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Feb 05, 2012

Your Submission As Worship

Passage: 1 Corinthians 11:2-34

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Objects for Worship--1 Corinthians 8-14

Category: Life Together

Keywords: worship, roles, men, women, masculinity, femininity


Submission is a part of life for God's children. When it comes to life together and our worship of Christ together, submission plays a huge role in how we are to relate to God and each other. God further tells us that the differences between men and women in the church worship setting also demonstrate our mutual submission to Christ. This message looks at how those masculine and feminine differences in roles should function and lead to deeper worship.


Our Sub-Mission as Worship

I Corinthians 11:1-16

February 5, 2012



  • Recap last week and feedback.  We’ll probably try to do a Fellowship-Meal service once/quarter or every-other-month.
  • Today we’re coming back to the beginning of I Cor. 11.  Whereas the latter part of this chapter (last week’s section) dealt with battles over the Lord’s Table, this week’s section deals with The Battle of the Sexes when it comes to worship in the church.

Chapter 11 actually represents a major section and scene change in I Corinthians.  Paul is going to begin addressing matters specifically related to worship in the church.  He’ll talk in chapter 11 about how men and women are to handle praying and prophesying in the church, then move to issues about the Lord’s Supper.  In chapters 12-14 he will deal with spiritual gifts in the church and then he’ll end chapter 14 by again addressing the roles of men and women in church worship and leadership. 


This morning I’d like to tackle this passage a little differently.  Some commentators have labeled particular phrases in this passage as THE most difficult New Testament passage when it comes to figuring out what Paul actually meant under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit here.  I have a host of books on this issue of the role of men and women in marriage and the church AND there is a wide range of differing opinions all held by very godly people on just what this passage means and how it is to be applied.  So a heavy dose of humility and brotherly/sisterly love is certainly called for in any study of this passage.

For starters I’d like to spend a few minutes simply explaining WHAT I think this section is teaching verse-by-verse and WHY I think that.  Then I’d like us to spend a good bit of time wrestling with the implications and applications of this passage to the church today.  So…here we go.  [Maybe it would be better to have all the men sit on one side and all the women on another today? J]


Let’s read starting in I Cor. 11:2-- Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.

Paul starts by commending a not-very-commendable Corinthian church for actually doing something right—at least trying to hold onto the “traditions” that he taught them when he both wrote and visited them.  He’s going to go on to identify areas where they are missing the boat, stuff like traditions regarding women, the Lord’s Supper and spiritual gifts. But he starts by finding something good for which to applaud them—not forgetting Paul and the teachings he first gave them.  (That’s a good model for any of us who work with people:  find the positive before you try and correct the deficiencies.)


But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.


Paul here introduces the basic premise that everyone has a “head.” The word “head” is difficult to interpret and forms much of the great debate among Christians as to the proper roles of men and women in God’s church. 

“Head”(kephale) can have three possible meanings:

(1) prominence

(2) authority/leader

(3) source

The same ambiguity is true in English when we talk about (1) the head/top of a mountain, (2) the head/leader of a company, or (3) the head/source of a river.

In most cases where “head” does not mean a particular body part, the word most frequently carries the nuance of authority/leadership (2) or prominence, especially in Paul’s writings (see Eph. 1:22 & Col. 2:10). The least likely option is “source.” 

Thus, Paul seems to mean that just as Christ as the Son acknowledges the preeminence or authority of the Father and men acknowledge the preeminence and authority of Christ over them, so women acknowledge the preeminence/authority of men (or often do) in the male-female relationship (or at least the husband-wife relationship…and, as Paul will point out, in the church setting as well).

But prominence or authority in a relationship does not imply superiority or inferiority.  It does not carry that meaning in the relationship between the Father and the Son, and it should not mean that between men and women in marriage or the church either

The Bible tells us that God the Son does nothing of His own initiative but brings glory to the Father (John 5:18-33; 8:38, 49-50; 10:25; 17:1, 24-26). As there is no inequality in the Trinity, there is no inequality of nature of men and women. Both men and women are equally the image-bearers of God.  But the Bible does talk about different roles each member of the Trinity has, just as it talks about the different roles men and women have in marriage, family and the church.

In Ephesians, Paul calls Christ the head (GK: kephale) of the church, which is his body (1:22). This means that Jesus is the leader of the church. He has the right to set the ultimate direction of that relationship. Yet when Jesus was here on earth carrying out His redemptive ministry, He was always in submission to His heavenly Father and did that which pleased His Father, even though He has always been equal to the Father as deity.

In the same way, the woman is called to recognize her husband’s or her father’s or her church leader’s spiritual headship over her.  And, I would add, that men are to recognize women’s full equality of salvation, of relationship with Christ and of spiritual privileges in Christ with man (Gal. 3:28). 


APP:  If you don’t want to be counter-culture, don’t be a Christian!  Women, as you know, this passage makes most females in our culture bristle.  If you don’t believe me, try reading this verse at the lunch table in any college cafeteria or any office break room.  Our culture has no room for gender-specific roles or leadership, zero!


Moving on….

11:4--Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head.

Paul now applies the spiritual principle of headship in 11:4-6 in the context of praying and prophesying in public worship. It is possible that praying or prophesying with your head covered, if you were a man, was something pagans did in Corinth.  So doing that in the church would dishonor both the man doing it and the Lord Jesus who was to be the head of men.  While we can’t tell for certain what the reason was for Paul saying this, we can tell that he says that men were not to engage in praying or prophesying in the worship setting with a head covering on. 


11:5--But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered.

Some have supposed that this “covering” was her own hair.  But that idea doesn’t fit what vs. 6 says contrasting a shaved head with a covered head (not a head of hair).  Apparently for a woman in the Corinthian culture of the time to walk about without a shawl over her head/hair or some sort of hair-covering was a sign to others that she was not about to be a woman who took direction or leadership from a man.  There is even evidence that for a woman to go out with her hair flowing down her back instead of pulled up and covered was inappropriate.  [The same Greek word that describes the practice of the Corinthian women in 11:5 (akatakalyptos) [“unveiled,” according to RSV] is used in Leviticus 13:45 (LXX)  about a leper’s hair, which is to hang unloosed. The problem with the Corinthian women, then, is that they were wearing their hair loose and flowing down their backs.]

Equally, for a woman to have her head shaved was “shameful” as well.  Perhaps this one we can appreciate slightly more than the issue of a woman wearing her hair uncovered. 

ILL:  In the movie “Band of Brothers,” there is a scene that takes place as the war ends, Belgium is liberated and the Nazis are removed from power.   Belgian women who had consorted with the Nazis are brought out into the street, and their heads are shaved in public as punishment for their deeds.  It was, obviously, a very humiliating and degrading experience. 


The obvious question is, must this be the practice still today in church?  I don’t think this is how Paul would have us understand this passage.  What about this instruction is “normative” (to be the norm for us today) and what is cultural (particular to the Corinthian culture and not to us or our culture today)?   

Well, when women go out in public today in Spokane without wearing a head covering, is that a sign of rebellion against their husbands? Hardly, unless you’re a strict Muslim. It looks to me like the head covering is merely cultural, while honor and submission is the normative principle.

But to be obedient to Paul’s words Christian women should not dress or present themselves in a way that blurs the distinction between male and female. Shaving the head still seems to have the effect or connotation in our culture.  That might not be true in many tribal cultures where both men and women wear their hair short, usually for hygienic reasons.

But in the Western world, for a woman to wear a head covering, whether a scarf or a shawl or a hat, now usually draws more attention to them and is simply viewed as odd or pretentious.   The head covering in Paul’s day was intended only to display the woman’s subordination, not draw attention to her as someone strange or showing off.


Notice one more important point from these verses and from vs. 13 which says, “Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?”

Men and women were equally free to pray and prophesy when the church gathered.  Women in the early church who had the gift of prophecy seemed to be free to exercise it.  Paul doesn’t prohibit it here; he qualifies it. They were also permitted to pray in public meetings. Paul is not trying to repress women and to restrain their expression of spiritual gifts (as we shall see in coming chapters), but to impress upon them the need to both have a demonstrate a submissive attitude and action as well as project appropriate modesty and femininity in their dress.


Vs. 7-- For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man.

Paul is saying that the man who is preaching, teaching or praying in the church worship honors his Head, that is God in Christ by being uncovered.  The woman, on the other hand, honors her head (the man) by being covered.  She is showing her submission to both God and male leadership. 

            Paul reminds us that both man and woman are made in the image of God and for the glory of God.  But since the woman was made from the man (Gen. 2:18-25), she is also the “glory of the man.”  She glorifies God and bring honor/glory to the man by submitting to God’s order.  Paul is here tying together both local custom (head coverings) and timeless biblical truth  of woman being created from man (Adam’s rib) and for a different purpose (to complete, help man rather than rule over the creation as man was called to do).


10 For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.

What do the angels have to do with women demonstrating submission to their male leadership in the worship of the church? I haven’t a clue!  J  No, actually there are several possibilities. 

1.)    Angels have a primary role in the worship of God.  When it comes to worship, we are all to demonstrate humble submission.  Men do that by humble headship leadership; women do it by humble submission and honoring of God-ordained male leadership.  Public worship is a serious thing, both for us in how we draw near to God and for angels who are present in heaven and on earth.

2.)    The angels were present at creation.  They saw the order and understood the purpose of both man and woman.  For women to reject that purpose in the presence of God must, in some way, grieve or impact angels in their worship.  The Bible indicates that when we worship, they too worship (Eph. 3:10—“His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms….”; I Pt. 1:12—“…even angels long to look into these things.”).


11 Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. 12 For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.

The phrase “in the Lord” in vs. 11 probably envisions Christian marriage and life in the body of Christ. And this mutual dependence of man and woman speaks of full equality in personhood (1 Pet 3:7). We can’t get along without each other (contrary to what homosexual “marriage” would like to say). We are mutually dependent on each other. We complement one another.

Paul is concerned to promote love between the sexes, not the battle of the sexes that our culture seems to thrive on. Neither man nor woman because of their different positions or advantages should consider themselves better, or treat the other with contempt or condescension. Paul says in vs. 12 that this mutual dependence of the man and the woman is grounded in creation.

The first woman, Eve, was originally created from the man. But from that point on every single man is birthed by/through a woman/mother. He says their inter-dependence is also grounded in the Lord himself. “All things are from God,” which gives us another reason for humility in the relationships between believing men and women.  We both owe our existence and creation to God himself through the opposite sex.


13 Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? 15 But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.


Here Paul appeals to the Corinthians’ own judgment (11:13), confident that “nature itself” will “teach” them with respect to what is fitting or proper.

What is the content of the instruction given by nature? Nature teaches that “if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him,” while “if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her.”

The meaning of the word nature (phusis) here is critical to the argument. Paul’s use of nature elsewhere and the use of teach suggest that he is referring to the natural and instinctive sense of right and wrong that God has planted in us, especially with respect to sexuality. This sense of what is appropriate or fitting has been implanted in human beings from creation.

Romans 1:26-27 is an illuminating parallel because the same word is used. Women and men involved in a homosexual relationship have exchanged the natural function of sexuality for what is contrary to nature, i.e., they have violated the God-given created order and natural instinct, and therefore are engaging in sexual relations with others of the same sex.

Nature teaches, then, in the sense that the natural instincts and psychological perceptions of masculinity and femininity are manifested in particular cultural situations. Thus, a male instinctively and naturally shrinks away from doing anything that his culture labels as feminine. So, too, females have a natural inclination to dress like women rather than men. Paul’s point, then, is that how men and women were wearing their hair was a significant indication of whether they are abiding by the created order.

Of course, what constitutes long hair is often debated—what is appropriately masculine or feminine in hairstyle may vary widely from culture to culture.

The function of verses 13-15 in the argument is to show that the wearing of a head covering by a woman is in accord with the God-given sense that women and men are different. For a woman to dress, look and act like a man is inappropriate because it violates the distinction God has ordained between the sexes. And, according to Paul, if a woman prophesies or prays in church without demonstrating symbolically in some way that she  is under male authority, she is in effect negating the distinction between men and women that God has ordained from creation.


So here’s the basic summary:

  1. Men and women, though created equal and having equal privilege and responsibility before God, have different ROLES in marriage, family and the church.  They may be involved in the same ministries (prophecy, prayer) but are to demonstrate different roles (leader/follower). 
  2. God has ordained by the order and nature of creation that men be responsible to lead in these three realms of life—marriage, family and church—and that women are to respect that authority and leadership through complementary, supportive exercise of submissive spiritual ministry.  (I have seen overbearing and over-reaching women more often than men be the ones to cause problems both in marriages and in the church.)
  3. Dress does, in every culture, signal masculinity or femininity.  We are to respect how God has created us masculine and feminine and use dress appropriately to express masculinity & femininity.  Neither sex should use dress, particularly in the church worship setting, to draw attention to themselves or their sexuality.  Church is not to be a fashion runway, a meet-market or a visual stumbling block to sexual purity.  Women, help men out here, don’t lure us in.  Men, lead with your eyes and thoughts. Treat women as sisters with all purity. 
  4. Women, when you take the leadership in marriage, home or church, it inevitably involves and leads to a collapsing of the distinctions between the sexes. It emasculates men and boys.  Paul rightly saw, as he shows in this text, that there is a direct link between women appropriating leadership and the loss of femininity.  This world, your home and the church need godly femininity.  When you take leadership from men, you diminish your godly femininity and men’s godly masculinity.  It hurts both sides. 

EX: It is hardly surprising that Christian groups who have disregarded the lines between male leadership and female follower-ship in the church have also rather quickly slipped into acceptance of homosexuality/lesbianism in and outside the church. 

EX:  It is hardly surprising that one of the major reasons for sexual identity confusion in male children and teens is domineering mothers and/or passive fathers.  The same criticism can be made for abusive fathers impact upon both sons and daughters. 


QUESTIONS??? (Open it up for questions on what the Bible teaches about this.)



So here is where YOU get to do some of the thinking and talking.  I would like men to group up with men and women with women in groups of about 4-6 people.  You don’t have to talk if you don’t want to; you can just listen to others. But I think everyone here today has something to offer.  God may want to say the most important thing he has for us through one of you who has the hardest time sharing in a group. 


WOMEN: this is what I’d like you to talk over and give us some feedback on.

  • What makes submission to male leadership difficult (in the home and church)?
  • What makes submission to male leadership a pleasure (in home and church)?
  • How would you like men to lead better in the church?
  • What do you think demonstrates a spirit of respectful submission by a woman in marriage, home and church?
  • Why do you think women struggle so much with submission to male leadership?



  • Why do you think men are often reluctant leaders or abdicate leadership altogether?
  • What are some of the biggest challenges you feel in spiritual leadership at home and in the church?
  • What can women do to encourage male spiritual leadership (home and church)?


  • Why is this issue of leadership and followership such a spiritual battleground?  What is at stake here beneath the surface?