Distractions are everywhere. I bet you saw people who were distracted while you were driving to church this morning. On Wednesday of this past week I was second in line at a stop light, in the turn lane ready to turn left when the light turned green. The light turned green and the car in front of me didn’t move, not an inch. Instead of honking my horn I decided to see how long it would take for the person, the distracted person who was on their phone I’m sure, noticed the light had changed. I didn’t honk. I didn’t shift into neutral and rev my engine. I waited and waited. The car never moved until just before the light was turning red. They ran the red light and I continued to wait until the next green light. So frustrating isn’t it?
Not only do we have distracted driving, but we also have distracted parenting. Kids vying for their parent’s attention while mom and dad are on their phones checking their friend’s latest post to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or TicTok. “Mom.” “Wait just a second honey.” “Dad.” “I’m almost finished.” Twenty minutes later the kid yells, “Mom!” and mom says, “I have to finish this first,” as mom continues to scroll and scroll and scroll. And we dads are just as guilty while we scroll through ESPN, some other favorite app of ours, or play our games on our phones.
Our kids are taking these lessons to heart. I can’t imagine how hard it was during the last school year, while most every school was Zooming, for the kids to stay focused on doing their school work. The creators of Zoom are well aware of the problem because they’ve created a new “focus mode” where the teacher can now see all of the students, but the student can only see the teacher. The “focus mode” was created to try and limit the distractions kids have to deal with this year if schools go back to online learning.
If you think we can be distracted six days a week and then suddenly, on Sunday morning, we can hone in, be absolutely focused on hearing from the Lord while we are at church, then you might be naive. We are not the first generation to find ourselves plagued by distractions. In 1673, a Puritan preacher named Richard Steele wrote a book, “Remedy for Wandering Thoughts in the Worship of God.” He said, “My own disease caused me to study the cure.” It was a verse in 1 Corinthians that convicted the pastor of how important it is to come into God’s presence with no distractions. Take a look at the verse that caught Pastor Steele’s attention.
…I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible. (1 Corinthians 7:35 NLT)
Paul wanted there to be no distractions for God’s people in worship and in sharing the Gospel in their city of Corinth. As we turn to our Scripture for today, found in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, I need to forewarn you. There are parts of the Scripture that are tough for us to understand. I can almost guarantee that after we have read our Scripture for this morning the vast majority of you will shake your head and say to yourself, “That has nothing to do with me. I should have stayed home.” Let’s read our Scripture and you can see if I’m right.
2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. 3 But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head– it is the same as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head. 7 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 did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice– nor do the churches of God. (1 Corinthians 11:2-16 NIV)
Am I right? If I went around the room and asked all of you, “What is the one thing you got from our Scripture?” The majority of the responses would be either “the head of every woman is man” or “a woman ought to keep her head covered.” The first response is appalling, unacceptable, even reprehensible to many of you who are women. The second answer is irrelevant and has nothing to do with modern-day worship. So, we might as well go home huh? Not so quick.
There’s no doubt that this is a tough section of Scripture to understand and many Bible teachers who have spent their lives studying 1 Corinthians say that this section is one of the most difficult to understand in all of the New Testament. We are not the first to say that Paul can, at times, be hard to understand. Peter wrote,
15 …Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. (2 Peter 3:15-16 ESV)
Peter said Paul can be hard to understand at times. I have to tell you what happened to me on Sunday night. Before I went to bed I read the Scripture I would be studying during the week, this Scripture from 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. As I was reading it my watch buzzed. I looked at it and I had a message from Garmin: “Relax Reminder: Stress seems high at the moment. Take a moment to breathe?” My stress was high. I was thinking, “What in the world am I going to do with this?” I told Connie about it and she said, “You know, you don’t have to teach on every verse.” But I do. Every word in God’s Word is there for a reason and it is given for our edification and instruction. So, I’ve been studying these verses throughout the week.
First of all, we need a broader understanding of Paul’s intent for us to understand these specific verses. If you read chapters 8-14 you will recognize that Paul is concerned about worship. We’ve spent the last few weeks talking about avoiding false idols and pagan worship feasts in chapters 8-10. Our Scripture for this morning addresses the way men and women in Corinth should worship together. 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 deals with the abuse that was taking place surrounding the Lord’s Supper in worship and how the rich and poor should celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. Then, in chapters 12-14, Paul will address the proper use of spiritual gifts and the abuse of those gifts in worship.
David Garland, in his wonderful commentary on 1 Corinthians, says that it is imperative that we have a cultural understanding of life in Corinth for us to understand what Paul is teaching. That is such a great point. Oftentimes when we study God’s Word we fail to recognize that we are reading an ancient book from a land far away and a society that was very unlike our own. That doesn’t mean God’s Word is not applicable for us, it is the most applicable of all books because it is more than a book–it is the living Word of God. With that said, we need to take the time to understand the setting so we can make sense of the lesson God has for us. David Garland writes,
In a hierarchically structured shame/honor society, Paul is concerned about the propriety of women’s appearance in public worship. In this gender-divided shame/honor culture, the head of the family publicly symbolized the family’s honor, and members of the family were to behave in public so as not to bring disgrace or dishonor to that person and the family’s good name (Garland, David. 1 Corinthians. pg 509).
In the culture at Corinth, and in most ancient cultures, they lived within a male dominated, patriarchal society. In these patriarchal societies the behavior of a woman could bring shame or honor on her husband or father. The women were taught to be respectable and socially aware of their behavior when they were out in public. The head covering was part of the expected attire for all married women. Uncovering their heads in public had moral and sexual implications in society. A covered head showed innocence, virtue, and a loyalty to her husband. One commentator writes,
Respectable women did nothing to draw attention to themselves…a veil or hood constituted a warning: it signified that the wearer was a respectable woman that no man dare approach without risking…penalties (Rouselle, A. Body Politics in Ancient Rome. pg. 315).
For the Jews, a married woman who would go out in public with her head uncovered was a disgrace and it was even grounds for divorce. Paul tells the sisters in Corinth that they need to keep their heads covered while they are in worship. Why was insisting on women continuing to cover their heads such a big deal to Paul? That’s a great question and I believe the answer is that there were so many cultural assumptions already in place about head coverings for women that Paul didn’t want God’s women to be misjudged for not wearing a head covering. There is another issue that I think is important, but we will get to it in a moment.
Next, Paul also tells the men not to cover their heads. The reason he gives the men this instruction is because in Roman culture and in the pagan temples it was not uncommon for men to cover their heads as a sign of holiness and devotion to their pagan god.
The statue from Corinth of a veiled Augustus–with his toga pulled over his head in preparation to offer a libation–may offer an important clue. The statue was a propaganda piece intended to present the emperor as a pious Roman. Wearing the toga over the head at pagan sacrifices was a familiar practice… (Garland, David. pg. 517)
Paul doesn’t want God’s men to be confused with the men of the city who were visiting the temples of Aphrodite or Apollo or Jupiter or any other of the many temples in Corinth.
I told you that I believe there was another reason why Paul stressed how important it was for women to keep their head covered and men to not cover their heads while they were in worship. The more I have thought about this during the week, the question has come to me again and again, “What was the focus of the worship that took place in Corinth?” We can ask the same question this morning: “What is to be the focus of our worship each and every time we get together?” Is it to draw attention to ourselves or make sure that we are not a distraction so that all attention can be focused on the Lord? Stop and think about this with me for a moment. It was customary for all married women in Corinth to wear a covering for their hair. It is customary for us to wear clothes. If a man or woman walked into worship this morning with no clothes on, he or she would get everyone’s attention wouldn’t they? Moms and dads would be shielding the eyes of their kids, but everyone else would be breaking their necks to see what was going on…and our attention would be taken off of the Lord and focused on the person. Paul wanted to remove every distraction in worship so all eyes, hearts, and minds would be on the Lord. That is why Paul was so interested in teaching the church what was proper and why he pointed out those things that were improper. We’ll see this again next week when we talk about the Lord’s Supper.
Paul wrote that for married women to uncover their head would bring dishonor to their head. Men who covered their head would bring dishonor to their head. The Greek word for “head,” is an interesting word. It is the Greek word, “Kephale,” and it can refer to our physical heads, it can be used to describe that which is supreme, chief, prominent, and it can also be used to describe the source, like the headwaters of a river. This Greek word is used over and over again by Paul in our Scripture for this morning. It appears three times in verse 2, twice in verse 4, twice in verse 5, once in verse 7, and once again in verse 10. I’d say we might want to understand why Paul used the word so many times. The first time Paul uses it is in verse 3. Let’s read it together.
3 But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Corinthians 11:3 NIV)
I just lost half of our congregation. You ladies heard me read, “the head of the woman is man…” and that was it. Why is that? Well, I bet that it is because of a couple of reasons. First, you may have been taught some things about biblical headship that aren’t biblical. I know that is taking place because of counseling sessions I’ve had with couples where men have told me, “Doesn’t the Bible say that she has to submit to me?” I cringe every time some guy says that. It immediately let’s me know he doesn’t know the first thing about biblical headship, which when modeled on Jesus as our Head, is actually servant leadership. The guys who have asked me that question really just want to get their way. The second reason why I lost some of you ladies is because we don’t live in a culture like Corinth or the ancient Mediterranean world or many patriarchal societies that are still in existence today. I do hear talk about how America is a patriarchal society, but women in America have so much freedom and so many opportunities compared to the women in biblical times or in many other parts of the world today.
Here in verse 3, Paul isn’t laying out his case for the superiority of men or the inferiority of women. What he is trying to do is to teach the people of Corinth, and us, that every person has a head, both physically and metaphorically, and what the men and women of Corinth were doing with their physical head was bringing either shame or glory to their metaphorical head. Verses 4-5 are good examples of this. Read it with me.
4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head– it is the same as having her head shaved. (1 Corinthians 11:4-5 NIV)
If the “Head” of man is Christ and a man prays with his head covered, like pagan men have been known to pray, then the man dishonors Christ, his Head. If a married woman prays or prophesies with her head uncovered with all of the cultural baggage that carried in that day, then she dishonors her head, her husband.
Paul takes the church in Corinth back to Genesis 1-2 when he writes in verses 7-9 that the man is the image and glory of God and that woman is the glory of man. That statement seems sexist to some of you, but once you understand how Paul arrived at his thought, you will recognize the beauty of it. Read these verses with me.
7 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 did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. (1 Corinthians 11:7-9 NIV)
I was talking to a friend this past week about these verses. My friend said, “Paul’s a male chauvinist.” Let me show you why I don’t believe that. Let’s begin with Genesis 1:26-27. Read along with me.
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27 NIV)
We learn here that God created people, in His image, in His likeness. He created them male and female. Are we straight so far? But how did God do it? How did He create the first man and the first woman? Turn with me to Genesis 2 and let’s begin with verse 7.
7 Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7 NIV)
So God formed man, Adam, from the dust of the ground “and the man became a living being.” We’re not done yet. Let’s turn to verse 20 and read a little further.
20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. 23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” (Genesis 2:20-23 NIV)
God formed Adam from the dust of the ground, but God made a woman, Eve, from the rib of man. Ciampi and Rosner say that Paul’s
…Statement that the woman is the glory of the man in v. 7 calls to mind that he understands Adam to have been uniquely made in God’s image (without any human contribution), while God’s image was passed to Eve through Adam (Ciampi and Rosner. The First Letter to the Corinthians. pg. 524).
Paul is not a male chauvinist. What he is, is well aware of the creation story. Woman is the glory of man because she was made from the rib of Adam. The way God created Adam reflects the glory of God and the way Eve was taken from Adam reflects the glory of man, not that Adam created Eve, but that she was taken from his own body. A little later in chapter 11, Paul shines the light on the origin of men and women since the creation of Adam and Eve. Read verses 11-12 with me.
11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. (1 Corinthians 11:11-12 NIV)
Did you notice that little phrase at the beginning of verse 11? Paul writes, “in the Lord” woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. What a beautiful statement. “In the Lord” we are equals before the Lord.
The interdependence of man and woman is really evident in the creation story. Let me show you what I mean. While Adam was alone, God said it was not good. As a resolution to the problem God said He would create an “ezer kenegdo” for Adam. In your Bible it probably says, “a helper suitable for him.” So what was Eve? A secretary, an assistant? The phrase is not really helpful in describing God’s intent in creating Eve. The Hebrew scholar, Dr. Robert Alter translates the phrase much more beautifully and vividly for us. He says God created Eve as a “sustainer beside him.” The reason he translates the Hebrew this way is because the word, “ezer” is used only 20 times in the entire Hebrew Bible. Each time, outside of God’s creating Eve as an “ezer,” it is used to describe God himself when someone desperately needed Him to come through for them. So Dr. Alter’s translation describes God’s gift to Adam in Eve as “a sustainer beside him.” Isn’t that powerful!
Because we read God’s Word through the lens of our day instead of taking the time to dig deep and really study God’s Word we end up concluding that Paul or the Bible is sexist when in actuality Jesus and His followers were the great liberators of women in society. Let me just give you one more example before we have to stop.
There has been a big debate for years and years about the place of women in the church. Are women free to serve God in the ministry and if so, to what degree, in what roles? I have a friend who pastors in a denomination where women are allowed to work in the nursery, the kitchen, and the church office. They can teach women, but they can’t even walk by a men’s Bible study. Now, I know a dirty little secret about this denomination that I will let you in on. The same denomination allows women in Third World countries to teach anybody and everybody. As a matter of fact, there are more women missionaries than men in that denomination because they can’t get men to go to some of these remote areas where serving is tough on a lot of levels.
Isn’t it interesting that in our Scripture for today Paul assumes that the women in the church at Corinth are praying and prophesying during worship? Did you miss that when we read it earlier? He doesn’t criticize the women at all for praying or prophesying, Paul is simply pointing out that they need to keep their heads covered when they pray and prophesy. In verse 5, Paul wrote,
5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head– (1 Corinthians 11:5 NIV)
They aren’t dishonoring their head because they are praying and prophesying unless their head is uncovered. Their praying and prophesying is building up the church, but their not wearing a head covering is a distraction.
It is time for us to stop. I hope that today you have been encouraged by God’s Word. I also hope that our time together will cause you to stop and think about how important it is to not be a distraction, either in God’s House or during the week as we go to work, spend time with our families, and friends. Our purpose is to shine the spotlight on Jesus in everything we do and not bring attention to ourselves. I pray we’ll all do that this week.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
August 22, 2021
1 Corinthians 11:2-16