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. 
Our text this morning is a transition of thought. The apostle Paul has been writing about how the members of the church were exercising their rights and liberties in the world. Those issues were outside the context of worship. Now, Paul will write about how the members of the church should exercise their rights and liberties within the church in the context of worship. Paul shifts from the life of the church in the world to the life of the church in the church. In chapters 11-14, Paul will address several different issues in the life of the church such as fashion and style, the Lord supper, spiritual gifts, prophecy and tongues, and orderly worship.
We draw the context from verses 2 and 16. “2 Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.” In other words, they remember Paul’s Apostolic office (even though some consider him a lesser apostle). And they remember his Apostolic teaching (the traditions he passed down). “16 If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.” Paul tells them to conform their worship practices to that of the universal church. The primary issue in this text is about how the church pleases God in worship. Paul wants the Corinthian congregation to think about its worship practices and examine whether God receives the attention or whether the members of the church receive the attention. In other words, who is being glorified when the Corinthians gather for worship? There are three movements in the text: freedom of worship; order of worship; and the reality of divine love.
FREEDOM OF WORSHIP
First, many people in our modern Western culture today, Christian, or not, would take offense when they read or hear this text. There is a significant cultural gap between our situation and that of the 1st-century Corinthians. Some of the things that were common to them would seem quite strange to us. In the same way, some of the things that are common to us would be completely inconceivable to them. There is, however, significant overlap between us and the early believers of Corinth. This is at least true on the level of principle. The application of biblical principles may take various forms in different cultures, but the principles themselves still stand.
Second, this text is not addressed only to women. It is balanced between women and men, with only one verse addressed to women that doesn’t have a parallel address to men (v. 10). Third, the text does not leave us with only two interpretive options. Some liberal scholars dismiss Paul’s words and intention altogether. Some conservative scholars pursue a strict adherence to the letter of Paul’s words, missing the underlying principle and spirit. There is a third way that some scholars refer to as “liberated traditionalism.”
The surface issue in the passage was how to dress in Christian worship. “4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head….” It appears that some men in Corinth were wearing head coverings and possibly growing their hair out in a way that reflected the attire of pagans practicing idol worship. This scandalized the church. “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.” It also seems that some of the women had given up the common cultural practice of wearing their hair up and/or wearing some sort of covering on their head during worship. Really, it is impossible to be dogmatic on the exact nature of this fashion problem since scholars cannot agree on exactly what the fashion problem was. We know only that it involved female heads and hair. It’s possible, in the freedom of worship, some women allowed their hair to hang down on their shoulders. In their cultural setting, that implied they were “available,” like the prostitute priestesses in the pagan temples. If such is the case, this would have scandalized the culture of Corinth both inside and outside the church.
We need to understand the scandalous freedom given to members of the congregation in their culture. Women in the Corinthian congregation were encouraged to pray and prophesy, according to verse 5. That was a huge contrast to Jewish synagogue worship where women were not considered full members and had to sit behind a veil. In the church, women were full participants in the worship service – something unheard of in that time. Christianity recognizes the full equality and interdependence of both sexes. Both were made in God’s image. Genesis 1:27 says: “so God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; Male and female he created them.” Paul tells the Corinthians to recognize this interdependence in verses 11, 12: “in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as a woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. All things are from God.”
The idea of interdependence and equality would have been scandalous to the pagans of Corinth. It challenged the hierarchical society in which women were considered to be less than. That equality and interdependence afforded the Corinthians scandalous freedom in worship. Christians may approach God regardless of age, ethnicity, class, or gender. However, it’s possible that an overemphasis on liberty could threaten “traditions” (meaning apostolic, biblical teachings; v. 2). It is possible to embrace these scriptural truths about freedom but still ignore some of the clear teaching of scripture. That’s what the Corinthians were doing. They were neglecting the scandalous order of worship.
ORDER OF WORSHIP
Paul doesn’t want the Corinthians to give up their freedoms and liberties, but to direct them in the way they can best exercise their liberties to the glory of God in corporate worship. It is at this point that many begin to bristle. Consider verse 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.” The liberality of our worship is characterized by order. That is an upside-down concept! As Gordon Fee writes in his commentary, “The [“head”] metaphor in v. 3, which has traditionally been interpreted as defending the need for the woman to maintain her place of subordination to her “head,” namely her husband, is often seen as the point of the whole passage. More likely, however, this is simply an attempt on Paul’s part to remove the problem from the “head” literally by putting it into a broader context of relationships. …. The metaphor itself is often understood to be hierarchical, setting up structures of authority. But nothing in the passage suggests as much; in fact, the only appearance of the word exousia (“authority”) refers to the woman’s own authority (v. 10).”
Paul grounds his teaching in the order of the Trinity. In the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are equal in being and essence. But they willingly choose to fulfill different functions and roles for the purpose of shedding their love upon the elect. When Jesus chose to subordinate himself to the will of the Father in the Trinitarian plan of salvation it was a sign of humility and strength, not weakness. Understanding the relationship of husband and wife from the perspective of Christ’s work gives us the proper lens to see the beauty of equal, interdependent relationships.
Paul warns the Corinthians not to unintentionally scandalize the order of creation. Both males and females have the privilege to uniquely display God’s image. Even so, there is an order to creation: “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.” Paul is not stating some novel new theology. Moses tells us in Genesis that Eve was created in light of Adam’s lack of a suitable mate. When Adam saw her, he said, “this at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23). When God looks at man, he sees his own image. When man looks at woman, he sees his image.
Paul is teaching us that everyone willingly submits to something or someone. Don’t conduct yourself in a way that would dishonor the one to whom you are submitting. Men dishonor God by adopting idolatrous dress in worship. Women dishonor God and their husbands by adopting some form of dress that calls their marital status into question and possibly associates them with the temple priestesses. In both instances, people are coming to church dressing for horizontal approval and attention by displaying their cultural freedom. As in Paul’s comments in the previous chapters, the Corinthians were in it for their own glory more than God’s glory. Because they understood that everyone was equal and that they were free, and because they had come to believe that they had achieved the perfect spirituality of sexless angels, they felt free to call attention to themselves.
Additionally, Paul doesn’t want the Corinthians to do anything that will unnecessarily scandalize the cultural order. “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….” Paul makes a direct appeal to “nature,” meaning the observable way things are. He clearly knows that men can have long hair (Nazirite vows would be a biblical example; Jewish priests wore head coverings), but he appeals to common practice of the broader Greco-Roman culture to fortify his argument. This would not be an airtight argument for us today because our cultural context makes his point much less obvious. Our styles and customs are different from those of ancient Corinth.
We have to remember that Paul’s principle is creational order. We need to determine how that applies in our present cultural era. In our day, obedience to this section of the Word likely means not wearing head coverings to needlessly scandalize our culture with self-directed legalism. Because, again, it’s not about me or my pietistic performance; it’s all about Jesus! The danger of freedom is that we can express liberty at the expense of the Apostolic teaching, and the Old Testament scriptures (which both functioned as the Word of God in the early church). The danger of order is that individuals can fall into the trap of hierarchic structure (inequality) and traditionalism that chokes out liberty. That’s why we strive for liberated tradition.
Our problem is that individuals tend to swing towards one side of the pendulum or the other. There are still pockets of unchecked traditionalism. This congregation has had its share of pietistic worship wars over traditionalistic issues like women praying or reading scripture, piano and organ versus guitar, 200-year-old hymns versus hymns written in the last 20 to 30 years, electronic equipment on stage, the use of English Bible translations, and even the use of overhead screens. The issue is: “Do I come to church to be entertained and noticed in the way I demand, or do I come to glorify God in Christ Jesus and have him minister to me in Word and sacrament?” My acceptance of God’s created order of his divine service to me in word and sacrament is intended to lead to maximum human flourishing. But how do we know that God actually knows what is best for human flourishing?
REALITY OF DIVINE LOVE
The order we find in creation is a result of God’s good design intended to reflect his nature. The Son did not have to submit to the Father but chose to do so to redeem the elect from their spiritual death. He was not forced to do so; he willingly submitted in order to secure our salvation. Self-giving is a part of the fingerprint of God. Our attempts at reflecting this are fallen, broken, mixed with sin and self-interest at every point. The loving submission of the Trinity offers us a big glimpse of what redeemed human relationships might look like. Seeing the relationship of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit allows us to deconstruct our personal views on our differences in role or function, and in freedom verses restraint. From the working of the Godhead, we can understand that submission is not a belittlement but a horizontal expression of divine love.
The Apostle John preached:
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is the love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us, and his love is perfected in us. 
Individuals within the gospel community are equal and interdependent. We are called to function in relationships of mutual self-giving. Ultimately, this passage is not about marriage relationships, or the role of women in the church, or whether women ought to cover their heads in modern Western culture generally, and particularly in Christian worship. It’s not about masculinity or femineity. At best, those are merely the surface symptoms of deeper heart sin. They reveal the underlying condition of certain people in the Corinthian congregation desperate for human attention and approval – people primarily focused upon themselves and their own felt needs. That is the opposite of biblical self-giving love that seeks to glorify God in Christ Jesus.
Of course, there are very sincere believers today who honestly want to exercise or curb their freedoms in hopes of glorifying God. There are men who consciously wear short hair to honor God. There are women who consciously attend worship by wearing their hair up or putting on a head covering. That was NOT the case in Corinth. It’s easy for us to be paralyzed when we put too much emphasis on examining our motives. Good works only flow from the Holy Spirit and your motives will always be mixed. Don’t be afraid to do something your conscience binds you to do. The Corinthians, however, appear to have been in the works business more for personal notice than for God’s glory. They loved making up their own rules, whether libertine or legalistic, for their own self-styled spiritual improvement (self-indulgence).
It’s easy to focus on the particulars of the Corinthian fashion wars. After all, we want to know what the rules are so we can all follow the rules. Of course, in a fallen world, we not only have a God-given desire to please God but also a heart hardwired by sin that loves to be seen following the rules (or breaking them) so that we can receive positive attention and approval and gain false righteousness. We love to make our Christian faith primarily about the rules. If I cut my hair short, then I am a far godlier man than the dude with longer hair. If you put a doily on your head, then you are godlier then that woman over there wearing her hair down. But there’s something else about our natural love of rules. Being seen following the rules is far easier and more pleasant than rooting out the deep heart sins that drive our surface actions and attitudes.
We intentionally confuse God’s perfect holiness with our rule-keeping, shrinking his demand for our complete perfection. We naturally labor under the lie that we are really not as sinful as scripture says that we are by undertaking self-directed works (like the Corinthian fashion war or food fights). We shrink God’s holiness. We shrink our sinfulness. And in so doing, we rob God of his glory displayed at Calvary. We shrink the cross and try to replace some of its power with our own pretending and performing. The Corinthians pretended and performed with their diets and their fashion statements and, as we sill see, with the Lord’s Supper and even with their spiritual gifts!
They simply refused to believe they were really THAT sinful and that God was truly THAT loving as to accept them – warts and all. When we shrink grace down to something that is less than amazing, we shrink God’s love. And only the love of God in Christ Jesus for us can make us self-giving lovers of God and others. You cannot self-generate good works. You cannot self-generate divine love. You can only receive it by trusting into the perfectly lived life and sacrificial death of the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ. You cannot root out your deep heart sins; but the Spirit of Christ who dwells in you can and will in his own good time and ways. You are far worse than you think you are. But God’s grace is far greater than we can begin to discover in this life! May you come to know more and more and more of it in this life so that you contribute love to the gospel community and to your lost and dying neighbors.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 11:2–16.
 Um, 195. Kindle Edition.
 Id., 196 quoting Craig L. Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), p. 218.
 Fee, 499-502.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 4:9–12.