In 1 Corinthians 11:4-6, Paul applies the principle of authority to local Corinthian customs. He calls on both men and women to honor the Lord by respecting the symbols of respect and authority in their culture – specifically long hair and head coverings. It is a disgrace for a man to cover his head while praying and prophesying. This would have been a big change for Jewish men who always wore a yarmulke when they prayed. It is a disgrace for a woman to uncover her head while praying and prophesying. Women were to have long hair and wear a covering in church, particularly when praying and prophesying, to show honor both to God and man.
For women to have their heads uncovered actually put themselves on the low level of the temple prostitutes who wore their hair cut very short. Paul’s point here is: if you are going to disregard what is proper, why not go all the way and just cut your hair off?
Paul did not forbid the women to pray and prophesy. This was a huge change from Jewish tradition! Prophesying is not the same as our “preaching” or “expounding the Word” today. Prophesying referred to inspired speech consisting of the proclamation of God’s message, directed toward the church community, for the purpose of exhortation, edification, and encouragement.
This brings us to one of the most difficult verses of the passage:
“A man ought not to cover his head because he is the image and glory of God. But the woman is the glory of man.” (v. 7)
I think that we first need to answer the question… What does the word “glory” mean? If you look it up in a Strongs Concordance you will find this simple but surprising definition: Opinion, judgement, view. A good opinion concerning one, resulting in praise, honor, and glory. A bad opinion concerning one, resulting in ridicule, dishonor, and shame.
We find an important clue on how to understand verse 7 in verses 8-9.
“For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.”
Each one reflects the glory of the one from whom they were created. Now you’re thinking, “That doesn’t help me!” Follow me for just a minute. I have really wrestled with this concept. There just seemed to be something demeaning about it somehow. But I came up with an illustration that has really helped me. I pray it helps some of you.
Man was created by God out of dust and brings God glory. When man is what God calls him to be he brings praise, honor, and glory to God (so do we as women, by the way).
God created man and then saw him all alone in the garden with no TV, no remote, and he couldn’t decide what to do with himself. And God said, “We can’t have this! This isn’t good! I know… I’ll make woman.” So God puts man to sleep, and from his rib He fashions woman. She is uniquely created to be man’s helpmeet. And when woman is what God has called her to be she brings praise, honor and glory to the man.
Just so you know, that is NOT a demeaning position! Man shouldn’t look at woman and say, “You are my slave.” He should look at her and think, “You are my necessity! I can’t make it without you!”
Here’s the part of the illustration I’ve been building to. We struggle to understand this as women, but maybe this will help. Follow me… man was created by God. Woman was created out of man. What was created out of woman? Our children!
Aren’t our children our glory? Think about it! When your children are what God has called them to be, does anything on earth bring you more praise, honor and glory?
And isn’t the reverse true, as well? Nothing can bring us more ridicule, dishonor and shame than a child who is not what God wants them to be. Is it not true that people form opinions or judgments about us, good or bad, based on how our children behave?
Does the reality that your child has the ability to fill you with glory… or fill you with shame… demean them in any way? Does it mean that your child is somehow a lesser being because they can reflect on you that way? No! The reason they have such power over us is because they are so incredibly precious to us!
So, can you see how we as women by our disrespectful behavior bring ridicule and shame on our men – whether at home or here at church? Not because we are second-rate, but because we are so valued! That doesn’t demean us in any way.
Forget what the world has told you! This is perfection! This is order! This is life above the chaos of a fallen world! Our husbands and leaders living in a way that brings God glory, willing to lay down their lives for us as they follow Christ. We as women living in a way that brings both God and the men glory, willing to be helpers, coming alongside our husbands so that together we accomplish all God calls us both to be.