A lot of people today really hate the concept of authority. We think that this problem is just for kids who don’t want to listen to their parents – freaking out in the cereal aisle or complaining about a gift when they don’t get what they want. It’s just more obvious in children when they do things like wanting to paint their bedroom black, refuse to clean their room, or more serious things like quitting school, dating someone dangerous, or running away.
But rebelling against authority doesn’t stop when we turn 18 or move out of the house. Rebelling against authority is woven into our very natures and is a continuous struggle every day of our life.
Our boss tells us what to do and we decide to do something else because we either don’t want to or we think we know better. The government sends an evacuation notice during a disaster and people sit in their homes instead. Police tell us not to look at our phone when driving. In fact, even the new update on my iPhone figures out when I’m in the car and whenever I want to do something it forces me to the “I’m not driving” button. But do I listen? It’s helped, but no, not always. I’m used to looking down at my phone at red lights, so I sit in the car, hit the button and then lie to my phone, telling it I’m not driving – even though I totally am. That would probably get me a ticket if I got caught, so why do I do it? Because I think I’m smarter than everyone else, I’m the exception, and I don’t like being told what to do.
Politically, the Right tells the government to leave them alone, to let them make their own decisions, to get off their land, and to let them buy whatever they want. The Left rebels against authority just as much, seeking to throw off the fetters that are trying to be imposed by teachers, moralists, religion, and anything else. Both sides cry out, “Nobody can tell us what to do!”
We Need God’s Authority
But of course, this isn’t just about human authority, right? The first part of the gospel story is that we have all committed “cosmic treason”, rebelled against the authority of God, our Creator and Lord, and have set ourselves up as our own highest authority. That was the original problem, back in Eden. God said, “Don’t eat the fruit or you’ll die.” Satan, the first rebel said, “You won’t die. God lied. Take the fruit and you’ll be like Him.” In other words, don’t be under God’s authority, make yourself the highest authority and usurp God. And they did – and we’ve been doing the same thing ever since.
That’s why the scriptures say, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one…. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-12; 18)
Part of fearing God means doing what He says, and none of us does that all the time. One of the most amazing things about the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that God sent His Son into a world full of rebels. We don’t want to do things His way, we hate Him to His face, we argue with His teaching and His plan, we corrupt His Law and His Word, and in our rebellion we become blind, lame, and deaf to truth. We can’t change our hearts. We won’t choose Him as our Lord. And God’s response was to send Jesus to break the power of sin and make it possible for us to come back to Him. He takes a world of rebels and invites them to admit He is King.
One of the main things that Christians recognize, that non-believers don’t, is that we absolutely need God to be our highest authority. We’re no good on our own. When humans set things up without listening to God, we end up creating all sorts of horrible and dangerous chaos. Quintessentially, look at the atheist nations of the past century – the ones who have abandoned God completely and choose to live as though they are the highest authority, like China, Cuba, North Korea, the former Soviet Union, and even Nazi Germany, are or were the most terrible places to live.
Christianity seeks to help the weak, sick, hopeless, helpless, downtrodden, poor, and outcast. We champion peace and humility. Godless countries, or ones that have turned from the God of the Bible, are not a good place to be weak or sick. It is not good to be a baby, or handicapped, or a woman, or sick, or elderly, or even simply different, in those places. It is in the nations that were set up with God as the final authority that those groups have been able to gain respect, protection, help, and equality.
When humans abandon God’s rule and authority and set up our own kingdoms, we utterly mess things up. Why? Because in this world there are only two teams: Jesus and Satan. And where God’s Son is abandoned there is only one team left, and it isn’t a good one.
With that in mind, please turn with me to 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and let’s read it together. We’re going to study this passage for a couple of weeks because there’s a lot going on there, but this week I want to concentrate on one part of it: God’s Established Order.
This is going to get into a lot of heart issues, but the foundation of this must start here: Do you believe that Jesus is our Lord and is your Highest Authority or not? If you are a Christian today, then you must declare that Jesus is both your Saviour and your Lord. You can’t have one but not the other. He cannot be your Saviour but not your Lord. If you believe that you are your own highest authority then what we talk about over the next couple of weeks is going to anger you. If you have rebellion in your heart against God, and have been privately holding a grudge against Him for all the things He has told you to do, then this is going to bring that out. If you are used to getting your way and are merely a cultural Christian who takes what they want from Jesus, but rejects whatever they don’t like, then you are going to have a problem. If you have bought into the secular and worldly point of view that some of the Bible is good to read for some things but is mostly of date for others, or that you have permission to ignore parts that you don’t like, then Jesus is not your highest authority because you believe you stand higher than His word. Before we read, check your heart in this and ask yourself: Is Jesus my Saviour and my Lord, or not?
“Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. 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. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, 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. 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. 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. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.”
Ok, so I know there’s a lot going on in that passage, and a lot of contentious issues there. In fact, one of my commentaries said of verse 10, “‘There is scarcely a passage in the New Testament which has so much taxed the learning and ingenuity of commentators as this.’…’ In the difficulty of its several portions it stands alone in the New Testament…’” So, yeah, this is going to be an interesting couple of weeks, but the place I want to start is a more simple one and one that all Christians agree on: do you submit to God’s authority?
If you attended the Bible Study Group on Sunday night then you’ll remember this theme came up in our study of Daniel – as well it should, since it’s perhaps the most important question the bible asks. Daniel is taken from Jerusalem, the city of God, to Babylon, the city of evil ruled by one of the most terrifying despots in history, and he is constantly put to the test. First he’s offered food that Jews weren’t allowed to eat. He responds, in essence, “Sorry, I can’t do that, God won’t allow it. Don’t worry, God will take care of us.” Then the king has a dream and says he’ll kill anyone who can’t tell him what it is. Then Daniel’s friends are commanded to worship a golden idol or they’ll be killed in a terrible way. They respond, “Sorry, I can’t do that, God won’t allow it. Don’t worry, God will take care of us.”
Then God says to the King in a dream, “If you don’t admit that God is the highest authority in your kingdom and not you, then you’ll be driven mad until you do.” After a year, the king won’t say it, and God follows through on the threat until seven years later when he finally looked up to heaven he says,
“I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:34-35)
It’s all about God as the final and greatest authority. It’s the first commandment! “I am the Lord your God… You shall have no other god’s before me.” (Exo 20:2-3). When Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment in the Law was, He spoke of complete submission to God, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:36-37) But isn’t that all about love, not obedience? Jesus says in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
Text and Context
So, putting aside all the contentious issues about the relationship between men and women and headship and headdresses and all the rest, the root of the text we are studying today is all about God’s ultimate authority and the established order He set up in this world. Before we get into the other stuff I want to make sure we understand this and get our hearts in the right place. Let’s look at the roots of this passage – not at the teaching but at the authority behind the teaching.
Remember the context of whom this is written to. The Corinthian church was having a really hard time with having God as their highest authority because they were surrounded by a lot of sinful temptation and bad teaching, and some of that was creeping into the church. Concerned people had gone to find Paul in Ephesus to tell him what was going on, and others had brought a list of questions about some important matters that were splitting the church. This section we just read is sandwiched between serious warnings about the Lord’s Supper and the worship of demons. This section comes in between those two. Now we know we should take worshipping demons pretty seriously, and we know that we should take the Lord’s Supper pretty seriously, but then, when it comes to a passage like this one – which is right in the middle – we like to say things like, “Oh, that doesn’t matter today. I don’t agree with that.” Which is crazy, when you look at the context.
Now look at verse 2: “Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.” The first root we see is what we will call apostolic authority. Paul commends the church for taking the time to consider what Paul would have to say about all the things happening in their church – which ultimately is asking what Jesus would have to say.
The word “traditions” is stronger than we usually give it credit for. We usually don’t give tradition much authority, but think of this word more like “ordinances”, like when we speak of the Lord’s Supper or Baptism. They were directions given by the Apostles, the messengers of Jesus, to instruct the church as to how to do things. We’re not talking about ceremonies or decorations, but authoritative teachings. Notice he says, “as I delivered them to you.” Meaning, he was the mailman who brought the message from Jesus and then delivered it. Paul’s authority didn’t come from himself, but from His position as the chosen man of God tasked to instruct the church. The first root of the teaching is apostolic authority. Will you submit to the scriptures, as the writings of the Apostles, as they carry the authority of Jesus?
Verse 3 has the next root: “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 second root of this teaching is in the Trinity or the Godhead. The line of authority, what Christians usually call “God’s established order” or “God’s hierarchy”.
The “head” is an authoritatively positional term. That last part is really important because it shows where this authority, this statement, this teaching is rooted. It’s not rooted in culture or opinion. It’s rooted in the Godhead, the Trinity. Jesus, though He is exactly the same in dignity and worth, submits Himself to the Father.
Philippians 2:5-6 says, “…Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped (or “used for advantage”)…”
Jesus says in John 5:19, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.” In John 14:28 Jesus says, “…the Father is greater than I.”
There is a positional authority in the Trinity. God the Father, then the Son, then God the Holy Spirit. Each is God, each is perfect, each it each is worthy of worship, each is equal. The second root of this teaching is the divinely ordained positional authority structure.
The third root is the authority of God as Creator. Look at verse 8, “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. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.”
Don’t get caught up on the head covering thing right now. What I want you to look at is what the teaching is rooted in: Creation. We’re not talking about Greek or Jewish culture here. What is being taught doesn’t come from human choice and philosophy, it comes from before there was culture, before mankind was even created. In Genesis 1 it says that all of mankind, men and women, are made in God’s image.
Whatever the Apostle is delivering here, whatever is being taught by the one who has been given the authority to teach as Christ would teach, is establishing what he is saying before the creation of culture, before sin, before mankind. That gives it special authority. That means it’s not something we came up with, it’s something God designed into the fabric of the universe, the fabric of what it means to be human. God created the universe and mankind in a very orderly, specific way. Humanity was to be the crown of his creation. Man was created from the dust, and woman was created, as verse 8 says, “from man”. We don’t read that as quaint poetry or silly, pre-science myths that we just skip over. The Order of Creation all means something very important, and continues to show up in passage after passage of the Bible. Therefore whatever the teaching is, we ought to take this root quite seriously and not dismiss it as merely old, bygone, optional, or cultural. Are you willing to submit yourself to that?
A fourth root we see is in verses 11:12, which roots the teaching in biology. “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman.” This root has its own root! The phrase “in the Lord” means, “by God’s directed order” or “as God has willed it”, both man and women are biologically dependant on each other. Despite what progressives would argue, it is written into the order of the universe that male and female are important distinctions. God ordered that the continuation of the species depends on males and females working together to make more babies. Whatever this teaching is, it’s rooted in God’s design for natural, human biology, not human constructs. Will you submit, “in the Lord” to how God has designed human biology to work?
Common Church Practice
The fifth root of authority that we see in this passage is found in verse 16 which says, “If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.” Here, Paul says, “If you want to fight about this, don’t. You’re not special. This is the rule literally everywhere.” He does this over and over, telling the Corinthians that the teachings they have received weren’t specially designed for them, but were the same teaching he gave everywhere else. Jerusalem, Ephesus, Athens, everywhere got the same talk. They’re not being singled out and are therefore not the exception to the rule! That’s another argument we make against authority, right. “Well, I’m the exception. This isn’t fair! No one else has to do this!” To which the reply comes, “No, you’re not the exception. This is fair. Everyone else has to do this.” That’s parenting or policing 101.
So the fourth rule is the universality of this teaching in all churches everywhere. Whatever is being taught there wasn’t a special message to Corinth, but a universal message to all Christians. The question for you is, will you submit to that authority or will you see yourself as the exception who wants to be “contentious” and argue with what Jesus is saying through the Apostle Paul?
There’s a lot of heart work to be done here. We haven’t even gotten into the actual teaching, but this is critically important. If you are saved this morning, then you have admitted you are a sinner in need of a Saviour, and Jesus has saved you by trading His life for yours on the cross. But, have you also accepted Him as your Lord in all areas of your life? That’s just as critical a question.
This isn’t just about God being your boss, but about you trusting that God’s way is better, higher, more right than yours. It’s about letting go of your belief that your way is best and allowing God to lead you. As Proverbs 3:5-8 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”… we usually stop there, but it continues… “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.”
Do you need healing in your flesh and refreshment in your bones? Then start with acknowledging God in all your ways and letting Him set out your path.
 Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Kling, C. F., & Poor, D. W. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: 1 Corinthians (p. 225). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.