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First Corinthians

Husband - Tyrant or Prince

1 Corinthians 11:1-16

There is a recurring phenomenon in the church. Some doctrine will swiftly become abominable to the world; the church will produce “explainers” who tell all that the Bible didn’t really mean what it said there; and – after a generation or two – someone “rediscovers” the truth in the Bible. In the meanwhile many are led astray. In our time, one such “error” is the submission of women to their husbands. Here we encounter it in Paul’s words:

(1 Cor 11:1-16 NIV) Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. {2} I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them on to you. {3} Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. {4} Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. {5} And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head--it is just as though her head were shaved. {6} If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. {7} A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. {8} For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; {9} neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. {10} For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head. {11} In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. {12} For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. {13} Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? {14} Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, {15} but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. {16} If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice--nor do the churches of God.

The key to understanding this passage is found in verse one: the imitation of Christ. If we will keep his example before our minds, the entire question will become much easier to deal with. First, a review of the concept of submission.


In general

Consistent readers will recall the general principles of Christian submission:

· All of us, as Christians, are in submission – at least to Jesus Christ. That is the very nature of being a Christian. Most of us are in submission to many other authorities as well – governments, church leadership, teachers – the list is very long.

· True submission is to true (legitimate) authority – and that authority flows from Christ, to whom all authority is given.

· The nature of authority – and hence the nature of submission – is determined by the task assigned. Submission as a student is different from submission as a wife.

· With that task and authority comes responsibility.

· The one in authority must always remember that such submission is voluntary; you chose to become a Christian. As my mother tells my wife, “you volunteered for this chicken outfit.”

· The reason for submission is sin. Policemen have authority because of it, for example. Interestingly, the same rationale is given for husbands having authority over their wives.

The human side of authority

All well and good, teacher – but how should this work out in actual, day to day living?

· Our model is that of Christ – see verse one! – and his model is that of the servant-leader. Therefore, any Christian leader (including husband) should be a servant-leader.

· The beneficiary of the submission relationship – is the person in submission. (That’s one difference between a prince and a tyrant).

· The motivation of any Christian leader – we cannot expect this from our government – must be that of Christ: love.

· And as Christ was exalted for his obedience as a servant-leader, so God will reward those servant-leaders who obey his commands. He will also punish those who don’t.

Parallel essence

So what really rankles us about this submission? Is it not that submission makes us feel inferior? This may simply be a question of sinful pride, but for the sake of those in authority we will assume not. (It’s a lot harder to abuse submission than it is authority). In particular, does this mean that woman is inferior to man?

· Let’s look at the example we are given: Jesus Christ. Is He inferior to the one to whom He is in submission, God the Father? As touching his manhood, yes; as touching his divinity, no – that was the ancient formula. Even though He is equal to God the Father, He made himself nothing and became like us – and was obedient even to death on the cross. With such an example of submission before us, can we really conclude that submission means inferiority?

· Paul makes much the same point here. In one verse it sounds like woman is completely inferior; in the next point he says that man comes from woman (which makes them equal) and then he gives the whole thing up and says that all is from God. Like Christ and the Father, man and woman have the same essence, as Aquinas would put it.

Remember that submission and authority exist because of sin. We often hear repeated the verse “that all are one in Christ Jesus.” In Christ Jesus we are without sin, and therefore we are indeed equal. But because sin exists, God has created marriage – a submission relationship – to deal with it. Interestingly, in all the references I can find, the sinful nature for which this is prescribed is that of the husband.

The conclusion of the matter: the wife is not inferior to the husband. She is in submission to him.

Why, then, do we have so much trouble with this?

Our World’s View

If you were to ask this question of most Christians, you’d get a variety of answers.

· Most would point to the radical feminists of our day, claiming this to be the problem. There is no doubt that the public school system proclaims the feminist agenda in strident terms, beginning at the earliest age. But can we not dig deeper?

· Perhaps the underlying problem is our sinful nature – though feminists deny the existence of sin (it’s old fashioned, you know). It is just barely possible that feminism is the second wrong desperately attempting to make a right. If Christian husbands modeled Christ to their wives, would we see such things in their children?

· Remember: Satan cannot create anything – he can only twist what God has created. Therefore, let us examine his twistings.


Some of the twistings that we see:

· We are much enamored of the legal fiction that all are equal – as the Declaration of Independence puts it, “that all men are created equal.” It is a very useful legal fiction; but in the church we must put aside fiction and deal with reality. We are all equal in Christ – but we are not all interchangeable parts. Male is not interchangeable with female.

· As Americans, we hold as a matter of principle that it is our duty to rebel against tyranny. But we have now twisted that – making rebellion against authority to be a positive good. You don’t think so? Visit any nearby public high school. Rudeness and rebellion against authority are now considered a normal part of growing up.

· We even twist the words we use so that their meanings will end up as opposites. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet? Consider a few examples. Does marriage really mean two lesbians? Does family mean any conglomeration of people under one roof? Does love really mean nothing but sexual passion excuses all?

Why is the sexual distinction so important?

Paul here seems to be complaining of some rather trivial things. The length of hair, after all, is something subject to fashion. I submit for your consideration the following thoughts:

Design Principle

· You can use a hammer to drive a screw into wood. Does that make a hammer a screwdriver? No. It makes it a tool misused. Just because it works doesn’t mean it was designed to work that way.

· Men and women are designed differently – and therefore we need to recognize that difference and deal with it in the manner intended by the Designer. Just because we can make a woman do a man’s job doesn’t mean that we should make her do it.

Right use of authority

This is not a matter of whether or not women can teach math, or fly airplanes, or other such things. This is a matter of spiritual authority – which has eternal consequences. The man was given this authority, I submit, for at least these reasons:

· First, for the sake of the children. If children know that their parents are “equal” they will play one off against the other. They will quickly learn that authority is to be manipulated, not obeyed. I leave the results of this to your imagination.

· Next, this authority is given as a corrective to the man’s physical strength and arrogance. Does this surprise you? Remember the nature of authority: it is to be exercised in servant leadership. The example set before the man is that of Christ himself.

· This authority is also given to correct a woman’s protectiveness of her children.

Submission in symbolism

The submission shown here is largely symbolic. In verse six Paul talks of shaving a woman’s head. You might ask why; but remember – men go bald. The point is simply that if the woman is going to act like a man, then disgrace her by making her look like a man. It is a measure of the depravity of our society that many think this a good thing.

Our forebears would have understood this much more clearly. They understood the difference, and the importance of the difference. That’s because they understood the difference between the Bride, the church, and Christ. God has painted on the living canvas of our bodies a picture of his love for the church; let us not mar the painting.

Tyrant – or prince

I cannot leave this subject without a word for the men. I frame it in terms of a quiz for the women, but it really applies to men. Ladies, do you know the difference between being married to a tyrant – or a prince?

· The tyrant does not have legitimate authority; the prince does. If you have legitimate authority, it comes from Christ. Therefore, if you are married to a prince, your husband recognizes Christ’s authority over him and is obedient to Christ – especially in the things of marriage. Does your husband have the authority of Christ? Then he is a prince.

· The tyrant’s motive is his own self-interest. The prince cares for his own. His motive is his love for his people. Does your husband place his love for you above his own self-interest? Then he is a prince.

· Finally, the tyrant considers himself his own best example. The prince knows that Christ is his example. Does your husband imitate his Lord and Savior in servant leadership? Does he say to you, follow me, as I follow Christ? Then he is a prince.

So I leave it to you: is your husband a tyrant, or a prince?

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