Note: I am posting texts of sermon manuscripts again (to complete the 1 Corinthian series)
The Eighteenth in a Series of Sermons on 1 Corinthians
We live in a culture dominated by celebrities–people who are famous for being famous. Madonna, Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan and Brittany Spears are household names not so much because of their talent or accomplishments, but because of their ability to shock us by defying societal convention. People are interested in them because they offend our sensitivities. Believe it or not, Paul is dealing with much the same thing in the Corinthian church. In an age in which women were not to be seen or heard, Paul recounts how what some have called a first century woman’s liberation movement brought great distress to the Corinthian church.
As we continue our series on First Corinthians, we come to chapter 11. Apparently, when composing their list of questions to Paul, the Corinthians asked the apostle about certain aspects of public worship. In light of these questions, Paul now turns his attention to matters of proper conduct in worship (1 Corinthians 11) before addressing spiritual gifts in chapter 12. After praising the Corinthians for holding fast to his teaching (v. 2), Paul raises the matter of headship to describe three important relationships: man/Christ; woman/man; Christ/God, as the basis for his discussion of head-coverings, or more likely, hairstyles (vv. 4-5a), as these relate to male headship and the modesty of women in the churches.
The cultural background here is important. Unless we understand the circumstances in Corinth, we will not understand Paul’s response. While the general principles are clear and binding upon Christians in different cultures throughout the ages, the specific cultural issues Paul discusses are not always clear to us. The rebellion and immodesty which was symbolized by the long, flowing hairstyles in Corinth, may be symbolized by another hairstyle in another culture. This is why we must not concentrate on the specifics in terms of application, but the general principles. In Greco-Roman culture, a woman’s hair was often the object of male lust. This is why in much of the Mediterranean world women were expected to cover their hair (or wear it up) as an expression of modesty and proper etiquette.
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