1 Corinthians 11: Focus on the Family

I Corinthians 11: Focus on the Family

Paul commends the church in Corinth for remembering him and holding to his teachings, thereby keeping the traditions, just as he passed on to them.  In this section of his letter, Paul addresses two traditions in worship- one was about headship – the principle for governing the people of God for all times. This includes instructions about proper wear and behavior in worship, praying and prophesying.  The other was the other was about conduct at the Lord’s Supper.  We will look this week at the principle of “headship.”

From the creation account in Genesis, we discover from the very beginning, God’s focus was on the family.  This was the first institute God established. And I believe by this being the first, it was His priority. The family was the foundation and fabric of the society. So goes the family, so goes the society, the culture, the community and the country.  Satan saw God’s focus on the family and therefore he focused on the family to destroy what God was creating. Everything he does is to destroy families- to blind the minds of unbelievers. The whole underlying theme of the Bible is about family, from the family of man and the order of authority which God has established, to marriage and how and who it is to be- to the family of God and how we are to operate under His authority.

When the apostle uses the word head- he uses it two ways.  One way he uses it is in reference to our physical head which sits on the top of our necks and is the control center of the body. The other way Paul uses the word head means primary leadership. The one in control.

The use of the word for primary leadership is used in verse 3:  “I want you to know the head of every man is Christ; the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”  In this verse Paul tells us the definite order of “headship” in the church. The Father is Head over Christ, Christ is the Head of the man, and the man is head of the woman. If there is to be peace in the church there must be order and order of necessity and rank.   It is the statement in the middle which has become controversial in our time regarding man being the head of the woman. The two other examples which bracket this statement are where we will find and understand what the middle one means.  The Christian faith brought freedom and hope to women, slaves, and a population who were under the rule of the Roman Empire. The local church was to be a place of fellowship where gender, citizenry, race, social status and economic position were all welcome and considered equal. This was new, it was truly liberating and Paul needed to explain how this order worked and teach them the principles of ‘headship’ which God had ordained for the church.


“The head of every man is Christ.”  This is the clear declaration of the right of Christ to lead the whole human race. He is the leader of the human race in the mind of God and God has placed everything under Him. One day every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, the head of all things. So whether man acknowledges Jesus Christ as Lord, He is Lord of all and one day all of mankind will acknowledge this truth.  As a Christian, Christ is my head. I am under His leadership and responsible for following Him.  This is the whole object and goal of manhood.  In this world we do this as believers to a limited degree.  He orders our steps, but sometimes we stumble or stray, but we are not utterly cast down.  His will is not done on earth through us like it is in heaven. But we should be making progress in obedience for sanctification is an ongoing, progressive activity as we learn not to lean on our own understanding but in every way acknowledges Him.  He is the author and finisher of our faith. As our head, He is the One who leads the way, The Good Shepherd. He is the One who opens the door; He is in fact, the Door which opens the way to the abundant life. Christ is the Head of all mankind. He is the leader of the race, the One to be followed.  We follow the Leader. Headship is directly related to submission.  And submission is always accompanied by honor- honoring the one you have submitted to.  A man who is under Christ honors Christ with his actions, speech, outward appearance and dress. The same is true of women.

Now let us look at the third level of headship in this verse: “the head of Christ is God.”  Jesus, the Son of God, equal to His Father in deity, nevertheless, assumed humanity, He became flesh and dwelt among us. He submitted Himself to the leadership of His Father. This why Jesus said ‘I do nothing by myself; I can do only what I see the Father doing. ‘Jesus said I do always those things which please my Father.  My meat is to do the will of the Father and to please the One who sent me.  Jesus said, He and the Father are one.  And yet Jesus also said, His Father was greater than I.   This does not mean Jesus is not equal with the Father in deity, but when Jesus volunteered to become a man, He took a lower position that than the Father.  Everything Jesus did was to honor His Father in heaven and bring glory to Him. For this reason Jesus prayed, thy will, be done,  Father, not my will.  The prayer of surrender and submission.

*Headship never means domination. It is a voluntary commitment, a submission of one’s will to God’s will.

Now with this in mind, let us look at this middle statement: “The head of the woman is man.” Now this statement has been made controversial in these last days with the advent of women’s liberation beginning in the 60’s. Remember what Paul told us in I Cor. 2 about the natural man (or woman) – which refers to one who is not saved, not indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Paul says they are:  Without the Spirit of God, and thereby natural man or woman cannot understand Spiritual truths- they are foolishness to them.  This is God’s plan for His creation. For man to be the head of woman. This applies in marriage. This is God’s plan for marriage and society and it was this way before the fall.  As is true of all of God’s principles, marriage and society will only function as it was designed when we carry out God’s will.  This is how society and mankind was designed and created to function.  When it does not follow the leaders, the head- we will not have order but chaos and the people decide for themselves what is right and wrong and how then they shall live.   We all are going to serve someone; Joshua said choose this day whom you will serve.

Now Paul has stated the ‘head of the woman is man.’ This is   voluntary submission. From the very beginning God had this plan in mind.  He created Adam alone. He gave him instructions to be fruitful and multiply, to rule and reign with Him and have dominion over the earth.  Adam could not accomplish this on his own. He needed a suitable help mate.  And Eve was created, taken from the side of Adam.  Just as the bride of Christ, the last Adam, had his bride taken from his side pierced by the spear of our sins, from which flowed the blood and water that washed us white as snow.

Paul makes it clear- this is not a matter of superiority. In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, free or slave, male or female, we are one in Christ Jesus.  Galatians 3. This idea of submission has been an area of contention since the days of women’s liberation. So let us explore the full instructions surrounding this idea of submission.


Paul had started this section of this discussion with the instructions:  “Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ. “  KJV “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. NIV.  Examples are the best teachers.

Paul repeats this command in Ephesians 5 where he gives us an example:  “Be imitators of God as dear children.”  Children at some time in their childhood imitate their parents- they smile and laugh like they do, walk like them and love to dress up like them. Here is our example: “And live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for all of us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Later on in the same chapter we read: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the Church (the bride of Christ) submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”

Then instructions to the husband:  “In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives, as their own bodies.  Just as Christ loved the church.”

In Romans 5: 6-8 we read: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. (That was me!) Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrated His Own love for us in this: while were still sinners Christ died for us.”


“I surrender all- all to Him I owe.”  Mutual submission is the most power relational principle there is.  All of the Scriptures are based on this principle.  Jesus said the first and greatest commandment was to love the Lord they God with all your heart, soul, mind and body. And the second commandment was to love your neighbor as yourself. On these two verses all the Scriptures are based.  This is mutual submission.  Paul has already said – nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.

The most well known verse in all of Scriptures is John 3: 16, which is based on mutual submission.  “For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten son, that whosever should believe in Him, should not perish but have everlasting life.”

The verses in Romans 5 told us God demonstrated His love for us while we were still sinners. When we could care less about Him- He gave His best for us, sacrificed Him on a Cross. He put you and me ahead of Himself and His only begotten. God did not do this to demonstrate His power. God did this to demonstrate His love for us.  He took the risk, He went first. He submitted Himself to us and in return said if you will submit yourself to me and follow me-I will make of you what you were created to be and you will experience the abundant life, the spirit-filled life.

When two people pledge to put the other first, it is a relationship at its best. It is a wife who wants the best for her husband and a husband who wants the best for his wife. The employer who sacrifices for his employees earns their respect, love and loyalty.  No wonder Paul said in Romans 12, to present your bodies a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.  It is reasonable for God has not withheld anything from you. It is the principle of give and it will be given to you. And God gave first and God gave the most- He gave everything.

God is saying I have given you my best. I have given you everything you need for life and godliness. Come to me- surrender all and I will make my abode with you and you with me.


Paul’s concern is the public ministry of the Word of God. He is talking to Christians about the church, the gathering of believers in public assembly. It is clear women as well as men had the right to pray and prophesy in the church.  Prophesy is different from preaching- it is a gift of prophecy to proclaim God’s message as it was given to them. Not a prepared sermon and preaching.  Men were told to wear nothing on their head when they performed these actions. To wear a covering on his head would dishonor his Head, Christ.   Women who had this gift were allowed to exercise it in the public assembly. They were also allowed to pray in public assembly. They were instructed to wear a shawl, a covering for their hair, the covering for the women’s head was the custom of that time and day and dress for women.  It was not a veil, which covered the face, but a shawl which covered her hair.  In those days temple prostitutes in Corinth wore their hair short and uncovered in public. Their hairstyles, dress and manner announced to others who they were and what they were offering. For a woman to appear in public this way was to risk being considered a prostitute. To flaunt her sexuality and openly dress and appear sexually suggestive.   Paul said a woman who prayed or prophesized in church with her head uncovered dishonored her head, her husband, and it was just as if she had her hair shaved.  In Numbers 5, a woman proved guilty of adultery had her hair cut off.

Notice the second part of verse 6 beginning with: ‘if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head.’   Paul is saying if in your culture or society it is not considered disgraceful to for a woman’s head and hair to be uncovered, it is not shameful or dishonoring for a woman to go to church with her head uncovered.

We must be careful of our actions, speech, dress and outward appearance so as not to dishonor God.  The next verse gives us an explanation:  “For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.”  This is the principle involved here and it is not based on local custom. Paul is going back to creation to establish this. The principle of headship is true from the beginning of mankind. In the beginning, man was made in the image and glory of God. Image is the manifestation of something.  Remember in Hebrews 1 we are told Jesus, the Son is the ‘radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…”  Man, the first Adam, was made in the image of God’s glory in order that any creature looking at a man would see the likeness, the very nature of God.  This is the dignity of mankind.

Man was made first. There were not two sexes as of yet. Man was the image and glory of God. Now we need to understand the meaning of glory in order to understand this principle. Glory is the word used to refer to something in which one takes delight. When we sing ‘we glory in the cross of Christ’, it means we find supreme delight in it. Paul writes in I Thess. 2: 19: “Who is our crown of rejoicing?  (Where is a crown placed? On our heads) Are You not our glory and our joy? “We were created to reflect the nature and glory of God, and when we do, it gives God great delight.  “This is My Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  He delights in mankind and this is why we are to be uncovered so His glory is openly manifested and visible not covered. This is the chief end of man- to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Everywhere Jesus went He revealed the glory of God and demonstrated the love of God for mankind. It was because of this Jesus drew large crowds to hear His words.  In Him, they caught a glimpse of the love of God, the glory of God, the delight that God takes in mankind.   John and the apostles got an up close look at Jesus when He ministered the Word and John says the only way he can describe it in human language is ‘ we beheld His glory, the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1)

But woman is the glory of the man. It is in woman that man finds his delight. Woman is the delight of man. The woman was separated from man, when God put the first Adam to sleep and formed the woman, Eve, from his rib. The love between a husband and wife, a man and woman is private intimate glory. An intimacy of shared love, mutual submission and two people living one life together. It is hidden and private. This is why the shawl or covering is a mark of intimacy of privacy.  Her hair is her crowning glory because it is her symbol of authority over her head.  Interesting in nature, woman’s hair rarely goes bald. Science tells us it takes two genes in a woman to produce baldness, it only takes one in a man. This is why most men will go bald as they age, while it is rare for women.

The wedding ring marks a woman as belonging to another, to whom she has given herself voluntarily. It is a symbol of headship.   It says, I am not available, I belong to my husband. I am his and he is mine.  Woman was taken from man in order that she might share fully in his nature.  They are one flesh.

Man and woman are equal in God’s eyes. One is not inferior or superior to the other. They are distinct as sexes. They function in a divinely given order to which is to be freely accepted by the woman, in order to demonstrate to all the delight of God in His creation.  Paul mentions in verse 10- ‘because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign (or symbol) of authority over her head.’  Theologians believe Paul is referring to the special class of angels called seraphs, who are described in Isaiah 6, and who cover or veil their faces before the throne of God. We know when we worship Peter tells us in I Peter 1: 12- angels look into these things. Their reaction to the holiness of God and the veiling of their faces tells us worship in the presence of Almighty Holy God is a serious thing, and we ought to conduct ourselves as if we are in heaven, when we worship in public.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

When the wife pledges to put her husband first and desire God’s best for Him and the husband pledges to put his wife first and desire God’s best for her, this is relationships at their best, this is the strongest and the way God intended it to be. It is a powerful principle. *God’s plan is for man to be a humble leader and woman is called to gladly affirm her husband’s role of leadership.

After all Jesus led the way. And when He, the Lord Jesus, saw in full how much it would cost. He still went the final mile between me and heaven so I would not be lost.

Mutual submission.  I had nothing to offer Him.  He put my sin ahead of His glory. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame. He did it all for me.

I surrender all- all to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain; He washed me white as snow.


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