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Author:Rev. Sjirk Bajema
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Congregation:The Reformed Church of Oamaru
 Oamaru, New Zealand
Title:The Places In His Place
Text:1 Corinthians 11:2-6 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Christ's Kingship

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


(Reading: 1 Timothy 2:1-15)


The Places In His Place



Church of our Lord Jesus Christ…


Verse 2 stands out in this first letter of the apostle Paul to the Corinthians. In amongst much of a letter directed against the quite sinful way many of the Corinthian Christians were living, this verse is a beacon of light.

            Now, we could see this as a logical extension of what Paul has said in verse 1. There he exhorts them to follow him as he follows Christ. But we must remember that chapter and verse divisions were added much later on in church history – in fact over a thousand years later.

            So someone has made a guess at where he thinks it should go. And here he hasn’t done justice to the context. You see, when the apostle writes, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ,” he’s referring to what he’s just said about not seeking his own advantage but rather the good of many, so that they may be saved. This is part of a section which is about doing everything to the glory of God.

            But in verse 2 there is a different direction taken. In fact, it is a subject area which will take up the next three chapters. Here it is clear he begins a new line of thought. So it’s no surprise that a number of recent Bible versions have provided a subject division at this point.

            How can we understand this to be so? Well, take the positive remark he makes here. Paul always says a word of praise when he can honestly say it. This interacts well with his hearers. They are open to him – and that’s helpful with any corrections which may follow.

            This already makes it quite different from most of the rest of the letter! For it is only in chapter 1 verse 4 that he commends them in this same way.

            And notice what he commends them for in verse 2 of our text. It is for a particular area where they do imitate his following Christ. You see, they remember what he taught them and so maintain the tradition he delivered to them.

            But what is it specifically Paul is speaking of here? Which traditions is he referring to?

            Well, that’s what we are now going to hear of. And then it’s clear that this has to be about the way they conduct public worship.

            Already in the early New Testament Church there was an ‘Order of Service’ for when the congregation came together on the Lord’s Day. And that was not a pattern Paul had himself come up with. Nor had it come from the fertile imagination of some other church teacher.

            This was what had been handed down to them. It was part of a definite oral tradition which had come from the Lord himself through his disciples. This is shown by the regulative principle we follow which is based solely on the scriptures.

            It is this Regulative Principle which is clearly outlined in Lord’s Day 35 of the Heidelberg Catechism. There we confess that God may be worshipped in no other way than he has commanded in his Word. So he is the One who determines how he is to be worshipped.

            Paul had only acted as the messenger who passed it on to them and who led in public worship according to it. And this is exactly how any faithful preacher and congregation should conduct their public worship today.

            From what we know of early New Testament church history this was close to synagogal worship. After all, it was in synagogues Jesus often read and proclaimed God’s Word. There people heard him speak with an authority the like of which they had never seen or heard before!

            And as the apostles went out throughout Judea and the rest of the known world they went first to the Jewish people where they met for worship and teaching – the places known as synagogues. It was synagogal worship which became the norm for Jewish worship after the fall of Jerusalem.

            So Paul introduces this new section by commending the way they have kept to God’s Word in public worship. But now comes the “but”! Verse 3 straightaway has a conjunction that makes it known that despite this faithfulness in this area there is yet something not quite right. There was an element within that congregation that was chafing at the bit against the “traditions”.


            And so it is, in the vitally important area of who is to do what in public worship, we note first of all … THE DECLARATION OF WHO LEADS IN WORSHIP. Here we see how much verse 3 lays down the groundwork for what follows. Understanding this verse helps pave the way to getting a grip on what follows.

            It is as we dig into verse 3 that there is one word that stands out above all the others. And as verse 3 is the key verse in this passage this word is the key word for all of our text – in fact, for the whole passage up to verse 16!

            So what else could I be speaking of apart from the word “head”? Aside from the words “man” and “woman” it appears the most times in the verses 3 till 10.

            And how much debate hasn’t this word engendered between Christians in recent times? Why? Well, the word “head” has been taken to have two possible meanings. These are two different meanings which would turn this passage into two quite different applications.

            One of these meanings is that of “origination”. The other meaning is that of “subordination”.

             “Origination” tells us of ‘the source’ of something. This is what Genesis 2 describes with saying that the woman was made from man’s rib. So this is about where we come from, not who we are or what we are supposed to do.

            Already we can see a difficulty in this meaning in connection with worship. This would mean there is no order of relationships between men and women in any context. Those holding this view relate it only to the creation account. So, then, any of the New Testament passages that give men and women different roles simply reflect first century culture and isn’t relevant today. There you have the underlying theological basis for much of what is going on in Christian public worship today!

            But the far stronger reading here is the meaning of “subordination”. This is what an extensive study of this word in ancient Greek literature shows us. But even more relevant to us is that when the word is used in connection with Jesus Christ it always has the sense of “authority over”. Ephesians 5 verse 23 states, “…the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body…” (cf. Eph. 1:22; 4:15; Col.1:18; 2:10; 2:19.)

            We only need to turn elsewhere in 1st Corinthians to see this. In chapter 3 verse 23 and chapter 15 verse 28 the subordination of Christ to his Father is very clear.

            One of the illusions modern feminism keeps raising is that for people to be equal they must do the same thing. But here it’s plain you can have distinctions and authority in relationships without having inferiority or superiority of dignity or value.

            Think of the three persons of the Godhead. They all share in the divine nature and yet there’s a difference in their roles. Theologically we would call this an ontological or essential equality, with an economic distinction. This means there are different roles assigned to each.

            So for God to be Christ’s “head”, in verse, 3 does not mean Jesus is any less God. He is not something less than the Father. It simply means that in his love for us and his love and obedience to the Father, Jesus submits himself to the headship of the Father.

            His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is a vivid demonstration of this. In Luke 22 verse 42 he even prays that he might not have to suffer death if that was the Father’s will. And so he does all he can to bring him glory.

            In the same way the Holy Spirit is sent from both the Father and the Son. That shows further the hierarchy of authority between the members of the Godhead.

            But think of how much this brings us to the heart of God. Whatever God is telling us here about authority and order is absolutely vital!

            This brings us to another aspect in relation to the word “head”. You see, Paul uses the same word for head – kephalay - right throughout this passage.

            Many of the commentators say that this word has two possible meanings. It either relates to the headship of Christ in his order for his Church, or it relates to the physical, anatomical head. With this latter meaning it would follow that the head covering referred to must naturally be an actual veil, as per the accepted norm of that time.

            Yet if Paul is consistent here and so has the same meaning right throughout this passage it can only be referring to the headship of Christ in his order for the Church. Then the word for covering relates figuratively to the authority within the Church. And it is very rare for Paul not to use the same meaning for a word throughout the one passage. Then he would use another word to distinguish the one from the other. The apostle would not want us to be confused on an issue like this – indeed, he wouldn’t want us to be mistaken on any issue related to the worship and service of the Lord God!

            But now we may wonder as to whom this headship principle involves. This is where we have some confusion because of a difference between translations about the words translated “man” and “woman” or as “husband” and “wife”. The ESV refers to the latter – “husband” and “wife”. But most others – like the KJV, the NASB, and the NIV – translate it as man and woman.

            So what’s going on here? If the Bible translators cannot agree how can we know exactly what it means?

            The reason why it is translated differently is because New Testament Greek uses the same word for “man” and “husband” and the same word for “woman” and “wife”. It’s the context that is the deciding factor. So how do we know if it’s talking about married couples or men and women generally?

            Well, one way that helps us is to realise that Christ is not the head of husbands only. In fact, the immediate context and the context around our text tells us this is about men and women in general. Already in verse 3 the ESV translates the Greek word as “man” but then translates it as “husband”. And then it goes back to “man” in verse 4.

            So, while the apostle here is discussing the principle of “headship” within the assembly of Christian worship, it is also a principle that applies generally. You will see that in other Scriptures when it’s speaking about the home, the church and in society. The hard part is trying to realise how this principle is to be applied in a particular situation.


            But now let’s come back to the text. Having had the principle laid down in verse 3, verses 4 and 5 go on to note, secondly, THE OUTWORKING OF HEADSHIP IN WORSHIP.

            We have seen the biblical principle that the man is the head of the woman and Christ is the head of the man. Yet if a congregation were to have its focus shifted away from God’s Word this headship could be demitted altogether – and in such a way that disgrace is brought upon those there.

            Verse 4 begins by making this clear. Paul there declares, “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head…” And how radical wouldn’t that have been for Paul the Christian!

            You see, Jewish religious leaders in Old Testament worship had their heads covered. This is found in what was worn by the priests in tabernacle and temple worship. This was taken over by the Pharisees and the Sadducees and other sects. And this is found in Judaism today with the kippah males wear in worship.

            Greek women and men then prayed with their heads uncovered, while Roman men and women both had their heads covered in their pagan worship. So Christians were given a distinctive principle of their own which set them apart from where they had come from.

            Verse 4 thus tells us that there is something a man can do in the worship of God that results in the disgracing of his head. And when the apostle says that the man’s “head” is disgraced he cannot mean his physical head. As verse 3 has clearly alluded to, it is the Lord Jesus Christ who is the head in focus here.

            In a similar way, it is obvious in verse 5 that there’s something a woman can do in the worship of God that results in the disgracing of her head. Whatever it is that the woman is doing it is described by the apostle as the uncovering of her head. As Paul writes there, “…but every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven.” So continuing on the theme in verses 4 and 5 the woman’s head being dishonoured is not in reference to her physical head but is the dishonouring of the one in authority over her – the man.     

            The unmistakeable inference here is that we are not to disgrace our Head – the One over the Church. As men we are not to bring disgrace upon the Lord Jesus Christ. And as women we are not to bring disgrace upon the men. So whatever it is that the apostle has in mind, it is clear that this disgrace is brought about by the action of people within the congregation.    

            Unfortunately our English translations cause further confusion, and this time in relation to verse 4. Let me explain. In these first few verses whenever Paul expresses the idea of ‘cover’ he uses the Greek word kalooptow. This means to hide or conceal.  So whenever Paul expresses the idea of ‘uncover’, he uses the same Greek word with the use of a prefix to show it means the opposite. Then it means to reveal or display.

            In verses 5, 6 and 7, as well as verse 13, Paul uses this Greek word five times. Whenever he wants to express the word ‘cover’ or ‘uncover’ he uses only this word. But in verse 4, Paul, surprisingly, doesn’t use this word. Indeed, he makes no mention of it at all. Instead he says literally, “Every man praying or prophesying, having down from his head, disgraces his head.”

            You can see why the English Bible Versions have translated this expression “having down from his head” as “covered”. If someone has something ‘down from their head’ or ‘upon their head’ you would think it’s some kind of covering. But Paul doesn’t use the specific word for ‘cover’, as it does elsewhere. You can be sure if that was what he meant he would have said it.

            What then could verse 4 mean? What is the Holy Spirit teaching us when he says that the man has something down upon his head?

            Congregation, this verse is not teaching us that the man is wearing a covering. Rather, this verse is telling us that in the worship of God the man is recognising another authority, other than the Lord Jesus Christ. So having ‘something upon his head’ means there’s someone or something else that’s in place of Christ. Figuratively he’s allowing that to be upon his head, or to exist down from his head.

            This is quite shocking. What could it possibly be that is standing alongside the man or even being above him?

            The answer is this: It is the woman. The man sins when he gives place to the woman as an authority because the only authority has to be Christ.

            It seems that the Corinthian slogan recited earlier in this letter has come to play in the worship services as well. The phrase of verse 12 of chapter 6, ‘All things are lawful for me’ is bearing its awful fruit in their meetings. The Corinthian women had shown this by carrying on the way they did publicly.


            In this way we come to a third aspect to our text. From the verses 5 and 6 we see … THE REASON FOR THIS DISORDER IN WORSHIP.

            It is here that the original Greek in verse 5 helps us. The construction of the original language suggests that it is as the woman prays or prophesies that she uncovers her head. So the uncovering of the head is not something she does apart from praying or prophesying. Rather, it is the very act of praying and prophesying that uncovers her head.

            Verse 13 confirms this. The woman cannot publicly pray or prophesy aloud in worship because that would be to take over what God has given to the man to do. You only need to refer to our reading in 1st Timothy 1:12, or 1st Corinthians 14:34, for affirmation of this.

            Paul doesn’t make contradictory declarations. And so the uncovering mentioned here speaks of her going against God’s order.

            There were those in Corinth who were clearly rejecting the concept of subordination within the congregation by taking on the rebellion of the society. They were throwing off their God-given role under men for their enslaving by the worldly culture. And so in that time and place those women went out of their way to act and look as unfeminine as possible!

            Ah, how much doesn’t ring a bell in our time and place? Women nowadays are being quite loud in claiming they are the same as men. What they do to their bodies and the way they dress confirms this.

            And, men, well hasn’t secular humanism guttered their masculinity altogether! This is also shown by what they do their bodies and the kind of clothes they wear.

            Paul is so strong on this point that he declares the woman so acting this way might as well have her head shaven! And that was then the most distinct sign of disgrace!

            Paul develops this further in verse 6. He continues using the physical example of the public shame a woman having her head shorn was then to illustrate the spiritual principle of a woman being under the man. This is a truth further brought out in the verses 8 and 9. The apostle is explicit that there is a definite order in the worship service.

            It is here we come back to what the verses 4 and 5 are talking about with the expression “prays or prophesies”. Much has been made of these words. They have been used to justify so-called women prophets from Ellen G. White to Aimee Semple McPherson to Paula White.

            But this is where there is confusion between Old and New Testament prophecy – both in the words spoken and the person who spoke them. You see, unlike prophecy under the old covenant New Testament prophecy was something many in the congregation were involved in. It was something also carefully monitored – so if it was genuine it has to point to the truth of the gospel. Later in 1st Corinthians 14 verse 24 this is made clear.

            But this prayer and prophesying on the part of women was not to be done in public worship. Further on in 1st Corinthians 14, in verses 33 and 34 the apostle declares that women should keep silent in public worship - as was the practice in all the churches. And by adding there that this is part of being in submission, as the Law says, there’s again affirmation of the order in the worship service. 1st Timothy 2:8 confirms this by stating that it is males who lift up holy hands in prayer.

            The prayer and prophecy of our text was something that was related to authority. In verses 3 and 4, and again in verse 5, it is mentioned as being connected with the functions done in church. Here again we are shown the challenge the Corinthian church faced from those ancient libertines. They were chafing at the bit to gain an equal footing with the men in this.  And you’ll get an idea of what this involved if you have ever been in a church with women with liberal ideas. They go on and on and on about it!

            So you can see why Paul comes on so strongly in verses 5 and 6. And he will bring even more reasons to bear on this in the verses 7 and following.

            What, then, do we learn from the verses 2 till 6? Well, there is certainly an order in the public worship of God’s people. It is an order that stands in marked contrast to the way of the world around the Church.

            This is an order that challenges men not to have a spirit of one-upmanship by having a religious head-covering. You can certainly see that openly displayed in Judaism and parts of Christendom. Rather, men were to publicly demonstrate that their symbolic relational head is none other than Christ.

            Women were to show in the worship service through their quietness their submission to God’s order. How much isn’t this defiled in those churches which have gone beyond God’s Word or ignore altogether God’s Word? And when churches go in that direction how soon don’t we see further departure from God’s Word? Just look at those churches openly endorsing same sex relationships! Where did that heresy develop from?

            The basic principle of this passage is that when Paul speaks of the head of the woman being covered, and the head of the man note being covered, he is speaking figuratively. This is shown in Esther chapter 6, verse 12. Although this was written in Hebrew it was translated before Christ’s coming into Greek – the Septuagint Version.

            It is that Version which says that when Harman rushed home, covering his head, the same Greek expression is used as in our text. It’s clear it’s not referring to Haman putting something on his head. Rather, it is a figure of speech – it means he hid or he bowed or he concealed his head. He did it out of shame, but the general principle is established. And it is only in our text that this same expression appears.

            This shows us that we must be careful not to make the text say something which puts it out of kilter with elsewhere in Scripture. Because there is nowhere else in the Bible that tells us women must have a physical head covering in the public worship service. And if that were the case, and so the absolutely vital biblical doctrine that some make the physical covering of women to be, it would be supported by other bible texts. I mean, every other fundamental biblical doctrine is!

            Furthermore, if this is indeed a fundamental biblical doctrine, akin to the water in a baptism and the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper, what should be done to those who do not practice it? Shouldn’t it be made a basis for public church discipline? And certainly if that is not done shouldn’t those who believe in it withdraw themselves from those churches which do not publicly endorse it and enforce it?

            If you believe that women ought to have a head covering in a public worship service you may practice such. We don’t make a distinction between baptism by sprinkling or immersion and we don’t stop those who do this either. But as soon as you say it is unbiblical for a woman to not have an actual physical covering in church then you say those women and their husbands or fathers are sinning. And as that is a public sin it requires an open display of discipline.

            Congregation, this means that if this is correct, we must all publicly confess our wrong. Immediately we must institute specific regulations about this. These rules must also become incorporated in the Confessions of the Church. There where we deal with public worship and what has to occur in the assembly of God’s people there must be a an article regarding the wearing of a head covering by women and the head of men being completely uncovered.

            This would mean that there has been a serious failing of our Church Fathers to not deal with this earlier. And if it be said that there was no need to deal with this earlier that can also be said of a number of other things in public worship which have always been clearly declared throughout the ages, whether there was controversy or ignorance about it!

            Isn’t this exactly what the Pentecostal movement has claimed for itself? They too have declared they have found a forgotten Christian practice for modern times.

            Congregation, this is not an easy passage. And we still have more to glean from it. But for now let’s thank Christ Jesus for his order for the Church. And let’s live out of this order for his glory and the up-building of us all. Amen.




Let’s pray…

            Lord God, we thank you for this Word. Difficult though it may have seemed to be, may its exposition this day have clarified it for us.

            Grant us your wisdom to understand it and to work it out in our church and in our families. Through he who is the Head of the Church, even your Son, Jesus Christ, we humbly pray. Amen.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2019, Rev. Sjirk Bajema

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