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Gender Roles and the Glory of God

November 1, 2004

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[Editor's Note: This sermon was preached at Mills Road Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, on October 12, 2003.]


Our society hates gender distinctions. Specifically, contemporary American culture hates any indication that there are certain things that men should do but that women should not do. So now we send nineteen year old girls, like Jessica Lynch, into battle. We can now buy "unisex" cologne/perfume and "unisex" clothing.

The culture's war on gender includes a battle over Bible translation. The frontal attack can be seen in the publication of Today's New International Version. The TNIV systematically avoids masculine elements of language, even in texts that refer to the "Son of Man." So, for instance, rather than translating the Christological reference in Heb 2:6 as it should read, "what is man that you are mindful of him, the SON OF MAN that you care for him," the TNIV renders it, "what are mere mortals that you are mindful of them, HUMAN BEINGS that you care for them?" The result is that a text that refers to the SON OF MAN, Jesus, cannot be read as alluding to Jesus' favorite self-designation. Now Heb 2:6 can only be interpreted as referring to human beings.

Examples of this cultural drive to obliterate gender distinctions could be multiplied, but as we see from Genesis 1 and 2, gender is God-made not man-made. Everything that God makes is for his own glory. This sermon, titled "Gender Roles and the Glory of God," intends to connect the dots between gender and the display of God's beauty and genius.

As Christians, we must develop a biblical view of masculinity and femininity. We cannot allow a culture that has rejected our God and his Word to teach us what it means to be male and female in the image of God. In order to understand anything, we must first understand its ultimate purpose. As we examine 1 Cor 11:2-12, we will see the ultimate purpose of males and the ultimate purpose of females.

The main point of this sermon is that gender is for the glory of God. We are going to see that gender is for the glory of God in 1 Cor 11:2-12, because here Paul uses his biblical understanding of gender to address a specific issue that the Corinthian church is dealing with. They were evidently failing to reflect God's created order in the way that they worshiped, so Paul teaches them that gender is for the glory of God. Once he has established this truth, he gives them directives as to how they should reflect that truth in their worship.

We are going to proceed through this text tracing Paul's argument and seeking to apply it to our contemporary situation. As I see it, there are three movements in Paul's thought here: first, we see the God-ordained structure of authority in verse 3. Then we find Paul's instructions for the Corinthians as they worship in verses 4-10. Paul then seeks to balance the essential equality between men and women with the functional subordination of women to men in verses 11-12.

The context of this passage is that Paul is addressing Corinthian worship in general. He is going to address the way they pray and prophesy in church in 11:3-16, the way they celebrate the Lord's supper in 11:17-34, and their use of spiritual gifts in chapters 12-14.

Since 1 Cor 11:2 says, "Now I praise you because you remember me in everything, and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you," Paul seems to be commending the Corinthians before he begins to instruct them. They have done well to remember Paul, and they have done well to hold firmly to the traditions. But apparently he is not pleased with the way they are praying and prophesying, celebrating the Lord's Supper, and exercising spiritual gifts, so he spends four chapters addressing these aspects of their church life.

I. The God-Ordained Structure of Authority (11:3)

Paul begins to address the way that the Corinthians are praying and prophesying by making a theological assertion. Paul consistently proceeds in this way, applying theology to practice. Paul knows nothing of impractical doctrine.

Before we look at verse 3, we can observe that Paul explains why women should cover their heads when they pray and prophesy, and why men should not cover their heads when they pray and prophesy in verses 4-10. From this we can conclude that the Corinthians were not doing these things. Paul is displeased with the way they are praying and prophesying because what people do shows what people believe.

The Corinthians' theology results in their behavior. In response, Paul makes a theological assertion in verse 3. He makes this assertion because the behavior of the Corinthians while they pray and prophesy indicates that they do not understand this theological point.

So after commending the Corinthians for holding to the traditions he passed on to them in 11:2, he adds to what he wants them to hold to in verse 3. In 1 Cor 11:3 Paul says, "But I want you to understand," and then he makes three succinct assertions:

"Christ is the head of every man, and man is the head of woman and God is the head of Christ."

In these statements Paul articulates a "Structure of Authority" that has God at the top, then Christ, then man, then woman. Before we move into a consideration of why Paul thought the Corinthians needed to understand this theological reality, we should note two things:

First, each assertion refers to someone being the "head" of someone else-Christ of the male, the male of the female, and God of Christ. This word "head" means "authority." So what Paul is saying is that the Structure of Authority that he is passing on to the Corinthians means that males have authority over females, Christ has authority over males, and God has authority over Christ.

Second, this "Structure of Authority" is not a "Chain of Being," or "Hierarchy of Worth." In other words, Paul is not saying here that God is more God than Christ or that males are more human than females.

No, Paul believes that Jesus is God. Speaking of Jesus in Rom 9:5 Paul refers to him as, "Christ . . . who is God over all, blessed forever, amen!" Similarly, as we will see in a moment, in verses 11-12 Paul will warn against the conclusion that males are more human than females.

Just as the Father and the Son are equal in essence, males and females are also equal in essence. Theologians refer to this as ontological equality. But, just as Paul says that Jesus is going to surrender the Kingdom to the Father in 1 Cor 15:28, indicating that Jesus is functionally subordinate to the Father, so also females are functionally subordinate to males.

We must articulate this ontological equality and this functional subordination because there are many people who want to accuse Paul (and those of us who adhere to what he said) of demeaning women. Men and women are equal in what they are, that is, ontologically. We are not demeaning women, though we are insisting that women are not equal when it comes to exercising authority, that is, women are functionally subordinate to men.

As an illustration of this principle, we can say that a private in the U.S. Army is ontologically equal to a general in the U.S. Army. The private is just as human as the general. The private, however, is functionally subordinate to the general-if he knows what is good for himself.

So what we mean is that in terms of what people are, men and women are equal; but in terms of what people do, there are distinct roles. The Bible indicates that males and females are equally in the image of God, "And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Gen 1:27). But the Bible also indicates that in what people do, males have authority over females, "man is the head of woman" (1 Cor 11:3). We could paraphrase this statement, "man has authority over woman."

Paul's reasons for making this theological point become evident in the verses that follow.

II. Paul's Instructions for Corinthian Worship (11:4-10)

Evidently the Corinthians were demonstrating that they were unaware of the "Structure of Authority" that Paul articulates in verse 3. They were showing their ignorance in the way that they were praying and prophesying. The gist of these verses is that when the Corinthians pray and prophesy, which evidently both men and women do, they must give outward evidence that the males have authority over the females.

Paul says in verse 4 that "every man who prays or prophesies having his head covered dishonors his head." Paul is not saying that when a man prophesies or prays with a head covering he dishonors his own skull, because in verse 3 Paul said that the head of every man is Christ. So it would seem that if males pray or prophesy with their heads covered they dishonor Christ.

Then in verse 5 Paul says, "But every woman who prays or prophesies having her head uncovered dishonors her head." Just as males dishonor Christ if they pray or prophesy with covered heads, females dishonor males if they pray or prophesy with uncovered heads.

How is it dishonoring to one's authority to pray or prophesy with one's head covered if male, or uncovered if female? We are helped here by what Paul says in verses 13 and 14. There he says that males are dishonored if they wear long hair, while long hair is the glory of females. So why is Christ dishonored if men pray the way that women are supposed to pray? And why are men dishonored if women pray the way that men are supposed to pray?

The answer to both questions is that the Structure of Authority inherent in male and female gender is not being observed. Christ is dishonored when men forsake their ordained roles as men and act like women when they pray. Men are dishonored when women forsake their ordained roles and act like men when they pray.

Paul addresses this in verse 7 where he says, "For on the one hand a man ought not to cover his head because he is the image and glory of God, but on the other hand the woman is the glory of the man." The point here is that the glory of God is at stake in gender roles.

Men should pray like men, who have authority, for the glory of God. When men pray as they are supposed to, Christ is not dishonored but honored. Similarly, men are honored when women pray with their heads covered. We see this in verse 10, "on account of this the woman ought to have a sign of authority upon her head because of the angels." Women honor God by honoring men by accepting their gender roles in faith. When Paul says "because of the angels" here in verse 10 he is probably referring to the angels who are present when Christians gather for worship. These heavenly beings want to see the Structure of Authority that God has built into his creation honored in the way believers worship.

We skipped from verse 7 to verse 10. In verses 8 and 9 Paul argues for the Structure of Authority he is teaching the Corinthians to observe from the creation account in Genesis 1-2. He first notes that Eve was built from Adam in verse 8, and then he notes in verse 9 that Adam was not made to be a helper for Eve but that Eve was made to be a helper for Adam. Though some argue that gender roles are a result of the fall, Paul bases his argument for male-headship on the situation in Eden before the fall.

Before we move on, we should pause here to consider the fact that this passage indicates that it is acceptable for women to pray and prophesy in church. On the other hand, 1 Cor 14:34 says, "Let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak …" The best conclusion is not that Paul is contradicting himself. The difference between these two contexts is that in 14:29 Paul had said, "let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment." Then when he says in 14:34 that women are not to speak but to keep silent, I take it that he is referring to the evaluation of the prophecies. Further, we should acknowledge that there is a distinction between "praying and prophesying," which the women are permitted to do in 1 Cor 11:4-10, and "teaching and having authority," which the women are not permitted to do in 1 Tim 2:12. Many texts seem to indicate that "prophesying" is a Spirit-inspired utterance, not a sermon (cf., e.g., Matt 26:68; Luke 1:67; John 11:51; Acts 2:17-18; Rev 10:11).

Putting 1 Cor 11:4-10 together with 1 Cor 14:29-34 and I Tim 2:12, we see that women can pray and prophesy, but they are not to speak when prophecies are being evaluated and they are not to teach and exercise authority over men. So we should not conclude that women are not to speak at all in church, or that women have no roles in ministry. Clearly, in 1 Corinthians 11 women have the ability to pray in church and to prophesy in church, and the men are present. Paul is eager to establish, though, that when this praying and prophesying is done by the women, they are to demonstrate by the visible token of a head-covering that they are recognizing their place in God's created order and submitting themselves to male authority.

Now that we have looked at verses 3-10, we can see that God's glory is the burden of Paul's instructions throughout this passage. The Corinthians are not observing the Structure of Authority that God has built into his world because, evidently, the women are not testifying to the fact that they are submitted to male authority by praying and prophesying with their heads covered. By praying with uncovered heads, the women are obliterating gender distinctions, which dishonors God.

God is honored when the women pray and prophesy in such a way that they display their submission to male authority. God is also honored when the men pray and prophesy in such a way that they show both that they have authority over the women and that Christ has authority over them. Observing these gender roles to the honor of Christ honors God.

God is honored when people gladly accept his created Structure of Authority because to do so is to testify that we believe that God knows best. To humbly live by faith within God-given boundaries is to declare that even if we do not understand at present why God would do what he has done or command what he has commanded, we believe that he is worthy of our trust. God is honored when we are committed to doing what he says whether we understand it or not.

Now, how does this apply to us today, since in our culture head coverings are fashion statements not indicators that women are submitting to male headship?

We have no grounds for the conclusion that since the sign of authority-the head covering-is not a cultural norm for us, the God-Created Structure of Authority no longer applies. No, since Paul appeals to the pre-fall order of creation, we must conclude that the principle here-that women are to demonstrate their submission to masculine authority in church by a visible sign-is trans-cultural.

This trans-cultural principle can be acted upon in a variety of ways. Women can demonstrate this by their attitudes, by taking on their husband's name when they marry, by wearing a wedding ring when they marry, and by dressing in ways that are overtly feminine and not masculine (which does not mean no pants). Women must make the fact that they are female obvious, they must embrace what God made them to be, and relish the fact that they are man's glory. This is no low position; after all, Jesus is God's glory.

In the Kingdom of God, the first are last. So also here, females, who are the glory of males, submit to males. By doing this, women, you will honor God.

Lest wrong-headed conclusions be drawn from what he has taught, Paul balances his argument in verses 11-12.

III. The Balance of Essential Equality within Functional Subordination (11:11-12)

Paul accomplishes several things in these verses. He says, "Nevertheless, in the Lord neither woman is independent of man nor is man independent of woman; for just as the woman came from the man, so also the man through the woman; and all things come from God."

First, Paul urges that women and men are to maintain their gender roles in harmonious ways. This is the point of saying that women are not independent of men, and men are not independent of women.

Second, though Paul has acknowledged that the woman was made on behalf of the man in verse 9, in verse 12 he makes the point that apart from women there will be no more men! All babies come into the world through women. This guards against males thinking that they are somehow absolute.

Finally, by stating that all things come from God, Paul is reminding everyone that their gender roles are God given. Men should hold their authority under God, and women are to submit to men under God. No one is to regard him or herself as autonomous.

Brothers and sisters, for the glory of God, let us be men and women!


Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, relates some humorous observations on men and women in his book, God on Sex. He asks:

Is it a cat? Is it a woman? Maybe it's both! Why?

1. They do what they want.

2. They rarely listen to you.

3. They're totally unpredictable.

4. They whine when they are not happy.

5. When you want to play, they want to be alone.

6. When you want to be alone, they want to play.

7. They expect you to cater to their every whim.

8. They're moody.

9. They can drive you nuts and cost you an arm and a leg.

10. They leave hair everywhere.

Conclusion: Cats are tiny little women in fur coats.

Is it a dog? Is it a man? Maybe it's both! Why?

1. They lie around all day, sprawled out on the most comfortable piece of furniture in the house.

2. They can hear a package of food opening half a block away, but they can't hear you even when you're in the same room.

3. They leave their toys everywhere.

4. They growl when they are not happy.

5. When you want to play, they want to play.

6. When you want to be left alone, they still want to play.

7. They are great at begging.

8. They will love you forever if you feed them and rub their tummies.

9. They do disgusting things with their mouths and then try to give you a kiss.

10. They can look dumb and lovable all at the same time.

Conclusion: Dogs are tiny little men in fur coats.

Try as it may, secular culture will never succeed in obliterating gender differences between men and women. As Christian men and women, let us not be known for the worldly, humorous aspects of our genders. Rather, let us be godly men and women.

Let us be: Men who love their wives as Christ loves the church, by laying down our lives. Men who lead as Christ led, by washing feet, blessing children, and bearing the burdens of others. Husbands whose faithfulness mirrors the faithfulness of God. Fathers who care for our children as our heavenly Father cares for his. Men who hold their authority as those who will be judged by God. Men like Christ, the first who became last.

If we will exercise our masculinity in these godly ways, we will make it easier for our wives to be biblical women: Women who are inclined to show honor and respect for their husbands. Women who do not seek to be men, but who beautify the world by being what they are, women.

May the Lord reverse the effects of the fall and cause us to bear his image for his glory through the genders he has made. May we be men and women to the glory of God.

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