godís kingdom.
We can see from this that the principle of subordination is a universal principle. Everything that exists in the universe is subordinate to someone. Even Jesus became subordinate to the Father.
Jesus is the head of the church. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He is the ruler of all men. He is either your Savior or He is your Judge, but in either case, He will be Lord of all.
There is coming a day when every knee shall bow to Him and when all men will recognize His lordship.
Just as the first aspect of the principle of subordination applies universally to all men, so also this second aspect of the principle of subordination applies universally to all women. Just as men are ultimately subordinate to Christ, so also women are ultimately subordinate to men.
This principle can be observed all throughout history. Despite repeated attempts to "liberate women" and to make them equal, they have always been ultimately subordinate to men.
Paul does not argue why this is the case. He simply states it as an observable principle of fact.
Jesus made it very clear that He was in submission to the Father: For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me (John 6:38).
The entire life of Jesus was characterized by submission to the Father. This is the divine example we are to follow. If you are a Christian, then you are here to do the will of Him who called you and who saved you.
This brings us to a question. Is Jesus Christ any less fulfilled because He has submitted Himself to the Father? Did He lose anything by accepting this subordination? Not at all. He has gained by it a position of authority and power.
Is a man any less fulfilled because he has submitted himself to the lordship of Jesus? In now way. The way to fulfillment is through the recognition that Jesus is Lord and through subordination to His authority.
By the same token, the way a woman is fulfilled is not by rejecting and fighting against this principle of subordination, but by accepting it as the divine design for her life. She will find her greatest possible fulfillment in this relationship to her husband.
THE PRINCIPLE APPLIED
4 Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying, disgraces his head. 5 But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying, disgraces her head; for she is one and the same with her whose head is shaved.
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. (1 Corinthians 11:4-6).
Paul now moves from the principle to the application of that principle within the church. It is never enough merely to be aware of godly principles. They must also be applied in your life. Knowledge without application is worse than ignorance.
The setting for this application seems to be the meeting of the church. Notice that there are two activities that are described:
Directed from man to God
Directed from God to man
The Jewish practice of having men cover their heads while praying would not begin until the 4th century. At this time, it was the practice for men to have their heads uncovered when praying of prophesying.
In Corinth, it would have appeared to be completely ridiculous for a man to pray or to prophesy with his head covered. It would be like a preacher standing in a local church with ribbons in his hair or clothed in a dress. Such apparel that is perfectly acceptable on a woman is silly when worn by a man.
The womenís liberation movement had come to Corinth and it was rearing its head in the meeting of the church. There were women in the church at Corinth who were praying and prophesying in the meeting of the church. There was nothing wrong with this. What was wrong was that they were engaging in these activities with their heads uncovered. Contrary to the accepted practice, they were participating in the service of the church without wearing the traditional veil.
There is a lesson here. It is that you can be doing good things in a bad way. It is good to pray. It is good to prophesy. But it is not good to engage in these activities in a way that brings dishonor to the Lord.
It is good to teach a Bible study. It is good to give money to the church. It is good to share the gospel. But even these things can be done in a wrong way. The point is that you need to do the right thing in the right way.
The problem with a woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered is that she is one and the same with her whose head is shaved (11:6). The shaving of a womanís head was a sign of disgrace. Within the Roman society, it was done to the unfaithful wife. A woman whose head had been shaved bore a mark of disfavor. Her hair, the mark of her beauty, had been shorn from her head.
Paul is going to give five reasons why it is so important that a woman demonstrate her subordination through the wearing of a veil on her head.
Notice that these principles run from the general to the specific. They begin with all of creation and then move to angels before coming to the way life and propriety perceive things and finally they conclude with the practice of the churches.
BECAUSE OF CREATION AND ITS ORDER
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.8 For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; 9 for indeed man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the manís sake. (1 Corinthians 11:7-9).
The first reason that women ought to cover their heads when praying or prophesying is because of the order and plan of creation. Woman did not become subordinate to man as a result of sin. She was originally created to be subordinate to man. This is very clear from the creation account.
Man was made in the image and glory of God. There is a sense in which he was made as a scale model of God. There is a divine aspect to man.
We must immediately point out that this aspect is limited. It is finite whereas God is infinite. Furthermore, that image has been dirtied by sin. But it is still there.
For a man to cover his head when he prays of prophesies is to cover the head of one who in an image of God.
There is a contrast when we see the woman. On the one hand, Genesis 1:26-27 tell us that both the man and woman were made in the image of God. On the other hand, there is a sense in which the woman was not made in the image of God.
The image and glory of God
The glory of man
Does not originate from the woman
From the man
Not created for the womanís sake
Created for the manís sake
The woman was not the original pattern. While the man was made in the image of God, the woman was made in the image of the man. She was made to be the counterpart of man.
Then the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him." (Genesis 2:18).
The woman was made to be a helper for man. She was taken from the flesh of man. A part of man was taken and from that part God made woman.
This means that woman glorifies man. If a woman is praying or prophesying, if she is talking to God or about God, then she ought to cover her head so that she will glorify God instead of glorifying man.
BECAUSE OF THE ANGELS
Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. (1 Corinthians 11:10).
The Bible has quite a bit to say about angels. They are magnificent creatures from God. They are His spiritual messengers. As such, they are involved in the transmission of our prayers and our worship.
Do you remember the vision experienced by Jacob? It was a vision of a ladder reaching from earth to heaven. On this great bridge were angels going and coming between earth and heaven.
In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John describes an angel of God bringing the prayers of believers to the Lord.
And another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.
The symbol reminds us of the priest who stood in the temple and offered incense upon the altar. As the incense filled the temple, it would represent the prayers of Godís people coming before His throne.
Angels are also involved in the revelation of Godís truths that we proclaim. Moses met with an angel when he received the law from God.
This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness together with the angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai, and who was with our fathers; and he received living oracles to pass on to you (Acts 7:38).
...you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it (Acts 7:53).
Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed should come to whom the promise had been made. (Galatians 3:19).
Angels have had a tremendous involvement in bringing Godís truth to men. They were seen in the transmission of the law and they were seen at all sorts of times in ministering to men.
If the things of which we prophecy were brought to us through the ministry of angels who are now present in our midst, then we need to take special care in how we prophesy and speak of the Lord. If the angels are watching our prayers and are involved in their transmission, then perhaps we ought to take special care how we pray.
BECAUSE OF THE ARRANGEMENT OF LIFE
However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.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. (1 Corinthians 11:11-12).
There was a womenís liberation movement going on in Corinth and it was moving in the wrong direction. This movement failed to recognize that women cannot normally be fulfilled apart from man and more than man can normally be fulfilled apart from woman. God created two separate and distinct genders because one was not enough.
This means that a man is not more important than a woman. One gender cannot think of itself as more important than another.
Understanding this principle sets a woman free to be a woman. She does not have to be independent from man and she does not have to do the identical work of a man in order to be significant. She does not become significant by denying her sexuality. Indeed, her significance is seen in her relationship with man. It is in the midst of her subordination to man that man becomes dependent upon her.
BECAUSE OF PROPRIETY
Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with head uncovered?14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering. (1 Corinthians 11:13-15).
Paul now makes an appeal to that which is proper. He says that a woman should wear a veil because it is considered acceptable in that society that she should be thus adorned.
Many women today think that it does not matter what they wear or how they fix their hair. But the way you adorn yourself on the outside is a reflection of your attitudes on the inside.
What sort of image do you portray in the way you groom yourself? What sort of picture do you present in the clothes that you wear? These outward signs are a reflection of some inner attitudes.
Paul asks two rhetorical questions in verses 14-15: Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him,15 but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her?
This brings us to a question. Does nature teach you that long hair on a man is a dishonor? How does nature teach that a womanís long hair is a glory to here?
I have come to the conclusion that this is not referring to the animal kingdom when it speaks of "nature." It is not looking at nature in the biological sense. Rather, it describes the nature of society.
Women in almost all cultures have worn their hair longer than men. The styles in which women have traditionally worn their hear have been distinctly feminine.
In Greek philosophy, cultural customs were perceived as extensions of natural law. Similarly, Paul sees these cultural customs as an extension of Godís created order of thing. This means that a man praying or prophesying with a covering on his head is against Godís purposes. For a man to wear ribbons in his hair is a dishonor. For a woman to cut her hair so that she looks like a man is a dishonor and a denial of the role that God has given to her.
THE PRINCIPLE ACCEPTED
But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God. (1 Corinthians 11:16).
Have you ever met a Christian who always resisted the norm? Have you ever known someone who always wanted to change the established pattern merely for the sake of change?
People like this usually thrive on argument and dissension. That is not Godís way. God is a God of tradition. He is the same God yesterday, today and forever. This is not to say that there should never be any change within the church. I am not an advocate of the old poem that says:
Like a mighty turtle moves the church of God,
Brothers, we are treading where weíve always trod.
However, change is not good if it is change just for the sake of change. Neither is argument merely for the sake of argument beneficial.
This brings us to a question. Does this mean that all of the women in the church today ought to try to follow the principles set forth in this passage? Absolutely. This is not a matter of liberty. It is a matter of command.
However, that does not necessarily mean that we must return to the first century practice of wearing veils. We can apply the same principle in other ways today. There are other ways in which a woman can demonstrate her subordination within the church. She can demonstrate her attitudes by what she wears, by how she grooms herself and by how she talks and carries herself. Does she appear to be rebellious? She probably is.
How do you present yourself to others? How do you present yourself to the angels who partake in your activities of worship? How are you presenting yourself toward God?
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