Have you ever been house shopping? Anita and I have moved a few times and have owned a couple homes, so we know what it’s like to spend days and days going through strangers homes and wondering if you can see yourself living there. I was really, really bad at it because even if the house was shaped perfectly if I didn’t like the colour of the walls, I just couldn’t get past it. Anita would be like, “Wow, this place is great!” and I’d be like, “Yeah, but that one wall is purple, and I don’t think I could live with that, so let’s try somewhere else.” Not a good way to buy a house, right?
Buying a house isn’t just buying a paint colour, right? There’s a lot to consider. There’s the big picture stuff like what neighbourhood are you living in? How close are you to the next house? Where’s the nearest shopping or bus station? How long do you intend to stay?
Then there’s the living space. How many rooms will you need? How big of a kitchen? Does your stuff fit in it?
But it goes deeper, right? You have to check behind the walls to see how the electrical and plumbing are. You have to check the furnace, the roof, the attic. Check for ants or termites. In Cleveland, we had to get it tested for Radon gas to see if the air in our house would kill us.
But it goes even deeper than that, right? You have to check the foundation of the house to see if there are cracks, if it supports the house, if it’s draining water properly, or if it’s slowly sinking into the ground. If the foundation isn’t right, your whole house can twist so your doors and windows don’t even fit properly.
As we’ve been going through our passage in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 I’ve been trying to explain it from the foundation up so we can understand what God is saying. This type of passage is like walking into one of those modern architecture houses where everything looks kind of weird and you wonder how anyone can live there, or how it even remains standing – but once the architect takes you through it you start to see the genius of the design. Let’s read our passage one more time and then we’ll do a bit of review:
“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.”
On the first week, we talked about the foundation of the house. What is it built on? Will it stay standing? What makes it strong? And we said that the foundations of this passage is built on five important things: First, the authority of the Apostles, who carry the authority of King Jesus. Second, the Godhead of the Trinity which extends beyond time and culture. Third, it is established in God as Creator and fourth, in the way He purposefully designed His creation. And fifth, it is established in common church practice, which again goes beyond personal preference and culture. So the teaching in this passage has a strong, strong foundation.
The next week we talked about the walls of the passage, explaining the cultural context of the passage and figuring out what parts are decorative and which parts are structural. It’s natural to ask, “Why is Jesus, through Paul the apostle, making such a big deal over what a woman wears on her head?” The answer is that choice of whether or not a woman wears a head covering in that culture showed told a lot about what was going on in her heart. It showed pride, irreverence, and promiscuity. It was disrespectful to God, the church, and their families. It was confusing to new believers and a poor witness to non-believers. There was a lot of ways this heart issue came out, but one of the main ones that we read over and over, and which I’ve been dancing around, is that it showed a lack of submission to God’s established authority structure.
Why is this a big deal? Verse 2, “the head of every wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” Verse 7-10, “…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.”
How the women were presenting themselves showed what was going on in their heart, and the biggest problem was that it showed that these wives were refusing to submit to the headship of their husband, which meant they were refusing to submit to the headship of God. That’s why the head coverings were such a big issue in Corinth. Not because a woman’s supposed to have long hair, or because she needs to wear a hat, but because in that culture, removing your head covering in the Christian church announced to everyone that your heart was not right with God.
In our house analogy, the head coverings were like the decorations, paint, pictures, and furniture in the home. It’s usually the first and most lasting impression we have of the house, but it’s all temporary and according to the style of the owner, right? If I hate the purple and want to do it up in a watermelon theme, I totally can, right? But when it comes to buying a home what really matters is what’s happening inside the walls and the foundation, right?
The Gospel of Jesus
But before I came to this main issue, we needed to ensure that this really was God’s original plan, so we spent two weeks going through Genesis 1 and 2 so we could see God’s establishment of Male and Female, husband and wife, before the Fall of Man, before sin messed everything up.
Why? Because this is a gospel issue. A couple weeks ago we said that the story of Jesus Christ is the story God’s plan of salvation – how He intends to fix the problem of sin once and for all. The Bible speaks of becoming a Christian as being born again (John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:23). It says that being in Christ means we are a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come (2 Cor 5:17). It speaks of being purified, redeemed, cleaned, and washed. And all that happens through faith in Jesus Christ as the risen Son of God. We believe that He died on the cross, taking our punishment on Himself, shedding his blood in place of ours, taking God’s wrath so we don’t have to, in order that we could be saved from the consequences of sin. And we further believe that this isn’t just about us, but all of creation being redeemed (Rom 8:20-23) along with us. Through Jesus, God is fixing all the things that sin has wrecked, destroying everything that is evil, and remaking everything to be good again. As 1 John 3:8 says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”
And that includes the relationship between men and women, which was terribly broken when sin entered the world. If you call when we studied Genesis 1 we saw how God made men and women the same in worthy of glory, power, dominion, honour, and calling. Then last week we saw that God also gave us important differences. God made Adam first, making him live without Eve for some time without her, and then introduced her as his complementary helper. We noted that He made Adam out of the dust like all other animals, but the woman was made out of a piece of the man, saying something very special about her and their relationship with one another. And we also noted that Adam named Eve, just as he had done with all of the other living creatures, and we said that in the Bible, naming something shows authority.
The Eternal Sonship of Jesus
It is that authority structure, the issue of Male Headship, that we see in our 1st Corinthians 11 passage – and it’s represented in the head coverings controversy.
It is God’s plan that man and woman are uniquely made in His image, unlike any other creature. That means a lot of things – our ability to love, be creative, be rational, be just, and make choices – but it also means that we are social. Humanity was made to be in fellowship. We see this in the mystery of the Trinity as it’s presented in the Bible. God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit, equal in essence, but distinct in person. The Father as God (Philippians 1:2), Jesus as God (Titus 2:13), and the Holy Spirit as God (Acts 5:3–4), but speaks of them all as separate persons. They have been in relationship for all eternity, and therefore it is no surprise that when God created an image bearer, that it would be a relational creature.
But something else that is part of God’s plan, and part of us being in the image of God, is that there is a divinely established authority structure. There is a Father and a Son. This is called the “Doctrine of Eternal Sonship” and it simply says that the Bible presents Jesus as having always existed as the Son. There was never a time when Jesus was not the Son of God, and there has always been a Father/Son relationship in the Godhead. Jesus didn’t merely assume this role when He came to earth, but is, and has always been the second person of the Godhead.
We won’t get into the full doctrine here, but it comes from all manner of passages (Colossians 1:13-36, Hebrews 1:2, John 20:21, Galatians 4:4, John 3:16, 16:28, Hebrews 13:8) and Christians have agreed on this for a long time. It’s in the Nicene Creed from 325AD which says that Jesus Christ is “eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.”
The point is that there has always been a hierarchical structure within the Godhead of the Trinity, and so when God created man in His image, He created that in us too. And he did so by making the man the head, as God is the head, and the female the one under his authority.
Back to our 1 Corinthians passage: Verse 2, “the head of every wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” Verse 7-10, “…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.” It’s about reflecting the image of God in our lives and relationships.
Sin Ruined It
But then, in Genesis 3 we how when Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil everything changed. (Open with me there). The story opens with the tempter, Satan, manipulating the words of God and telling Eve that God has lied to her. Where is Adam? Where is the partnership? They are meant to help each other, to follow God together, but where is Adam? It says in Genesis 3:6 that Adam is standing right beside her, but he’s silent. He’s not leading, guarding, protecting, helping, correcting, or anything. He’s just standing there. He’s not doing what he should be doing. It wasn’t the eating of the fruit that was the first sin, the whole situation was kicked off by Adam’s sin.
One commentary I have says, “Adam’s sin was both an act of conscious rebellion against God and also a failure to carry out his divinely ordained responsibility to guard or ‘keep’ both the garden and the woman that God had created as a ‘helper fit for him’. The disastrous consequences of Adam’s sin cannot be overemphasized, resulting in the fall of mankind…”
In verse 8 we read, “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’”
God already knew what had happened, of course, but who did God call out to? To head of the family, Adam. He was the one primarily responsible for what happened.
Keep reading, “And he [that is Adam] said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’”
Watch carefully what happens next: “The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’ Then the LORD God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’”
God confronts the man and he totally blame shifts to both God and Eve. God confronts Eve and she blame shifts to Satan. The authority structure has completely fallen apart. Adam even tries to drag God into taking some blame. Now guilt and shame is spreading onto both of them as they squirm uncomfortably in front of God – and why? Because the head didn’t do his job. 1 Corinthians 15:22 says, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all [men and women]…” Who takes the blame for the fall of man throughout all of scripture? Eve who ate first? No. Adam, the “head”. In 1 Corinthians 15 Jesus is called the “Second Adam”, the one who did it right. The first Adam caused sin to corrupt everyone and everything, and the Second Adam, Jesus, will cause everything to finally be made right again.
The Curse on Men and Women
All of this came because God’s created order, His established hierarchy, was disregarded and disobeyed. Can you see now the true sin that was happening in the Corinthian church? It wasn’t about head dresses, it was about the disrespecting, disregarding, and disobeying God’s established created order of authority between men and women, husbands and wives.
This sort of talk doesn’t fly outside of conservative, evangelical circles, does it? In fact, it goes against most of our natural inclinations, doesn’t it? Does that give you a certain gut reaction? It does for me.
Do you know why we have such a hard time with this? Look at Genesis 3:16 as God pronounces the curse that comes from their sin. The serpent receives the first curse, as the first one to act in disobedience to God. Then Eve, the next one to act, receives the second curse:
“To the woman he said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.’”
Pain is a common theme in all three curses. The serpent’s crushed head, the woman in childbearing and childrearing, and Adam in his work. And though it affects all mankind, it is Adam who receives the curse of death. But there’s something else in the curse as well that I want you to notice: the woman’s curse impacts her two primary roles, in procreation and in her relationship with her husband.
In verse 15 we see that it is through the woman’s children that the serpent’s head will be bruised – pointing to Jesus, who would have a human mother, but whose Father was the Holy Spirit, not a man like Adam. But the other curse was in her relationship with her husband. From that point on the relationship between men and women would be strained and difficult.
The word desire is important there and it has 2 important meanings. It partly means that her “desire” will be for her husband, meaning women will have an inner drive to be with men for emotional support, protection, and for sexual fulfillment, and in order to make babies. It is also used in Genesis 4:7 to describe sin pulling Cain in the wrong direction. God says to Cain, “…sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” Sounds a lot like Eve’s curse, doesn’t it?
So what’s happening in Eve’s curse here? Essentially it means that even though Eve desires to be with Adam just like they were in the Garden of Eden, now Adam and Eve, and all men and women after them, are going to have a lot of messed up, confusing, contrary, hurtful desires. Part of her will want to have Adam around, but then they are going to fight and argue and compete for domination. Instead of being perfect partners that complete and complement one another’s strengths, now her desires will conflict with to his. Now instead of men and women working together, they will be engaged in a battle to see who will rule. Adam will use his physical strength to subdue her and rule over her, she will resist and reject and seek to usurp him. Both, drawn together with mutual need and desire, but neither submitting to the other, each always thinking they are getting the short end of the stick, trying to oppress or control the other.
This is the curse of Genesis 3 and the main issue of 1 Corinthians 11:2-6. Paul was talking to Christians, to believers who had been set free from sin, imbued with the Holy Spirit, made new by their relationship with Jesus, set free from the curse, set free from all of this horrible battle of the sexes, and were meant to be restored back to the way that God had originally intended men and women to live together: equal in dignity, worth, respect, mission, dominion, gifting, and access to God. Not grasping for power or oppressing one another. Not asserting their dominance over the other. Not women trying to replace men and men trying to oppress women. Not trying to escape God’s plan for how the world is meant to work, but submitting themselves to it in a worshipful humility.
But, in the head coverings controversy, the women were showing that they were still living like people who were under the curse. Pridefully grasping for power and attention, having contrary desires that caused them to disobey and disrespect their husband and their God, promoting the confusion of the roles of men and women, disgracing themselves in the church, and disregarding their own place in God’s plan of salvation. They were acting like unbelievers.
My encouragement to you is the same as it has been for the past few weeks: To consider whether you are submitting to God in the area of the roles of men and women. To ask yourselves in what ways you are seeking to oppress, control, or subjugate the opposite sex, instead of thanking God and appreciating the differences He created. To consider your marriage and what ways you’ve allowed your own sinful nature to dictate your beliefs about how you are to relate to your husband or wife.
Men, have you, like Adam, relinquished your role as head of the family? Women, are you ignoring him and just doing whatever you desire?
Submit yourselves, your relationships, and your marriages to Christ. Ask for and receive forgiveness for your sins in the name of Jesus, and then ask Him to teach you how to live His way, not yours.
 ESV Study Bible