Please remember that sermon notes are meant to act as a guide and may not be exactly what was preached.
Middle Eastern culture had a low view of women – women were seen, for the most part, as property, either of their father or husband. They could not testify in court, inherit property, and, again, for the most part, were uneducated. Greek men had three reasons for gratitude: they were not made a beast, a woman, or a barbarian.
Jews thanked God daily that they were not made a slave, a woman, or a Gentile. Jewish women were required to wear a head covering. They sat in the gallery of the synagogue, above and away from the men.
Women had two choices – to behave well and hope that the man that she was arranged to marry would be kind or to throw off her head covering and become a prostitute. But those women who had good husbands, like the Proverbs 31 wife, often commanded respect and had more freedoms because of their husband’s position.
This is one of the times when we recognize that we are reading someone else’s mail and that, while the whole of the letter is for the Church, there are parts that are specifically directed to a problem that is culturally understandable in that time. This is one of those.
Paul is addressing the traditions of worship and of the services that were taking place. Each of us has a place and a role within the Church. God the Father is the head of Christ, Christ the head of man, and man the head of women. Now, before we get ahead of ourselves, there is a problem within the Corinthian church that Paul is tactfully trying to deal with.
Vs. 4-5 – Here we see that both men and women prayed and spoke in the church just like those we read about in Romans 6: Phoebe, Martha and Mary, and so on. While the norm was men in leadership, there are also some famous women leaders, even in the Old Testament: Miriam – considered a prophet, helped lead Israel with Moses and her brother Aaron (Exodus 15:20, Micah 6:4), Deborah – prophet – led Israel as a judge (Judges 4-5), Huldah a prophet (2 Chronicles 34:22-28), Esther – Queen – saved Israel from holocaust (has an entire book dedicated to her story).
It is in the New Testament were you find a real radical shift from the culture in treatment of women.
Jesus had women disciples in a time when other Rabbis taught that it was better to burn the Law than to teach it to a woman. He had women followers who learned from him, traveled with him at times, and supported him financially.
Women – normally ignored by the culture, figure prominently in Jesus last hours. They are the only followers who do not abandon him at the cross in Mark. They are first to witness the resurrection and to proclaim it to the other disciples. In a day when a woman’s witness was not even accepted in the court, God chose a woman to bear witness of His Resurrection and to carry the good news to the men who were in hiding.
In Acts, the women joined with the twelve in prayer and supplication, they helped to elect Mathias, they too received the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.
Vs. 6 – To have your hair uncovered and down was dressing like an “available woman.” A woman’s hair was considered highly sensual in the culture. The hair of a modest and married women was to be covered and usually bound up in some manner. Mennonite, Amish, and some traditions within the Methodist fellowship, still carry on this tradition (bonnets…).
Vs. 7-9 – Gentlemen remove their hats when entering a building, especially a church or while eating (military). The book of Genesis does tell us that woman was created to be our helper, or to complement, make man complete. Without woman there would be no men. And vice versa.
Vs.11-12 God has made us equal, both male and female are made in His image. They have distinct functions as human beings, but we are mutually dependent with one and on one another. Man is dependent on woman and woman is dependent on man, as God intended. Men and women are to work as a team, but only one is to lead, not demand, the other. They are to lead by example as Jesus did.
For a woman to pray and prophesy was an unusual role of prominence in that culture. This would create social tensions and awkwardness in regard to her husband or father as his honor might be brought into question as it drew other men’s attention to her. It would cause tension with other women for the same reason. The head covering told all those involved that this was a respectable modest women in proper relationship with God, his angels, and the “head” of her household.
God is a God of order. He created us to be distinctly what we are. What is being taught here, the principle we are to follow, is that there is to be a distinction between the sexes in the way of physical appearance so that, in worship, a woman will be recognized as a woman and a man as a man. Paul is very concerned that when a woman leads in worship, prays, or prophesies (vs. 5), brings the Word of God to the Church – that they look like a woman and not like a man. The very idea that he is concerned about their appearance, about their looking like women, tells us that he wants them to continue leading in worship.
In the Christian community, in worship, and at home, we should treat each other as equals with mutual respect and admiration as we realize each other’s God given functions and positions.
- Does gender give more power to the gospel?
- Does gender give more power to the spoken word of God?
- What causes arguments/division/contentiousness today within the church?
Further Reading: Genesis 1:27, John 20:1-2, 11-18, Acts 2:17-18, Acts 21:9, Romans 16:1, 7, 19, Galatians 3:26-28, Ephesians 5:21-33