1 Cor. 11, the wildly popular chapter on head coverings, has confused Christians down through the centuries. Just open up a few commentaries and read. Is Paul talking about literal head coverings, a woman’s hair, or the husband as the head? Can a man have long hair and a woman short hair, or is that only cultural? Is there a truth beneath the truth that is binding for us today? What is 1 Cor. 11 there for? Can we know what was actually going on in Corinth or are we chasing the wind? If we dig a little bit, this chapter opens up as a treasure trove of help for us today in the gender confusion madness. Let’s dig together.
First, we have to ask the question; why did Paul write 1 Cor. 11:2-16? The answer may be more simple than you think. Paul heard what was going on in Corinth and he wrote a letter to remind them of the finished work of Christ and to instruct them on how to live in Christ. Corinth is a notorious church for their flamboyant sins. Paul wrote letters of loving correction for bad behavior. The reason Paul wrote chapter 11, is that it addressed a sin issue in this church. That is crucial. Something was happening that warranted the words of correction. So what was going on?
I think verse 14, is critical for our understanding of the passage. Paul appeals to nature. Why? Because nature is a teacher. There are things we can learn from looking at the world and how the world works. It’s an appeal to common sense. Specifically, Paul tells us that nature teaches us about gender. Nature teaches us that men wear their hair one way and women wear their hair another way. Their gender is to be embraced and recognizable externally.
Verse 14, gives us insight into the Corinthian problem. Men and women in Corinth were rejecting their God-given gender. That is what egalitarianism enables by the way. It rightly affirms the equality of every human being as an image-bearer of God but does not have a way to explain the dignity and glory of our differences. Similarly, the Corinthian church rejected the created order. Sound familiar? They embraced the idea that God created a-sexual genderless humanity. Gender distinctions were offensive to the progressive Corinthian church. Therefore, they rejected order in the home, order in the church, masculinity, and femininity. When that happens, it inevitably leads to a feminine culture. Real men and women who embrace their gender externally in a society like that stand out Shaq playing basketball against an Oompa Loompa.
When Paul appeals to nature in verse 14, he is calling human beings to think. He is appealing to the image of God in Corinth. As thinking people, they could reason from nature itself that there are differences between men and women and that those differences should be embraced. Men are men and women are women. God commissions and restricts men in both the home and the church. God commissions and restricts women in the home and the church. God gives both men and women the dignity of telling them what they are and are not supposed to do.
In response to God’s commissions and restrictions, we are not at liberty to say “Well I don’t like that. It’s not fulfilling to me. That’s not who I am.” What if I were to say, “Striving to love my wife as Christ loves the church doesn’t fulfill me. So I’m going to stop that.”? That is insane! I don’t get to opt out on what God calls me to do! I have to step up and be a man. Likewise, according to 1 Cor. 11, I must visibly display in appearance that I embrace the gender (Biological Sex) God made me. Men don’t get to wear their hair like women and dress like women. We embrace our gender externally. Same with women. Corinth was horrified at the thought! So are the masses today!
Paul ends his corrective and offensive argument by saying “If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches.” In other words “Men be men and women be women. Do be foolish, use common sense. That’s what the other churches do.” How about us? Will men be men and women be women? Or will we contend in horror?