1 Corinthians 11 begins a new major theme in this letter, with Paul addressing a series of problems related to worship in the church of Corinth. In chapters 11-14, Paul will cover topics such as head coverings, the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts, and order within worship.
Before we dive into the issues that Paul addresses in chapter 11, I want to look at Paul’s words in the first verse of this chapter. 1 Corinthians 11:1 says, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ”. Other versions say, “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ”. In this context, Paul is referencing the many freedoms that Christ gave up to secure our salvation, and in the same way, calls believers to give up many rights and preferences so that others may experience the same salvation.
I wonder what the world around you would look like if you imitated Christ. How would the relationships in your life change? Then, if the people within your sphere of influence imitated you as you imitate Christ. What kinds of walls and strongholds would be broken if more of us committed to imitating Christ daily?
As we dive into the issue of head coverings in Corinthian worship, we must understand the cultural implications of this matter. In that day, head coverings were worn as a sign of submission to authority. Priests would use their togas as a head covering when performing pagan religious sacrifice as a sign of submission to pagan gods. Culturally, women were expected to wear head coverings as an indication that she was married, and as a symbol of her modesty and submission to her husband. In Corinth however, women began to rebel against this principle by not wearing the head covering whether married or not. This began a wave of sexual immorality within the women of the Corinthian church. The best modern-day example of this would be someone who refuses to wear their wedding ring publicly, because they don’t want to give the appearance of being married.
Before he addresses whether or not Christians should wear head coverings, Paul explains that Christ is the head of every man, that the husband is the head of his wife, and the head of Christ is God. Paul says this to explain the natural order of relationships as it relates to our faith. Meaning that as believers, we submit to Christ just as Christ humbly submitted himself on the cross. In the same way, the husband-wife relationship should reflect the God-Christ relationship in terms of submission and authority.
Paul then explains that a man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head while a wife who prays or prophesies without a head covering dishonors her head. Notice that Paul doesn’t say any woman here. He says a wife dishonors her head, which is her husband. In other words, a woman who prays or prophesies without her head being covered dishonors her husband because this act would be viewed as disrespectful or unsubmissive.
As you continue reading in this chapter, Paul makes some very strong statements about how men and women should appear when it comes to prayer and prophesying. So what does all of this mean for believers today? Are men able to wear hats in church? Are women expected to wear head coverings while praying? Are men allowed to have long hair?
Today, I want you to know that God is far more concerned with an attitude of submission than an outward display of submission. Paul confronts the issue with head coverings in the Corinthian church in order to address the deeper issue of the heart. The men and women in the church of Corinth were focused on their outward appearance and the cultural obligations so much so, that they neglected to realize their deeper need for forgiveness.
Christians today have become really good at “looking the part” on the outward. You put on our Sunday best for church. You smile at the greeters as they shake your hand. Somebody asks you how you’re doing, and you say, “I’m blessed”. Maybe you even raise your hand when the worship leader tells you to. That way Sister Susie knows I’ve been a good Christian.
But how often is this just a mask, or a cover, that we put on to give the right appearance? God is far more concerned with an attitude and behavior of submission than He is with just an outward display of submission. God desires that we would truly submit to Him. The good, the bad, the ugly. The Sunday best or your Monday worst. Whether it’s been a day or a lifetime since you’ve been in relationship with Him, God wants you to submit today!