Summary: What should be the role of women in worship?


Here is a question I bet everyone would give the same answer to: What value do Americans hold the highest? Freedom, of course. We became a nation because of the desire for freedom to govern ourselves. Our history could be narrated along the lines of how freedom has been played out over the years. And our controversies over social issues can boil down to the question of what should people be free to do. As we come to our Christian kin in the Corinth Church, it helps to understand that they shared this American kindred spirit.

The Corinth Church presented a unique challenge to Paul. Throughout his career as an apostle, Paul had been dogged with the criticism that he was too free-spirited. This former Pharisee whose life was devoted to keeping the Jewish laws, became just as devoted to pronouncing freedom in Christ from having to keep all these laws. His letter to the churches in the territory of Galatia present the trouble he was given by men he called false teachers who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus (Galatians 2:4). Paul made even the solid leaders in the early church uneasy with his ministry to the Gentiles because he seemed to too easily set aside accepted Jewish practices.

Paul preached freedom. We are free from having to observe the Law in order to gain acceptance with God and win our salvation; we are also free from having to observe many of the old Jewish regulations that mark us as belonging to God’s people. Circumcision is no longer required; keeping the Jewish feasts are not needed; there are no longer rules about what one may eat or not eat; no more priests and no sacrifices to take to a temple; and so on.

So Paul comes to Corinth with his preaching about freedom. He did preach to Jews and we know from the account in Acts 18:1-17 that a number believed. But the majority of his converts were Gentiles who came to faith in Christ out of their pagan religions. Whereas for Jewish converts who would have needed much coaxing to give up the idea that keeping the Law was still a necessary part of keeping right with God, the Gentile converts were more than happy to embrace the idea of freedom.

Here is something else Paul would have taught them. Christ’s redemption and the coming of the Holy Spirit had inaugurated a new age, so to speak. Believers belong to a new covenant; indeed, they are new creatures in Christ. They possess a spiritual union with him. They have received the Spirit of God who marks them as new creatures in Christ, unites them to Christ in a mystical union, gives them extraordinary gifts, and enlightens them about God. They no longer belong to the world and its old order.

Not only does Paul teach them abut the Spirit, but they experience the Spirit’s power. They speak in tongues; they prophesy. They like what they experience. It makes them feel important. Far from being reticent to test their freedom in Christ, as their Jewish brethren would be, they are eager to throw off any old garments that might entangle them. They test their freedom in what they may do sexually; they test the boundaries and relevancy of marriage; they test how much they can flirt with their old religious practices.

Whereas in other churches Paul has had to stir up his readers to relinquish old ways, with the Corinthians he has to impress upon them their limits. They cannot be free sexually. Their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and they must keep to the moral laws. The institution of marriage remains in place and marital vows are to be honored. As to their old religions, though there are in truth no other gods that exist, nevertheless, getting entangles with old practices leads to very real idolatry.


Now they are testing their freedoms in the exercise of their spiritual gifts and practices. In our particular text, the issue is how women may exercise their spiritual gifts. Does the old rule of woman being under the headship of man still apply, or has the new freedom found in Christ removed that order? That is what’s behind this matter of head covering.

The answer is that the order of relations remains. The reason it does is that it is founded on the way God set things to be when he created the world. Furthermore, an order of hierarchy, in which someone is under the headship of another, is the order that exists within the very Godhead of the Trinity.

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…8 For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.

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