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TEXT: I Corinthians 11:2-16
SUBJECT: Celebrate Diversity!
This is not the kind of thing Reformed Baptist pastors say every day: but we ought to. We ought to love diversity because God does, and to this, both the Bible and common sense bear witness.
Genesis 1-2 open with God creating the heavens and the earth, but all He created was, at the time, null and void. Everything was there, it seems, but nothing was organized, there were no distinctions, it was all run together, like an oil painting left out in the rain. The Lord did not want things this way, so He set about ordering the world, separating one thing from another. First light from darkness; and later, dry land from the seas, birds from fish, and, most importantly, mankind from the other mammals that live on the earth.
At the end of the Creation Week, He pronounced everything good, in fact, very good. From this, I think we can fairly affirm what I just said: God loves diversity. He makes everything what it is because He wants it to be that and not something else. He wants a thing to be what it is and not what it isn't.
What the Bible teaches is confirmed every day by what we see and hear and smell and touch and taste.
There's a thing called 'flowers', and flowers are not the same thing as 'weeds' (If they were, we'd all have lovely gardens!) But not all flowers are the same, not in size or shape or color or smell. I so miss the gladiola fields we used to have up Mission Boulevard in Union City. Acres and acres of my favorite flower, all in a blaze of red or yellow or purple or white and so on.
The same is true of the meat, poultry, and fish we eat. Fish doesn't taste or look or smell like hamburger; and even in the category of 'fish', salmon looks and tastes a lot different than catfish. A salmon is not a catfish, a catfish is not a steak, a steak is not a pork chop, a pork chop is not a chicken breast and a chicken breast is not escargot
We all know this, and unless you eat only hamburgers or like only roses, you're happy God made many things in many colors and textures and shapes and sizes. The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord--the Psalm says--and we're thankful that diversity is a branch of His goodness. How diminished life would be if the colors of a rainbow were red, red, red, red, red, red, and red (even if red is your favorite color!). Diversity is good; God loves diversity; if He didn't, He'd have made everything gray.
This takes us back to the Bible, and, once again, to common sense. Genesis 1 takes a bird's eye view of creation, including the creation of mankind. All it says is God created man ('Adam' in Hebrew) in His own image--
Male and female He created them.
Here, 'Adam' seems to mean 'mankind' and not a particular man, the one we call Adam. But in Chapter 2, we zoom in on Adam, and learn he is a particular man, and that he's a man with a problem. The other creatures have counterparts, but he doesn't. The Lord sees this is no good, so He causes a deep sleep to fall over the man and from his side He takes his wife, whom he names, 'Woman', and later, in light of the Fall and the promised salvation, 'Eve',
From this story, we begin to see what man and woman are to each other. In one way, Eve is 'Adam'; in another way, she is 'non-Adam'. This is why, as the KJV says, she is a 'help meet' for him. Because she is 'Adam' she is 'meet' for him, a partner in a way no animal could be. And because she is 'not Adam', she can help him; he doesn't have to do everything himself.
Male and Female are not accidents of nature; they are differences, designed by God, to promote our happiness and His Glory. First, in the family (that's what Adam and Eve were) and then, in the Church, the renewed Family of God.
This long-winded introduction brings us to the most controversial paragraph of Paul's most controversial Letter, I Corinthians 11:2-16.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Before we wade in, let's start with the most important question: 'What's it about?' The best scholars do no agree on this, and lesser men, like me, have to tread lightly and beware of sweeping and dogmatic conclusions.
The traditional and most common answer to the question is this: Authority. Whatever we make of 'head covering' and so on, what Paul is saying is: Men have authority over women, or at least, husbands have authority over their wives. I do not agree with the first part of this answer. To the best of my knowledge, the Bible nowhere commands women to submit to men. Peter tells Christian wives to--
Be submissive to your own husbands.
...But not to anybody else's husband. Not to men in general.
Even though believing wives ought to defer to their husbands, this is not what Paul is getting at here. If it were, he would tell husbands to exercise authority over their wives, to see to it their wives behave themselves at church. Or, at least, 'Make sure your wife remembers her veil before leaving the house Sunday morning'. He says no such things. From this, I deduce he's not addressing the issue of authority at all, or at least not directly.
So, what's it about? It's about what Paul says it's about: Women dressing appropriately for church. Now, this itself brings up another question: Appropriate in what way?
The issue is not modesty. Paul is not contending with women and girls wearing their bikinis to church! If they were doing that, he would have taken a very different tone with them! He would have rebuked them sharply for treating the church of God as though it were a pagan Temple, and for dressing more like cult prostitutes than women professing godliness.
The issue is 'honoring your husband', making him proud of you, making him look good to the other men at church. There's an echo of the Virtuous Woman in Proverbs 31. Her life is so well-lived that not only do her children rise up and call her 'blessed', but her husband is respected and congratulated for having such a wonderful wife.
In the Early Church, the way women honored their husbands in church was by wearing a veil. Paul doesn't impose this practice on God's People in every time and place, he simply works with the way things were done in his time and place. What he's telling Christian women today is, 'Using your own cultural norms, show your husband honor'. That will differ from place to place: the way honor is shown in Japan or Saudi Arabia is a lot different that it is here, but we all more or less know what it is. Now, do it.
This ties it into the rest of the Letter, where so many people are living for themselves, and not for the good of others. Apparently the ladies are doing better than the men in Corinth, for while Paul chides the men time and again, he praises the women and explains to them why they're doing what they're doing. Not even Paul can cover everything in depth, and maybe he was sketchy in his teaching on head covering, and now he fills in the gaps.
He starts with a compliment, v.2--
Now, I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions as I delivered them to you.
Paul had taught them about honoring their husband by wearing a veil at church--and they were doing just what he told them to. There's a lot to criticize in the church, but not this: on this point they were doing very well.
The third verse is key to our understanding of the passage. People who say it's all about 'male authority in the church' haven't read it too carefully. If this were a chain of command, Paul would either start with the top and go down, or he'd start at the bottom and move up. He does neither. He starts in the middle and works both ways--
Now I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of every woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
He's simply saying, 'Everyone has a head' and that 'Everyone ought to honor his or her head'. Jesus gives glory to God and women (or, wives, really) ought to give glory to their husbands.
In that time and place, wives did this by wearing the veil at church. The veil, which was long, possibly floor length, was a way of signaling their femininity. It was a way of being distinctly female. It was a way of celebrating what God made her--not a nondescript 'person', but a woman.
If the sisters were possessed of the charismatic gifts of the Spirit, they could use them in church, as long as they did it as women--not lesbians, not man-haters, not women's libbers (as we used to say), not gender-blenders--but real women, thankful to God for making them female and their husbands male.
'If you're ashamed of being mistaken for a woman--Paul says--why not go all the way? Shave your head! (He might have added, 'Or grow a beard!'). Using sarcasm, he shows how silly it is to wish they were what they were not'. Be content, be thankful for being a woman.
IMAGES AND GLORY
Should men cover their heads in church? No they shouldn't because that's the incultured way of honoring your husband and they don't have husbands! Christ is our head, and we honor Him by coming to church with our heads bare.
V.7 becomes problematic, but only when you read it out of context. Does it say 'Man is made in the image of God--and woman isn't?' It doesn't say that, because it's not true to the Creation Account. Genesis 1:26-27 tell us that both Adam and Eve were in God's likeness and Image.
What it says the woman is the glory of man. In other words, her good conduct in church is going to reflect well on her husband, just as the man's good conduct is going to reflect well on Christ.
Do sisters-in-Christ glorify the Lord in church? Of course they do, but this is not Paul's point here.
INTERDEPENDENCE AND PRECEDENCE
In the event we read v.7 wrongly, Paul is quick to remind us of our inter-dependence, and, therefore, our substantial equality. The first woman was taken from a man's body, and since then every man who ever lived was taken from a woman's body.
Still, since man came first, a woman owes her husband a kind of respect, something like the honor younger people owe their elders--it's not about bowing and scraping and fetching--but respect. They way they showed this in the Early Church was to wear a veil. In other times and places, it is shown differently, but we all know what they are--even if we can't articulate it as well as we'd like to!
BECAUSE OF THE ANGELS
As though all this is not foreign and weird enough, Paul outdoes himself at the end of v.10 by bringing in real foreigners--
Because of the angels.
Somehow or other, head coverings matter to angels! Some old writers thought the angels lusted after unveiled women. This, of course, assumes that angels can only see women at church, or that they ought to never take their veils off anywhere because the angels might be spying on them.
Others say 'angels are offended by women unveiled in church'. This seems better than the first answer, but I can't find any connection between it and what Paul says elsewhere, so I don't think so.
The only answer I can come up with connects this verse to Ephesians 2:7 which suggests that the church is designed by God to be a theatre of His Glory, a way of showing off the exceeding riches of grace in ages to come. In other words, when angels see men and women living properly in the church, each honoring their heads, they recognize the grace of God at work and praise Him for it.
[If you don't like my answer, do better yourself! I dare you!].
THE QUESTION AND THE CONSENSUS
Paul closes the paragraph with a series of questions and an appeal to the wisdom of God's People worldwide.
Judge for yourself: Is it right for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?
In other words, is it right for her to lie about what she is--a woman--while praying? Of course not. Every culture has its way of distinguishing women from men in hair and dress. The difference is more radical in some cultures than others but, honestly, does my wife's new, short haircut look like mine? If all you had to go on was our hair, wouldn't you know which one's the man and which one's the woman?
We don't need rulers to measure hair length; we don't need a clothing council to split distinguish between men's pants and women's pants! We all know the difference! Apart from the un-hideable differences between men and women, there are cultural cues, which we ought to respect--not because God is against women wearing pants--but because He's for women being women!
Everybody in the Church knows this--Paul says--and if you want to argue the fine points--do it with somebody else!
Celebrate diversity! The Lord has not made us persons, leaving us free to chose our sex for ourselves. He has made us male and female, and we should never blur the distinctions or think, whatever we are, we got the short end of the stick!
Nobody created in the likeness and image of God, redeemed by Christ, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit should feel cheated! We're all blessed. The economic, psychological, and sociological questions about men and women are way over my head, but I do know something about theology, and I know my Bible teaches that God is no respecter of persons, that He loves women as much as He does men, both have an equal share in salvation, and have indispensable places to fill in the church and the world.
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