The Corinthian Correspondence, Part 20: 1 Corinthians 11:2 - 16; "Approaching the Lord with Authenticity"
The Corinthian Correspondence, Part 20; 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 "Approaching God in Authenticity" It was a number of months ago when I read this passage - in horror. Mark and I had been meeting for discipleship and accountability for many weeks before I read this passage and it hit me the way it did. Our standard agenda included sharing what the Lord had shown us in our journal the week before and testing one another as to which Scripture we were memorizing. This particular week I had to share my thoughts about Isaiah 1:12-15: "When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations- I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood." So now you know the backstory as to why I plead with all of us that when we come together on Sunday mornings that our worship would be acceptable to the Lord. God through Isaiah told his covenant people that he did not accept their worship. Fast forward to today. If Jesus were to physically walk through the churches in our culture, would he say: "Well done?" or "I don't accept your attempt at worship?" My fear is that with many churches he would speak the latter. We would not be off the hook either. When we stand before him in that day how many times will he tell me, you, all of us, "I did not accept your worship?" So what does acceptable worship look like? What attitudes and actions need to be present as we engage in corporate worship that would "prompt" him to say, "That pleases me"? Wouldn't it be great for the Lord to tell us? The fantastic news is that he has! Enter 1 Corinthians 11:2-14:40. What Paul has written in these chapters gives us a blueprint of sorts for the kind of corporate worship that the Lord accepts. Now we might think, and no one could blame us, if we would say, "are you kidding me? A blueprint for acceptable worship can be found in this letter? They have so many problems!" But on the other hand, if all of the churches in the 1st Century were living mature Christian lives, Peter and Paul and John and others would have no need to address their problems. In other words, the Lord does not waste a thing-even our own failures and sins. As he tells us in Romans 8:28 that God works all things together for good to those who are called according to his purpose. All things. And given all the problems the Corinthians had, 2,000 years later, we are gleaning extremely valuable stuff as Paul patiently instructs them in the ways of the Lord. These things were written down. And now we have them in our own tongue! Isn't that a marvelous thing? And so the chapters we have in front of us over the next few weeks will give us a way ahead, God's master plan if you will, as to what we need to bring into the sanctuary of the true and living God in order to please him-so that he might tell us "well done"! Let me give you what is coming our way in these sections regarding what God desires of his people that we might give him acceptable worship. Today, we are going to talk about approaching God in authenticity. Next week we will hear from brother Greg as he preaches to us some strong, but needed words in his Fathers' Day message. The week after that we are going to learn about approaching God in humility as Paul addresses the Lord's Supper. Then we will hear about how to approach the Lord in unity-so vitally important. The week after that we will receive instruction about approaching God in power, as we understand more about spiritual gifts. Then we will learn how to approach the God of love, diving into 1 Corinthians 13. We will take a break for a couple of weeks for our youth and anniversary Sundays-can you believe Grace United will be 8 years old? And the last two weeks of our "mini-series" will cover approaching God properly and in order. This entire series can be summed up in Paul's summary statement in 1 Corinthians 14:40: But all things should be done decently and in order. So, this is where we are heading over the next several weeks. Today, as it so often happens, God's word is completely out of step with the culture. The non-conformist in me says, "most excellent!" On the other hand, do we really want to always be viewed with suspicion? Looked at as outsiders? Even hated by the world? But wait a minute! Isn't that what Jesus said would happen as his disciples? You know, this kind of dynamic that God's people have with the world and its ways didn't start with Jesus. All the way back in Deuteronomy, Moses told his people to make a choice: either God or the world: Deuteronomy 30:19-20: "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them." And at the end of Joshua's days, given the godly military and political leader that he was, gave a challenge to the people of Israel: Joshua 24:14-15: "Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." The truth is, the day we signed up to follow Jesus, coming to him for salvation, was the day we would begin to get out of step with the culture. It takes supernatural strength and enlightened and attuned spiritual ears to listen to the divine drumbeat as the world gets louder and louder, trying to get us to march in step with it. But the disciple of Jesus refuses. Whether the world just happens to agree with God's ways-rare that may be-or radically out of step with God's ways, the Christian follows Jesus. And that means, by definition we will be different. So why should it surprise us that God desires, no, demands, that we worship him in ways that would not only seem foreign to the world but would truly be foreign to the world? Where God's word would loudly clash with the world? Today is one of those loud clashes. What we are going to see goes exactly opposite of the way the world would demand even the church to go. The true church does not bow or bend to the ways of the world. And today's passage pronounces loud and clear how out of step with the world the church is with the world. For today we are going to talk about gender identity. Now, we will not find the words "gender identity" anywhere in this passage, or even in the whole council of God's word. But it is all over the Bible. But there is something we need to remember as we get into this passage especially. Let me remind us of one of our ground rules: "the Bible was not written to us, it was written for us." This ought to be a no-brainer. Scripture was written millennia ago, in an entirely different language or languages. In a completely different culture. And right before we dive in to our passage today, let me give you several words and phrases that you can look out for: headship. Head coverings. Long hair. Short hair. Angels. Glory. Keep in mind why Paul is addressing these things: properly approaching God in corporate worship. So, now I've probably got you completely lost, let's read the passage together: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16: 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. And there you have it. This is how we, together, approach God. Understanding that the head of women is men and the head of Christ is God. Men must wear short hair and women must wear long hair. Women must wear headcoverings. And angels are somehow involved. See? Easy! As I studied this passage, it seems there is probably no other passage in this letter, and maybe in the New Testament where truth and culture are so closely tied together. So, in order to get to the truth that we can apply, we need to discern between the culture that Paul wrote into and eternal truth. But we can't just pick and choose and label what we want as culture in order to avoid obeying the Lord. The issue of headship for example. How many people have rejected the truth that the head of the woman is the man because it sounds so chauvinistic? Or the profound misunderstanding about the nature of Christ being somehow inferior to God the Father? And we can't legalistically pick and choose and label what is in this passage and require everybody do exactly as this passage says. How many of us have heard about or even experienced for ourselves a hair length requirement for men in order to enter the church sanctuary? I heard of at least 1 very large church that has a barber shop located just outside the sanctuary. If a man had hair that was too long, he had to get a haircut or he could not go to church. How many women today are required to wear some kind of hat precisely because this passage says that a woman must have a head covering? These kinds legalistic and erroneous things are taught and applied when we don't take the time to really understand what is going on. As always, there is so much here-and not enough time to unpack it. But I will make the attempt. Let's walk through this. In v.2, Paul is finally happy! Having had to correct the Corinthian believers in so many areas, he can now commend them because they keep the traditions, handed down to him, that he passed on to them. Besides the traditions of head coverings found in this passage, let me mention 2 more traditions that Paul passed on to them. One is 1 Corinthians 11:23: the Lord's Table. We will get more into that in a couple of weeks. There is another tradition Paul passed on and that is found in 1 Corinthains 15:3-4. He called that tradition, "The gospel." The point I want to make here is that Paul did not make up the traditions. He received them from the Lord and other apostles as well and passed them on to the churches. The all-important issue regarding the Lord's Supper and the vital teaching of the gospel were part of the traditions which were formed very early in church history. Paul wrote this letter about 30 years after Jesus died and rose again. Paul received these things that were already established before he wrote this letter. And after 2000 years we still observe the Lord's Supper and we still believe the gospel. The bottom line here is that we can trust these things not merely because Paul preached them. We trust and practice these things as a church because they were practiced from the very beginning. Paul did not make up the idea that Jesus was to be worshiped, as many people would have us believe. No, Paul worshiped Jesus, and proclaimed that all people everywhere do the same because Jesus is God in the flesh. Paul did not make that up. As a good disciple, he passed on what he himself learned. By the way, passing on what Jesus taught us is good discipleship. An effective disciplemaker is not a person who says and teaches things no one else has ever said and taught. Rather, an effective disciplemaker has one goal: teaching his or her disciple to obey the Lord in everything he taught us. Jesus' passion was to please the Father, lived out in obedience to the Father's commands. Among other things, Paul simply but consistently passed on what he learned to new followers of Christ. Now in vv.3-7 Paul addresses the issue of headship. And here is the very heart of what Paul is getting across. Men and women are distinct. And God inspired Paul to construct the Corinthian believers that they are to express themselves according to their distinctiveness. In the all-important matters of prayer and prophesying, a man is to do these things with his head uncovered and a woman is to have a covering on her head when she prays and prophesies. What is going on here? The foundation is found in who is head of whom: the head, or source of every born again man is Christ. The head, or source of a woman is the man, and the head, or source of Christ is God. For sake of time, let me just sum up. There is a huge ongoing discussion about what head or headship means. The best sense I can make of this in this passage is that "head" does not mean authority, but source. A born-again man has received life or is sourced in Christ. The source of a woman is the man. And that sounds very weird. But it will make sense in a minute. I promise. Where we really have to be careful here is the issue of God being the source of Christ. As we know Christ is God in the flesh-the 2nd Person of the Blessed Trinity. As God, the 2nd Person of the Trinity has no beginning or ending. He, along with the 1st and 3rd Persons of the Trinity make up the Godhead. We are all on the same sheet, right? Now, the name "Christ" is New Testament speak for Messiah. This is vital. When the 2nd Person of the Trinity left heaven and was born into the world as the Messiah, the Christ, it was the Father who sent him. As human, Jesus did not give himself life. God the Father did. See, we need to refer to Jesus as the "God man" as often as we can, lest we get a distorted view of Jesus. For example, God the Father did not die on the cross, for how can eternal, creator God die? Who died on the cross? The God-man, God in the flesh, Messiah did. So, in his humanity, Christ is sourced in the Father. Does that make sense? Paul goes on and refers to a man who prays with his head covered, dishonors his head, his source and therefore dishonors Christ. As Paul says in v.7, the man is the image and glory of God. As man he is to reflect the glory of God. And his reflection of the glory of God honors him. In other words, men have a distinct role to play in the corporate gathering regarding how he is to glorify and honor God, which is distinct from the way women glorify and honor God. Well what about the woman? The ESV uses the word wife, but the other versions say "woman" which would be more inclusive to both married and single women, and I think that is a better way of looking at it. Paul tells the Corinthians that when a woman prays or prophesies with her head uncovered, that dishonors the Lord, for the woman is the glory of man. Now, I'm not a woman. But I'm sure this statement is making at least some of my sisters pretty uncomfortable right about now. But hold that thought. It will make sense in a minute. But what is Paul getting at? Simply, there is a distinction between women and men. Women because of who they are, are to express their worship-their praying and prophesying differently then men. In other words, God sees men and women differently. He commands that men and women express their differences in a culturally appropriate, distinctive manner as men and women worship together. We will talk more about how counter cultural this is. But for right now, let me say, God declares whether a person is a male or a female. And God expects that a male worship him differently than a female. Paul goes on to appeal to the women with what was a most important cultural practice: that of honor and shame. I have said this before but it bears repeating. People in the 1st Century would rather die than to be put to shame. And it is becoming more like that in our country. Think social media. When people put things out that are profoundly disagreed with, how does that person react? Tragically sometimes they hurt themselves and we have heard the stories. Other times they actually change their position just so they won't be on the unpopular side of the opinion. Call the honor-shame culture in the 1st Century peer pressure on steroids. So Paul here is referring to how shameful it is for a woman to worship the same way a man does. As a woman she is to cover her head. A man does not. But it is absolutely unthinkable for the woman to worship the way a man does, says Paul. If she will not cover her head-this was their culturally accepted practice-then she may as well go all the way and cut her hair short-or even have her head shaved bald. Oh, the revulsion! Says every woman in the church in Corinth. A universal outrage! But the honor and shame and headship goes back to Genesis, as Paul makes things more clear in vv.8-13. And here is where the issue of headship described as source will make sense. Remember the story surrounding Eve's creation. God said that in his perfect world there was something that was not good: man was alone. What did he say as he conferred with the other members of the Trinity? Genesis 2:18: Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." A helper. One called alongside to help. And so the Lord put Adam into a deep sleep. And he pulled a rib out of his side. And the Lord fashioned a woman. Not from the ground but from Adam himself. Now Adam has a helper corresponding to him. And Adam was delighted! But now lest we think that the woman's place is one of inferiority, that she is "only" a helper, God describes himself as our helper. And the last time I checked God is in no way inferior to us. So again, how did God create woman? The first man was not made from the woman. What was the purpose for God creating the woman? To be one called by God, fashioned by God to come alongside and help man. Of course God is talking in Genesis about the first married couple-literally a match made in heaven! So, what is going on here? When we all recognize God as the true object of worship, and men and women, but women especially, properly express their worship in culturally appropriate ways, we gain a bunch of witnesses. And who are those witnesses? God's unfallen angels. Though unseen, they are watching to see our authentic worship of the God they themselves worship! Have you ever longed for a heavenly visitation? That angels would actually worship among us or at least witness what we are doing? Well, my dear friends, this is what happens when we come together in worship! An amazing thought indeed. But again, notice what they are witnessing. Women are to worship in culturally appropriate ways, distinct from men. But now, lest we think that men and women are so distinct in our worship, we need to think again. We are different. We are distinct. But we are interdependent. Notice now as Paul reminds the Corinthians and us by extension of how we are to obey the first command that God gave us: to be fruitful and multiply. Men and women, as distinct individuals are both needed to fulfill the command of God in the context of marriage to be fruitful and multiply. Whereas the first woman came from man, now every other man is born, or comes through woman. But as we know, God is over all. All things come from him. Now, Paul having appealed to the written word of God-the best place to stand regarding any issue in which truth is involved-Paul then turns to nature and the Corinthians' own conscience in vv. 13-16. In asking the question of whether it is proper for a woman to, again, worship the way a man does, he directs their attention to the way God has wired both men and women in regard to hair length. Again, we need to keep in mind the culture, which was much more hair conscious than is our culture today. In the 1st Century hair was used by women as an allurement for men. True enough, there is some of that now, but it was much more so back then. And several authors I consulted said that when a woman wore her hair down in public she was, available, if you know what I mean. And that plays into a principle that we can transfer to our day. We will come back to this when I seek to apply this to our lives in a moment. Paul's appeal to nature was again wrapped in the honor-shame practice. And it was simply this: a man having long hair is shameful. A woman having short hair is shameful. On the other hand, a woman's long hair was her glory in that culture. It brought her honor. I'm reminded of 1 Peter 3 at this point where Peter, who was married, and doubtless witnessed the grooming habits of his wife, said this in 1 Peter 3:3-4: Do not let your adorning be external-the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear-but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. Peter acknowledged that a woman's long hair can become an object where it can draw attention to her outward beauty. But the real beauty comes from within, from a gentle and quiet spirit which in the sight of God is very precious. Finally, Paul mentions that he doesn't want to argue about this. He has said enough in this regard. Roughly that is what Paul is communicating in this last sentence. So, what does this extremely valuable passage have to do with us approaching God corporately in a way that pleases him? Let me give you a couple of points. First, the truth of a person's gender is assigned by God. It does not come from our own heart, or emotions. It comes from him. In other words, God places that knowledge within us. Romans 1:18-19: For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. And I submit to you that includes our gender. Men are men because God says so. The same with women. It matters not how we feel about ourselves. When we suppress the truth about who God says we are, that's where trouble begins. Men express themselves differently in worship of God than women do. In our culture, men typically are not as expressive as women in their worship of the Lord. So we are not to expect one another to express worship to the Lord in the same way. Along those lines, Paul says here that men and women are to express their worship in different ways that are culturally appropriate. And some of that involves what one wears. For example, even with all the popularity of the transgender issue and the increasing acceptance of cross dressing, it is inappropriate for men to come to corporate worship dressed that way. This is out of the natural order of things. As Paul aludes, "judge for yourself. Does not nature teach you that it is inappropriate for a man to wear that which pertains to a woman and for a woman to wear that which pertains to a man?" That is also recorded in Scripture, by the way, in Deuteronomy 22:5: "A woman shall not wear a man's garment, nor shall a man put on a woman's cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God." In short, one of our culturally appropriate ways of men worshiping in a way that pleases the Lord is being dressed as men. Let's apply this now to women. In short, let me bring to the table what seems to be a universal desire of women of every age in our culture. And to let you know, I checked with Kitty on this, my resident expert on things feminine in our household. It is in the form of a question, directed at men: "do you notice me?" "Am I pretty?" It begins with their dads. And if there is a healthy relationship with their dad, then they know what to look for in a husband. But if the relationship with their dad is really bad, then often the girl will try to find a father figure to love. Now why do I say this? Look at all the cosmetics for example. Men don't buy them. And it seems to me that you don't put on the make up order to be attractive to one another. And the same seems to be true regarding some of the clothing many girls and women wear. Is not some of that a way of getting the attention of men? As we know, there are cultural norms which mark the boundaries between appropriateness about is appropriate and inappropriate when it comes to allurement. When Kitty was in school a number of years ago, she was in a class full of female students that addressed how a Christian woman should dress. She said that her professor told the class there were 3 ways to dress: ballroom, business and bimbo. I bring this up here because I see a direct application of the way women often utilized the wearing of their hair and how women wear their clothing. What was a glory to them was often turned into a sexual allurement to men. And with some, I can't help but think that the amount of cosmetics and clothing girls and women wear may be a way to ask in a non-verbal way, "do you notice me?" "Do you think I'm pretty?" So, with both men and women, to include youth, the way we come together in worship is to be sure that what we wear and how we wear it does not distract others from worshiping the Lord. Paul said that a head covering was to be used as a symbol of authority. It was also used to cover up what was often an allurement to men. One commentator made this statement: A way for women to honor men is to dress modestly. And men, we need to monitor what we wear as well. As we come together on Sunday mornings, or whenever we do, we come together as men. We come together as women. Every one of us made in the image of God. God has declared every one of us to be either male or female. Let's worship the Lord fully embracing our gender distinctiveness because we are committed to the truth that God made us this way. He declared us as male or female. We are not allowed to suppress this truth by rejecting his pronouncement of who each one of us is. May we come together, conducting ourselves with the authenticity God desires us to have in his presence, before one another. Finally, let's be ready for the battle in the culture war. Not that we are to go out as culture warriors. But because we live in the world, we often find ourselves at odds with the culture. And that includes all the issues of gender. May we be ready to stand before the world that literally hates God and his ways, speaking the truth about gender. As we know a huge part of the culture war involves all the gender issues of our day. The following quote is popularly attributed to Martin Luther but there are some who doubt that he said it. Regardless, let's take to heart the fact that we are in a war. We come together seeking to offer the true and living God worship that he will accept. We also come to be refreshed and encouraged for the battles in our world. Here is the quote attributed to Luther and with this we will close: "If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point."