When God created the world, He immediately set about fashioning the world by means of division. He separated man into male and female, and pronounced it all very good. But He divides for the sake of richer union, and not for the sake of division itself. But what is the principle of this kind of union? The answer is covenant—covenantal partaking.
“But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3)
We are dealing with covenantal realities here, and this verse is a covenantal “hinge,” connecting some other important features of this section of 1 Corinthians. In St. Paul’s language, “head” does not mean “boss.” Headship is a covenantal category, and an essential aspect of covenant living is covenant partaking or fellowship (koinonia). There is no such thing as a boss over here commanding someone else over there. Covenant headship bridges the division, and accomplishes union.
This means that every man partakes of the headship of Christ. Christ partakes of the headship of God the Father. The woman partakes of the headship of her husband, and all of this happens in the same covenantal way.
The Israelites partook of Christ in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10: 1-5). The Israelites partook of idols in the rebellion (10: 6-11). The Corinthian Christians partook of Christ in the Lord’s Supper (10:16-17). The Old Testament priests partook of the sacricfices of the altar (10: 18). Gentile pagans partook of the table of devils (10: 19-22). None of this happens metaphysically, but rather covenantally (10: 23-33). St. Paul says that he is a “partaker” by grace (10: 30). Now he resumes his discussion of the Lord’s Table (and our partaking there) in 11: 17). But it is crucial to note that his discussion of men and women, and role relationships in 11: 16, he is not changing the subject for a brief moment. He is not changing the subject at all. This is all about partaking.
Just as Christ partakes of the Father covenantally (11:3), so men partake of Christ, and so women partake of their husbands. This is not the only partaking possible (for example, both men and women together partake of Christ, as in Gal. 3:28).
We have seen in all these examples that covenant partaking is built into the structure of the world. The world is not divided between those who partake and those who do not partake. Rather, it is divided between those who partake righteously and those who partake unrighteously. We cannot go anywhere to opt out of partaking altogether. For example, a man can partake of his wife (Eph. 5:31), or of a prostitute (1 Cor. 6:16).
This said, we have to ask what the preconditions are for covenant partaking in marriage for blessing.
The first is that you must have an explicit covenant surrounding a sexual relationship. Not everyone who is sexually united is married, and not everyone who has exchanged vows with another is married. The covenant exists when there are covenant vows surrounding a covenant union.
The second is the grace of God. Remember that St. Paul said that he partakes by grace (10: 30). The grace of God manifests its presence in our lives by means of the fruit of the Spirit.
The third is clear awareness of the assigned roles that God has given to husbands and wives respectively, particularly in worship. This relates to the question of worshipping God covered and uncovered, which we will address next week when we address marriage and worship.
The Head Has a Head:
In God’s pattern, in God’s way, glory increases as it descends. In Christ, all the glory of the Godhead is revealed. Man bears the image of Christ. And woman bears the image and glory of the man.
Conversely, this glory is revealed though submission. Christ submitted to the glory of the Father. Men submit to the glory of Christ. Women submit to the glory of a husband who is doing this. But once we come over to this side of the Creator/creature divide, we have to deal with husbands and wives in revolt against this. Remember that such revolt does not eliminate the partaking, but it does eliminate the blessing of partaking. Further, it incurs the judgment of a jealous God, who hates it when husbands and wives tempt Him.
When Partaking Provokes:
We live in a man-centered age, and consequently, we frequently miss the entire point of God’s warnings. We think that the judgment on our sin is the mere “judgment” of an unhappy marriage, and that death (at least) would end that. But many husbands and wives need to consider their ways, and live. How many husbands will come under the judgment of Christ for how they neglected these things during the course of their marriage? Did they live as though Christ were their head? How many wives will have to answer for how they stumbled their husbands and families? Did they live as though their husbands were the head?
The chief end of marriage is the same as the chief end of man—to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. The chief end of marriage is not to have “your needs met.” The chief end of marriage is not to get him “to finally see.” It is not to get her to be more responsive. The chief end of marriage is to glorify God and enjoy Him (on His terms) forever.