Given for Her Glory: Headship and Head Coverings (I Cor. 11)
The Concept of Headship
The honest truth here is that Paul’s teaching on head-coverings is so drenched in its 1st-century context that it borders on inscrutable. For most of the church’s history the consensus was that Paul’s use of the word “head” denoted some idea of at least authority and perhaps origin, or source, but that offers too ambiguous a meaning to serve as a suitable handhold with which to wrestle with the passage. How does this reflect and give direction to the relationship between Christ and His church, or a husband and his wife? Why does Paul connect the idea of head-coverings with hair-length, hairstyles, and…angels? The only way to understand any and all of these ideas is to look first and foremost at the Trinity, specifically the relationship between the Father and the Son, and then use it as a springboard to delve into Christ’s headship of the church and the husband’s of his wife.
While the Son did not originate from the Father in the sense of being created by Him, Christ does come to us from the Father. His mission is not of His own design, but of the Father’s. He is the Christ, that is, the Messiah, not by His own determinacy or will, but by the will of the Father. Jesus himself says this in John 5:30, “I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.”
Since the Christ originated from the Father, He also derives His authority from the Father. Returning to John 5, in verse 43, Jesus says, “I am come in my Father's name.” To come in the Father’s name means to come by His authority, basing every teaching, every work in the Father rather than in Himself.
The end result of the Father’s headship over the Son is that, ultimately, the Father was and is responsible for Christ’s life, work, and teaching. If someone was to be held accountable for what Jesus said or did, it was the Father, not Himself. As Jesus said in john 5;19, He can do “nothing of Himself,” but only that which the Father has already begun. Although Christ certainly felt the wrath of those who took umbrage with His message, He was accountable only to the Father and the Father held himself accountable for Jesus’ every action and word.
The Reasoning behind Headship
Paul doesn’t offer many practical reasons for the practice of headship, more speaking to its necessity and inherency to the Trinity, nature, and the Gospel. But the benefits of it are fairly evident, especially when observing Christ’s headship over the church.
The Purposefulness of Origin vs The Purposelessness of Self-Determination
I spent the fifteen-months immediately prior to getting married working for a construction company as an office manager/executive-assistant/glorified receptionist. When I quit a few weeks before the wedding it was because the company was on the fast-track to implosion. Because of this my final weeks on the job were a malaise of sitting at my desk trying to act and look busy even though there was nothing to do. My job had pretty much ceased to exist. As an employee, I no longer had a purpose.
Purposelessness is an awful thing to experience, serving as a quick and easy entry into a cycle of dejection and melancholy. Although the idea of being completely autonomous, self-determining beings may sound attractive, it ultimately robs us of any clear purpose on this earth. Knowing, however, that in Christ we, his church, have a purpose that springs from our newfound origin in Christ grants each day meaning, each moment purpose, and each life a hope.
The Power in being under Authority vs The Powerlessness ofSelf-governance
There’s a short account in Matthew 8 about a centurion who approaches Jesus to seek healing for a long-tenured, well-loved servant who had fallen gravely ill. When Jesus offers to come to the Roman’s house to heal the man, the centurion stops Him, saying he is not worthy. But he recognizes that Jesus, being under authority, possesses great power, even the power to speak healing from a distance and have it accomplished. Jesus marvel’s at the man’s faith and does as he asks.
Notice that the soldier realized that Jesus did not possess power of His own making or gathering, but that it had been entrusted to Him by a greater authority. Similarly, the centurion only governed his men by the edict of a higher-ranking Roman figure. Power, you see, is only secure and true when it is given, not when it is grasped.
Compare this centurion to the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, a group who had, through additions to the Law and other religion-based methods, seized power for themselves. They feared men like Jesus and John the Baptist. Why? Because they represented a threat to what little power the Pharisees had scrounged for themselves. Since their “power” was primarily self-based, they kept it only the most tenuous of grips aided by the most despicable of methods.
But when power is granted to you by one in authority, you know it can only be reneged by that authority and by no one else. It carries both security and humility, knowing that no enemy can deprive you of it but also remembering that it is dispensed as privilege, not a right.
The Peace of Justification vs The Impossibility of Self-Justification
Because of Christ, the church stands justified. Not in their own sight, not in the sight of the world, but in the sight of God. We exist not at His indulgence but by His Purposed Will. Though we may have bouts with depression and weather seasons in which we feel as if our existence is nor merited or important, we have a bedrock assurance of justification in Christ upon which to rest.
By contrast, to be without Christ’s headship over us is to be caught-up in the endless cycle of seeking self-justification. Without Christ’s righteousness tipping the scales in favor of our continued existence, the default view of life is to forever weigh our merits against our detractions in the hope of knowing we have accomplished more good than we have wreaked destruction.
The Beauty in Headship
In verse 15 Paul, having compared the woman’s natural longer hair-length to a type of “sign” of being under a head, he calls it a glory and an ornamental or decorative covering. That is, the head-covering was not something meant to be practical, but symbolic, meaningful, and something that adds to her beauty and grace.
Some might take this and arrive at the conclusion that for a woman to be under the authority of her husband makes her beautiful; her submission is a beautiful thing (some also extend this to the entirety of womankind and mankind). This seems unlikely, because Paul also refers to this as something being “given” to her for her beautification and glorification, not something that she achieves or uses to self-adorn.
What is more likely is that Paul is pointing, as he has from the beginning, to the Father/Son and Christ/Church dynamic and is speaking less of how the wife’s attitude does or does not “beautify” her and more of how the husband, as her ‘head”, has the responsibility to beautify her.
Headship is the Responsibility to Empower,
not the right to BE in power.
If the husband is to be to his wife a figure of what the Father is to the Son or what Christ is to the church, he will seek her beauty, her glory, and her good. When we read in the Gospels – John, especially – about the Son’s love of the Father, we are also reading about the Father’s headship of the Son. We read that the Father delights in the Son and so He loves Him (John 3:34), includes Him in His every work (5:20), gives Him life, authority, and power (5:26-27), teaches Him (8:28), glorifies Him (17:1) and sings His praises over Him for all to hear (Luke 3:22).
Likewise Christ not only gave His life for the church but even now gives His life to the church. He has made us co-heirs of the Kingdom with him, has given has a part in His judgment of all things, and intercedes on our behalf for the Father, essentially, making Himself accountable for our every action. The untouchable God made Himself vulnerable for His church and then shared with her the spoils of His victory.
Headship rightly reflects the Gospel when it involves self-sacrifice rather than self-service.
Any concept of a husband’s headship that does richly dwell and find itself here is no true teaching.
When Paul beseeches that the women in Corinth wear head-coverings when praying or prophesying, he is not demanding that they shroud their beauty or feminine features when standing before the men of the church, nor is he reminding them to know and keep their place. He is imploring them to wear proudly the beauty their husbands have invested in them through their proper headship. Be adorned, he says. And by extension he gives their husbands a much stricter word:
Adorn her, beautify her, glorify and empower her. When she prays or speaks among the church, sing your love for her and praise of her so that all may hear and know.
She is loved and she is valuable.