Let Your Dress Match Your Attitude   1 comment

Image result for image of modest Christian attire

Back in college, I took a road trip with some other Christian friends and we stopped at a church on Wednesday night. We didn’t really know anything about the church and we were just off the road. I remembering showering in cold water at a campground before we went, but I don’t think we gave any thought to dress standards. We were all Southern Baptist 20-somethings with Alaska’s practical style. Clean jeans and shirts who hadn’t sweated through were Sunday-evening-go-to-meeting garb, pretty much just like at home.

Unfortunately, the church we picked was a very fundamentalist congregation … you know, bun ladies, and dresses down to mid-calf without a female bicep in sight. The pastor changed his sermon just for us, talking about how women shouldn’t have unbound hair, or wear makeup or jewelry. As we were the only ones in the crowd that fit that description, we had no doubt as to who he was preaching at. I’d like to say we walked out or at least ran to the van for jackets to cover our biceps, but mostly we were just embarrassed and uncomfortable. So, I know what Paul’s readers felt when they reached our subject section for this week.

The church in Corinth had a problem with culture. They lived in a very pagan city and the culture around them was forever trying to creep in. We’re starting a new section in Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth. 1 Corinthians 11-14 focuses on how God’s people conduct themselves in a church worship setting. Through it, Paul touched on gender distinction, the Lord’s Supper, and spiritual gifts. We’re going to start with the roles of men and women in the churches.

First, remember that Paul had just concluded the last section with “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” That’s important because it provides a transition into the section we’re looking at now:

I praise you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I passed them on to you. But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every manand the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.  1 Corinthians 11:2-3

Honor your head for the sake of Biblical teaching

Image result for image of modest Christian attireNothing like starting off with a little controversy. I know women who utterly reject the Bible because this passage insults them. Of course, they haven’t read it thoughtfully and in context with the rest of the Bible. It just justifies their rejection of what they do not know or understand.

These five verses aren’t so much about how women fix their hair as about the importance of honoring your spiritual head. Paul began with praise for the Corinthians for remembering him in everything and honoring the traditions he had taught them. Was he being sarcastic? How could his praise really be sincere? The church at Corinth had been disobedient to many of Paul’s “traditions” or “teachings.” In just a few verses, Paul will adamantly state that he will not praise them! I think he started with praise so that they would be receptive to critical advice (see 1:4-9). Speaking some positive words to a person that you are in conflict with before addressing your concerns is always wise and may result in the person hearing what you have to say.

I have a dozen books in my home library by evangelical authors who differ radically from one another on their view of women in ministry. Pastors and professors I respect for their intelligent handling of the Scripture hold widely differing views on the role of women in the church, including women’s ordination. There is even a difference in opinion among leaders of my own church. They finally got over the whole a-woman-can’t-be-a-worship-leader issue when a talented female musician was the only one available to step into the role. God leading? I think so. But women still can’t teach men above the elementary school level and I struggle with that. Women still can’t be deacons and that bothers me because there were female deacons in the churches Paul founded. There is no evidence women ever served as pastors, so there is likely a line drawn there, in light of Paul’s words here in 1 Corinthians. This is one area of doctrine where all of us could use a large dose of humility and caution. Anyone who speaks with strong dogmatism on this topic is actually demonstrating his or her ignorance. This is not an easy topic.

In this passage, Paul introduced the basic premise that everyone has a “head.” The word “head” is difficult to interpret because it can have three possible meanings in Greek:

  • prominence
  • authority
  • source

The same ambiguity exists in English when we talk about the head/top of a mountain, the head/leader of a company, or the head/source of a river. In most cases where “head” does not mean a particular body part, the word carries the nuance of prominence. Thus, Paul seems to mean that just as Christ as the Son acknowledges the preeminence of the Father and men acknowledge the preeminence of Christ over them, so women acknowledge the preeminence of men in the male-female relationship (or at least the husband-wife relationship). And this is where most modern women balk at the concept and where many men try to take advantage. Prominence in a relationship does not imply superiority. It certainly doesn’t carry that meaning in the relationship between the Father and the Son, Who are coequal. So why should it mean that between men and women in the church?

Image result for image of modest Christian attireWhile Jesus was on earth, He modeled sacrificial servant leadership (see Mark 10:42-45). He always put His Father and His Father’s will first. Jesus was fully God and equal to the Father, but chose of His own accord to grant the Father prominence. Likewise, men are called to submit to Christ and put Him first in every area. This means living sacrificially for the good of others. Similarly, the head of a woman is man. Evidently, Paul referred to women who were in a dependent relationship to a man, such as a wife to a husband or a daughter to a father. Paul probably did not mean every woman universally since he said the male is the head of woman, or a woman, but not the women. He was evidently not talking about every relationship involving men and women (for example the relationship between men and women in the workplace). Paul was saying that as a wife, daughter, or church member, women ought to honor their spiritual head: husband (Ephesians 5:22-33), father (Ephesians 6:1-3), or elders (1 Timothy 2:9-3:7).

Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered disgraces his head. But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered disgraces her headfor it is one and the same thing as having a shaved head. For if a woman will not cover her head, she should cut off her hairBut if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shavedshe should cover her head. 1 Corinthians 11:4-6

Image result for image of modest Christian attireIn the 1st century Corinthian setting, men apparently didn’t have their heads covered, but women did. It took some digging to find out why. Apparently in Corinth at the time, men with covered heads were associated with idolatry, thus men in the Christian church honored Christ as preeminent by not covering their heads. Also at that time in Corinth, women covered their heads with a scarf or shawl that concealed their hair as a demonstration of their respect for their husbands and the church leadership.

Culturally, refusing to wear such a shawl was as disgraceful as refusing to cover up in Muslim culture today. Muslims will often say that a woman who appears in mixed company with her head uncovered is seeking to attract men. That would be distracting in the worship setting. Today, it might be a really short dress or a plunging cleavage. Worship is not the time to dwell on male-female attractiveness. It’s the time to focus on God and His Word. Women have a responsibility to both God and men to dress modestly so as not to attract unnecessary attention to themselves.

Men, you’re also are responsible to vigilantly guard your minds during worship and take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). We all attend church to worship God, not to eyeball the opposite sex. We all need to do our part and seek to honor one another.

So, is Paul saying Christian women must cover their heads in church meetings today? I don’t think so. I think the culture he lived in was very different from ours. The head covering is merely a cultural symbol of the honor and submission that should characterize our Christian lives. For a woman to wear a head covering today would seem to be a distinctively humiliating experience. Many women—even Biblically submissive wives—resist the notion precisely because they feel awkward and self-conscious. You might as well shave our heads if you’re going to humiliate us. Plus, it would confuse and even concern visitors and we’ll learn in 1 Corinthians 14 that the the church should not do things that might freak out unbelieving visitors.

Image result for image of modest Christian attireFrom this Scripture, we know that men and women were equally free to pray and prophesy when the church gathered. The meaning of the term “prophecy” is debated, but we will see in Chapter 14 that “prophesy” is for the edification of the church and is very close to what we would call teaching or preaching today. It is reflecting or illuminating the Word of God. It could take the form of a word of instruction, refutation, reproof, admonition, or comfort for others (see Chapters 13 and 14). Women in the early church who had the gift of prophecy were free to exercise it. They were also permitted to pray in public meetings. Paul’s churches allowed greater freedom to women than the surrounding culture did, but he drew a line at women being elders who exercised authoritative teaching gifts during the corporate worship service (1 Timothy 2:9-3:7). Moreover, they were to honor their head. Paul is not trying to repress women and to restrain their expression of spiritual gifts, but to impress upon them the need to project modesty and virtue in their dress.


Honor Your Head for the Sake of Creation

For a man should not have his head coveredsince he is the image and glory of GodBut the woman is the glory of the man. For man did not come from womanbut woman from man. Neither was man created for the sake of womanbut woman for man. For this reason a woman should have a symbol of authority on her headbecause of the angels.  1 Corinthians 11:7-10

Spiritual headship has been true since God created the world. The Genesis creation narratives show that both man and woman equally bear the image and the glory of God (Genesis 1:26-27; 5:1-2). But in Genesis 2 when God created Eve, He took her from Adam’s rib. Woman was created from the man and for the man. In other words, woman completes man. As the help and strength man needs, woman helps him be all that God desires. Woman reflects the glory of man when she submits to God’s order.

But what does “glory” mean here? Ancient culture was an “honor–shame” culture, meaning people normally protected the honor of their family and the family name and would not knowingly bring dishonor and shame to it. This concept may lie in the background of this passage. By going unveiled, a woman was bringing shame on herself and her reputation, and that of her family. Paul implied that a woman should be bringing honor and glory to herself and her family, and especially to her husband and any other men in her life.

Now verse 10 is weird. It’s mysterious. “Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.” My Bible study helps tell me this verse is considered one of the most difficult verses in the entire Bible. It’s an important verse, however, because Paul is clearly summing something up. You can see that in the use of the word “therefore” which means “in light of what I just said.” So we ought to seek to understand it. According to my study helps, the phrase “a symbol of” doesn’t appear in the Greek text. But that word “authority” is in there, which usually means “having the freedom or right to choose.” The best interpretation I found was that the woman has authority over her head (man) to do as she pleases. She can choose to submit or not. Maybe Paul meant that women have freedom to decide how they will pray and prophesy within the constraint that Paul had imposed, namely, with heads covered. An elder friend of mine said “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” If dressing modestly is the price to be paid for exercising God’s gifts freely, so be it.

The final phrase, “because of the angels” is a mystery to all interpreters. Really, nobody knows. Perhaps Paul was encouraging women to worship with that same submissive humility as angelic ministers, who are the guardians of God’s created order.

In any casein the Lord woman is not independent of mannor is man independent of woman. For just as woman came from manso man comes through womanBut all things come from God. 1 Corinthians 11:11-12

Paul then concluded with strong emphasis on the mutuality of men and women in marriage in the church. Paul was still arguing from the creation order, particularly mutual interdependence. The phrase “in the Lord” clearly envisions Christian marriage and life in the body of Christ. And this mutual dependence of man and woman speaks of full equality in personhood (1 Peter 3:7). We can’t get along without each other. We are mutually dependent on each other. We complement one another. Paul was concerned to promote love between the sexes. Neither man nor woman because of their different positions or advantages should consider themselves better, or treat the other with contempt or condescension. This mutual dependence of the man and the woman is grounded in creation. The first woman, Eve, was originally created from the man. But from that point on every single man is birthed by a mother. Paul clearly saw their inter-dependence as grounded in the Lord Himself. All things are from God, which gives us another reason for humility in the relationships between believing men and women.

It’s common to read the first part of this passage and insist Paul taught that women are inferior to men, partly on the basis of the story of the creation of woman from man in  Genesis 2, but the last two verses remind us that ever since the creation of Eve, the order has been reversed (i.e., men are now born from women). When all is said and done, there is equality between men and women. Neither of them is independent of the other; both need each other. In Paul’s prior letter to the Galatians, he’d written “there is neither…male nor female” (Galatians 3:28). Paul seems to have struggled in this passage. He didn’t want the Corinthians to interpret his letter to mean that “in the Lord” women are inferior to men. We all come from God, and all of us equally belong to God through his Son, Jesus.

Honor Your Head for the Sake of Nature’s Pattern

Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man has long hairit is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hairit is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 1 Corinthians 11:13-15

Verse 13 is the key verse in this entire section because Paul clearly emphasized the single point of his passage: Women should stop praying with their heads uncovered. Paul oscillated back and forth between men and women in 11:4-15. In 11:13 he broke this pattern and focused solely on women. This is a literary device that Biblical writers used to bring home their point. This verse also contains the only imperative besides 11:6 where the point is that a woman should cover herself.

In the culture of 1st century Corinth, it was not proper for a woman to act as a spokesman for people with God by praying publicly with her head uncovered. To do so was tantamount to claiming the position of a man in God’s order. The apostle did not think it wise for Christian women to exercise their liberty in a way that would violate socially accepted behavior even though they were personally submissive. Let your dress match your attitude.

Obviously, when Paul referred to Nature, he was not saying that in the world of animals all males have short hair and all females have long hair. Just think about lions and recognize that’s not what he meant. Historical evidence suggests that for 1st-century men long hair was considered effeminate, even homosexual …. something that Paul in Romans 1 considers contrary to nature. By “nature” Paul evidently meant how his culture felt about what was natural.

Paul again used “glory” here when he claimed that the long hair of a woman “is her glory” (11:15). It’s unlikely he was using the word in the same sense as he used it in 11:7. That was about the honor-shame culture of the ancient Near East. Here, the word seems to refer to the beauty of women’s long hair. Because long hair can make a woman look so attractive and beautiful, Paul felt comfortable using this fact as a secondary argument for why women need a covering on their heads.

Honor your head for the sake of apostolic authority

If anyone intends to quarrel about this, we have no other practicenor do the churches of God. 1 Corinthians 11:16

Paul’s final argument appeals to apostolic authority. If any of his readers still did not feel inclined to accept Paul’s reasoning, he informed them that the other churches followed what he had just explained. Some women were evidently discarding their head covering in public worship. Interestingly, Paul brought up the idea of “practice” or custom. There are other places in Paul’s writings where he dealt with cultural practices within the church. Here, the issue is obedience to what Paul said from beginning to end. He was calling for women within the church at Corinth to obey Biblical instruction and by extension for Christian women today to be obedient to carry out God’s desire of orderly and honorable worship.

So this is a challenging passage that presents some action points. I don’t wear dresses to my mid-calf and sleeves to my elbows, nor is my hair in a bun and I like jewelry. I dress modestly for my culture, but I don’t feel a calling to wear a hajib. But I do know Christian women from other cultures who do dress much more modestly than I do and I don’t condemn them for that. It’s their choice. I think this passage speaks about far more than clothing styles.

Wives, please consider your relationship with your husband. If you are acting in a way that undermines your husband, then you should rethink what you are doing. It’s not that he’s more capable or better than you, but he is the head, the prominent one in your relationship. Most of the world will see your relationship in that light. Thus, you demean yourself if you bring dishonor to him.

Husbands, please support your wives in their ministries. We often exhort women to support their men in their ministries, but men ought to also support women in theirs. It shouldn’t be second-place just because it’s the woman doing it. There is a man and woman in our church — she is the worship leader … she leads the choir and the congregational singing and plans special musical events for holidays. He is the audio-visual guy. Everybody knows who Lori is and nobody knows who Eric is. He’s okay with that. If you ask him, he’ll say he knows his ministry is every bit as important as hers because she can’t do her job without him and he’d have no reason to do his job without her.

Church, please reevaluate your view of women in ministry. Why do you hold the views that you do? Have you thoroughly studied what the Scriptures say on women in ministry, or are you basing your conclusions on what you have always assumed was correct or are culturally comfortable with? I challenge you to prayerfully think through some of these issues and interact with people over what role women should play in the local church.

I think there is a balance to be found in Paul’s words. We should hold up Biblical leadership and also allow women to serve in the church in more capacities than the nursery and little kid Sunday Schools and the fellowship hall. Finding that balance in a modern society will require effort, but in this way, we honor God and show His people in a favorable light.


One response to “Let Your Dress Match Your Attitude

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  1. This is a very thoughtful analysis of a very difficult passage/subject.

    Liked by 1 person

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