Honouring our Head

L M Grant.

1 Corinthians 11:1-16

God anticipated that this particular scripture would become a matter for contention, and therefore Paul closes the subject by writing, "But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God" (v. 16). Yet this is the Word of God, and deeply important for the true blessing of all the church of God on earth. Paul has stated the truth, but will not allow it to be a contentious issue. The truth of God is too precious and vital than to be dragged down to the level of human argument.

Let us therefore approach such a subject with reverent, humble faith, desiring only that God will make His will clearly known and understood. We shall never lose by bowing to His own will, but will prosper more greatly in spiritual growth and wisdom.

First, we must remember that this book of 1 Corinthians is written, not to individuals as such, but "to the church which is at Corinth … with all who in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Cor. 1:2). Therefore what Paul is saying is to be taken to heart by the whole assembly as such. All the assembly will be affected by the obedience or disobedience of any individual in the assembly, so all should be concerned that individuals should bow to the authority of God's Word. This chapter begins the subject of the assembly in its functions together, and the first 16 verses are introductory. Verse 17 speaks of their actually gathering together. How important then that these preparations for gathering are closely observed!

The assembly in Corinth is commended for keeping the instructions Paul had given them (v. 2), but there was a matter that needed to be specially called to their attention. He wanted them to understand that "the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God" (v. 3). It is surely just as important today to insist on this as it was in Paul's day, for its significance is much more vital than many want to realize. This was actually God's order in creation, though the world ignores it. But if the church of God is to maintain any proper order, it cannot ignore God's order in creation. Some have imagined that this cannot apply, since "in Christ" "there is neither male nor female" (Gal. 3:28). However, that scripture has to do with the new creation, and is absolutely true, but the assembly now on earth is still connected with the first creation, where God's creatorial order still applies. "The head of every man is Christ." This fact surely gives us no difficulty. But "the head of the woman is the man." Some do object to this clear, decided fact; but it does not imply that man is better than or superior to the woman, but God has given him that place of headship. More than that, "the head of Christ is God." Certainly Christ, as the eternal Son of God, is fully equal with God, yet as Man He is willing to recognize that God is His head. We should all see the great wisdom of God in this, and bow with thankfulness before Him for it.

However, a man praying or prophesying with his head covered dishonors his head. Why? Because his head is Christ: he is therefore dishonoring Christ. Christ should not be covered, but the One who is seen. If a man in this case covers his head he is covering up Christ, and in this way he dishonors Him.

On the other hand, if a woman prays or prophesies with her head uncovered, she dishonors her head. That is, she dishonors the man, who is her head. In what way? She is virtually putting him in the place that Christ should have. That is sad dishonor. If she covers her head, she covers the man, which is right.

Some have sought to sidestep this issue by urging that this applies only if a woman prays or prophesies audibly. In assembly meetings then she would never use a head covering, because women are to keep silent in the assembly (1 Cor. 14:34). Can a true believer be serious in taking an attitude like this? In assembly meetings every person in the assembly is to participate in all the prayers and ministry and reading of the scriptures, though most individuals usually participate inaudibly. A woman's spiritual exercise of taking part without speaking is just as important as the man's place in furthering the welfare of the assembly. This is too easily forgotten in our tendency to exaggerate the public place. Those who are behind the scenes, exercised in lowly, genuine affection for Christ, have far more effect in the way a meeting progresses than we generally stop to consider. This instruction then clearly applies to assembly gatherings, though it is not confined to these.

Some also have said that since a woman's hair is given her as a covering, this is sufficient. However, while it is true that God has given her long hair as a covering, He expects her, on this account, to also cover her own head, thus confirming her agreement with what God has done. Notice also how clearly scripture answers this when we are told, "If a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn" (v. 6). Can this mean, "if a woman does not have hair, let her also cut her hair off?" Of course the Word of God does not indulge in such foolishness. The force of this verse is that, if the woman refuses to cover her head, then she might as well go all the way in refusing also what God has done in giving her long hair. But since it is a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her then cover her head. Honest simplicity of faith can only bow to the facts as God gives them.

"For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God" (v. 7). As such he represents God, and God is to be, not covered, but prominent. "But woman is the glory of man," and the glory of man is not to be prominent. For in creation the man was not from the woman, as has been true subsequently, but the woman from the man, as Eve was taken from Adam's side. She was created for the man, as God said, it was not good for man to be alone. This was God's order in creation, and therefore the woman should have the sign of authority on her head, that is, that she is under authority to her head, the man. It is added here, "because of the angels." Angels are vitally interested in the order God has prescribed in His creation, and they care as to whether both man and woman are obedient.

"Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord" (v. 11). There is a unity in God's creation that is seen to be most beautiful when both man and woman keep their place and function as each is properly fitted to function. For it is to be remembered also that though the woman came from man to begin with, yet since that time man has come through the woman. Both are given a dignity that is peculiar to each, and both should act in the dignity that is becoming to the particular place God has given.

This being the case, the assembly is told to judge in themselves, is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? How could we ever dare to answer yes to this? And it is added, "Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him?" In the world today things are so out of course that people cannot even discern this evident lesson from nature. But believers should have no difficulty with this. Also, if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her. Nature teaches us this also, though it is often ignored, not only by unbelievers, but sadly also by too many believers. "For her hair is given her for a covering." This is what God has done, in effect telling the woman that it is her glory to be covered. Her willing consent to this will induce her to also cover her head when prayer or prophesying is exercised.

We have been thankful to learn in recent months that even a number of denominational churches have been awakened to a sense of failure in having ignored this scripture, and the women have been stirred to wear head coverings in their gatherings. This is a refreshing contrast to the trend in the opposite direction.

It has been a concern to some that, if a lady visits a meeting, she may be offended because others are wearing head coverings while she has none. On this account some have even disposed of the head covering out of apprehension as to what the other may think. This is too bad. For always our obedience to the Word of God is the best possible testimony to anyone else. Compromise in this is weakness. The visitor may rightly ask questions if she sees others wearing a covering. We know of a recent case where one asked such questions that led to her conversion, and then she willingly adopted the wearing of a head covering, without being told to wear it.

May our God and Father give grace that both the believing man and the woman may gladly accept the dignity of the honor with which God has invested each one, and then to function willingly in that place. We surely know that God would love to see this, rather than any contention about a matter that He Himself, in His great love and wisdom, has found necessary to bring to our attention.

L. M. Grant.