Summary: In today's lesson we learn that proper Christian worship calls us to honor Christ and one another.
We continue our study in The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians in a series I am calling Challenges Christians Face.
One of the challenges that Christians face is the issue of proper Christian worship. Let’s learn about that in a message I am calling, “Head Coverings.”
Let’s read 1 Corinthians 11:2-16:
2 Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. 3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, 5 but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. 6 For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. 7 For 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 was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; 12 for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God. (1 Corinthians 11:2-16)
New Testament scholar C.F.D. Moule wrote that the difficulties found in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 “still await a really convincing explanation.” Another scholar, George B. Caird, added, “It can hardly be said that the passage has yet surrendered its secret.” A third scholar, Wayne A. Meeks, regarded it as “one of the most obscure passages in the Pauline letters.” And commentator Gordon D. Fee says that “this passage is full of notorious exegetical difficulties.”
These exegetical difficulties include our understanding the meaning of some absolutely crucial terms (such as “head” [vv. 3-5]; “covered” [v. 4]; “uncovered” [vv. 5, 13]; “glory” [vv. 7, 15]; “a symbol of authority on her head” [v. 10]; “because of the angels” [v. 10]; and “no such practice” [v. 16]), and our uncertainty about prevailing customs in the Corinthian society and church.
Because of these difficulties I will not have time to examine each term. I will simply present a broad overview of this section of Paul’s letter.
Commentator Richard Pratt, whose commentary I am following closely for this message, tells the following story:
I stood there behind the pulpit in a small town in Tasmania, Australia. It was the middle of July, but it was their winter—a very cold winter. As I stood there shivering in the pulpit, I could not believe what happened. It was just an innocent comment, a general application of the Bible. I think I simply said, “We should all be careful to be patient with one another.”
But suddenly a woman in the congregation jumped up and shouted. “Don’t tell me that until you have told my husband to get a job!”
She sat down as quickly as she stood up, but I remember everyone in the church turning around to look at her husband. His face turned bright red, and he hid his face in his hands. He did not look up again for the entire worship service.
I was only a guest, so I do not know what family dynamics were displayed at that moment. But one thing was sure. The woman did not feel the least obligation to honor her husband during their public worship.
The church at Corinth faced all kinds of challenges. One of the challenges facing the Corinthian church was proper Christian worship. They were engaged in worship practices that dishonored one another, and that in turn dishonored Christ. One area in which they were dishonoring one another was with regard to head coverings. The improper use of head coverings corrupted their church’s worship service and damaged their church’s witness to the world.