NOTE: This is the 3rd and final blog on this topic of women and head coverings. Please read the first two first.
11:11 Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. 12 For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.
13 Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? 15 But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.
Let me fully admit at this point that I struggle with some of Paul's statements here. The most perplexing is his assertion that nature itself proves long hair is for women but not for men. The only animal I can think of that has a distinction between the genders are lions and in the case of lions it is the male that has the extra hair. You can read the Bible commentaries and you won't find an explanation. If you do please let me know. One person I greatly respect described Paul as "grasping at straws" to support the view that the women in Corinth ought to support the cultural norms.
The key principle to draw from this last section is verse 16: Being contentious is not a Christian practice.
Now let's review.
1, Paul opens this section about head coverings by commending the Corinthians for following all the traditions he taught them. Clearly head coverings was not something he taught them. If it was there would be no need to address it because they were already following everything he taught them.
2, It is necessary to understand and appreciate the radical divide between how women were seen by the culture and how they are seen by God, or as Paul puts it "in the Lord". Women were property first owned by their fathers and then sold to their husbands. They could not own anything (even though God had already tried to teach them otherwise way back in the time of Moses). It is often misunderstood to this day that the position of women as inferior to men was a human construct that occurred as a result of Eve's mistake, and was never God's design or intent. Paul's seeming arguments in this chapter to subjugate women was a description of how women were seen by society, not God's perspective as he made clear in verses 11 and 12.
3, We may know and understand our position "in the Lord" but we live in the real world and we can't behave as though we don't. A slave may know that in the eyes of God he is free and as equal and valuable as his human master. However that does not give him the right to revolt or run away. This is a hard teaching but true nonetheless. Satan's rebellion began with his refusal to subject himself to God's authority even though God never used or uses His authority to be authoritarian. As humans we are all equal but at times we must all subject ourselves to the authority of others. Children must be subject to their parents, students to their teachers, employees to their boss, citizens to their government etc...
4, Now let's look at the wider issue. Earlier in the letter Paul referred to believing women and their unbelieving husbands. He counseled them to stay with their husbands and win them by their conduct. We know the propensity of people to swing from one extreme to the other. Women who were treated like cattle for millennia have found out that "in the Lord" they are equal to men. Can you see the potential for a radical swing of the pendulum? Paul is trying to mitigate this problem. He is asking the women to not "burn their bras". It is not the custom for Christians to be contentious. We don't solve problems by riots and demonstrations. We don't demand our rights. We fight with the beauty of a Godly character. A Christian slave wins the heart of his master by his conduct. A believing wife wins her husband and by extension her cultural community by her winsome character, not by flaunting her equal rights even though she is equal.
Jesus is our example. He is our example, our teacher, and our Lord and Master. Did He fight for His rights? Did He hold demonstrations to demand equality for women or for slaves or for gentiles or for Samaritans? No He did not. He went about it an entirely different way. He touched the lepers. He sat by a well with a Samaritan woman of ill repute and treated her with the dignity and respect that was due her "in the Lord". Jesus lived the truth. He crossed borders that Jews would never. He healed people that the culture would pass right by. His life was a sermon words could never match.
The lesson of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 is not about whether or not we should be carrying on a cultural tradition that is 2000 years behind us and based on a view of women that is rooted in sin and brokenness. The lesson is about submitting ourselves to the culture so we may have the opportunity to speak the Truth to the way we live. If I were a woman today seeking to gain an influence for Christ among Muslim women or Amish women or Hutterite women or Mennonite women etc... I would live among them as one of them and part of that would be covering my head, not because God commands it, but because it is necessary if I am to be "all things to all people that I may win some."
"In the Lord" "there is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female..." but we aren't Home yet. We still have to navigate a broken and complex world. Ask God for the wisdom to live effectively in your community so that you can have a winning influence. There is no better argument for Christianity than a loving and lovable Christian. If we must subject ourselves to customs that shouldn't exist to do so, did Jesus not subject Himself for us?