Week 11– Head Coverings and the Created Order
1 Corinthians 11:1-16
By Harvey Edwards IV
One of the most challenging things about submitting ourselves to Jesus is how differently God’s economy of value differs from that of the world. In our world, the higher up the chain of authority you are, the more valuable you seem to be. Your opinion matters more. You make more money. You have more prestige. You get deferential treatment. There are so many perks for people in positions of power. And yet, God’s economy is vastly different from this.
God shows no partiality (Galatians 2:6). We are all made in the image of God and all possess equal dignity, value, and worth. In God’s kingdom, greatness is not measured by the authority that we hold, but how we seek to follow the example of Christ in loving God and others. Jesus models this. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus, the one to whom belongs all glory and honor, came to serve. In Matthew 20:25-28, we read, “25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Our lives are meant to be lived in service to the Lord, loving him and others. As believers, we have been placed by the Lord in different positions of authority and in different roles in this life, not based on our value, but based on what he has for us to accomplish in him (Ephesians 2:10).
As we study this week’s passage, we must remember that God’s design for his world is in conflict with how our world determines position and value. God’s desire is for his people to know and serve him, and that this is for our good, even if it seems in conflict with what we have picked up from the culture around us.
Read 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 together
- What does this passage say about God, who He is, and what He does? (Father, Son, and Spirit)
- What does this passage teach me about me?
- What comfort/promise/challenge can I take away from this passage?
- How will I respond or live differently because of what I’ve read?
Passage Specific Questions
- What are some temptations we face with regard to doubting God’s design for us as human beings?
- What are ways that living according to God’s design for men and women is difficult? How does living according to God’s design bring blessing in our lives?
- How does God’s created order help us understand our relationship with him?
Placing this in context – In 1 Corinthians, Paul is writing to help the church at Corinth understand the way they are meant to live in light of the gospel. They have had various problems and divisions arise in the church, and Paul is helping them apply the gospel to these situations. The goal is for believers to see the freedom, life, and joy that comes from living our lives according to who God has called and made us to be in Jesus. We are saved by Jesus to the glory of God. Our lives are meant to point others to the glory of God and the salvation that is available in Jesus. As we live out the different roles he has given us in the different situations he has placed us in, we live to the glory of God, seeking to make the name of Jesus known.
The immediate context of the passage we are looking at this week is Paul’s instruction on doing everything to the glory of the Lord. Paul discusses the liberties we have in Jesus, particularly as we learn to completely submit to him as the author and provider of every good thing. Then Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:2,
“31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”
Our lives are meant to give glory to God, and so we imitate Christ as we seek to live in a way that demonstrates our faith in Jesus. This truth must guide us at all times but may especially be important to keep in mind when the Scriptures call us to difficult things or things in conflict with our culture.
11:1-16 – Paul teaches that there are right and wrong ways to approach the Lord in worship. Here, he deals with some of the differences in the roles of men and women in the church as they pray or prophesy. Paul’s intent in this passage is for us to be a people who submit to God’s design in trust that his ways are better and higher than ours and thus bear witness to his goodness and bring glory to his name. When we fail to live according to God’s design, our actions communicate doubt in the goodness of God and his ways.
The Bible teaches that we are all created in the image of God. This is true for men and women. This means that we are all inherently equal in value and worth. We have all been created by God, for his glory, and by his perfect design. God’s design is good, but because of sin, we do not grasp the goodness of his design. Not only has our understanding been darkened, but our desires have been disordered, such that we do not want to live according to his design. This plays out in this passage in Paul’s discussion of headship.
Headship refers to authority. We often believe the cultural lie that authority is synonymous with value. When Paul begins to talk about the husband being the head of the wife, we grow uncomfortable. This is understandable, because in this sinful world, those who are powerful often use their power to serve themselves and thus assert an unspoken belief that they are superior. But this is a perversion of what God intends. Men are not superior to women.
There is no difference in value between men and women, only a difference in role. This is established in the creation narratives in Genesis 1–2, where we see unique purposes and origins of men and women. Eve was created from the side of Adam to be a helper fit for him. Paul explores the differences in role and authority given to men and women here and in some of his other writings (for example in Ephesians 5 and 1 Timothy 2-3). What we see is the roles of men and women in marriage are intentionally different and meant to image to the world how Jesus relates to his church and vice versa. This includes the headship of the man in marriage. God designed men and women to uniquely fulfill their roles in marriage that they might thrive and that he might receive the utmost glory.
Again, despite this difference in role, there is no difference in value. We see this in the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. Paul says that God is the head of Christ. Jesus submits himself to the Father’s will, but we know there is no difference in value. Jesus is fully God (John 1). God’s design is for his glory and our good, both male and female.
We see in 1 Corinthians that there are many ways the Corinthians have failed to apply God’s Word to their lives and worship. In this passage, some married women who have ceased to wear coverings on their heads as they pray and prophesy. It is obvious from Paul’s writing that this was disgraceful in their context. Paul says the wives who would go with their head uncovered may as well wear their hair short—again something disgraceful in their context. In the Corinthian culture, their behavior demonstrates a rejection of the roles God has given men and women. In the creation account, though men and women are both created in the image of God, they were created in a different way. Eve was brought forth from Adam, and she was created, with a different role. Adam was to work the garden and keep it and Eve was to be a helper for him (Genesis 2:15-18; again, it is important to remember this language says nothing about value. The Bible uses this same term, “helper,” to refer to God). Together they were to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and to have dominion over it (Genesis 1:26-30). The fact that wives were praying and prophesying (which is different from teaching as discussed in 1 Timothy 2–3) was not the problem. For them to do so with an uncovered head (the cultural symbol of the wife’s submission to her husband) was. When the wives removed their head coverings to pray and prophesy, Paul says they were removing the sign of their submission to their husbands, thus leading people away from God’s design for the created order. (Remember, marriage is meant to help us understand how Christ loves his bride the church, and how the church submits to Christ as seen in Ephesians 5:22-33. Our gender roles are meant to help us see what it means to be joined to Christ).
Paul is careful to point out that this sign of submission does not signify a lack of importance. There is a mutual dependence of men and women in God’s design—woman was made from man, and now man is born of woman (11-12). This is God’s design.
Paul teaches that the way the Corinthians deal with head coverings displays either their willingness to submit to God’s design and role for men and women or their denial of God’s authority over them. Why is this? Is there something about head coverings that is inherently indicative of authority? Or are head coverings the cultural expression of this authority? People have written a lot about this topic. I believe that Paul is not making a universal statement about head coverings, but rather head coverings are a cultural application of a way the Corinthians are choosing to either submit to God’s design for men and women or to live according to their own ways. Paul’s main idea is not to prescribe ways of wearing our hair, but rather for us to be a people whose lives demonstrate a belief in the goodness of God and his design for his world. Paul wants us to be a people who exercise our God-given spiritual gifts in a way that demonstrates our submission to God’s design in every part of our lives, including our identity as males and females. God has not arbitrarily assigned these roles; rather, as demonstrated in Ephesians 5:22-33, they tell us something about who he is and what he is doing. Our trust in God’s Word and willingness to submit to his design should point people to the truth that God has all authority, that he is good, and that he can be trusted. After all, the whole purpose of marriage is to help us understand that in Jesus, God is joining us to himself.
The Main Point
We are called to live according to God’s design for his world, even when that is in conflict with what this world teaches. What we will find is that God’s design is better than ours. As we live according to his Word, we learn more about him and his purposes, and as we grow in relationship with him, our lives point others towards Jesus.
A Few Relevant Scriptures
- Genesis 1:26-28 – The creation of humanity in the image of God.
- Genesis 2:18-25 – The creation of woman from man and the complimentary design of this relationship.
- Ephesians 5:22-33 – This passage discusses how gender roles inside of marriage help us to understand the gospel and how we are united to Jesus and made one with him.
- The Gospel and Relationships – Sermon on Ephesians 5 by Michael Green, from our series on Ephesians