Social Signals, Culture and Christ
Text: 1 Corinthians 11
Proposition: We communicate as much by what we do and what we look like as by what we say so we need to be clear about how to speak Christ to others in our social cues.
Introduction: One of the things Paul has been teaching the Corinthians is that though they have freedom in Christ they need to be aware of how a misuse of that freedom isn’t always helpful, doesn’t always edify. Missionaries try to learn this truth as quickly as they can when they are in a new place that has new social cues. In PNG the social cue was that women don’t wear shorts even in 35 degree heat because that would say to the people around them that they are promiscuous. It can even be within our own culture that circumstance calls for different social cues. How you are expected to act while watching the Grey Cup is different than how you would act at a golf tournament or at a church service. So what happens when we mishandle the social cues, when we either misinterpret them or deliberately disregard them? The short answer is we begin to say things that we either didn’t mean to say or had no right to say. This is the essence of 1 Corinthians 11, a passage of Scripture that is all about recognizing certain social cues especially as it speaks of Christ to those around us. Have a look at 1 Cor. 11.
I. It Begins With the WWJD of Social Cues.
That’s how Paul starts this chapter, “And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.” So how did Jesus adapt to social cues, how did He become all things to all men that by all means He might win some? To the fisherman he was comfortable preaching from the bow of a boat. He could speak the Law with Pharisees and He could touch the face of lepers. He could eat with tax collectors and allow His feet to washed with the tears of a prostitute, He could kneel down beside the woman caught in adultery and bring her to a place of seeing her sin and choosing to sin no more. Jesus did not rigidly make others bend to fit Him, He recognized what was familiar to others and found ways to ‘speak their language’. The thing that enabled Jesus to do this originates in His awareness of Who He is. In other words, Jesus didn’t try conform to some social situation nor be a non-conformist in order to express Who He is. He began with the truth of Who He is and why He was here. When the identity of who we are is confused, when we are not clear nor assured in the truth of who we are we will try to shape our identity around the social situations we find ourselves in. So Paul says that understanding who we are shapes what we do. Listen to what he says in verse 3, “But there is one thing I want you to know: The head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” It’s been said this is a chronological statement, Christ created Adam, Eve was taken from Adam and then God the Father sent Christ the Son via the incarnation into humanity. So who I am has a certain chronological source, an order that carries with it identity and purpose. There is the identity of Jesus the Creator, the identity of male and the identity of female His creation and then the identity of the Redeemer for them both. This is like the DNA code for humanity, it is the order and shape that we are created in. So why is this identity so key? It’s because sin blurs identity, it denies creation and seeks to hide the Creator. It blurs the identity of male and the identity of female and it distorts our understanding of God’s purpose for us. Sin does that because it seeks continually to function as though God didn’t matter or even exist. So check out what Paul says next.
II. The Critical Importance of Source Carries In It The Design of Headship.
Paul speaks to this truth in verses 4, 5, “Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head.” Paul is saying that the removal of a man’s head covering when speaking to God is a sign of honoring to God. It would be like a man coming to apply for a job and wearing a hat while he goes through the interview process. That would be disrespectful. In the same way to not to take your hat or head covering off when you pray would also be considered dishonoring to your spiritual head, Jesus Christ. It would also be a very poor social cue to the people next to you as you prayed, your action would be inappropriate even though you might consider it your right to wear a hat whenever and wherever. So checkout the next verse, “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.” In the case of the woman for her to take off her hat when speaking with the Lord would be the opposite of the man. If she takes her hat or head covering off it would be like her attempting to rearrange the order of headship. It would be saying there is no difference between the source or order of man and woman. Paul says she would be acting without moral compass… “for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.” That was the social cue for a woman caught in adultery, her head was shaved and she was made conspicuous in the culture. The social cue of a woman coming to worship in the Corinthian church without having her head covered said to those around her she had no recognition of the order of source in creation and no recognition of the order of headship nor its function. Why would Paul say such a thing, how can such a simple thing as a head covering become such a huge social cue that speaks about who God is? Look at verse 7, “For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.” This is all about the design of headship, the willingness to be under authority. Note that both man and woman are created in the image of God yet man is said to be the glory of God and the woman is said to be the glory of man. As man submits to the authority of God over him and signifies that by speaking to God with his head uncovered it is tantamount to man submitting to the design of headship and honoring God’s wisdom in it. In that sense he glorifies God and his actions in doing so are God’s glory. It speaks the truth about Who God is and what God is doing. The same is true with the statement that woman is the glory of man and she proclaims that truth when she speaks to God with her head covered. She affirms God’s order of headship, she agrees with His design. Paul says that man was created first and the woman was created out of Adam. Her design was to help Adam not be alone, the one thing in all of creation that was said to be ‘not good’, that was man’s glory, it proclaims his need of her. Then Paul adds one further reason for why we need this social cue of head covering, “For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.” The angels observe us, are God’s messengers to us and are of a different order in creation than humanity. The angels, not those of the demonic rebellion, but the angels like Gabriel, are under God’s authority, they existed in the creation alongside us, likely in sequence before us and serve to glorify God by being under His authority. The point is simply that our rebellious spirit can dishonor the name of God to angels who are in His very presence. They know the truth of Who He is much more than we so for us to disrespect Him would be to incite disrespect for mankind in the angelic order. Yet angels aren’t male and female, they don’t have that differentiation and one day they will exchange their place of order from being a little higher than man to being a little lower than man. (Psalm 8:5, Heb. 2). Then Paul uses an example of social cues from the culture of the day, women wore their hair long and in public always had it pinned up. Her head covering of long, pinned up hair served as a symbol of her place under man’s headship. To wear her long hair down in public was a symbol of being without authority and was the mark of a prostitute. For a man to wear his hair long meant it was a sign of being effeminate, that he was a homosexual. So, ‘hair today, gone tomorrow’, some things change and other things do not. The source, design and existence of headship do not change, how we signal that to others does as our culture identifies different cues from generation to generation. So imitate Jesus, follow and agree with His pattern, know who you are as a man or as a woman, proclaim the truth of Who Jesus Christ is as Creator and Redeemer by the social cues you live with and glorify His name.
The design of order exists to reflect the Creator, His creation, His redemption of that creation from sin, His eternal purposes for the redeemed creation. Paul closes this chapter with the very familiar words that we use when we celebrate Communion. The order of the bread and the cup, body and the blood, the incarnation and the crucifixion, the New Covenant and the Second coming, this is the order we are in with the headship of Christ.