Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Apr 13 2020 - 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 – Guidelines for worship?

Some passages in 1 Corinthians are so intimately bound up with cultural practices in first century Corinth, and with the particular issues the Corinthians raised with Paul, that it’s almost impossible for us, as outsiders, to understand the nature of Paul’s response and its relevance to ourselves. 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is, in my view, such a passage. Over the years I have read scores of commentaries, books and articles on this passage. The variety of interpretations has served not to shed light on the passage but to deepen my confusion. In my early years as a Christian I vacillated over whether my wife should wear a hat to church – though Paul is certainly not speaking about hats. Nowadays, of course, it’s more likely to be young men wearing baseball caps to church than young ladies wearing hats – times change, and so do cultural mores.

We can only speculate on the context in Corinth against which Paul wrote this passage. There may have been conflict between an ultra-conservative group who wanted women to be veiled and an opposing group who had taken Paul’s teaching that there was neither male nor female in Christ to insist that there should be no distinction in dress or behaviour between the sexes. This second group may have caused some outside the church to be scandalised.  With this speculative suggestion of context in mind, I wonder whether Paul’s response might be re-expressed in a contemporary context as follows:

I commend you for remembering the things I taught you, particularly about men and women enjoying equal standing before God through the Lord Jesus Christ. But I want you to understand that this does not mean that there is no longer to be any distinction between men and women in the church.

Remember the story of creation. The man was created first and was created to reflect the glory of God – glory that has appeared in all its fullness in Christ. The woman was created from the man, to reflect that glory with him. In this way they were created for each other. Together they were created to bring glory to God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

So then, in the church men should act like men and women should act like women; value what God has created you to be. Men and women should not act in a way that brings dishonour upon themselves or upon the other; value and respect one another. You each owe your very existence to the other just as you owe your ultimate existence to God.

Think about this carefully and make sure that you do not behave in ways that bring disgrace upon the church. Make sure that you always bring glory to God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Whatever we may make of this passage, Paul’s underlying principle is quite clear. In 1 Corinthians 10:31 Paul tells the Corinthian Christians that whatever they do, they are to do it to the glory of God. If there is something that cannot be done to the glory of God then it should not be done at all. Whatever we do should be done consciously before God, with thanksgiving to him, from a sense of dependence upon him and with the desire to please him. We live because of him and are to live for him. Let’s make that our aim – the directing purpose of our lives.

Lord, help me to live every moment of this day to your glory. May what I say and do, even what I think, be an offering of praise to you. Help me to live well in my relationship with others, never despising any but seeking to encourage all in service of you. May every aspect of our lives, individually and corporately, be a sacrifice of praise and worship.

Peter Misselbrook