Free to Do What?
1 Corinthians 10:23-11:16
This week’s lessons teach us that we do not have unrestricted freedom to do as we please.
The point that Dr. Sproul was making with the child’s question, “How short is short?” is that length and shortness are relative terms. You say a man’s hair should be short. The question is, short in relationship to what? When Paul says that a man’s hair should be short, he is saying that it should be short in relation to the length of women’s hair. And when he says that a woman’s hair should be long, he is saying that a woman’s hair should be long in relation to men’s hair. Dr. Sproul made the point that back in the 1960s when men were growing their hair really long, women’s hair got longer. Did you notice what happened when Audrey Hepburn was a popular actress? At that time the most trendy hairstyle for women was called the “Audrey Hepburn Look.” The hair was cropped short to the head. What happened to the style of men’s hair? Men’s hair got even shorter. That was the age of the crew cut.
What Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 is this: there are times in a culture when people will try to deny the distinctions that God has built into things, but try as they like there are differences. These differences are from God, and because they are from God and are therefore good, these differences should be maintained. Nobody can say on the basis of this, “Well then, we don’t have any need of one another,” because Paul says, “No, quite the contrary is the case. In the Lord,” he says, “a woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.”
He spells this out again using an illustration from nature about the way things happen. “For as woman came from man” (he is referring to the creation of Eve being made from Adam), “so also man is born of woman” (he is referring to the natural process of birth). He is saying that in the nature of things, although God does teach that differences have their reflection in the matter of authority within the Church of Jesus Christ, God nevertheless also teaches a mutual interdependence. He is saying women need men and men need women. It is a sad case, a falling away from what God intends, when a woman says, “I have had it with men.” She might say that quite justly, of course, given the behavior of men. But to say, “I will no longer have anything to do with them,” that is an unfortunate thing. And if a man says, “Well, I am through with women. I’m just going to hang around with the guys,” that is an unfortunate thing, too, because God has made us in such a way that we need each other.
Finally, I return to this theme of freedom as I close. I ask, what does all of this have to do with freedom? Well, simply this: freedom is the ability to live in a way that fulfills our destiny, that for which God made us. The problem is that in ourselves, none of us have that ability. The problem is that we are sinners and sin keeps us from doing what we ought to do and, apart from sin, what we would be able to do. What should be a matter of mutual harmony and beauty within the sexes becomes what we call “the battle of the sexes.” That which should be a matter of willingly and joyously glorifying God in the areas of eating and drinking and dealing with doubtful situations becomes an area in which Christians wrestle miserably with how much they can get away with, without at some point transgressing God’s moral law.
Jesus spoke of himself as the One who gives freedom. It is the freedom that comes in the Gospel. He spoke of the Word of God as that which gives freedom. He said to the people of his day, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” The truth of God is what we find in passages like these, passages that tell us that we will be free, not when we say to ourselves, “I must be able to do what I want to do, whenever I want to do it,” but instead when we say, “I want, above all things, to have God glorified in my life.”
What is the basic principle we should learn from 1 Corinthians 11:1-16?
For another passage on propriety in worship, read 1 Corinthians 14:26-40.
Can you sincerely say, “I want, above all things, to have God glorified in my life”?