Calling and Clothing: What’s Headship All About?
Text: 1 Cor. 11:2-12
Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.
We are finishing up this very interesting, informative, and intimidating section of Scripture in 1 Cor. 11. Paul is giving instructions to the church at Corinth about how to dress in worship so that they can preserve good order and the teachings of submission and propriety. We went over Paul’s argument in some detail two weeks ago, and then we took another week to discuss what the concept of “propriety” means in the first place. To wrap it all up, I would like for us to see one last feature of Paul’s argument, the argument for hierarchy and headship in the universe.
To explain this concept simply, we can say that Paul believes that “headship” tells us where we come from, what we are, and what we are for. Since this is the case, knowing our headship also tells us how we should relate to others and how we should present ourselves in public assemblies. Paul’s application comes from a principle, and if we want the application to make any sense, we’ll have to make sure we explain the principle.
Headship is connected to the concept of hierarchy. Paul makes this statement in verse 3—“I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” It’s not quite in ascending order, but we can see his point. There is hierarchy in the world, and indeed the universe. Women have a head, men have a head, and even Christ has a Head. Christ the mediator has His divine Head, God.
Now, we do need to be careful here. It might seem like Paul is denying that Christ is the head of both men and women. That would be a mistake. Elsewhere, Paul affirms that all believers are equally “in Christ” because of faith and the Holy Spirit, and he even goes so far as to say that, “there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). 1 Cor. 11 isn’t contradicting that. Instead it’s talking about something else. It isn’t talking about the spiritual kingdom. It’s talking about the visible and external order.
There is an important difference between the spiritual kingdom and the external visible world. While they should have an important relationship of influence, they are not actually the same thing. The matter of sex is one place where this becomes obvious.
As Paul makes clear in several places, there most certainly is male and female in the visible church. Certain offices are reserved for men, and women are not permitted to hold them, and specific temptations can afflict men while others can afflict women. Good pastors should understand this. So too, then, our sex is relevant to earthly hierarchy.
The hierarchy that Paul is laying out for us in 1 Cor. 11:3 is this: God, Christ the Messiah, Man, and Woman. That is the order of the universe, and that is the starting framework for all other questions. Now, why call this headship?
This introduces us to the rich texture of the Bible’s view of creation. You see, hierarchy isn’t just a totem pole or a pecking-order. No, the use of “head” lets us know that the relationship is between a head and a body, both members of the same organism. The man is the “head” of the woman, and the woman is the “body” of the man. Paul explains this in that majestic passage from Ephesians 5:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. (Eph. 5:22-35)
Hierarchy within the marriage is actually the relationship of a head to its body, and so that means any sort of authority and submission must be loving authority and loving submission between two members of the same body. When this works appropriately, it shows a mysterious beautiful picture of the relationship between Christ and the church.
The word “head” in Greek also carries the meaning of “source.” The “head” is often the source of the “body.” Again, think of Christ and the church. And Paul always takes male headship back to the original source, the original man, Adam in the Garden.
What is Man?
Paul applies this concept of headship specifically to man and woman. He writes:
For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. (1 Cor. 11:7-9)
Notice what Paul is doing. He is taking us all the way back to the beginning. He’s taking us to the Garden of Eden. How do we know what a “real man” is? We look at how God created him to be. Manhood, biblically speaking, is defined by its origin, the creation account. After that, it is defined by the original calling or purpose. Basically, men should be like Adam, and men should do what Adam was called to do.
What’s all of this business about image and glory then?—“a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God.” Again, Paul is referencing the creation. “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:37). Man was modeled after God Himself. This is what gives man’s life value (Gen. 9:6). We don’t often stop to notice it, but the Bible has a very “high” view of humanity. Man is God’s image and glory.
Indeed, Psalm 8 reflects upon the creation of man and says this:
What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?
For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
And You have crowned him with glory and honor. (Psalm 8:4-5)
Thus, even while man is a small thing compared to God, man is still a glorious thing in God’s eyes. All men have value. They image God. They reflect God on earth. They should be affirmed in this. Men glorify God simply by existing, and so they should also consciously glorify God by giving Him thanks, praise, and worship.
What does this mean for “how to be a man”? It tells us a few things. The first is that men must be faithful to Adam’s original dominion mandate: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28) and “the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). So man should reproduce, exercise mastery over the animals, tend the earth, and protect it.
In fact, “tend and keep” can be translated “work” and “defend,” or “provide for and protect.” Men need to be workers and care-takers. This can take various forms, and it will look different at different times in history, but it always means that the man is tasked with the responsibility of work and provision. Being a leader always means bearing responsibility, and so “man” must be productive and protective.
What is woman?
What about woman? Doesn’t Paul say some unflattering things about her, some insensitive and politically incorrect things? Well, we need to be careful here. As we’ve said in earlier sermons, we must be faithful to Scripture above all else, and so if the Scriptures do teach something about gender roles and “women’s work” that violates political correctness, then so be it. Let God be true and every man a liar! But let’s be careful that we are reading the Bible properly and not accepting a simplified and one-dimensional interpretation. Let’s make sure we’re not missing anything.
Paul says this:
[Man] is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. (1 Cor. 11:7-9)
What does it mean for Paul to say that man is the image and glory of God but woman is the glory of man? Does this mean that woman is not created in the image of God and that the woman does not glorify God? No. It does not mean that. And it does not mean that because the Bible clearly teaches that “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:27). And it says this in exactly the same place that Paul is citing, the creation account! We have to always be sure to read the whole Scripture, making sure not to only read a portion of the teaching.
Paul is not intending to deny anything about the woman here. Instead, he is explaining that the woman is an extension of the creation of man. God made man after His own image, and then God made woman after man’s image. This does not mean that woman has been diminished from man. The creation account is not a descending order from heaven into the dirt. In fact, it’s the opposite. Adam is taken out of the dirt, and then woman is taken out of him. Man is a dirtball, and woman is bone of bone and flesh of flesh. She is an exaltation of sorts, which is why she is his glory.
Think about it. Man is God’s glory. Woman is man’s glory. This means that she is the glory of the glory. She is not a shadow of the glory or a fraction of the glory. She is the glory of the glory! She is the glory’s glory!
Knowing some facts about language helps us here. In English, the grammar of these verses implies subordination and diminution. But it need not mean that, and in a Hebrew idiom it would be quite different. In Hebrew, repetition is used for emphasis and even magnification. When God warns Adam that he will “surely die,” God literally says, “dying you shall die” (Gen. 2:17). In the Tabernacle there is “the Holy Place.” But you know what’s holier than the Holy Place? The Holy of Holies. Is there anything holier than that? Yes, God Himself. How holy is God? God is holy, holy, holy.
1 Corinthians is written in Greek, not Hebrew, but it was written by a Jew who was steeped in the Hebrew Scriptures. To Paul, duplication or repetition would be a sign of magnification or exaltation. The woman is the glory of the man, and this is not a put down. It means that she is the glory’s glory. She is God’s glory’s glory. And when she is glorious, the man is also glorified simply because of that.
Think about the logic of this. Guys should be relatively handsome. That’s a good thing. But should guys be pretty? Not really. If you call a man a “pretty boy,” that’s actually a put-down. How is man externally glorified then? Not by long pretty hair. No, man is glorified by having a woman. A glorious wife exalts a man exponentially more than the most expensive suit ever could. A beautiful and godly wife actually makes the man glorious. By having such a glory in her, he receives glory.
This too is true of Christ and the Church. Jesus wants a glorious church, and the presence of a glorious church does not take away from His own glory but instead gives Him more glory. This is how glory works. It spreads and increases and reciprocates.
So what does this mean for women? They should be glorious to their husband. This isn’t worldly beauty, of course. It’s primarily holiness. Peter says that it’s a gentle and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:4). 1 Tim. 2:9-10 says it’s modesty, moderation, propriety, and good works.
But there’s more. Woman should also compliment and perfect man. Again, how was woman created? She was taken “from man.” And for what reason? 1 Cor. 11:9 says that she was “for man.” This is, once again, a reference to Adam and Eve. Adam looked at all of the creation, and he says that “there was not found a helper comparable to him” (Gen. 2:20). Nothing matched him, and nothing could help him achieve his calling. Nothing completed him. He needed woman.
So, woman is meant to be the helper of man. This takes the specific form of husbands and wives. It is not the case that all women help all men individually. No, the general category of “woman” helps the general category of “man,” but this only ever happens in real life through particular women and particular men. It happens through husbands and wives. So women are called to fulfill their calling by becoming helpers to their husbands. They should complement and complete him, and they should find joy in this identity.
This should also instruct them as to how to dress and present themselves to the world. Paul says “For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head” (1 Cor. 11:10). Even as we have said that the headcoverings had a special purpose for the using of the extraordinary gifts, we should still say that the principle of how to dress still applies. Women should dress themselves in such a way that their relationship to their husband is obvious. They should be modest and respectful, but they should also help him in their looks. This doesn’t simply mean dressing the way that he wants them to dress, but it does mean dressing in a way that “matches” him and shows a beautiful picture of a loving and complete family.
This is what the Apostle Paul is assuming and appealing to when he talks about “man” and “woman” in 1 Corinthians 11. This is his doctrine of headship. Man is the head of the woman generally speaking, and so husbands are the heads of their wives individually. Paul says that we must behave in ways that are consistent with this truth. This even includes the way we interact at church and how we dress.
Now this sermon, while hopefully informative and even helpful, is not necessarily a fun sermon to preach. It runs this risk of being burdensome. I don’t want to just “mansplain,” as contemporary journalists might call it. My job is not to give you a how-to list in order to be a man’s man or a proper lady. And I don’t want you thinking that God will love you more or that you’ll be any more saved because of your sex.
But, as we said in last week’s sermon, the Apostle Paul does take the time to teach on this topic, and he appeals to the concept of propriety when he encourages us to conduct ourselves in ways appropriate to man and woman. He wants us to be who we are, and he wants us to look like who we ought to be, in God’s eyes.
Beyond this, we should remember that one job of the church is to model the renewed humanity, the humanity saved from its corruption and put back on the right track because of God’s grace. Part of this means being restored men and women. We ought to embrace this task as a way to help the world get back on track, as a way to heal the very real pains that are all around us today.
Men do not know how to be men any more, and in response, women do not know how to be women any more. The world calls this “equality,” but reality looks a lot more like confusion, caused by individualism and outright disrespect. All of this has terrible effects. It causes families to break down. It adds confusion to children. It further destroys the sense of loving community that we all need.
So, the church’s mission to restore manhood and womanhood is a necessary calling, and it is an act of love. Let us do it as a way to glorify God and as a way to love our neighbor.
And let us also do it for the sake of the church—to provide for good order and to create the environment where the church flourishes best. Let us imitate Paul as he imitates Christ, and when we do that, we will be showing Christ to the world.
Let us pray.