I recently preached on a confusing passage of Scripture that most of us skip over in our devotional time: 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 on women wearing head coverings and men not having long hair. It was not a sermon I thought I’d be writing a follow-up blog to, nor was it a passage I would have decided to preach on had we not been doing a series through the book of 1 Corinthians. While it made for a very challenging text to preach on, I was quite surprised by how practical and helpful it was in giving relevant guidance to both men and women in regard to sex, singleness and marriage.
1 Corinthians 11 is a great opportunity to learn about hermeneutics. Hermeneutics are the tools we use to interpret the Bible from an ancient content to a modern context. They are essential to use when reading any of the Bible, but no more so than in tough texts like 1 Corinthians 11.
In the 1st century, women were uneducated and were often seen as little more than property.
A woman could not provide for herself. She had two options: be provided for by her father or her husband, or resort to prostitution.
If a woman had a shaved head or short hair, it meant she was a prostitute.
Also remember that Corinth was the home of the Temple of Aphrodite, where up to 1000 prostitutes were employed at one time. How many of these current and former prostitutes were also attending the Corinthian church?
What was Paul actually telling the Corinthian women when he told them to wear a head covering?
For married women, he was telling them don’t act like you’re single when you’re not. This mean if you’re married, don’t flirt with other men. Don’t send secret text messages or Facebook messages to other men. Be faithful to your husband, both in public and in private. Act like you’re his, because you are his. Remind him that you’re his.
Some think being “his” is oppressive. But to tell a 1st century woman to act like she is her husband’s, rather than acting like a prostitute, was simply the original “Be Mine” Valentine heart. What do we mean by saying “Be Mine”? We mean we want faithfulness and monogamy–the same things Paul was instructing the Corinthian women to have for their husbands, and to show this to them in a way everyone would notice.
If a woman was single, she still wore the head covering as her way of showing that she was provided for by her father. Her needs were met. It was a symbol to men saying, “Don’t come over here thinking you can do whatever you want with me. I don’t need you so I can be fulfilled and I’m not here for your sexual pleasure.” It was a way of dressing and acting that said, “I’m not going to sleep with whomever and I won’t be lusted over by whomever.” It meant she was living with her future marriage in mind or she was living with God in mind and intended to stay single to devote more time to him. When a follower of Christ knows their needs are met in Christ, they don’t have the insatiable need to look elsewhere.
The head covering was a way of telling a woman to act like a woman. Act with monogamy and faithfulness to your husband or future husband. Don’t act like a man, trying to provide for yourself (via prostitution).
Men were commanded not to cover their heads and not to have long hair as a way of saying don’t act like a woman. In other words, don’t shirk your duties of provision as a man. Remember, what was the only way a woman could be provided for in this culture? By her husband or her father providing for her. Her alternatives were prostitution or death. A man neglecting his man-responsibilities of providing for his wife and his daughters would have been the most unloving thing he could do. Paul telling a man to not act like a woman was a way of telling him how to love his wife and how to love his children.
While we still men today shirking their duties of providing for their families either via substance abuse where material provision is neglected, or all out ditching and abandonment, this text isn’t going to apply the same to men today as it would have in the 1st century. Today, due to cultural advances in feminine hygiene products and birth control, women have been able to earn equal education and employment rights as men, something that most all people celebrate (and should celebrate!). While a man’s sole job may not be to provide the bacon on the table as it would have been in the 1st century, it is still the man’s responsibility to provide for his wife in all the ways she needs. This provision goes well beyond material provision and into her emotional and personal needs. Loving our wives the way Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25) includes cleaning the house, buying flowers, going on dates, writing romantic notes, and so on. These are all ways we are to provide for our wife’s needs. Men being men and not shirking our duties for the sake of our own selfishness.
This also applies to a father providing for his children. To think that loving our kids simply means providing food and buying them toys and gadgets is an empty definition of love that produces estranged relationships and rebellious children. If you have young kids, loving them is playing games on the floor with them, laughing with them, tickling them, chasing them, making up games and reading them books. As your kids get older, continue to spend time with them. Continue to be active in their life. Continue to be there for them. Continue to give them less and less reason to have to look for love elsewhere. Don’t make them resort to proverbial prostitution in order to have their emotional needs provided for.
This is a man being a man. A man not shirking his duties. A man not allowing his own selfish sexual desires lead him away from being faithful to his wife and family.
It’s easy to get lost in the cultural symbolism of the 1st century when reading 1 Corinthians, wondering what in the world the Bible is talking about. But some helpful hermeneutics allow us to see that the same divine meaning Paul wrote to the 1st century Corinthians hits us just as hard today.
Men, don’t shirk your duties as men. Duties of loving selflessness, faithfulness and service to your wife and children.
Women, don’t act like prostitutes. Don’t act like you’re available to the world. Don’t act like you’re available to anyone except your husband or your future husband. Remind your husband that you are his and his alone.
So while you don’t have to worry about wearing a head covering or the length of your hair, what are you doing to show the world you are living for God and his design for sex and relationships? What do you need to change in order to make sure this lifestyle and commitment is crystal clear to all of those around you?
As crystal clear as wearing a head covering.
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