Obedience, 1 Cor. 11. 1-16
S. Mair, Bristol
Chancing fashions in the world appear to have a habit of finding their way into the churches of God and causing truths and practices to be discarded, questioned or changed as if they were of a temporary nature and could be changed at will. This dangerous practice can affect any part of the declared truth of God and departure from the divine pattern, as shown in the scriptures, is inevitable.
In recent years, hair styles in both men and women have altered and wearing of hats and clothing by women has very much changed. To some extent this is the result of the modern trend of so-called 'women's liberation' and an endeavour to show that women are as competent as men.
In the early verses of 1 Cor. 11. the apostle commends the Corinthian believers for keeping the ordinances as delivered to them. Then he goes on to outline and confirm doctrine, some of which at least he received by direct revelation from the Lord, 1 Cor. 11. 23. As all scripture is given by inspiration of God, 2 Tim. 3. 16, what is written here, as elsewhere, demands our careful attention and obedience. After his initial commendation, the apostle continues in verse 3, 'But I would have you to know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God'. It is obvious that he is not referring to inequality as it is amply shown throughout the scriptures that Christ is co-equal with God, John 1. 1. Heb. 1, etc. We may therefore conclude that his reference to the man and the woman is not a matter of superiority or inferiority, but that he is stating the divine order.
He now refers to the physical head both of the man and the woman, and in verse 4 he indicates a complete change in man's approach to God.
In the old economy, the priest dare not approach God without a covering on his head, Lev. 8. 13; 10. 6, and even today amongst the Jewish people, no man will enter a synagogue or take part in any other activities where God is invoked without first covering his head. Now, a man praying to God or prophesying with his head covered, verse 4,' . . . dishonoureth his head'. In the case of the woman in the old economy, the woman in the synagogue had to have her head covered (as Jewish women still do today in religious activities) and this was not to change, verse 5, 'But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head'. No brother would pray in public with his head covered and, if he dared, the godly sisters would soon correct him, and, in the light of the scripture just cited, no sister would pray in public with her head uncovered and so 'dishonour her head', verse 4. It should be noted that the angels are also watching, verse 10. It has been said that a sister only needs to have her head covered when she prophesies but what does the scripture say, verse 5 'But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth'. We do not expect men or women to prophesy now as the canon of scripture is now complete but we expect that both men and women will now engage in prayer on all occasions: in the case of the women this will be in silence in a mixed gathering as clearly stated in 1 Cor. 14. 34.
Some have argued that one's hair is sufficient as a covering but this view makes nonsense of some of the verses. For example, verse 4, 'having his head covered' cannot be translated 'having his hair on', or verse 5 'with her head uncovered' cannot be read 'with her hair off, but verse 6 goes on to state that if a woman does not cover her head, she should be shorn.
Now, what about long hair? The reference is first made to men and the apostle considers it sufficient to refer to nature and states in verse 14, 'if a man have long hair, it is a shame to him'. Whatever may have been a fashion in the past, or maybe in some places today, our responsibility is to the Lord and to His word, and if we conform to the fashion of the world of today (and even that now seems to be changing) we are disobeying the word of the Lord. When this was written, it was but a few years since the apostle saw the Lord in glory, 1 Cor. 9. 1, 'have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?' Do you think the apostle saw the Lord with long hair and then wrote of the shame of long hair in a man in verse 14? I know that most of the pictures painted of the Lord show Him with long hair. If as some think, the Lord was a Nazarite, He would have long hair, but there is no indication in scripture that He was.
In verse 1S it states ,'But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her'. We realize that not all women have naturally long hair but it is a pity that so many have had their glory removed.
It seems apparent from verse 16 that there were those in Paul's day who questioned the obedience that this portion of God's word expects but the force of the conclusion is that if anyone argues the point it does not alter the principles enunciated. Surely any failure on our part to obey the Lord in this matter is simply disobedience to the truth of God and can only cause Him disappointment.