Unified yet Unique – 1 Corinthians 11:1-16

The twenthieth message in the 1 Corinthians Study.
(Find the other messages from this series here)

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Hope you’ve had a great week.
Have you been watching the Olympics?
How about Evansville’s Lilly King, huh?
Aren’t the Olympics great, but they’re also a little weird, right?

I mean there are some really strange games in the Olympics. Synchronized diving has to be the strangest to me. I couldn’t tell you his many flips one guy did. Looked like 17. Much less if 2 guys did the same amount.  What’s the deal with giving them points for being the same???How about just being awesome???

In Olympics they scrutinized down to the tiniest level. They zoom in and use super slo-mo and say, “oh, wow! that gymnast took an extra step. That’s gonna cost her!”

This issue is a very specific issue that Paul deals with in chapter 11. It’s a specific issue in a particular city in a particular culture…

Immediately Paul zooms out. Paul says, let’s get a good look at where we all sit in relationship with the Lord.

Now, I’m going to be honest with you, this passage is hard.
It’s a pretty convoluted passage, Paul makes several arguments from several different sides, but he doesn’t devote the amount of material to this that he has on other issues.

I think it speaks to the fact that this issue was pretty low on the list of priorities for this letter, however Paul does tackle it and so will we.

Part of the problem is that is so very specific to the situation in Corinth, a situation that we are not totally sure about. We know a lot about Corinth and the Greco-Roman culture during this time, however we don’t know much about this particular issue. Hopefully we’ll learn a few guiding principles that Paul was attempting to teach them in this- This isn’t a issue that we deal with specifically, but the issue of gender distinction is one that quite applicable today.


Let’s read these 16 verse together.

Apparently, there was some contention in the Corinth church about women who were serving and leading in the church and what they were wearing or not wearing on their heads.  It seems that in Corinthian culture it was customary for women to wear some type of covering, veil, or headdress and women in the church at Corinth were not wearing these, specifically some women who were praying and prophesying in the church services.

That immediately brings me to my first point.

  1. Now Free in Christ, men and women are unified to serve Christ.

Women were praying and prophesying in the church! Unfortunately what often gets lost in this passage is the vital role that women were serving in the church. This was a big deal that there were women not just in attendance but praying and prophesying. This may not seem like something noteworthy to us today, so let me give you a few contrast to help us appreciate this.

Contrast this with a woman’s participation in the Jewish Temple. 
At the Jewish Temple there was a Women’s Court, it was the place that women were to stay except for when they were offering sacrifices. They were not allowed to proceed any further. They didn’t worship with their husbands, but rather had to stand back. They were not allowed to read the law in the synagogue. When they recited the Schema at Synagogue the women were not to speak.

They were not allowed to become disciples or students of a Rabbis and follow him. They had no access to religious education except through what their husbands passed along to them at home.

Then comes along Jesus. Jesus has woman followers who travel alongside. Jesus has woman followers who were prostitutes before they came to know Jesus’ message of grace and forgiveness. In Jesus’ teaching he often used women as examples of morality. Now in the church that worships Jesus, women are not only gathering to worship alongside of their husbands and sons, they are praying and prophesying in these gatherings. Before they hadn’t even been allowed to recite the schema along with everyone else. Now they were being given special revelations from God, God was speaking through them.

Contrast their participation to their place in the pagan temples.
In the pagan temples women played a larger role, because they were employed as temple prostitutes. The pagans believed that sex gave glimpses into the divine and that sex could a be a religious observance, so woman were employed or even enslaved to work in the sex trade at the pagan temples. How sad that the one place that women had a role to play, that role was to be objects of sexual gratification.

This is not what scripture intended. In the creation account, scripture tells us that God man and woman in His image.

Genesis 1:27
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Women are created in the image of God. They have value and worth because they are created in God’s image, not because they are objects of sexual desire… So in a culture that was either religiously traditionalist and strict in oppression of women OR pagan in objectifying and demoralizing women, the church of Jesus Christ was quite radical and I’m sure to many women it was a breath of fresh air.

The gospel of Jesus is one that is to everyone that believes. Black or White. Rich or Poor. Jew or Gentile. Male or Female. Young or Old.

  1. Though unified in Christ, men and women are unique.

So in the Corinthian church women are serving. They are praying. They are even being given the gift of prophesying. Sometimes that looked like teaching, other times is looked like foretelling what was going to happen or telling of some unknown truth…

So women have this new found freedom in Christ. They have this new opportunity serve in vital and important ways. So they said, if we have these opportunities, if we’ve been given equal footing with the men before the Lord, we don’t have to keep wearing these stupid veils or coverings!  And they were tossing them aside and no longer wearing them.

This is where the issue arises. Not in that the women are praying in prophesying but in what they are wearing, or in this case what they are “not wearing” when they do. And here Paul does have an issue.

So he says, lets zoom out and look at the big picture. God has saved us and we are all under him, he is over us all, protecting us, redeeming us, and leading us. Then there is Christ. We have access to God because of Christ. So Christ is above us and He gives us access to God the Father. And God still expects men to lead and for women to be submissive.

Now here in this passage we don’t have a defense of the traditionalist oppression of women because Paul equates the relationship between man and woman to the relationship between God the Father and Jesus the Son. We talked about last Sunday night that God the Father and God the Son are both infinite in their power and knowledge and majesty. Now men you will not find a passage in the Bible that talks of your authority, but rather what you find are passages that speak of your responsibility. In fact in this passage the only mention of the word authority is in the verse saying that a woman ought to have power over her head.

Scripture doesn’t give men greater authority as much as it gives them greater responsibility.

Manhood is about responsibility.
Manhood is not about fast cars and big trucks.
Manhood is not sleeping around.
Manhood is not drinking your buddies under the table.
Manhood is not about proving you’re tough in a fight.
Manhood is about taking responsibility.

If you don’t take responsibility for yourself and your family, you might have everything culture equates with manhood but you’re just a boy.
I know plenty of males who drive fast cars and big trucks, sleep around, drink like fish, fight like an animal, and they are nothing but a boy who’s 30 years old.

Men are called to lead because men are tasked with responsibility. Let’s go back to creation. When God created Adam from the very beginning, he gave him a job to do. When Adam and Eve broke the only rule in the garden of Eden, who ate first? Eve did. God knew that. But who did God come to hold accountable? He came calling Adam’s name.

Husband, problems in your home? God’s gonna come calling your name. Problems with your kids? God’s gonna come calling your name…

So Paul has zoomed out and said, lets remember that though male and female have been freed to serve Christ, though we are unified, we have unique roles to fulfill.  We have unique callings.

So he says, women you have been freed from your sin and brokenness by the grace of Christ, but you haven’t been saved to become men. You’ve been saved to be forgiven, grace filled, redeemed, blood bought women. Women were given greater freedom and worth in Christ, but not by being made like men, but by being forgiven and restored. Women are not redeemed by becoming like men, but they are just as redeemed and worthy as men.

Paul’s big point here is that

We have all been made new, but we have not been made identical

In the next chapter  in verse 17 Paul would get into the fact that the church is like a body and that each part has a different shape and a different function and in the whole body were an eye, there would be no hearing. If the whole body were a hand, there would be no walking…

Now stick with me here- here’s the application.

Paul said because the Lord has made us all different and forgiven us all and made us new and we are still different from one another, let’s not hide that fact. Let’s not blur the line here. Let’s not edge out the distinctions.

In Corinth, the cultural designation for male and female was pretty clear and Paul is saying that just as it would be a shame for a man to lead worship looking like a woman, it’s shame for a woman to serve in the church looking like a man.

Let the men be men and the women be women.

May we celebrate that we are unified despite our distinctions. You know what I love about our church?

I love that there are small business owners and factory workers and stay at home moms and men and women in corporate leadership here.
I love that there are people covered in tattoos and people who would faint if they looked at a tattoo needle.
I love that there are people who have spent considerable amounts of time behind bars and people who have never gotten a speeding ticket….
and people everywhere in between.

This morning we are unified in Christ though we are unique. You see,

Christ has removed what separates us but not what sets us apart.

On the issue of race, people will often say, I don’t see color, I only see people. I get what they are trying to say, but I want to respond- that must be boring. God sees color and he loves them all. God sees gender and socioeconomic status and age and background, and he loves us all. Today’s politically correct culture wants to remove all distinctions, even gender.

God kept all those distinctions in place because His love and grace are mighty enough to wash right over them. God loves us where we are and makes us new, but he doesn’t erase the lines that make us unique, just the ones that make us broken.

Imagine that you are a potter.
You create a piece of pottery. It’s unique. It’s got sleek lines that make the pottery really standout. After you’ve got the clay where you want it, you see that it’t developed a crack or gap in the clay near the bottom, so you fix it.

You may even have to start all over, smashing down the clay to reshape it, but you’re not removing the lines that made it unique, those will remain, you’re fixing the brokenness.
You’re making it whole and complete.
You’re God given gender, race, ethnicity, or hair color is not your problem. It’s the brokenness of you heart.

Look back at verse 1, Paul says follow me as I follow Christ.

Paul doesn’t say be like me, or be me, he says follow me as I follow Christ. Paul says, my goal is not to make you like me, but follow me so far as I lead you toward Jesus. This morning, you don’t need to look more like me, you need Jesus. You don’t need to be more like me, you need Jesus.

Though distinct, men and women are dependent upon one another.

Paul closes out the passage saying that men were created first and woman was created out of the rib of man, but it is through woman that man continues to exist. In other words, one can not be without the other. We are different and we depend on one another. We are able to depend on one another because of those distinctions. 

There’s a purpose in our peculiarity. Our distinctions are not reason to demean one another, rather they are reasons to appreciate one another.

It may be that you are here today and you feel like there is no one else in the room like you. You might feel that your family, your background, your brokenness, or your shape makes you different from the rest of us and you feel alone. God sees all of that and He says, “Great! I’ve been waiting to redeem someone just like you! I’ve been looking forward to pouring my love over someone just like you!”

Our church sees you and says, “Great! We’ve been looking for an opportunity to love someone just like you! Welcome!”

According to the article on Lilly King in the Courier and Press, when she made the Olympic Team she was asked if you do well, what’s something your hometown could do to celebrate. She said, I’d love to lead the parade at the fall festival. You know what’s great about that, it’s so uniquely Evansville. Evansville couldn’t do a ticker tape parade because we don’t have enough high rises, but we do have the fall festival and no one else does… God has made us different and there’s purpose and beauty in it.