If you’ve listened to people describe what they believe to be the meaning of their lives what have you heard?
For me, If the answers were in the form of questions, I’ve heard this.
“How do I know God”
“How do I relate to others”
“How do I make a difference with my life”
“How do I enjoy life”
“How do I fulfill my life purpose…do I have one”
Most people would fall in one of those general categories…at least virtually everyone I have known personally would.
We have been reading a really old letter written to an ancient Greek Church since this year began.
Well, it is partly in order to answer the meaning of life question…how do I live well? How do I live my purpose?
Paul told Timothy that…
2 Tim. 3:16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed and is profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
The letter Paul wrote to the church at Corinth is part of Scripture…written language that is “God-breathed”…a special word that means they are inspired by God in a way that normal human writings are not.
It’s profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting, training in righteousness.
This is a great description of a strategy for a life well-lived:
-Teaching: Here is the path to walk in life…this is your life purpose
-Rebuking: You are veering off path…there is nothing good there for you over there
-Correcting: Here’s how you get back on…you can get back, it’s not too late
-Training: Here’s how you train to stay on the path…you can stay the course long term
Training in Righteousness…is a phrase that describes a well-lived life.
As you train to walk this good path you are fully equipped…For every good work
Every good work indicates that you will be able to live the life purpose that God has for you.
So…why do we study this old letter?
It’s not just an old letter…it is God-breathed.
We want to understand it so we can live life at its God-designed best.
But since the subject matter of God’s word is massive and complex:
-Who is God
-Who are we
-What is our purpose
And the audience is universal
-All people, everywhere, of all times
This is complex stuff…so it’s not surprising that it takes some work.
In the verse just before the ones I read says this:
15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth
This is not light, casual reading…this is life-skill training…and it takes our best efforts.
We want to do the work to handle the truth correctly…it takes effort, intentionality.
Every trade: surgeon, pilot, electrician…has to apply effort and understanding to become skilled at their work.
It’s bad if the surgeon, pilot, electrician is “ashamed of their work.”
-bad for them, bad for us
They don’t have to be perfect…in fact they won’t be…but they do need adequate skill.
Last week Aaron mentioned a verse from Peter where he described how Paul’s letters take some work to understand.
He also said that some people distort them, as they do the other Scriptures to their own harm.
2 Peter 3:15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
Ignorant: (not an insult but a description) an uninstructed person.
-they don’t know what they are talking about
My father in law hired a handy man to do some electrical work.
-He put in a main wire that was too small and when appliances were in use breakers were tripped.
-When this do it yourselfer was asked about a solution to this problem he replied “put in a bigger breaker”
-You may know this, but the breakers are a safety feature…sure putting in a larger one would keep them from tripping…and maybe set the house on fire.
-He needed a bigger wire not a bigger breaker
-So my father in-law found a different person to fix his electricity…one who has real training.
-The do it yourselfer was not a bad guy…he was just what Paul would call “ignorant” or “uninstructed”
Unstable: indicates people without life or biblical balance.
Because of ignorance or instability…they Distort the truth: Distort comes from a word used to describe a windlass, a winch on a ship to bring up anchors, hoist sails.
These people twist the Scripture into a shape that doesn’t resemble God’s intended meaning.
There are many reasons a person might be described by Peter as uninstructed or unstable…but the twisting of the truth is personally destructive regardless of the reasons or motivations for the twisting.
So…we want to get this right there is a lot at stake.
**But don’t let that cause you to be afraid about handling the Bible
“I’m not touching that thing…I don’t want to distort the truth or set my life on fire!”
You won’t…Because although it can be hard to discern the meaning of some the details (most is straightforward)…its not hard to get the main points.
Bottom line in all of it: Grow up in your faith
-Hold to truth (don’t chase emotions, passions, or culture’s shifting currents)…you can’t outsmart God.
-Be generous about love (don’t make life about you)
If you live this way…you will maximize God’s glory, the good of others, and your own joy.
Paul is trying to cast vision for them to become grownups…mature in Christ.
Chapter 11 continues the theme of truth applied in love…here it’s in the context of gathered worship
How to honor others while honoring Christ in public worship.
Two issues were in play:
-What they were wearing and its implications
-How they were behaving in their fellowship meal (Lord’s supper) and its implications
When the American military first went into Iraq most of the troops had received little to no cultural training.
-This caused untold problems
-One notorious example was when American soldiers rode through Bagdad giving the “thumbs up”…this means something very positive to Americans and something very negative to Iraqis.
-Later, two things happened:
-Wider spread training was instituted to help us not be an unnecessary offense, but this came late, in some ways too late.
-The Iraqi’s learned some of our culture and were able to adapt to and not be offended by it. But this also was late.
Understanding culture is essential to having good relationships…no matter where you go.
It’s not just other nations…cultural norms are different in the American East, Midwest, North, Northwest, South.
Even in states…North Texas has different cultural norms than South Texas or West and East.
Cities…different parts of Chicago, or Wichita
So, in Corinth…it was vital that they paid attention to what they were doing in order to not be an unnecessary offense to the gospel.
Not being an offense has become a continual headline in America:
The common phrase used is “cancel culture”…I have no comments here on that except to say…
-It is impossible to live without potentially or actually offending someone…no matter what your intentions.
-Paul communicated and demonstrated a life balance by not just saying “don’t offend” but rather “hold to truth and don’t unnecessarily offend”
-That’s why he told the church at Rome, “As far as possible, as much as it depends on you, live at peace with all people.”
-Very practical advice
-There will be times when offense because of the gospel will be impossible to avoid…just don’t create offenses when no eternal truth is at stake.
So, let’s get our Corinth Cultural Briefing before we venture into chapter 11 of Paul’s personal mail.
Some key terms/ideas:
Man and woman: Can mean husbands and wives, or just men and women. He can jump back and forth between the two sometimes.
Head Coverings for Women: It was common for Jewish women to cover their heads, as did Greeks, Persians…all of the geo-cultural areas of the Bible.
Female slaves and prostitutes were forbidden from wearing head covering or veils. If caught doing so they faced severe punishment.
The point of this is that coverings were a mark of authority, of status…not like we might think today of a woman in a Burka.
When we think head or face covers, we think oppression…that is not what Paul’s readers would have thought.
They would have been fashion statements, signs of honor and respect.
Even today we impose western sentiment on women wearing head covers…not every woman wearing one sees them as a sign of oppression…it depends on the setting.
Some women longed to be able to wear head coverings.
Prostitutes at the time frequently had their heads shaved (and later in post Nazi Europe Nazi sympathizers who prostituted themselves to gain favor)…as punishment or to mark them.
They might try wear a covering in order to try and hide their shame.
But this was illegal in the first century…head covering was an honor reserved for the respectable women.
Of course, this was a terrible thing…and it makes Jesus’ tender forgiveness of Mary, a prostitute, all the more powerful.
Other’s shunned her, while Jesus forgave her.
Head Covering for men: In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam…men covering their heads in worship has been common for many centuries.
But in Greece, at the time of Paul’s writing, men would often cover their heads as a part of idol worship…it was respect for the false Gods
So uncovered women in worship…sends a wrong signal in that culture.
Likewise…covered men in worship…sent a wrong signal.
All this makes more sense when you consider that that Christian worship became rumored to involve prostitution…just like Corinthian idol worship did.
The 1st century rumor mill said “Those Christians are doing some bad stuff in their worship…look at those women who are participating…they are not covered, you know that means.”
Remember these were all new believers, freshly out of the deeply immoral, idol worshipping culture of Corinth.
-Plato referred to a prostitute using the term “Corinthian Girl”
-Another Greek philosopher coined the term, “To Corinthianize” to describe having illicit sex.
There was a proverb in the Mediterranean basin that said “Not for every man is the voyage to Corinth.”
This church was planted in a culture that had been very far from God…it was so important that they understood what it mean to live as God’s people in their culture.
Live in gospel freedom…but don’t use your freedoms in ways that are destructive.
Remember what he said earlier “All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful…all things are lawful, but I won’t go back to being enslaved by anything.”
So, Paul’s basic advice is:
“You are free in Christ…but why push your rights at the expense of others?”
So as we jump into chapter 11 keep in mind these two things:
- We are guessing on some the details of Paul’s points.
- That doesn’t matter much because we are clear on what this means in principle.
“Grow up…be firm on eternal truth, defer to others on everything else whenever you can.”
11 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
Paul begins with encouragement to follow his example.
This is the balance to his rebuke for them picking out their heroes and forming factions.
Here he is simply saying “Yes, you can use my life as an example in so far as my life reflects the life of Christ.”
2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them on to you. Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
Here’s one important thing that we know from this analogy…the Son of God is in relationship to God the father in a similar way that wives are to their husbands.
Not the same way…but in some similar way.
So, the only way to read this as a put down to women would be to read this as Paul putting down Jesus as being inferior to God the Father.
Of course, that is not his point.
It seems his point is there is an epic interpersonal series of relationships built into God’s design of the world.
The analogies are not the same…Man to Christ, Wife to Husband, Christ to God the Father…but what is the same is that these are important relationships where love and sacrifice and honor is free flowing.
Let’s move on…
4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is just as though her head were shaved. 6 If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. 7 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.
This passage has a variety of interpretations…we don’t really know all of what was in Paul’s mind or all the different language nuances and idioms that were common to their Corinthians.
But notice a few things:
First, woman prayed and spoke in the Church.
-Later Paul will critique certain kinds of speaking out in worship services but that is in specific context and has less to do with woman’s roles than with cultural norms and immature expressions of freedom.
The problem here was that when women participated in worship evidently some were flaunting their freedoms.
Next , don’t misread woman as being “the glory of man” as meaning his possession or as being inferior.
Christ is, in Scripture, called the glory of God…and his is the name that is above every name.
This is an expression of the value of wives in the Christian world view…not the devaluation of them.
No one knows exactly what all the nuances of this passage are about.
But we do know it is about an elevation of women in a culture that didn’t value them.
Since, in Christ, there is neither “male nor female, slave nor free” as Paul would write to another church…men and women don’t have to fight to express their freedoms.
Earlier in this letter he said…You can be faithful and fully enjoy life as God’s child…if you are married or single…even if you are slave or free.
He continues that theme of faithfulness and freedom…be a man or woman…be faithful and be free.
And you are now free to put the interests of each other first…as Christ did.
Paul was addressing both men and women, who by flaunting their freedoms were not
Honoring God or each other.
8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head. In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.
If this is confusing, it’s okay…experts are unsure about exactly what he meant.
But he seems to be appealing to the creation order…where woman was created from man by God…to make the point that God has his purposes that apply from creation all way to weekly worship.
Paul says that “Woman was created as a helper for man.”
Again, don’t be offended by that term…“helper”
God is said to be an ever present “help” in times of need.
The Holy Spirit is the “helper”
The parent helps the child because the child lacks all that he needs by himself.
The one giving help is most often seen as being the stronger one.
Winston Churchill’s wife, “Clemmie” was his lifetime helper.
-He was instrumental in winning WWII…she was instrumental in Churchill staying alive and sane so he could lead the nation to win the war.
-Clearly, and he would admit it…she was the stronger of the two.
Many married men would admit the same about their wives.
So this is no put down of woman…it is a description of the mutually beneficial relationships in marriage as God has designed them.
As to the statement “Because of angels”…we don’t know the full context…but his point seems to be that something cosmic is going on in normal worship.
More than humans are watching the church at worship.
There is more at stake here than meets the eye
Look at verse 12, I think Paul adds this just to ensure no one takes what he is saying to indicate that women are beneath men.
12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.
In the creation order…it was man then women.
But don’t get cocky guys…
Because in all of life since then…men have come from women.
But then there is the bottom line…we all come from God.
The point is…you are free to be a man, and free to be a woman…in Christ.
You are not under the bondage of the law, or even the bondage of false cultural ideas…now live free for the glory of God and the good of others.
Use your freedom to bless others.
Next…he applies an argument from common experience.
13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.
He is not saying, of course, that men can’t have physically grow long hair, or that women can’t cut their hair.
That would be dumb…of course they can.
This is passage is not a statement on God’s will for hair length…as best I can tell he doesn’t have an opinion on that in general.
But in individual situations…he has an opinion on why we do what we do…including hair styles, clothes, whatever.
He wants us to do what we do…down to the food we eat and the way we wear our hair…with hearts tuned to his glory and good of others.
Not that we should pray long and hard about how to wear our hair…but that we should continually search our hearts as to why we do what we do.
This argument from the “way things normally are”….that is, normally women like longer hair than men…somehow would have connected with these folks at Corinth.
It’s okay…if that part doesn’t make sense…as long as the principle does.
Here is the principle…from chapter 10
31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do (how you wear your hair) do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— 33 even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.
The good of others…the glory of God…is what God wants to concern ourselves with.
So in his teaching here he says that there are some things that are common sense, some things that creation order itself teaches, and there are some cultural norms to pay attention to.
Paul is not making a mountain out of a molehill.
Realize that they had turned worship of the Risen Savior…who gave his life to save them…into a time to flaunt their freedoms…and “who cares what it means to anyone else!”
“I’m free in Christ from all this cultural nonsense…I’ll do whatever I want.”
All this is, again, in line with Paul’s concern that they grow up and not demand their freedoms but use them for the glory of God and the good of others.
The next issue is more serious than head coverings…it has to do with the Lord’s supper or the meal commemorating Christ’s death.
Here, they were being extremely selfish and violating the principle of love…even as they celebrated the love of God on the cross.
Here’s your culture briefing for this section
The church in the first century would often share a meal together…it was called the “Agape(love) meal” as part of their worship
This would lead into or include the celebration of communion…bread and wine remembering the death of Christ for the salvation of the world.
The church was diverse both ethically (Jews and Gentiles) and economically.
It was good that some were well off because they were able to meet in their in larger homes, which was a blessing, provided space for meetings.
But it also meant that some could afford nice food and wine, others could not.
So when they had their community meals…it wasn’t like a pot luck dinner…where everyone showed up with whatever and shared it all.
These houses had rooms for dining that were limited seating and then outer rooms for overflow.
Some were feasting in the main rooms…others were left out in the overflow.
So this was the kind of church potluck dinner where if you didn’t bring a pot you were out of luck.
So this shared meal commemorating Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and intended to bind the church together…became a time of self-indulgence and separation.
Some looking at their cheese and crackers and bottled water, while others were feasting and drinking in the other room.
“Right on…body and blood…pass the potatoes”
This was terrible…and it smacked of leftovers from their former lives worshipping in idol temples rather than at Christ’s table.
In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!
Verses 23-33 we will read at our good Friday communion service…jump to verse 33.
So again, they were turning a celebration of sacrifice into a celebration of selfishness.
They were acting like spiritual children…not living sacrificially but flaunting their selfishness and calling it freedom.
You see that this entire letter is variations on a theme…following certain teachers, taking each other to court, eating food offered to idols, taking pay for the gospel, wearing or not wearing head coverings, eating foods in front of others who have less…
Grow up! Be mature people, be like Christ.
He did not come to be served but to serve and give his life away.
If you haven’t yet, settle the fact that the Bible is the time-tested, life-proven word of God.
It takes some effort…but what good thing doesn’t…to correctly understand and apply it.
But the benefits far outweigh the effort.
Couples getting married: “What books have you read on marriage?”
“You know nothing in your life will impact your life more than your marriage.”
Not just books…but mentoring couples, retreats, studying each other.
There is an exception…nothing will impact your life more than relationship with God (and his truth)
Set a high value on a lifetime of learning and applying the truth to your life.
Be a devoted “learner”
A disciple is a word that meant (and means): learner, student, apprentice.
We are called to be and make disciples…apprentices of Jesus.
-This is only done well in community…learning from each other and together.
-Worship, groups, one to one
What does this have to do with “women wearing head covering or men with short hair”
It has to do with how we approach Scripture, like this chapter.
It’s not “What is this nonsense about women and head coverings and male oppression?”
It’s “God, where am I pushing for my own rights rather than seeking, from the freedom I have in you, to put the interests of others ahead of my own.”
If we let God instruct us from his word…we will be positioned to become wise, more like Christ.
We are his apprentices in a lifetime of learning to be skilled at life.