A Message to the Angels
Tim Temple

Introduction

We have been discussing the lordship of Christ in the local church, and we have seen that it covers a large number of questions that come up in trying to live lives individually that are honoring to Jesus Christ. We have talked about the foolishness of the exaltation of wisdom and human power in chapters 1-3; we talked about sexual immorality and what it does to our attempts to let Jesus Christ be Lord of our lives in chapter 5; the handling of disputes between believers in chapter 6; marriage in chapter 7. We have just completed a series of thoughts about the neutral things–how to handle those things that the Scripture does not specifically touch on in chapters 8-10.

As we come to chapter 11, we begin a new section of the book. This section is going to cover some things that, although not as commonplace as things we have been talking about thus far in the book, are extremely important in living lives that honor Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives. We are going to cover such subjects as the Lord's Supper, the use of spiritual gifts, things that really involve the church as a body, another illustration of the fact that the lordship of Christ in the local church runs on a parallel track with the lordship of Christ in our lives.

Before going into those details about the Lord's Supper and spiritual gifts, Paul prefaces the section with what I think is a very tricky section in chapter 11, one that we need to handle carefully, about attitudes. That is extremely important because we need to understand this matter of attitudes in order to rightly understand the subjects of the Lord's Supper and spiritual gifts, etc. We are going to see that our attitude has a direct bearing on those subjects that he is going to cover in chapters 11-14. An old African tribal saying is that the man who is not hungry says that the coconut shell is hard. Obviously that statement is one that has been made in many different ways, and that is that the way we look at something makes all the difference in how we approach it. Our attitude is extremely important in the decisions that we make and in the actions that we take, so in this section, Paul is going to deal with our attitudes.

The specific topic of chapter 11 is the Lord's Supper. Much of what we do in our observance has to do with this chapter, so as we go through chapter 11, we will see Scriptural basis for a lot of what we do each Sunday at the Lord's Table. To begin that section, in verses 1-22, he talks about the misuse of the Lord's Supper; then in verses 22-26, the memorial in the Lord's Supper; then in verses 27-34, the mental attitude that we should have during the Lord's Supper. We want to begin our study of chapter 11 by looking at what Paul has to say about the misuse of the Lord's Supper in verses 1-22. The first aspect of that misuse was something that was taking place in Corinth, and it is really surprising when we look at it. The basic thrust of the first section of this chapter is that women were contributing to the problems of the church, especially in observing the Lord's Supper, by an attitude of dishonor of authority, in verses 1-16. The passage is probably best understood by the asking and the answering of five major questions. It seems to me that this section is a series of questions and answers about the head-covering. We don't use the word “hat” because it doesn't have to be just a hat. It is just some means of covering the head.

Defining the Head-covering

The first question that we want to ask and answer from the Scripture is, what is this head-covering anyway? What is he talking about? If you skip down to verse 15, it would seem to indicate that the head-covering is the hair. Notice in verse 15:

I Corinthians 11

15But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.

There are many people who say, “When Paul talks about the head-covering, he is talking about women's hair.” There is a whole segment of Christianity which says that women should wear long hair. Some groups even say that women should not ever get their hair cut because it is given to them for a head-covering.

That would seem to be what verse 15 is saying, but we have to be careful about this because if that is what it is saying, then that makes nonsense out of some other verses in the chapter. For example, if the head-covering is simply a woman's hair, then look at verse 4:

I Corinthians 11

4Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.

In other words, if the head-covering is hair, then only bald men can truly worship the Lord because women are supposed to have their heads covered, but men are supposed to have their heads uncovered.

It even makes no sense, though, in reference to women, if you look at verse 5:

I Corinthians 11

5But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.

Think about this for a minute. If hair is the covering, it would be nonsense to say, “…as if she were shaven” because she would have to be shaved or bald in order to be dishonoring to the Lord, so obviously there is a difference between the covering and natural hair. In other words, the head-covering that is talked about in these verses is not just a woman's hair. A solution to this is when we look at it this way: Ellicott, who is a noted Greek scholar who produced several helps for understanding the Greek language, says that the Greek word that is translated “for” in verse 15 would normally be translated “in the place of”, or with the idea of purpose. Normally we would translate that phrase from the Greek: “A woman's hair is given to her for the purpose of a head-covering,” or “in the place of a head-covering”. Ellicott points out that that Greek word occasionally carries the idea of answering to, being a type or a picture of something. If you think about this in the English–I don't like to throw a lot of Greek at you because it gives us the idea that we can't understand the Bible unless we understand Greek or have a preacher who does, but we do sometimes have to resort to the Greek for clarification–then the word “for” can mean “for the purpose of”; there are other times when it would mean “as a picture of”. In this case, because of the contradiction of other verses with verse 15, we have to conclude that the phrase, “for a head-covering,” does not mean that it is for the purpose of a head-covering but rather as a picture of the head-covering.

Keep that in mind, and let's look at some other things to make it all come together. The head-covering is not hair. Then what is it? The word “covering” here is a translation of the Greek word, peribolaion , which is usually translated in the New Testament with the word “cloak,” or “robe,” or “veil.” It is translated in all those ways in the New Testament, depending on what part of the body is covered. Archaeology has shown that the type of covering that was worn in Corinth was a large scarf or shawl which covered the head and sometimes even the shoulders. It was not just a hat like women wear today occasionally, but it was not some kind of helmet. It was just a shawl or a scarf–literally, a covering. The type or the size of the covering is not important; the real point is the principle which is involved. That is what we want to think about as we move along. So the answer to the first question is just that: A head-covering is something that covers the head in addition to the hair.

Women to Wear the Head-covering

The second question is, who is supposed to wear the head-covering? Obviously it is the woman. Look at verse 5 again:

I Corinthians 11

5But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.
6For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.

Obviously, the text is about the woman. By the same token, it is obviously not the man who is to wear the head-covering. Look at verse 7:

I Corinthians 11

7For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.

What Paul is writing here was the exact opposite practice of the Jews of that day, and even though the Corinthians were basically Gentile converts, there were many Jewish believers among them, too; so this would have been an unsettling thing for them to hear. It would have been totally new to these folk.

Divine Pattern of Authority

The third question we want to answer is, why should the head-covering be worn anyway? Paul devotes the bulk of the passage to answering that question. There are five basic points in his answer. First, in verses 3-6, he says that the head-covering should be worn because of the divine pattern of authority. That pattern is stated in verse 3:

I Corinthians 11

3But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.

If you are familiar with the New Testament, you understand this already–that God has what we would call in military terms “a chain of command”. The head of Christ is God the Father; the head of the male is Christ; the head of the woman is man. Woman is subject to man spiritually; man is subject to Christ; Christ is subject to God. We have talked about all that before, so I will not elaborate on that.

What he is saying is this: If a man prays or worships with his head covered, he is dishonoring the one who is his head from an authoritative standpoint. It is dishonoring to our authority, Jesus Christ, for us as men to have a hat on when we worship or when we pray. The opposite is true for women. If an uncovered head is a picture of submission to authority, if an uncovered head is a picture of an individual's honoring one who is in authority over him–and that is what verse 3 is saying–then for a woman to worship with her head uncovered is doing that to honor her head. Who is her head? Her head is the man verse 3 says.

An Object Lesson to Angels

A third reason women should wear a head-covering is because of the divine object lesson of the Church. At this point, you may be wondering what the relevance of all of this is, but look at verse 10:

I Corinthians 11

10For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.

This matter of the head-covering on the part of a woman is not primarily for the benefit of man, but for the angels. Some of you have heard other Bible teachers say that this is a cultural thing. It is just applied to Corinth; it is really not something that we need to be worried about today. I submit to you, on the basis of verse 10, that this was not just a cultural thing. Certainly it applied to Corinth, but it applies to all of God's children throughout all ages. Why? Look at verse 10 again:

I Corinthians 11

10For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.

What an odd statement! In Ephesians, chapter 3, verse 10, Paul says that the Church–we as believers–are an object lesson to fallen and unfallen angels of the whole plan of God. Peter says that the angels desire to look into our salvation. God is working purposes in His children as believers for many, many reasons, but one of those reasons is as an object lesson to the angels. I didn't theorize that; the Word of God says that in Ephesians, chapter 3, verse 10.

Just in case men might be getting puffed up about all this, look at verses 11 and 12, because here the Scripture reminds us that neither sex is complete without the other. So that we don't get off the track and think that this is a matter of men being better than women, he says, in verse 11:

I Corinthians 11

11Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.
12For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.

Think about this for just a minute. Woman was created originally by God taking a rib from the man, and with that rib He created woman. Again, that is not some theory. That is stated clearly in the book of Genesis. What he is saying here in verse 12 is that woman was created from man. So this whole matter of submission and the relationship between man and woman goes all the way back to creation. But, in verse 11, he points out that the man is through the woman, so any time we begin to think that women are second-class citizens in God's sight or that women really aren't important in the plan of God, you just remember where you came from. Your mother brought you into this world. My dad liked to point out that if men had to give birth and go through all that pain and travail, each family would only have one child. Women go into the very presence of death in order to bring men into the world. God reminds us of that. On the one hand, woman was created for man as a completer to man; on the other hand, God uses women to bring men into the world. So don't begin to think that this is some kind of power struggle between the sexes.

The Analogy of Nature

In verses 13-15, we have a third analogy–the analogy of nature. Here we find some of the most controversial verses in the Bible in one sense. The best way to look at this is to see that verse 13 asks a question which is answered in verses 14 and 15. Verse 13 says:

I Corinthians 11

13Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?
14Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?
15But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.

As I say, these verses have been very controversial in particular eras in history. I first began preaching in the early days and in the full blossom of the “hippy movement” and the “Jesus people”, etc. I tell you, it was not nearly as much fun to preach about these verses in those days as it is now because it is not nearly the issue now that it was then. Without going into all the controversial details, let me just ask you to take my word for it today, that what these verses are saying is that there should be a distinct difference between men's hair styles and women's hair styles. We don't need to get into a discussion of how long is long and how short is short. The basic message of these verses is that God has chosen hair as a symbol of authority in the relationship between the sexes. He could have chosen fingernails; He could have chosen the length of your arms; He is God; He could have chosen whatever He wanted to. But He chose hair to be the distinction between the sexes. Obviously there are other distinctions, but the one that God vests with spiritual significance is the hair. If you think that is silly, just take it up with God. That is not my theory. It is what God says He has chosen as a distinction.

For that reason, there needs to be a distinction that is visible between the length of men's hair, the style of men's hair and the style of women's hair. I think in our society today, women need to hear this message as much as men because there is a tendency in our day for women to adopt men's hairstyles. God leaves that in our hands to decide, but our decision needs to be based on the realization that God intends there to be a difference to the point that He can use that as an illustration of the distinction between men and women.

When a Head-covering Should Be Worn

The fourth question that is asked in this passage is, when should the head-covering be worn? This is probably, in a sense, the most controversial of the questions. There are some, as I have said, to say that this is a cultural thing. There are others who say that it is a sin for a woman to come to church without a hat on her head. Look at verse 5, which gives us a hint as to when this should be:

I Corinthians 11

5But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.

I should have pointed out a long time ago, and I hope you have picked it up without my specifying, that Paul is using a play on words here. A woman who prays or prophesies with her physical head uncovered dishonors her spiritual head. That is the idea of verse 5. That same idea carries through. He uses the head in some places physically and in some places spiritually. I think verse 5 illustrates that very clearly.

What he is saying is that a woman should wear a head-covering when she prays or prophesies. Probably this is a reference to public prayer since prophesying is usually a gift that is exercised in public. When we get a little farther over in the book, we are going to see that there are some gifts which are exercised in public and some which are exercised in private. Prophecy, by its very nature, is a gift that is supposed to be shared publicly. So I believe that he is referring to public prayer since he puts this in the same category as prophecy. The context of this whole section of the book is public worship. So in general it means that whenever a woman is involved in public worship, she should have her head covered. At the very least, these verses mean that a woman should wear a head-covering when she is teaching or otherwise participating in those public ministries which the Scripture says are open to women.

Unless we are going to excuse this as a cultural matter–something only for Corinth–I think we have to come to grips with the fact that what these verses are saying is that when women worship publicly, they should wear some kind of head-covering. It doesn't have to be a hat necessarily; it doesn't have to be a shawl that covers the shoulders, but the sense of this passage is that a woman should have some kind of head-covering on her head.

Let me pause for just a moment and say as calmly as I can that this is a matter between you and the Lord. We are not going to post a deacon at the door and say, “Where is thy head-covering, oh wayward woman?” You know that that is not the way we operate at Abilene Bible Church. You are perfectly welcome to take your own interpretation of this passage. As I said, I know that some of you have studied it through for yourself. I want you to know that I am not going to look at those of you without a head-covering and think, “You are not obedient to the Scripture,” because I say again that this is something for you to think through with the guidance and help of your husband, if you have a husband, and come to a conclusion about it on your own. As God as my witness, I can tell you from experience that it is not going to make one bit of difference to me if most of you keep coming without a head-covering to worship. I believe that this is what this passage teaches. I teach that to you as your pastor, but this is not one of those issues that should break fellowship between believers. My only request is that you think through and study through and pray through this passage carefully because it is extremely important.

Purpose of the Head-covering

That brings us to the last of the five questions and really the bulk of the whole message. What is the point of the head-covering anyway? If it is just some sort of a ritual, then it is a waste of time. We know that ritual is useless in God's sight. It is sinful to get into some kind of a ritual performance. True worship is a matter of the heart, not what you wear or don't wear. But hidden away in verse 10 is something that is usually overlooked. We have touched on it, and it is what I believe to be the basic point of the whole passage. Notice verse 10 again:

I Corinthians 11

10For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.

Notice the phrase, “because of the angels”. That phrase reminds us that there is a whole realm of consideration in the mind of God beyond merely human things. We mentioned a moment ago from Ephesians, chapter 3, verse 10, that the whole Body of Christ is an example to the angels–fallen and unfallen angels. There is a great deal that God is doing beyond just the human race. We all know that there are countless numbers of people alive in Heaven today. We take comfort in that. My parents are alive and well in the presence of Jesus Christ and the angels today. Your loved ones who are believers and have gone on before are there. It is ridiculous to think that God's dealings are just with those of us who are alive on the earth this year, this day. It is a whole study in itself. Suffice it to say that for our purposes today, there are many things that God does in our lives, many things that God allows to come into our lives, that have nothing to do with us or with any other human being–I really believe that–but with the hosts of Heaven.

Probably the best and also the most painful illustration is Job in the Old Testament. Job suffered all kinds of misery. Why did all those terrible things happen to Job? We have the advantage over Job in that Job didn't get to read the first chapter of the book. We know that Job went through all of those terrible things simply to teach Satan that there are human beings whom God has created with free will who will choose to worship God, not because of what God has done for them, but because He is God. The whole point of Job's suffering had nothing to do with Job, Mrs. Job, any of their children, any of his comforters. The whole point was in Heaven between God and Satan. There are other less detailed references to that kind of thing throughout the Scripture. I have already mentioned Ephesians, chapter 3, verse 10. I Peter, chapter 1, verse 12, talking about our salvation says that these are things that the angels desire to look into.

The angels can't understand because it hasn't happened to them–God redeeming people from their sins. They pay careful attention to how we human beings who have been redeemed react to that. Luke, chapter 15, verse 10, says that the angels in Heaven rejoice over one sinner on earth who repents. Matthew, chapter 18, verse 10, when Jesus was talking about children, said that one who causes a little child to stumble is in serious trouble with God. He says, “I tell you that their angels always behold the face of my Father.” There is a direct relationship between angels and human that we humans are mostly totally unaware of, totally ignorant of. There are things that God brings into our lives for the sake of the angels and for the sake of the hosts of Heaven. Hebrews, chapter 12, talks about having so great a cloud of witnesses. It is a reference to those in chapter 11 who have fought a good fight and gone on to Heaven, and they are watching what God is doing in our lives. So you see, there are some things that are not done just for other human beings; they are done as an object lesson for God's use in the realms of Heaven.

Whether we like it or not, the wearing of a head-covering by women in church is one of those items. It is not just for other human beings. Therefore we can't write it off as some kind of a cultural thing. It has purposes far greater than that. It has to do with something–we don't know what–that God is teaching the angels. I am sure because of the context that it is something to do with authority and submission to authority. It is a demonstration to the angels that these human beings who have the privilege of free will and free choice, which the angels do not have, will choose to obey God even in some obscure little ways.

A Demonstration of Submission

Very quickly, let's try to put all this together. The broad, general point of this passage is the matter of submission to authority–the demonstration by men that God is in authority in their lives by taking their hats off in church, and the demonstration by women that man is not their ultimate authority by wearing a head-covering. The unique thing about it is that this demonstration is really not for people at all; it is a message to the angels.

Let's think about this from a broader standpoint. I believe that this passage gives us at least a hint about some of those inexplicable things that God allows to come into the lives of people. Why do old people sometimes have to linger so long before they die? Why are children abused? On and on we could go. Those are unanswerable questions. I am not saying that all of those things are specifically for the angels as Paul says the head-covering is, but I am saying that we should be reminded that God's purposes are far, far broader than what happens in this town, in this county, in this state, in this year. God's purposes are infinitely broader than all that. Those things that are inexplicable to us make perfect sense in the mind of God, and one of the joys of Heaven will be that we will see how all that fits together. The answers are not limited to the realm of human beings and to the realm of human experience.

In that sense, isn't it an honor to be found worthy to be chosen as an illustration to the hosts of Heaven of what God wants to accomplish? Much of what takes place in our lives is a message to the angels.


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