It’s my contention that in North America today, particularly in Ontario, the role of the parent is deeply undervalued. I could talk all day about the epidemic of absentee fathers, broken marriages, and the dismantling of the traditional family that is causing the foundations of our civilization to crumble – but I don’t really want to do that today. That’s a bummer topic for a beautiful spring day when we are meant to be celebrating mothers.
But I stand by my statement – that parents, even the role of mothers, is being undervalued by our society these days. I’ve talked a lot about the rise and curse of individualism over the past weeks so I won’t repeat that, but one of the effects of radical individualism is that people are distancing themselves from their mothers at very early ages and staying away.
Consider the expectations in the province of Ontario, right? As a girl grows up in this province it is very rare for them to consider being a full-time, stay-at-home mom, as a life-choice. We tell girls that they can be whatever they want to be and celebrate women of achievement in business, science, and athletics (which is great), but when we ask a girl, teen, or person in their 20s what they want to be when they grow up, the one seemingly unacceptable answer is “wife and mother”. “Ok, but’s fine to do on the side”, we respond, “but what do you really actually want to be?”
That’s why Rachel felt lost and discontent when she was forced to become a stay-at-home mom, right? She couldn’t process how being a mom would bring God more glory than her being in the workforce. Like many girls and women, she’d been conditioned for years that her greatest value was in her ability to gain a career, make money, and become a success.
I’ve talked to so many women who were taught that they need to be everything to everyone all the time – and they feel guilty no matter where they are. When she’s 10 she loves playing house and when she’s 16 years old it occurs to her that she would love to be a mom – but now somehow she feels bad saying so. Instead she feels pressure to find a “career path”. She doesn’t want to, but the idea of being a mom somehow feels counter-cultural, and the peer pressure is immense, so she goes to university to take something she is only sort-of interested in. When she’s at university her biology is telling her to find a husband, make some babies, and make a home – but somehow that also feels wrong too. She’s been told for so long that she’s supposed to want sex but not kids, boyfriends but not husbands, relationships but not marriage – that she pushes down her natural desires as unnatural and tries to distract and medicate her feelings away. She feels that quitting school to be a mom is somehow letting down all women everywhere. She feels guilty for wanting kids and sad for not having them. She feels guilty for not wanting to be at school but afraid of being stuck doing something she doesn’t even want to do. She feels shame for even wanting a husband to take care of her and that she can take care of, and is afraid that as time wears on that the deepest desires of her heart will never be met.
But she looks around and this whole province seems designed to keep her out of the home. The lifestyle most people desire here actually requires a dual income family. To stay home feels like a financial risk. That makes the government happy because they need you out there paying taxes and buying things – so they make it so you never even have to go home. IF you’re a normal couple, by the time you get around to having kids, you’re usually up to your eyeballs in mortgage and car debt, but ok, sure, have a baby, but you only get 55% of your income for 12 months, so you’d better get back to work or you’ll lose the house. But don’t worry, the government will pay for daycare. And when they’re older, they’ll pay for before school programs and after-school programs so you stay at work. And they’ll pay for community programs and all kinds of things so you can stay at work and never even have to see your kid. It’s almost like they’re saying, “Thank you for creating another citizen, now get back to work, we’ll take it from here.”
Being a mom seems not only counter-cultural but downright anti-establishment! Is it any wonder that there is time and research money going into developing artificial wombs? I know I sound like a tinfoil hat wearing nut, but I’ve already seen articles where feminists are championing these artificial wombs as amazing devices that can liberate women from the burden of childbirth so they can get rid of that pesky reproductive thing that keeps them from their career goals. One article was entitled “Artificial wombs could liberate elite women at the expense of the reproductive classes”. There’s a healthy level of moral insanity in that title that I don’t even want to get into.
Rachel’s discontent and deep question about her value as a mom are ones that many women these days understand: “Should I stay home with my kids? Is being just a mom enough? Why, when I go to work, do I want to be at home and when I stay home, I want to be at work? Why do I never feel like I’m in the right place doing the right thing?” Both stay-at-home moms and career women wonder if they’re achieving their purpose. And often, both are miserable.
It wasn’t until Rachel surrendered her discontentment to God and had that epiphany moment where she heard God speak to her that things started to change and the guilt and fear and discontentment started to subside. She said she felt God say, “I see you there and yes, you are valuable, you are important, you are doing what I want you to do, and you are in the right place. Yes, I’m with you, and despite your weaknesses and fears and temptations, you being a mom is exactly what I want you to be. It is exactly where I want you.”
Moms Show Us God
We should be championing the role of moms in our society – and I’m not just talking about biological mothers, though obviously, that’s a unique and very special bond. I’m talking about the women who give their lives to children as step-moms, adoptive moms, foster moms, and grandmothers. They have a special, unique role in this world that needs to be championed and protected. The maternal role can’t be replaced by dads or government agencies. It’s special, and the women who give their lives to be mothers are special people.
When scripture speaks of mothers it gives them unique characteristics, using them as examples, even to teach about God. In Deuteronomy 32:18 God describes himself in maternal terms saying, “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth.” In Isaiah 49:15 God says, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” Moms, especially biological moms but certainly all moms, have a special version of love and compassion for their children that no one else has – not even dads. There’s a bond there that is unlike any other. No matter how much you’ve messed up, your mom will never forget you. And so God says, “You are my kids. I birthed you. And just like it’s crazy to think of a mom forgetting and not having compassion on her crying, hungry, pained baby – it’s even crazier than you’d think I’d forget about you or stop loving you.”
God brought His son into the world using a human mother and that was a special relationship, even until Jesus’ death where Mary stood at the foot of the cross. As Jesus wept over Jerusalem He compared his love for them as being like a mother hen gathering her chicks under her wing. Paul actually used motherly terms a lot. He said the heavenly Jerusalem is called the “mother” of Christians (Gal 4:26) because she is where we will be protected and cared for. He said that at times he felt like planting churches felt like being a mother in labour and his teaching like nursing babies (Gal 4:19, 1 Thess 2:7)
There are negative examples too. When the leaders of Israel were sinning against the nation they were compared to an unfaithful mother who leaves their family to pursue selfish pleasures (Hos 2:2-5; Isa 50:1). The idea was meant to be outlandish and condemning, that a mom would choose to take off on her children to become a prostitute – but that’s what they were doing.
God’s Design for Moms
And so, for the little bit of time, we have left this morning I want to advocate for the position of mom as being something special, unique, and important – something that no one else can do. Maybe reverse a tiny bit of what culture is trying to do to moms these days.
Pregnancy is God’s Idea
First, we must realize that moms are God’s design. Eve was to be “the mother of all living” and the way she would have children would be, even in the Garden of Eden, would be to conceive a child inside her, to hold it for a long time in utero, and then to feed it with her own body until it was strong. That’s not a biological accident, it’s God’s design (Gen 3:16, 20). We know from nature that there are lots of options that God could have gone with for making babies, but He chose for babies to be literally inside their mothers, protected by them, feeding them from their own body’s nourishment, bound to them unlike anyone else.
That tells us something about what God wanted to do with motherhood – the bond he was creating between mother and child to teach us about the bond that God has with us. It’s deeper than any other relationship. Deeper than friendship, deeper even than marriage. And it’s a picture of God’s love for us – that He is our source, our provider, our protector, our comforter, and the one who loves us more than anyone – no matter what.
Moms Are Not Dads
The second thing is that moms are not dads. I believe that the Bible teaches that men and women are the same in some ways but different in others. We were not designed to be exactly equal, but to be complimentary – like two pieces of a puzzle.
Generally, moms are more nurturing and protective, dads are more about consequence. Moms are the ones who will ask everyday if you’ve had a shower, if you cleaned behind your ears, if you’ve washed your hands – dads won’t notice until you start to smell.
If a mom is cold, the whole family has to put on sweaters whether they like it or not. Why? Because she can’t help but want to protect her family. A dad is more likely to let you freeze and tell you it’s building character – and then when you turn blue from hypothermia say, “Well, you should have gotten a sweater.”
It’s been said that women civilize men, and that’s true of their families too. It’s the mom that is concerned about manners, proper dressing, what others think of you. It is from mom that we learn to give ourselves a once-over, check our teeth for parsley, ask ourselves what effect our clothes will have on others before we leave the house. Sure, that can get carried away, but it’s also a gift. The civility of culture is in large part connected to the civility of mothers. As mothers have gotten more self-centred, superficial, rude, impolite, and vulgar, so has society.
Mothers are more emotional and more empathetic. It is from the mom that you learn that it’s ok to cry and be comforted – and from the dad that sometimes you need to suck it up. The mom dotes over the sick child reminding them that they are cared for, the dad makes a joke and then pokes the part that hurts to remind them that life is pain.
Moms also have designed into them special kind of fragility. Now, I don’t want to get in trouble, and I’m sure I need to think this one through a bit more, but moms have a special kind of fragility that causes their sons, especially, to learn something about the world. You can wrestle and punch your dad, you can trade insults with your dad, you can tell your dad you hate his guts and wish he would drop dead – and he’ll roll with it. You can’t punch your mom, insult your mom, or tell your mom to drop dead – because it’ll cut her to the heart. A mom can get fierce when defending her children, but when it comes to her own children, she has a special kind of fragility that teaches the child something special about life that dads usually can’t. From your interactions with your mom you learn that your thoughts, your actions, your emotions are valid and important and powerful – she listens and feels along with you – but you also learn that they have consequence, because there are some things you can say or do that will leave scars in your mom that never fully heal. That’s a difficult, but necessary gift God gives people.
And of course, all this teaches us about God, right? As we watch our moms we learn what God is like. Though He tells us to address Him as male, God has no gender, and sometimes in the Bible presents Himself as having maternal characteristics. In the life of Jesus we see a man who men can relate to – a man who stood up to injustice, yelled at hypocrites, handcrafted a weapon and drove the evil out of His house, ordered demons around like a general commanding an army. But we also see maternal tears, deep compassion, overflowing love, high levels of empathy for others, a nurturing heart, willingness to express emotion and even fragility. No matter how messed up someone was, Jesus listened, and forgave, and restored, and loved, and protected. No matter how sick they were, no matter how contagious, He touched them – just like a mom would. No matter how much of an outcast they were, they found themselves accepted at Jesus’ side. We learn a lot about Jesus from moms.
Moms Are Human
And finally, I want to remind us that moms are human. I honestly feel bad for women today, especially moms, who are constantly bombarded with the message that they are not enough, that they don’t do enough, that if they just did more, things would be better, and that everything wrong with their family is somehow their fault.
A husband makes bad financial decisions and then guilts his wife into both working and keeping up the home. A messed up kid gets himself in trouble and then blames his mother for not being perfect. Internet articles telling women who have just had a baby that they need to look like supermodels and get back to work within six weeks. The church telling busy moms that they don’t host or serve enough. A hundred books and blogs and social media posts showing Instagram perfect homes and families that just telling them the dozens of things they are doing wrong.
We have to remember, and moms, you have to remember, that moms are human. We hold women to an impossibly high standard – and moms, sometimes, more-so. I’m pretty sure that every mom I know if you sit them down and ask them, will almost immediately tell you why they feel like a failure. They feel like a failure as a wife because they’re not fulfilling their husband’s needs. They feel like a failure as a homemaker because their home is messy and their kids eat too much processed food. They feel like a failure as a role model because they are tired and busy and think their kids are way behind where they should be. They feel like a failure as a Christian because they’re not reading their bible or praying or serving enough. They feel like a failure as a citizen because they want to volunteer but can’t. They feel like a failure with their own bodies because they don’t look the way they want to.
Moms, I want you to stop all that. What you are hearing is not the voice of God. It’s the same thing Rachel went through. Satan’s voice says, “Your husband doesn’t love you, your kids are stupid because of you, your house is disgusting because of you, your friends are all doing better than you, you’re fat and ugly, you’re lazy, your wrong, you’re not trying hard enough, you aren’t good enough, you’re the problem, and you should just quit.” That’s the devil sowing seeds of discouragement in your heart.
Mom, you’re human, and that’s ok. Kids, mom is human and that’s ok. Dads, mom is human and that’s ok. And to the mom’s, if you stop your guilt trip for a minute and listen to God’s voice, you will hear something very different.
You may feel like your messing everything up and the weight of the world is on your shoulders – that everything you do wrong will ruin your family. But Philippians 1:6 says, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Who gave you that child? God did. Gave you that family? God did. Who started that good work? God did. Who will bring it to completion? God will. Can you stop God? No. If God called you to be that person’s mom, He will equip you to do the job – and all the things you can’t do are things you’re not meant to do. God gets the glory because God does the work. You just need to admit your weakness and trust Him. Your weaknesses are not your fault and are not a reason to feel guilty. Your weaknesses are built into you so that you will learn humility and realize your need for God and others.
You may feel forgotten and unappreciated, but Hebrews 6:10 says, “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.” The work you are doing, even the stuff you get zero credit for and no one even notices, is all taken into account by God and credited to you. He sees. He knows. He rewards. He is just.
You may feel exhausted, stressed out, and like you’re way behind, like you need another schedule, another plan, another set of hands, more hours in the day – and if you could just get that then you’d be under control – but listen to Psalm 127:1–2, “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” And Psalm 4:8, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”
The first and most important relationship you need to build is between you and God so you can understand that the safety of your children doesn’t depend on you but on God. The peace of your home and your own soul doesn’t depend on you, it depends on God. The building of your home and your family doesn’t depend on you alone, it depends on God.
That’s why it’s ok to nap sometimes, why it’s ok to step back, why it’s ok to release the worry – because God is real, God is strong, God is there, and God knows best. He acts on behalf of those who love Him.
When the apostles had returned to Jesus from their first mission, they were probably like kids after a long trip – a mixture of tired, excited, grumpy and happy – and it says in Mark 6:30–32,
“The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.”
You see how Jesus treats these guys? It was better for them to walk away from all the people and plans and bustle so they could be with Him. Why?
Another time, it says in Luke 10:38–42,
“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.’”
Why would Jesus rebuke Martha in this way? Because, if you seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and then all the things that you are worried about will come after (Matthew 6:33).
I know that moms are always worried that they aren’t doing enough and that somehow they are wrecking their kid’s future. Dads don’t feel this way all the time – we end up feeling it in retrospect as we look at the results of our parenting and wonder how we messed up our kids later.
But moms, you need to cut yourself some slack. You need to trust God and build your relationship with Him first. James 5:16 says, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” Do you want your prayers for your family to have power? Then seek righteousness first. Put down the controls, stop guilt tripping yourself, stop listening to the voice of Satan, stop listening to culture and embrace one the greatest gifts imaginable – being a godly mom. I may not know everything about you, but I know this… with God, you are more than enough.
“As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” (1 Corinthians 14:33b-35)
Oh boy, have I ever been looking forward to preaching on this passage…
No one likes to be told to shut up – least of all, in my experience, women. If I tell my guy friends or my sons to “shut up” it goes a lot better than if I were to tell my wife, daughters, or female friends.
But, unfortunately, that’s a reputation that some pastors, churches and Christians have. One accusation consistently brought against the Christian church is that we are anti-female, oppressing and restricting women. And of course, horrible stories like the homeschooling parents who kept their children starving and chained to their beds, or the various reports of religious communes and cults that force women and children into servitude don’t help because they are invariably called “devout Christians” at some point by the media.   And, in our post-Christian, post-church culture, it’s natural to lump everyone who calls themselves Christian together with them. The pastors are cult leaders, the men are mysogonist pigs, the women are fools or terrorized, and the children treated no better than slaves.
I’ve heard from a few of you that some people around this area have even wondered if Beckwith Baptist Church is a cult. Long gone are the days when the small, local, Baptist church was seen as a beacon of morality. Now, the most basic Christian terms like “Christian”, “pastor”, “elder”, “deacon”, “biblical “authority”, “submission”, evoke among the culture pictures of abuse, brainwashing, and financial exploitation. People don’t know the difference between David Koresh and Jamestown, Westboro Baptist Church, or the evangelical church around the corner. Conversations with people about “going to church” or “being a Christian” these days have a lot of baggage, so it’s little wonder that some are ashamed to admit it.
And when it comes to a passage like we are looking at today, it’s even worse. Christians aren’t automatically given the benefit of the doubt to explain what it means, but instead beaten over the head with it as it’s used as confirmation bias for outsiders to spread false beliefs about what goes on here.
And within the church this is the kind of verse that people tend to avoid. They like the Gospels and Proverbs and Psalms and whatnot, even Revelation and Romans, but when it comes to this kind of verse, it’s just easier to pretend it doesn’t exist. But it doesn’t work, does it? There’s always that nagging voice inside of you that says, “What have you gotten yourself into? These people look all nice and happy now, but there’s a secret underbelly where some really bad stuff happens. These women aren’t happy, their afraid – you just don’t see it yet. These kids aren’t loved, they’re terrified to show their true feelings. These church men are all the same – they preach love and grace but secretly they are using religion to control women, harm their kids, and take people’s money. Be careful. Don’t get sucked in.”
These Christians tend to stay on the outside, never really giving themselves fully to Jesus, God, or their church, because they’re afraid they are going to be let down. They feel drawn to God, drawn to worship, drawn to Jesus. They love the message of Salvation, the idea of having a community of believers, and the practical ways that the Bible is changing their lives, but they are secretly afraid of learning too much, seeing too much, engaging too much, of finding out what Christianity is really all about.
Then a terrifying thought hits their brain: “You’re being lied to. You’re being manipulated. This church says that they’re not a cult, but that’s what all cults say isn’t it? It’s when you get into the inner circle that things start to get scary and oppressive.”
So they come to church on edge, waiting for confirmation of this little voice in their head. They start to watch the news with new eyes, seeing how much damage religion is doing around the world, and the horrible things people have done in the name of Christ. They start to remember personal stories of difficult times when they went to church as a kid, or stories their family has told, and remember that there was a lot of hurt there. Now when they attend it feels different. Now the people seem a little stranger, less trustworthy, and all the messages seem to be about judging and hating others, giving more money, and unquestioning submission to some human authority.
They usually come for a while, hoping all this isn’t true, but then, without fail, someone says or does something to confirm everything they’re thinking. A pastor commits adultery, a youth worker abuses a child, a trustee is caught stealing, a small group leader starts a fight. And their fears are confirmed so they leave angry, sad, frustrated, feeling stupid and used, vowing never to get fooled again.
They still have a hunger for God in their heart, but they keep that all to themselves now. They stay home, read the bible themselves, or start to experiment with other religions.
This story has been played out over and over in the church. Perhaps you know someone who has gone through it, or perhaps you secretly thinking some of this yourself.
So what do we do at times like this? It is my belief that everything I just described is a direct Satanic attack on the souls of people seeking God and who believe in Him. He’s a liar, a master deceiver, a manipulator who has been playing this game for a long time. So what is the solution to these sorts of lies? What are we to do when we come across a difficult passage like this that stirs up so much inside us? The only way to defeat a lie is with the truth, and so instead of avoiding these passages, we have to dig into them. We need to confront our biases and our fears and be willing to allow God’s Word to tell us what He is really saying.
So I want to do that today. I want to give us four questions to ask when it comes to these types of difficult passages so we can have a deeper faith, more trust in God, and a stronger witness to the unbelieving world.
Does this Sound like the Biblical God?
The first question I want you to ask yourself is “Does my interpretation of this passage sounds like what Jesus preached and what the rest of the Bible teaches?”
Let’s read it again,
“As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”
What does that sound like to your modern ears? Based on your personal history and worldview, what does that sound like? It sounds like the Apostle Paul is telling all women everywhere to keep their mouth shut when they come to church, right? He cites God Law as his authority and in verses 37, which we didn’t read, he says, “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.” It sounds like he’s saying, “God says women in all churches for all time need to shut up. Jesus says a woman asking questions is terrible.”
Sounds close, right? But is it? Does that interpretation line up with what the rest of the Bible says? Not even close. What does the Bible say? It says God created woman as the other half of His image, a compliment and gift to man, different in many ways, but equal in dignity, worth, purpose (Gen 2). It was sin that turned men against women making them use their physical strength to oppress, subjugate and enslave them.
When God gave Israel His Law, they had come from a world full of violence, superstition, oppression, and evil. His people were to be different so He broke them away from the norm and gave them a higher set of standards that elevated the status of women and children, giving them rights and protections under the Law they never had before.
And it gets better. In the New Testament. Jesus treated women and children with so much more respect and care than the culture ever did. He didn’t see women as sexual objects, or judge them by their beauty, age, marital status or anything else. He simply saw them as genuine persons worthy of love and respect. He met with them, protected them, listened to them, taught them, and cared for them as no one else would, and then taught his followers to do the same.
I want to play a clip from a man named Todd Friel who is the host of Wretched TV and Radio. He talks a little funny, but he’s a good, Christian guy and I think this clip helps us understand something important about the Christian view of women.
I could do a whole sermon on the biblical view of women, but that’s not the point today. Does the Bible teach that men should oppress women? No. Now, does it teach that women should shut up in church?
Well, in the same letter in chapter 11 it says that women are allowed to pray and prophecy in the church. It says, “…but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head…” I won’t get back into the issue of head-coverings, but notice that there were women praying and prophesying in church. In the Old Testament we have women like Meriam and Deborah leading worship and speaking publically to the people. Psalm 68:11 (NET) says, “The Lord speaks; many, many women spread the good news…” In the New Testament we see the Prophetess Anna speaking at the temple (Luke 2:36-38), Philip the Evangelist’s four daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9), and the Apostle Peter saying at Pentecost, “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dream…” (Acts 2:17).
Clearly, from scripture, we can say that women have the same spiritual availability to not only teach, prophecy, and share God’s Word but were doing it in the Christian church right from its inception.
So if Jesus elevated the status of women, and the church has been a champion of women’s rights, and so many other places in scripture say women can speak in church, what’s going on here?
What’s the Historical Context?
That’s the second question: “What’s the historical context?”
Notice that he’s not just telling women to change their behavior, but everyone! He tells those coming to church and eating all the food to stop it (let’s be honest, that’s probably the men). He tells those who are getting drunk at church to stop it. He tells those who are flipping out like they did at the pagan temples to stop it. He tells everyone who is being noisy and disorderly to stop it. He tells those who are yelling and singing over each other to stop it. He tells the tongues speakers to limit themselves. He tells the prophets and preachers to take turns. That’s men and women.
He’s like the referees at a hockey game where a brawl has broken out. He’s blowing his whistle, separating fighters, sending some folks to the bench and others to the locker room. He’s restoring order.
And another issue he’s dealing with is that there were a specific group of women who were disrupting the church services with questions. Whether it was because they didn’t understand what was going on and wanted to learn, or they were arguing with the points the teachers were making, or something else, these women were causing trouble in the church.
We’ve talked a lot about context over the past while so I won’t bore you with a repeat, but there are two things I want you to remember: the situation with the headdresses and the problem of disorderly worship.
Remember how messed up and chaotic the church services in Corinth were. Everyone in the church was doing whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, as loudly as they wanted, right? Remember the context of 1 Corinthians 14 where Paul is talking about what it means to be orderly in church. That’s a really important part of what’s going here. Paul’s not singling out women, but listing a whole bunch of things that are going wrong in their church services. One of those things, among many, was this group of women.
It’s likely the same group of women who were being addressed in the head coverings controversy. Remember when we talked about them we saw that there were some women that were coming to church and were not only causing disturbances but were embarrassing their husbands by they causing scenes, flaunting their sexuality and independence, and were being a bad witness to the church and the rest of society. In that lesson, we talked about how one of the big issues was that these women were disobeying God by refusing to submit to the biblical teachings of complementarianism and male headship (again, something I’m not going to repeat here). That’s very, very similar to what’s going on here.
It’s not that these women weren’t allowed to pray, prophecy, speak in tongues, worship, or serve – it was that they were part of the disorderly service problem and needed specific correction. They were asking so many questions that it was causing a ruckus (just like those speaking in tongues were). Sure, they were allowed to learn, but the worship service wasn’t the time to be interrupting with a bunch of questions.
Notice as well that this is addressed to wives. That’s what gives us a clue that this is connected to the headdress and male headship issue. It’s likely that these women weren’t just politely asking too many questions, but were actually making a scene, being out of control with their words, and reflecting badly on their husbands and families. So Paul gives them the same message as before – respect your husbands enough to show some self-control and bring your spiritual concerns to them privately first.
I wonder if this also speaks to the women who refuse to talk to their husbands about anything spiritual at all, but instead keep all those conversations for their Christian girlfriends, small groups, pastors, and Christian professionals. They have so little respect for their husband’s spirituality that they leave them completely out of the conversation. They have an issue in their heart and need counsel, a question about the Bible, need some wisdom or direction, or help with some other part of life, and don’t even talk to their husbands about it, but immediately go to their pastor, small group leader, or Christian friends. What does that say about how much they value and respect their husbands opinions? That it has zero value. That’s hurtful to the marriage disrespectful to the husband. Wives, talk to your husbands first about what’s going on in your heart. Don’t leave him out of the mix.
The first question is, “Does my interpretation of this passage line up with what the rest of the Bible teaches?” and the second question is “What is the greater historical context of this difficult passage?” . So, the third and fourth questions are simply, “What does this passage mean?” and “Will I submit myself to it?”
So, what does this passage mean? It means that the Bible elevates women, not degrades them. They have equal access to God’s Holy Spirit and are invited to learn and participate in church worship services just like men, and are under the same rules to keep it orderly. But, it also means that there is a lesson there about self-control and humbly submitting to how God wants to do things. It means that you don’t get to say whatever you want to say whenever you want to say it. It means practicing patience and submission to authority. It means respecting your husband enough to include him your spiritual walk, asking his thoughts, listening to his answers, even if it makes you uncomfortable or you don’t feel like he’s up to it.
In the end, once we study this passage, and strip away our own bias, what we see here are some verses about the godly attitudes of humility and respect? Humility and respect toward God and His rules for how we live our life. Humility and respect for your church family, placing their desires above your own. And humility and toward your husband, and that’s something that, I think, everyone can understand and agree on.
I encourage you to be introspective this week about this. Have you let Jesus take control of your tongue, your pride, and the openness between you and your spouse in your marriage? Are you practicing humility and respect in these areas?
We’re still in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and when we began studying this last week I asked you to lay aside for a moment, the first presenting issue that we see when we read this passage – namely the head coverings and discussion of male female relations. Instead, we looked at the roots of the passage, the foundation on which the teaching is built. And, if you recall, there were 5: Apostolic Authority, The Trinity, Creation, Biology, and Common Church Practice.
And then I asked you to do some heart work this week in asking yourself if you are willing to submit yourself to God’s authority or not. Essentially, if you are a Christian today and have accepted Jesus as your Saviour, are you also willing to accept Him as Lord, even if His commands go against your feelings or upbringing? Are you willing to humble yourself before your Creator, your Saviour, your Lord and your God?
It’s still amazing to me that Jesus leaves this open as an option to humanity. We read part of Philippians 2 last week and I think it would be good to read part of it again because it really drives home our need for humility, the example of Christ’s humility, but also His absolute Lordship over all creation.
It says in Philippians 2:3-11, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
That’s all about humility, right? Humble before others, humble and obedient to God, following the perfect example of Jesus. But even though Jesus laid aside His divine majesty and took on the form of a servant, even to the point of dying in our place on a sinners cross, the passage doesn’t leave Him there, but continues from His humiliation to his glorification:
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
It should amaze us that Jesus gives us the option to disobey Him. It’s amazing to me. He is Almighty God, Creator, Lord of all, worthy of all worship and praise – and one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Christians are merely the ones who get to do it first, of our own volition, by our own choice – but one day, everyone who has ever lived, every creature, every country, every leader, will bow before Jesus as Lord – His glory and His power will make them bow, will make them confess.
Part of the Christian life is acknowledging that fact today. It’s in the prayer Jesus taught us: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed (or worshipped or held high) be your name. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Christians claim God as our highest authority in all areas of our life, our King, And we acknowledge this every time we pray the Lord’s prayer! And then we ask Him to submit all the world, including us, to His divine will, causing everyone to worship and obey Him, just as they do in heaven. Because we believe His Kingship, His leadership, His way, His Will is the best plan for joy, peace, happiness, and justice that that humanity could ever hope for.
This was the main topic last week: Will you, in all areas of your life, submit yourself to the will of God? The answer to that question will dramatically affect how you respond to the Bible. So let’s read 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and see what it says:
“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.”
As with all passages, it’s important to start with the context. Last week I said over and over that this passage isn’t rooted in culture. Whatever God is telling us through the Apostle Paul goes beyond hair and clothing styles or historical understandings of gender roles. It’s deeper than that.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t take the cultural context into consideration. In the city of Corinth, in Greek culture, and like many Middle Eastern countries today, most men and women wore something on their head like a veil, turban or headscarf to protect against the sun. But like today, they were more than a practical fashion accessory. What they were made of and how they were decorated would tell you a lot about how wealthy or important someone was.
And, like today the women’s version was way more complicated than the men’s. The fabric was of different quality and the veil could be was pinned to a stiff hat and set with jewels and ornaments. If the woman was married, the headdress got very complicated with even more decorations, even putting important coins in the front to signify her dowry. And of course, as the head covering and veil got more complicated, so did the style of the hair. Competitive fashion is nothing new and this status symbol competition had gotten so out of control that the Apostle Peter actually took time in his letter to warn Christian women about this (1 Peter 3:3-4).
Like today, it was common practice for a man to take off their head covering during a worship time to signify their respect for and submission to their deity, like we do when we take off our hats for prayer or to sing the national anthem. It’s a sign of respect. For a man to choose to cover his head during worship showed there was something wrong with his attitude. It was the opposite for women. At that time in Greece, only immoral women would be seen with their heads uncovered. 
We understand this concept today because we have the same fashion issues, right? Certain styles of clothes signify certain events. A man’s hair, beard, and clothing signify something about them. Some guys are very concerned about this, some are less concerned, but none of us get dressed by accident. Our clothing choices reflect something about us.
And I think that whatever pressures men feel must be a hundred-fold for women. Every day, no matter what country they are in or what job they do, women are judged more by how they look than almost anything else. Judged by everyone – men and women are all very hard on women for their clothing choices. And whether we like it or not, those choices reflect something about us to the people around us. A high skirt and crop top sends a different message than a t-shirt and jeans. A sweatshirt and pair of leggings gets a different societal reaction than a cocktail dress. When a woman leaves the house, whether they like it or not, even though it’s not fair, they are forced by society and their own inward drive to consider every part of their appearance – hair length and style, jewels, pants or skirt, length, tightness or looseness, how deep the V neck goes – even their perfume is going to be judged.
All of this is not new and has been happening forever.
Now, what was happening in the Christian church in Corinth was that, because of their newfound freedom in Christ, some people were breaking from societal norms – especially the women. The Christian church was different than all the other religions around them. Christians taught that women and men are equal in dignity and worth, both worthy of the same respect and honour. Both men and women have the same level of access to God through Jesus Christ, and the same Holy Spirit within them. No longer were women considered inferior, unfit for teaching or learning – as they were in the rest of society – now they were invited to sit alongside their fathers and husbands and listen to the same teacher, ask questions, and even, after some time of maturing and study, to teach! There were even times when God would show up in a special way and give a message, a prophecy, through one of the women in the church.
This was amazing to everyone! The women in Corinth were obeying God and were praying publically and prophesying in church, speaking out words from scripture and explaining passages to people, right in front of everybody, and it was an awesome thing to witness. This was all approved of by the Apostles and the scriptures, Old and New Testament, give examples of women prophets and teachers all over the place (Exo 15:20-21; Luke 2:36; Acts 2:17-18, 21:9) This level of freedom and respect was unlike anything they had ever experienced – and being human, they took it too far.
When they spoke during the worship times they were, apparently uncovering their head, like the men did. This was a problem. In their freedom, they were “flaunting social convention and sending ambiguous signals” to everyone around them. Remember, their head covering was more than just a hat to keep the sun out, but was like a billboard with all sorts of information. To take it off in church, during a worship time, was to send a signal about your sexual freedom, your marital status, your religious commitment, your respect for your husband and family.
Without question, the head covering was a cultural convention, neither commanded nor prohibited by God, but it still had very important meaning. And remember, one of the most important messages that keep coming up in 1st Corinthians is that the church needs to take other people into consideration when we do things – we just covered this over and over in our study of the last few chapters, right?
To disregard the social conventions and expectations of their culture wasn’t a small thing. They were experiencing an intoxicating level of freedom in Christ. To learn they are as loved by God and as useful to God as any man was an awesome thing. So, some of them figured, “Why do I have to wear this head covering, then? Jesus doesn’t command me to, and He’s my Lord. I don’t have to listen to anyone else, so forget this thing, I’m going to be like the men and uncover my head during worship.” And herein lay the problem. For them to do that showed there was something bigger going on in their hearts.
Their fashion choice wasn’t just about the fashion, it was about the heart. Casting aside their head covering was doing a lot of damage. It disrespected their fathers, husbands, and family, flaunted their sexuality, and hurt their testimony before all of the new believers and the watching world who would be utterly shocked and unable to understand what was going on. It also blurred the biblical distinctions between males and females, something very important to God in scripture, and something we will cover next week.
So, when we read this section, we aren’t really reading about head coverings, are we? This section, on the first pass, ends up reading like an oppressive command that tells women they always need to wear hats and veils. And some people get that far and stop. Certainly, some religions demand this, but there are also Christian churches that still require all women to wear a head covering during church. Someone told me this week that some women took this so literally that they would even wear hats to bed because they would often pray before they went to sleep. But that’s not what this is about. This isn’t about head coverings, it’s about what’s happening in the heart of the women and the church.
The Heart of the Issue
With all that in mind, the historical and literary context of the passage, let’s go through it together and take it apart so we can better understand it. Verse 2-3, “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.”
One of the questions that was sent to Paul was evidently about this head covering issue that was dividing the church. We talked a little about the root of this passage last week, in that it is rooted in Apostolic Authority, as important as the teachings about the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, but look at where it goes. Paul says, “You do well to ask me, and thereby ask Jesus, about what He thinks of everything you do, but you need to understand something important when it comes to head coverings: it’s not just about the fabric covering a woman’s head but what it represents is going on in the woman’s heart.”
So Paul uses the question about heads to talk about real and true headship as it’s presented in the Bible. “You think this is about a fashion accessory and cultural conformity, but it’s about so much more.” “The head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” “So, women”, Paul seems to be saying, “When you cast aside your head covering, are you still obeying Christ as your head, your Lord, and still respecting your husband? Probably not, right? You’re making it all about you, your freedom, your choices, your desires – and completely forgetting about Jesus, your husband, (or father if you’re unmarried), and all the believers around you. When you come to church dressed the way you are, what message are you sending about yourself, your marriage, your faith, and your submission to God’s order? Instead of bringing glory to God and to your husbands, you bring them shame and that isn’t good.”
Imagine the picture there, right? A man brings his wife to church. They attend for some months, grow in God, learn some scripture, tastes freedom in Christ. She learns that her sins are forgiven and she is free from all the horrible things the culture around her has been telling her about women. It’s a big adjustment, but they learn to live as equals, share with each other, learn from each other, serve together. Eventually, they become deacons in the church. He administrates and she has a talent for singing and reading scripture.
But then one day she comes to church – and I’m grasping for a modern equivalent here so bear with me – and she’s wearing a short, strapless party dress, heels, and a huge, gaudy necklace. She proceeds down the aisle and as she nears the front, she takes off her engagement ring and tosses it into the offering plate, declaring that since men don’t have to wear them, neither does she anymore. She heads up to the platform, grabs the mic and says,
“Before we do our opening song and read scripture, I just want to let you know about the freedom I’ve found in Jesus. For years society, even my husband, has told me how to dress, and I realized that I don’t have to anymore. God gave me this body and I can decorate it however I want. And I encourage you to join me, ladies. Take off those oppressive diamonds, change those drab, uncomfortable clothes and let’s worship God the way we all want to! Why should the world have all the fun! Let’s bring the same energy as we would on a Friday night with our friends! This is a place without judgement, without fear, where men and women are free to do whatever they want because Jesus has freed them from the Law and from culture! So either sit or stand or whatever you want and let’s sing and really dance together!”
That’s as best as I can do to give a modern equivalent to what was happening in the Corinthian church – except to remind you that in their culture worship and sex were completely tied together and most of the church would have had a very messed up, sexualized history. Basically, it was like a church full of former sex and porn addicts.
Everyone in the church, including the husband, is shifting uncomfortably in their seats. Why? What would you think in that situation? What would go through your head as she walked the aisle and spoke? She’s technically not altogether wrong with what she’s saying. Men and women are equal before God. Society does oppress and judge women, and the Christian church isn’t supposed to. Engagement rings are not in the Bible. God did give her that body and there’s a lot of freedom in how Christians can dress.” So is she wrong? What’s going on there?
The reason we have a reaction to that situation is because it’s not about the dress or the shoes or the jewelry. It’s about the effect on the people at the church. It’s about disrespecting and embarrassing her husband. It’s about the example being set for other believers and the message that is sent to any non-Christians. Are you going to that woman for marriage advice? If you walked into a church and saw everyone dressed the way they would dress in a night-club or at a rave, what would you think? That’s a lot of what’s going on here.
Our scripture addresses it this way. Look at verse 4-7:
“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.”
It says to the men and the women: you can’t dress and comport yourself, or conduct your life in an irreverent, rude, disrespectful way, while at the same time saying your marriage, family, and spiritual life is ok. What is happening on the outside shows what’s going on on the inside. If you are disrespecting yourself and your spouse in public, dressing with a great, prideful concern for your looks or for how seductive you are – your relationship with God and your spouse is probably quite a mess.
It says, in effect, “Showing up with your head uncovered should have the same effect on you as if you were to show up bald. The shame you would feel if all your hair fell out is the same shame you should feel if you are disrespecting yourself, your spouse, or your church.”
In any culture, your hair and your clothes mean something. It shows how much you respect yourself, your culture, your spouse, your family, and your church. To break cultural convention because it’s sinful or wrong or because it goes against your conscience is perfectly fine. But to do it simply because you want some shameless attention or declare yourself better than everyone else, is sin. You are stealing God’s glory and disrespecting those around you. Recall what we said in Philippians 2.
Your Look Says a Lot
I want to get into the male headship aspect of verses 8-16, but hopefully you see how this ties to last week and many of our other studies. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
Christian, it’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s about Jesus. And Jesus commands us and gives us the example of humbling ourselves before God and each other. So, in your clothing styles, in your hair styles, are you being humble?
And this doesn’t just have to be expensive or seductive clothes, or strange and complicated hair styles. This attitude can be conveyed with any type of clothing. There are people who dress like slobs and never shave because they want to declare to everyone how little they care about themselves or what anyone else thinks. There are people who only wear certain brands or have a certain beard because they convey a certain message – that they’re tough, cool, smart, trendy, sexually liberated, or counter-culture. There are women who put on skin-tight clothes in the morning and think, “I don’t care what anyone else says, this is comfortable.” and head out not giving and regard to how it affects those around them. Or men who put on the same shirt every day, the one that their wife begs them to change and is so embarrassed by, even wearing it when company is over, and keep doing it because they like it. They don’t care what anyone else thinks.
Clothing can say a lot about the heart: There are men who wear suits to church simply so they can judge those who don’t. There are women who wear conservative clothes because they have a real fear of the men around them. There are men who hate women simply because of their clothes, and women who look at their closets and hate themselves. There are beautiful people that try to cover their beauty because they have been told it’s shameful. And others who have been treated like commodities and objects for so long that they feel their only worth is in how they look. It’s a mess.
So, this isn’t a prescription for how to dress. I’m not telling you how to dress at all, nor should I. I’m not saying wear dresses or don’t, have a beard or don’t, wear tights or don’t, wax your mustache or don’t. That’s between you, your spouse, your parents, your culture, and God. But, when you get dressed, when you choose a hair style, when you buy that piece of clothing, will you submit that choice to God’s leadership? Will you see that decision through God’s lens, asking yourself, “What does this say about me? How does this reflect on my spouse and family? How does this affect my testimony? How will this affect others today? What does this say about my faith in God? Is God honoured by this choice? Does this bring glory to Him? Will this help my witness and encourage people?”
Let me close with the words of 1 Corinthians 10:31-33, only a few verses before our passage today: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.”
 Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Head Covering. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 936). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
 NIV Archeological Study Bible, Pg 1875
 NIV Archeological Study Bible, Pg 1875
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Abortion is a controversial, but incredibly important topic. Did you know that Canada is the only country in the western world without abortion legislation? This is the first of a two part series where we are talking with Mike Schouten, Campaign Director of weneedaLAW.ca who’s mission is to build a groundswell of support from across Canada for abortion legislation.
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How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?
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5. Give financially: If you’d like to help us with our productiong costs, send us a financial gift through PayPal by clicking here. (We are not a registered charity, so you won’t get a tax receipt — but you will have the good feelings that come with helping out a friend!)