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Who Wears the Pants?

1 Corinthians 11:1-16



Anybody else want to volunteer to preach this passage?  Anyone?  I’ll give you a minute!  OK, here goes.  Will this sound politically incorrect?  Definitely.  But hear me out in the right spirit and you won’t be offended. 


The gospel is liberating to women and men alike.  In Jewish culture women were very inferior and treated like slaves.  Every day Hebrew men thanked God they were not a slave, not a Gentile, and not a woman.  But Christ said that should end.


Years ago this seldom preached chapter was used to address whether women should wear hats in church.  Today the question is much more about who wears the pants at home.  But it’s much more than that.  It’s not an equality issue or about women at all.  It’s really about authority, headship, submission, and order.


This is a matter of considerable importance. It has a great impact on a husband wife relationship, parent child relationships and, in fact, bears directly on the ultimate success or failure of these relationships. The same is true for leadership relationships within a church.

Commonly, people recoil when they hear someone speak on headship and submission. Conjured in their minds are images of dictatorship and extreme blind obedience. Often those opposed to Christianity point to scriptures that teach this and say it promotes a patriarchal hierarchy that gives license for one person or group to dominate another person or group even to the point of abuse. Sadly, in all too many instances, this does happen. However, we must be careful that we not refuse an ordinance of God based on the failure of others to properly understand and observe it. Nor should we bow to pressures of an unbelieving world that has never experienced its benefits.

The Structure and Order of Headship

v. 3  This verse outlines the order of headship by stating that first of all, God is the head of Christ. Second, Christ is the head of man. Third, man is the head of woman. Another way of writing it is:


This headship order is not a denial of equality. Throughout the scriptures we see that Jesus, the Son, is not inferior in person to God, the Father or to the Holy Spirit. The wonderful mystery of the trinity is three persons yet one God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are co-equal and co-eternal. The attributes and character of one are the same for all three.

Headship and submission is about redemption, the plan of God to recover a lost race and restore it to, and even surpass, its original glory. God, the Father of Jesus Christ, planned redemption for mankind, even before the time of creation. Jesus was the, “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world”. (Revelation 5:6). The Father, therefore, was in charge when it came to redemption. Jesus, the Son, willingly forfeited his place of equal authority and submitted to the Father.

Headship and submission is not about equality, it is about roles and responsibility.


Ill.—Eve sinned but God came looking for Adam!


Ill.—anything with 2 heads is a monster.  Remember Ruth and Boaz?  Where will they live, and go to church?  She said, “I’ll go with you and your people will be my people.”  Does this mean he shouldn’t consider her wishes and needs?  No.  Happy wife, happy life!  If he’s wise he’ll try to do what is right for everyone, but ultimately the decision was his.

Our Lord’s submission is an example for us to follow. In the order of headship and submission, as Christ submits to God, so should man submit to Christ and in turn, a wife should submit to her husband. In the husband/wife relationship a man who is not in submission to Christ has no legitimate basis upon which he should exercise authority.

Headship only makes sense and only works when there is nothing broken in the line of authority. For sure, there will never be a breakdown in this process between God and Christ. There are, however, constant breakdowns between man and Christ and woman and man. A man who is not in submission to Christ will do one of two things. He will either abuse his role and dominate his wife or he will shrink from his responsibility and leave his wife to carry a great burden. In some instances men are both abusive and irresponsible.

On the other hand, many women refuse to submit to their husbands as Christ submitted to his Father. They become dominant rendering their husbands passive and helpless. She keeps him on a low shelf where she can find him when she needs him.  Some men are comfortable with this arrangement and seek out such a relationship. It’s a kind of reverse submission.

A Puzzling Passage

This passage is not readily understood and so it is easy to skip over it or to consider that it applies only to the peculiarities of the Corinthian culture of its day. Two things need to be kept in mind and if they are, the meaning of the passage becomes clear. First, there was a cultural context. Second there are profound spiritual principles that are interwoven with the cultural application.

First, let us look at the cultural setting. It was a custom of the Corinthians that women wear a veil in order to demonstrate that they were married and faithful to their husbands. In contrast, prostitutes did not wear veils and cut their hair off as a sign that they were available to any man. Prostitution was common to pagan religious worship and it is estimated that in the City of Corinth there were thousands of temple prostitutes with the proceeds of their practice going to the temple treasuries. Prostitution was a part of the culture and therefore immorality as we know it was perfectly acceptable as legitimate behavior to the Corinthians. Paul, when he brought the gospel to this city and established a church, taught biblical moral purity and required the converts to cease from immorality.

Some of the women of the church thought they could take their new found freedom in Christ, freedom that in many cases had freed them from the tyranny of abusive husbands, and stop wearing their veils. There is no indication that they wanted to practice immorality, they just wanted to be free of veils.

The veils represented or were a sign that a woman was in submission to her husband as it pertained to sexual fidelity. However, Paul took the matter much farther and taught a much deeper and spiritual meaning.

For the Christian, the issue is expediency not personal rights. The question to be asked is, “What is best for the sake of the gospel?” In the case of veils, Paul said it was best that Christian women wear them in order that onlookers would not think that the church practiced prostitution and were no different in that regard than that which went on in the pagan temples.

Honoring and Dishonoring

At issue in this matter of headship and submission is honor versus dishonor. Consider the following statements from verses 4 and 5:

Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head.

This is an example of a text with a double meaning. First was the practical necessity for veils in the Corinthian culture. A woman who did not wear a veil dishonored herself to the point where she might as well be shaved. Most women would not want this to happen to them.

The second meaning, the one with spiritual significance, has to do with the need to honor one’s head. In the case of a married woman, her husband was her head and she needed to honor him as such.

Mutual honor and respect is a key element in husband/wife relationships and in every other headship/submission relationship such as; parents and children, pastors and leaders, employers and employees. Words can be harsh and cruel or gentle and uplifting. I have seen husbands and wives degrade each other in a manner that is dishonoring and brings pain. Those with quiet and meek personalities often say nothing in reply, they internalize the shame but seldom, if ever, speak of it. Others with more aggressive personalities will sometimes erupt with their own negative words and an argument or fight ensues. Some husbands and wives live their lives this way. The damage they do to each other is greater than they recognize.

In the roles God assigned to husbands and wives, the husband’s head is Christ. A husband honors Christ, his head, by following his example and treating his wife as Christ treats him.

In speaking about a wife’s submission to her husband, the Bible does not mean that for a woman to have a relationship with God she must go through her husband. There is only one mediator for all of mankind and that person is Christ. A wife’s submission to her husband is not about the redemption of her soul. It is about the redemption of marriage, to restore it to the beauty it had when God created it in the beginning.

Angels as an Example

For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head. (verse 10).

The veil was a sign of being under authority. This sign was more than a mere token without real meaning. Rather, it was to be a reflection of a lifestyle that both husband and wife practiced. Angels practice this lifestyle and they are referred to here for the purpose of setting an example for us. The Bible reveals that there are ranks when it comes to angels. They too must live in harmony with God’s order.

In his original state, the Bible says this about Lucifer.

"You were the anointed cherub that covereth." Ezekiel 28:14

In other words, he was in a position of headship. Then, one-day pride entered and his heart was filled with iniquity. He led a rebellion that brought about his downfall and he became Satan, the devil. He is the epitome of failed headship.

If angels are to live and function in a headship/submission relationship, it should not surprise us that God expects this of us too.

Headship - a Covering

As we have noted, there was a practical cultural application for wearing head coverings and at the same time there are spiritual meanings. Concerning the latter, consider a word from the Psalms.

Psalm 36:7 speaks of us being covered in the shadow of God’s wings.

Covered by the shadow of the wings of God! What a picture! What a privilege! Headship is a covering, one that flows from a heart of love, and meets the needs of those it covers.

Objects of Glory

v. 7  At first this statement may appear biased, much in the favor of man. Women may take offence to the idea man is the glory of God while woman is merely the glory of man. However, the statement is not one of bias, it is quite the opposite. In fact, if there is any bias it is in favor of women, not man. The following is why…

God, when he created man and woman in his image and likeness, chose mankind to be his delight. He is our Father and we are his children and as any good dad knows, there is nothing more pleasing than seeing his children do well. He rejoices to see them succeed, to live good lives, to be joyful and fulfilled and he will do anything to see that all of this happens. His children are his delight…his glory! Similarly, nothing pleases our heavenly father more than to see us reflect his image and so he pours his blessings on us in order to make this possible. We are his, “glory”, the objects of his love and affection.  


Ill.—denim and lace.  Men are tougher, women more delicate.  But her value is actually higher because of whom she is valued by.  The Bible calls her the weaker vessel, but that is speaking to the precious way she is made and what she is made of more than what she is worth.

This is what headship is. It is the bestowing of love, respect, honor, protection, caring and every other good and virtuous thing. This is how Christ relates to the church in his role as head of the church. He loves the church and gave his life for the church. Nothing “lights up our lives” more than receiving the glory he imparts.

Likewise, woman is the glory of man. In the order of headship the glory of Christ is imparted to the man who in turn imparts it to his wife. He must treat his wife in the same way he is treated by Christ. He must love, respect, honor, provide, and go so far as to die to himself in order that he may bless her. This is what Christ, the head of the church, did for us. This is what husbands must do for their wives. A man’s wife is his glory, the recipient of his love and affection. .

When a husband treats his wife as his “glory”, her countenance will show it. She will be radiant. If a husband is contentious, argumentative, grumpy, disrespectful, or in any other way treats his wife poorly it is a reflection that he is not living in submission to Christ. If you want to know the character of a man, study the countenance of his wife.

Women in Ministry

The idea that a woman should remain silent in church is sometimes taken out of context and applied in ways the Bible does not intend.

However, the Bible does not teach that a persons’ gender is the criteria upon which qualification to speak and minister is determined. Submission to authority is the criterion that qualifies and this applies equally to men and women. A married woman, if she is in submission to her husband, and with her husband’s blessing, is free to minister in the church of God. Conversely, a man who is not in submission to Christ, should not be allowed to speak or have any influence in church. A woman ministers very appropriately to kids and other women, without usurping authority over man.


What about v. 14 and long hair on men?  There is a principle that science has come to recognize as true, and it has been true from the very beginning of the race, as far as we can tell. That is the factor of baldness. Geneticists tell us that it takes two genes in a woman to produce baldness but only one in a man. Some women do get bald, but it is very rare. Here is a natural factor that has been functioning since the race began which does, indeed, display the very thing that Paul declares. Did you ever see a bald old man with long hair? It is a disgrace! Long hair is usually stringy when it is sparse and with his shining dome sticking up above it makes him look ridiculous. Almost all men, as they grow older, tend to show some degree of baldness, and the older they grow the more ridiculous long hair looks. A young man can get away with long hair, but an older man cannot. Thus there is a factor in nature which demonstrates what Paul claims. Tradition tells us that Paul himself was bald and perhaps this statement comes out of his own experience.

Satan knows very well that if he can keep husbands and wives, parents and children, church leaders, and every other spiritual and temporal relationship that involves authority from keeping the ordinance of headship and submission, he will be successful. Satanic success is measured by a bad form of brokenness – broken marriages, broken homes, broken churches, broken anything he can get his hands on. The broken ordinance of headship and submission is his means to this end.

[portions by Bruce Morrison]

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