What a full chapter of scripture! A lot can be said of just the first verse: “And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.” Here, you see a discipler willing to bring the disciples along by allowing them to see how he lives. You might read that and think that he is a little overzealous or overconfident, but I think that is the opposite of the truth. When you read Paul – any of his letters – you find that he was extremely dependent on the grace of God.
Thus, I read the opening statement today as one of humility not pride. It’s almost as if he’s saying, “Follow me as I lean heavily on Jesus to carry me through every day.” Or, even better put:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV
Enough for the day, right? Well, there is much more in this passage. Verses 2-16 have been quite controversial through the years as many read it as Paul’s oppression or silencing of women. I caution us, today, to look at it from a biblical lens and not simply a cultural or emotional one. This is getting at the natural order of things that God designed. I love what John Piper says about this because it helps bring clarity to context and purpose found in these verses:
Let’s try to understand this passage by moving backward. How does nature teach what length hair is “proper”? If nature takes its course, man’s hair gets as long as woman’s. That women wore long hair in those days and men relatively short hair was due to cultural custom, not any absolute natural law.
What nature prescribed was that in general men feel ashamed when they are effeminate and women incline naturally to being feminine. The cultural symbols of femininity and masculinity change. (In America Paul could say, “Doesn’t nature teach you that a man should not wear a dress?”) But the teaching of nature, rooted in creation, does not change (except where perversions are so widespread they are defended as natural, e.g., homosexuality).
So nature is a teacher for Paul in that it generally inclines man and woman to feel shame when they abandon the basic cultural symbols of masculinity and femininity. So verses 13–15 confirm the apostle’s earlier point that women should avail themselves of the current custom (of headcoverings) which in their day signified an essential truth about the difference between man and woman, namely, the man’s headship and the woman’s submission to it.
It becomes clear then that the issue of 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 is secondarily headcoverings but primarily the perseveration of God-given distinctions between man and woman in the way they relate to each other. The head covering is culturally relative. What is signified for Paul is not. It is rooted in nature, or, as we can see in verses 7–9, in creation.
Excerpt from Creation, Culture, and Corinthian Prophetesses by John Piper. FULL ARTICLE HERE.
I don’t think it is ever God’s desire to suppress women, and that is not the point of the passage. That’s why women are often exalted in scripture as to their role in God’s unfolding plan of redemption: Deborah, Rahab, Bathsheba, Mary, Phoebe, to name a few. The passage is highlighting God’s design and order for things, and as we often say, things just work better when you do them God’s way.
The closing section of chapter 11 deals with the Lord’s Supper. We see this as an ordinance of the local church that has a lot of ramifications to it. God has instructions that He wants His Bride to follow, and Paul clearly lays that out. Whenever we take of the bread and the cup, let’s remember to do so reverently and joyfully, considering everything Jesus went through to give us a New Covenant.
What did you learn from the passage today? Have you struggled with these verses? How has God reshaped your thinking through 1 Corinthians?
By: Todd Thomas