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The Sunday Sermon – 1st Corinthians 11:1-16


“Headship in the Church”
1 Corinthians 11:1-16

In our study of the book of first Corinthians, we have seen the nature of Christian Service, the problem of division in the church, marriage and family matters, the important matter of how Christian believers take ethical decisions. We have now reached chapter eleven, and we move on to a new section in the book, where Paul addresses some irregularities in the worship of the church at Corinth. In Corinth, there was dissent over the subjects of HEADSHIP, COMMUNION AND SPIRITUAL GIFTS. Paul now addresses those issues.

One of the advantages of preaching systematically through a book of the Bible is that we must face issues which would perhaps rather not discuss. We have already noticed this! We have had to consider some rather unpleasant issues, especially in the section on sexual issues.
Some people just refuse to consider this particular section at all. They argue that these instructions were for a particular situation in the Corinthian Church, and they don’t apply to us today at all. I utterly reject that argument.

* All of the book of 1st Corinthians is directed to issues in the Corinthian Church in particular, and yet as we have seen throughout our studies, they all raise principles which concern us today.
* The second reason why I reject this argument is that I believe firmly that ALL of the Scriptures are inspired. From Genesis to revelation, every jot and tittle of the Bible is the Inspired Word of God, and I will not believe that any section of it is any less inspired, just because we don’t happed to like what it says!

So we are looking in this study at the subject of headship in the church. This seems to be one of the most vexed questions in modern day church life. It is fuelled by external influences, such as the feminist movement, who see the biblical doctrine of headship as being contrary to the ‘equality of the sexes’ issue. Of course it is nothing to do with equality, for all are equal under God, as far as salvation is concerned – there is neither male nor female. But within the visible church there are different roles for men and women.

Another reason why headship is unpopular as a doctrine is because of the symbols of headship, which, according to this passage, have been ordained by God in the church. For men, the symbol of headship is that the head should be uncovered during worship, and for the female, the head should be covered during worship. Many people do not like that, especially as regards the ladies! And it often raises tensions in the church. People get the back up about that sort of attitude! “Why should I have to wear a head-covering?” “What about my expensive hair-do?” “Why does it really matter, after all doesn’t God look on the inward appearance, not on the outward?” “Sure it doesn’t really matter what you wear coming to church anyway!”

People’s attitudes have varied from downright rebellion to outright hypocrisy! But what does the Bible say? ! Corinthians 11:1-16 is the text we have to consider. It is about glory and headship! (Headship implies submission towards the one who is our head). For example, V7 The GLORY of God, the GLORY of a man, the GLORY of a woman in v 15.

Paul illustrates these three ideas in three different contextual settings, Firstly, in the realm of redemption, v 3-6, because here the relationship between Christ and His Heavenly Father is set out. “The head of Christ is God”. Paul is thinking here of God’s anointed Messiah, Saviour of the world, Head of the Church, King of Kings, who was subject to the headship of His heavenly father. Secondly, in the realm of creation, v 7-12, thirdly, in the realm of Nature v 13-15. And so we will proceed in our study, along with the Bible, and under those three topics.

Headship in Redemption
We need to look again at v3-6. It is not surprising that the Holy Spirit gives first place to redemption! It is within this context that headship and submission are best illustrated. Read what Paul said in the epistle to the Philippians: Phil. 2: 5-8 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. That was the cost of His willing submission and obedience to God His Father and Head! Now he is exalted to a place of the highest honour and Glory. So, in this passage there are two symbols given, concerning the order of headship:

1. When we meet as Christians for the exercise of our spiritual worship, it has been the case, from the very beginning, that men do not cover their heads. V4 (later in 7).

b. Now some will claim that this had to do with ancient customs, but this is not the case! The Greeks did pray to their idols with their heads uncovered, but not for the same reason as Christians.
c. Then some will claim that it for politeness. This is also untrue. Jews cover their heads in worship, and consider the uncovering of the head by Christian men to be blasphemy, but they do not recognise the headship of Christ!
d. For a Christian man to deliberately reject this symbol, and cover his head at prayer would dishonour his head. 11:4. It really would not matter too much if you brought dishonour upon yourself, but it would be very remiss if you were to bring dishonour upon your spiritual head, the Lord Jesus Christ!

2. The second symbol is the reverse of the first. The Christian woman is to cover her head in worship. She does this in recognition of the fact that the man is her head! (Man is no autocrat here, because under Christ, everyone has a head, and we are all to be in submission to Him, and he has laid down the spirit and pattern in which all leadership must be carried out) Luke 22:24-27 And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth.

a. But are we not all equal? Is it fair that a woman should have a man as her head, when after all she was created equal to him, and Paul tells us that in Christ all are equal? But don’t forget, that even our Lord Jesus Christ, who is equal with the Father in the Trinity also has a head, God himself. Where would we be today if Christ had clung to his right to equality within the Trinity and not submitted Himself to the sovereign purposes of God at Calvary?
b. The wider implications of headship in redemption. There is a larger purpose in all of this. Christ is head over all things, but this world is in rebellion against its rightful head. In one respect Christ has already gained more than Adam lost, for he is exalted far above the angels (Adam was created lower). In another sense the self will and disobedience which the Devil introduced at the Fall still keeps this world full of ugly strife and discord, and all things are not YET subject to Christ. One day they will be. But if this world is still in rebellion against the Lord, this should not be the case in the church! He has brought us, has he not, to a place of glad submission to his will and government? To reject the God-ordained symbol of headship would be to reject Christ’s authority over us.
c. The serious nature of these symbols. We have seen how serious it is for a Christian man to reject the symbol of headship. Let the Holy Spirit show us just how serious a matter it is for a woman to knowingly do likewise! For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. 1 Corinthians 11:6 In the ancient Greek world an adulterous woman had her head shorn, so that her shame would be known to all. Paul is actually saying here that the shame of a woman who rejects the symbol of the authority of the headship of man, in this same way brings upon man the kind of terrible shame that an adulterous wife brings upon her husband!

Headship in Creation
Lets look at v 7-12. Now Paul refers us back to Genesis. Men and women were created equal, in that both have dominion over the animals. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. Genesis 1:27 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. Genesis 1:29
But in administrative roles they were different! Look at Genesis 2:18-25. These were God ordained differences!
1. The man was created first.
2. The man had begun his God ordained task when the woman came along
3. The man was created directly from dust, the woman from man.
4. The man was created alone, to be God’s viceroy as the image and glory of God. The woman is the glory of man. 1 Corinthians. 11:7.
The woman was created out of the man to be a companion, a partner in his activities and God given tasks. Now we know that Satan spoiled it! He distorted the roles. Thank God that the seed of the woman has come to undo the works of the Devil!
So this section teaches us that we are all of equal status in Christ; when it comes to our roles in the church, or in the family, the Lordship of Christ does not abolish the differences between male and female, but sets them in their proper context. When we are saved, our distinctiveness as men and women is not obliterated, but is restored in accordance with God’s will, the Creator’ intentions. We are brought into line with God’s creating will and that is why the symbols of headship are so important.

Headship in Nature.
Look at v13-15. Finally, Paul shows us how our two symbols of headship fit in with the instincts of nature!
1. If a man has long hair it is a shame upon him. So men will not have long hair, in the interests of modesty! Consequently, they will not need a head covering in the presence of God.
2. If a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her! It is given to her as a covering! Some people argue, using this verse that a woman’s hair is her covering! Sorry, but that excuse will not do! There are two separate words for covering in Greek, and both of them are used in this passage.

a. Verse 15. The word is that means a stole, or a mantle, in other words, a covering to enhance her appearance. It is her glory!
b. Verse 5 and 6. The word is means a complete covering, a veil, a covering to hide!

So long hair is not an alternative to a head covering! The covering in verse 15 is a completely different covering from that in verse 6. God gave women the ability to have long hair as a precious gift, if they want it. It draws attention to them and compels admiration from others. But this is not desirable in the presence of God. There spirituality would suggest to the woman that she should cover up her own glory, so that the glory of God would shine through. This is entirely in accord with NT teaching, for example in 1 Tim 2:1-15, that women should dress with shame facedness and sobriety. And the same teaching applies to women who wear expensive, eye-catching hats, because they are designed to impress, and in God’s presence, that is wrong!

So, how are we to respond to what the Scriptures teach us here? Some say that if our hearts are right then we do not need external symbols to illustrate the headship of Christ. But we can hardly argue that if our hearts are right we don’t need the Lord’s Supper, or baptism. Yet that would be the same argument! And remember what Paul says in verse16.
The Amplified Bible states, “If anyone is disposed to be argumentative and contentious about this, we hold to and recognise no other custom in worship than this, nor do the churches of God generally.” In that one verse, Paul demolishes the argument that this was a command only for Corinth! Nowadays, it is easy for a man to obey God’s Word in this way, not so easy for a woman. When fashion dictates that heads should be uncovered, a Christian woman needs grace, and spiritual strength and courage to obey the Lord.

From → Sermon Notes

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