The Australian Government has announced a Royal Commission into the aged care sector. It will primarily look at the quality of care provided to senior Australians in residential-care (nursing homes) and in home-care (aging in own home). The Royal Commission was announced just before Four Corners aired a two-part investigation on TV into the treatment of the elderly in aged-care homes. This included disturbing accounts of overworked staff and neglected residents.
But what does the Bible say about old age and dementia?
Aging is a part of life
The Bible treats aging as a normal process. Solomon said there is “a time to be born and a time to die” (Eccl. 3:2NIV). In Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 he poetically describes old age (v.1-5) and death (v.6-7). This is a stage in life when we become more dependent on others. If we live long enough, we all grow old and die. Life fades away.
Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 is one long sentence in Hebrew. It’s introduced by saying that old age is characterized by “trouble” (or difficult days) and lack of pleasure (v.1). Then it says that the arms and hands begin to tremble. The legs and knees begin to sag. Teeth are lost, and chewing is more difficult. The eyes are dimmed. Hearing diminishes. Sleep becomes more difficult and one is easily wakened. Singing and music are less appreciated. One becomes more fearful. The hair becomes white. The once active become weak. And the passions and desires of life weaken and wane.
It describes physical deterioration and loss of self-confidence (v.5a). Every part of the body is slowing down and declining—including the brain and the mind—until finally “the silver cord is severed”, “the golden bow is broken”, “the pitcher is shattered at the spring”, and “the wheel broken at the well” (v.6-7).
The elderly and those with dementia are valuable
Because they are made in the image of God, all people are important to God and should be important to us as well. This gives everyone, including the elderly and those with dementia, dignity which demands our respect. The Bible says that because people are in the image of God, murder is wrong (Gen. 9:6). This implies that because people are in the image of God, euthanasia is also wrong.
All Christians are a child of God and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This applies to the elderly and those with dementia. God is still with them. Nothing can separate them from the love of God (Rom. 8:35-39).
So the elderly and those with dementia should be valuable to us as well.
God is always good
The Bible says that God is good. No matter our circumstances, God’s character does not change.
When God described how He sustained the Jews He said, “Even to your old age and grey hairs
I [God] am He, I am He who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you” (Isa. 46:4).
So in old age and dementia, God is present and sustains people.
Old age and dementia are symptoms of our sinful world, that is characterized by decay. Nothing that is physical lasts for ever. The hope of all Christians is to live eternally in the presence of God where there will be no old age or dementia. No more difficult days. Instead, one day suffering and sickness will be no more (Rom. 8:18-25). God was with us in the past, he is with us in the present, and he will be with us in the future.
So we don’t need to freeze our body after we die in the hope it can be revived and reanimated in future. The only reliable hope for immortality is via the God who designed our bodies and who controls our destinies.
What should be our response to the aged and those with dementia?
Care and respect
The elderly and those with dementia deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. The Israelites were to respect the elderly like they respected God:
“Stand up in the presence of the aged,
show respect for the elderly
and revere your God. I am the Lord”
(Lev. 19:32). And Jesus showed love and respect to all people. The early church supported orphans and widows (Acts 6:1-6; Jas. 1:26). And the church at Ephesus supported widows without descendants (Eph. 5:3-10).
But what can we do for the elderly and those with dementia? We can show respect by providing for their physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs even though it may be difficult to understand what they are. Christians are urged, “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:9-10). And Jesus says, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine [who needed food, drink, hospitality and clothes] you did for me” (Mt. 25:40). This means always being kind and loving.
When supporting the elderly, we can focus on God’s comfort, forgiveness, and promises of love and eternal presence. Early memories are usually retained long into the dementia. If the person has a Christian background, reading the Bible, prayer and gospel songs can give them a sense of comfort and peace and help them feel loved. If we assist them to use all their senses—sight, sound, touch, and smell—spiritual memories will often be awakened. When we help a person feel God’s presence, even for only a moment, we have made a difference in their quality of life. Caregivers need support and respite as well.
What about us?
This reminds us that life is short and uncertain. We need to make the most of opportunities while we can. The time to receive Christ and serve the Lord is while we are still alive, in our right minds and can make a choice. Solomon says, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come … “ (Eccl. 12:1). We will not have the ability to enjoy the blessing of a godly old age and a life of service to God if earlier in life we do not trust in the historical fact that God sent Jesus to remove our barrier to heaven by dying for our sin.
What can we do to prepare for old age? We can ask what spiritual disciplines are regular enough for us that they will “stick” even during dementia? Are we reading, memorizing, and meditating on Scripture; praying to God; singing gospel songs; and serving others? Such practices train us in godliness (1 Tim. 4:7). If we do these regularly, then they will bring motivation and comfort when we are reminded of them in our old age.
Aging is a part of life. The elderly are valuable. God is always good. And all the ailments of old age and dementia will disappear in heaven.
Meanwhile, our time on earth is limited. Let’s use our abilities and opportunities while we can to respect and care of the elderly and those with dementia.
Written, September 2018
What is “true worship”? You may think that worship is limited to a church meeting or the singing in such a meeting. But it’s much more than that!
In Romans Paul shows that worship is an important part of our Christian lives. After 11 chapters on doctrine (what we believe about what God has done for us), he turns to practice (how we should live in view of what God has done for us).
This turning point in the book of Romans begins, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Rom. 12:1NIV)
Christians are urged to do something here. It says that our actions, conduct and behavior should flow from an appreciation of what God has done from us. He says, “I urge you”. It’s not a command from a dictator, but an appeal from a friend. God is urging us to live in fellowship with Him.
This appeal is in view of “God’s mercy”. All that God has done for us and given us is described in the previous 11 chapters. This includes: salvation, forgiveness, justification, grace, redemption, righteousness, peace, hope, love, reconciliation, a spiritual life, the Holy Spirit, being released from the law of Moses, and being children of God, heirs of God, and co-heirs with Christ. It’s so amazing that Paul concludes this section with a doxology expressing awe and wonder at what God has done and continues to do though Jesus (Rom. 11:33-36). That’s the basis of why we should live for God.
Paul says “offer your bodies” to God as a living sacrifice. This means to offer our whole lives to God, like sacrifices were offered in the ancient world. It’s our whole body, soul and spirit and all we do, not just in a meeting at church. It’s a total commitment.
It’s a “living sacrifice”. Like animals were sacrificed daily to God in the Old Testament, we are to be the sacrifice. We give up our rights and obey God. Our sacrifice is to be “holy”, exclusively for God. Just as in marriage we give ourselves fully to our spouse, so we give ourselves fully to God. The sacrifice is also to be “pleasing to God”. We are to live to please God.
This is “true and proper worship”. It’s what worship is! It’s offering ourselves to God because of all He’s done for us. It’s our logical and reasonable response to God.
We have seen that Romans 12:1 describes what worship is for each believer. It’s a way of life. It’s individual worship. This worship is not just a church meeting or singing, but the whole of our lives.
So according to the Bible, worship is a part of our response to God’s revelation. It is an attitude and an action. The attitude is offering adoration, respect and honor to God (Phil. 2:9-11; Rev. 5:14). And the action is showing this respect by a life of service, obeying God (Rom. 12:1). Everyone worships something or someone. It’s evident in how we spend our time and money.
But God also calls us to collective worship (1 Cor. 11: 23-33). That’s how our individual worship can be combined and expressed corporately. It’s an opportunity to express our adoration, respect and honor of the Lord collectively. Corporate worship is focused on what the Lord has done in dying for us. That’s one of the purposes of the Lord’s Supper. Like individual worship, this should engage our minds, wills and emotions.
Let’s worship the Lord “in the Spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:23-24).
Written, March 2017
Correcting disrespectful behavior at Corinth
In July 2015 Bernard Tomic was axed from Australia’s Davis Cup team after a scathing attack on Tennis Australia officials. TA said “Bernard’s disparaging and disrespectful post-match comments to the media at Wimbledon effectively ruled him out of contention. His behaviour was unacceptable. The allegations are misinformed and untrue and he publicly derided some outstanding people”. Soon after Tomic was arrested in Miami after refusing to turn down loud music while partying in the early hours of the morning.
Let’s look at God’s commands for respectful behaviour for Christians involved in spiritual activities like praying and prophesying at Corinth. In particular, what is the good behavior given in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and how does this relate to us today? This article is based on an assessment of the text and context of this passage.
In 55 AD Paul (who was in Ephesus) wrote the letter of 1 Corinthians to the church in Corinth. Paul established a church at Corinth in 52 AD during his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1-17) and he stayed there for about 18 months (Acts 18:11).
At that time Corinth was the chief city in Greece. It was in southern Greece on the trade route between western Europe and places further east such as Asia Minor, Phoenicia, and Egypt. Its people worshipped at pagan temples and there was a Jewish synagogue.
The church at Corinth was plagued by factions and spiritual immaturity. When he was in Ephesus, Paul received a letter from Corinth informing him of their difficulties and asking questions about Christian behavior. So Paul wrote this letter to address the problems in the church and to answer their questions. It addresses topics such as factions, sexual immorality, marital difficulties, lawsuits, abuse of the Lord’s Supper, and misuse of spiritual gifts.
The passage is preceded by a discussion on whether to eat meat that had been offered to idols (8:1 – 11:1) and followed by correcting abuse at the Lord’s Super (11:17-34).
The subheading of this passage is “On covering the heads in worship” (NIV). But there is no reference to a church meeting until v.17, which is outside the passage! Therefore, this instruction may not be limited to church meetings. So a more general subheading such as “Head coverings” (ESV) or “Instructions about head coverings” (HCSB) is preferable.
The passage implies that when they prayed and prophesised in Corinth, men weren’t respecting God, wives weren’t respecting their husbands, and daughters weren’t respecting their fathers. They brought shame on themselves and their relational heads. This respect was to be shown by whether they wore head coverings or not. Paul writes to correct their behaviour.
Before we look at the passage it is instructive to summarise the practices with regard to head coverings when it was written.
First century culture
In the first century when in public Jewish women bound their long hair and covered it with a veil. Uncovered hair in public was viewed as equivalent to adultery and could be punished by having her hair shorn or shaven. Since the congregation at Corinth met next door to the synagogue and was composed of both Jewish and Gentile women, universal veiling of women would cause the least offense.
Jewish priests wore turbans on their heads when they served in the temple (Ex. 39:28). It is an ancient practice for male Jews to cover their heads during prayer as a symbol of being ashamed and unworthy before God. This probably derives from the fact that in Eastern cultures, it is a sign of respect to cover the head, which is opposite to the custom in Western cultures.
Female slaves were recognized by their short hair or shaved heads; they weren’t allowed to have long hair. Therefore women in the church at Corinth who were slaves would have had short hair.
In the Roman Empire women generally had their heads covered in public while men’s heads were uncovered. This was the normal culture of that time. All respectable married women wore a veil outside their home. If a woman’s head was shorn or shaven it usually denoted slavery, mourning the dead, or adultery.
The Gentile Christians at Corinth had converted from pagan religions and needed instruction on meat that had been offered to idols (8:1-11:1) and sacrificial meals at pagan temples (10:18-2). It seems as though they also needed instruction on appropriate attire and hairstyle for men and women. This may be because these conventions weren’t followed by some pagan worshippers. For example images of female worshippers of Dionysus show uncovered heads and unbound hair, which has been interpreted as rebellion against the oppression of women.
Introduction (1 Cor. 11:2)
Paul begins by commending them for obeying the instructions he had passed onto them. These weren’t human ideas but teachings that Paul had received from God – as expressed by the NLT, “I am so glad that you always keep me in your thoughts, and that you are following the teachings I passed on to you”.
He then states a biblical principle.
Headship (1 Cor. 11:3NIV)
“But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God”.
The Greek noun translated “man” (aner Strongs #435) means a male human being or a husband, with the preference being indicated by the context. It occurs 14 times in our passage. In 1 Corinthians 7, aner is translated “husband”.
The Greek noun translated woman (gune #1135) means a female human being or a wife, with the preference being indicated by the context. It occurs 16 times in our passage. In 1 Corinthians, gune is translated “wife” 17 times and “woman” 4 times.
So v.3 says that:
• God is head over Christ.
• Christ is head over a man/husband
• Man/husband is head over a woman/wife. The ESV states “the head of a wife is her husband”.
The Greek noun translated “head” (kephale #2776) means either the physical head of a person or animal or metaphorically anything supreme, chief, prominent (master or lord). Here it is used metaphorically. Paul uses this word elsewhere to describe these relationships:
• Christ over the church (Eph. 1:22; 4:15; 5:23; Col. 1:18; 2:19)
• Christ over the angels (Col. 2:10)
• A husband over his wife (Eph. 5:23)
Some say that kephale means “source”. In this verse, the Greek noun theos (#2316) is translated “God”. In this letter Paul often uses the title theos for God the Father in a passage that also mentions Jesus Christ (1:1; 1:9; 6:14; 8:6; 9:21). As this is also the case in 11:3, in this verse the word “God” means God the Father. But how is God the Father the source of Jesus Christ when they are both eternal? Such a meaning doesn’t make sense. A better interpretation is that Christ submitted Himself to the Father’s leadership. This was demonstrated when He prayed and when He said “not my will, but yours be done” (Lk. 22:42). It’s a functional authority and leadership that Christ willingly submitted to (Jn. 4:34; 5:19; 7:16; 1 Cor. 15:24-28).
In what sense is God is head over Christ? Christ was sent to earth by God the Father and Christ was obedient to God the Father. So although they have equality within the godhead, God is seen as the initiator and Christ the responder. God has authority and Christ is subordinate. Together they fulfilled the plans of the Godhead.
In what sense is Christ head over a man/husband? As Creator and Redeemer, Christ is head over all humanity. As a man/husband is part of humanity, Christ is head over a man/husband. In this case they share a divine nature, but not divinity (This is why Jesus is called “Lord”). Together they can fulfil God’s plans for humanity.
In what sense was a man/husband head over a woman/wife in the first century? As a husband over his wife (Eph. 5:23). As a father over his daughter. As the leader of a household over the women in the household. Together they can fulfil God’s plans for marriage and the family. By the way, in first century Corinth, most unmarried women probably lived in a household where their father or another male was the leader.
He then gives an example of how this biblical principle was practiced by men at that time.
Male dishonor (1 Cor. 11:4)
“Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head”
“Every man who prays or prophesies with something on his head dishonors his head” (HCSB)
The Greek preposition translated “covered” (kata #2596) means “down from” like a veil.
The second “head” in v.4 and v.5 is metaphorical. It’s a play on words indicating that they were bringing dishonour on themselves and their relational heads (Christ in v.4 and husbands etc. in v.5).
Prayer is speaking to God and prophecy is speaking for God. They are examples of spiritual activities. Paul is saying that when they pray or prophesy, men should honor Christ (their metaphorical head) and not dishonor (disrespect or disgrace or shame or irreverence) Him. He says that a male shows honor (or respect) to Christ when they pray or prophesy by not having their head covered. Conversely a covered head implies dishonor (or disrespect). Paul doesn’t explain this custom, as he assumes the readers understand it.
This is similar to the cultural practice in the Roman Empire. It was a way of showing proper respect at the time. In the era when men usually wore hats when outdoors, they removed their hats when being introduced to someone. But this symbolism is not common in the western world today.
This is followed by an example of how women practiced this biblical principle at that time.
Female dishonor (1 Cor. 11:5-6)
“But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved” (v.5). The ESV uses “wife” in verse 5-6.
The Greek adjective translated “uncovered” (akatakaluptos #177) means “unveiled” or “uncovered”. It also occurs in v.13.
Prayer is speaking to God and prophecy is speaking for God. They are examples of spiritual activities. Paul is saying that when they pray or prophesy, women should honor their man (their metaphorical head, such as husband or father or head of the household) and not dishonor (disrespect or disgrace) him. He says that a female shows honor (or respect) to their man (husband or father or head of the household) when they pray or prophesy by having their head covered. It indicated that she was acting under authority. Conversely an uncovered head implies dishonor. As mentioned above, at that time it was a disgrace for a woman to have her head shaved. Once again, Paul doesn’t explain this custom, as he assumes the readers understand it.
Showing respect to a male via a head covering may be similar to Middle Eastern practices, but it is foreign to western culture. Likewise, a shaved head would be unusual, but not disgraceful in western culture today. So this symbolism is foreign to the western world.
“For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head” (v.6).
The Greek verb translated “cover” (katakalupto #2619), which occurs twice in v.6 and once in v.7, means to veil or cover oneself.
The message of this verse is similar to that of v.5, but it adds having “her hair cut off”. The other occurrences of the Greek word for having one’s hair cut off (#2751) are:
• Acts 8:32. To shear a sheep (a quotation of Isaiah 53:7). In this case, the shearer removes as much of the wool as possible without cutting the skin of the sheep. It’s like a crew cut!
• Acts 18:18 Having one’s hair cut short in association with a Jewish vow.
In this instance, a short hair cut (a crew cut) would have a similar appearance to being shaved. As mentioned above, at that time it was a disgrace before society for a woman to have a short hair cut. However, a woman with a short haircut (a crew cut) would be unusual, but not disgraceful in western culture today. So this symbolism is foreign to the western world.
In this article I assume that general principle behind this passage is to maintain a distinction in authority between males and females (v.3). Other options are to maintain a distinction in appearance between males and females or to use culturally appropriate expressions of gender (instead of being disgraceful).
He then gives seven reasons for this practice by Christians at that time.
Glory (1 Cor. 11:7)
“A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man” (v.7).
This states that the man/husband is the image and glory of God and the woman/wife is the glory of the man/husband. Unfortunately, we don’t understand Paul’s reasoning here.
The Greek noun translated “glory” (doxa #1391) means something that has inherent, intrinsic worth. It often means the unique majesty and worthiness of God. The word is used 12 times in the book of 1 Corinthians. Glory is an attribute of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 2:8). As co-heirs with Christ, believers will share His future glory (1 Cor. 2:7; Rom. 8:17). Their resurrected bodies will be glorious (1 Cor. 15:43). Everything we do should bring glory to God (1 Cor. 10:31). Long hair is a woman’s glory (v.15). And glory (or brightness) is an attribute of the sun moon and stars. It is also used 19 times in the book of 2 Corinthians as an attribute of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, Christians and the radiant face of Moses after seeing God’s goodness at the giving of the law at Mount Sinai.
The verb form of this word (#1392) occurs twice in 1 Corinthians to describe how we can honor God (1 Cor. 6:20) and when a Christian is honored (1 Cor. 12:26). It also occurs three times in 2 Corinthians to describe the glory of the old covenant (2 Cor. 3:10) and the praises given to God for people’s generosity in times of need (2 Cor. 9:13).
Mankind is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). As this verse applied to both Adam and Eve, both male and female were made in the image of God. However, in 1 Corinthians 11:7 it is only applied to the man. Maybe Paul is alluding to how the original man and woman were created. God made Adam from the dust of the ground and He made Eve from Adam’s rib. Adam brings glory and honor to his creator (God) and Eve brings glory and honor to the one she came from (Adam). This is explained by the order and purpose of their creation (v.8-9).
Why is the glory of God and of a man/husband linked to whether one’s head is covered or not? Is the head a symbol of the person (by synecdoche – a figure of speech in which a part is put for the whole)? Does it relate to whether the glory is public (for all to see) or private (hidden from sight)? If this is so, then the uncovered head symbolises that the man/husband is visible so everyone can see the glory of God. As God is the focus of prayer and prophecy, it would be good to be reminded of His glory when engaged in these activities. On the other hand, the covered head symbolises that the woman/wife is hidden so people can’t see the glory of the man/husband. As God is the focus of prayer and prophecy, it’s not appropriate to be reminded of a man’s/husband’s glory when engaged in these activities.
Order of creation (1 Cor. 11:8)
“For man did not come from woman, but woman from man”
This verse describes the order and method God used to create the first couple, Adam and Eve. Adam was made first and Eve second. Adam wasn’t made from Eve, but Eve was made from Adam.
Why is the order of creation linked to whether one’s head is covered or not? As Eve came from Adam, she would have respected him as the source of her life (Paul balances this in v.11-12 where he states that mothers are the source or life for all other men). Paul implies that women should show the same respect to men when they pray or prophesy. And at that time such respect was shown by having their head covered in public.
Purpose created (1 Cor. 11:9)
“neither was man created for woman, but woman for man”
This verse describes the reason why God created Eve. Before Eve was created, Adam was given instructions to care for the Garden of Eden, to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and to name the animals and birds (Gen. 2:15-20). Adam would have observed that all the animals and birds were either males or females and each had a mate, but he was alone. And God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18). So Eve was made for Adam. She was his companion and helper (#5828 noun). Moses used this word elsewhere in the Pentateuch to describe how God helped to protect him from Pharaoh’s sword (Ex. 18:4); in a prayer for God to help Judah against his enemies (Dt. 33:7); and in referring to God’s help for Israel against their enemies (Dt. 33:26, 29). So Eve provided Adam with aid, assistance and support.
Why is the purpose of Adam and Eve’s creation linked to whether one’s head is covered or not? As Eve was made for Adam, she would have respected him as the senior partner in their marriage. Paul implies that women should show the same respect to men when they pray or prophesy. And at that time such respect was shown by having their head covered in public.
Symbol of authority (1 Cor. 11:10a)
“It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head”
Why is the word “authority” linked to whether one’s head is covered or not? In this context the word “authority” probably stands, by metonymy, for “a sign of authority”. So the NIV gives an alternative translation, “It is for this reason that a woman ought to have a sign of authority on her own head”. Also, the ESV uses the word “wife” instead of “woman”.
So the head covering is a symbol of authority. At that time it showed that the wife is under the authority of her husband, and the daughter is under the authority of her father, and the unmarried woman is under the authority of the head of her household.
The angels are watching (1 Cor. 11:10b)
“because of the angels”.
Why are the angels linked to whether one’s head is covered or not? The angels watch the activities of humanity and the church (1 Cor. 4:9; Eph. 3:10). They saw how Eve made the decision that Adam should have made when sin entered humanity. She took the leadership role and acted as the head over Adam. God wants wives to respect their husbands, and daughters to respect their fathers, and unmarried women to respect the heads of their households. At that time, this respect was shown by the head covering during prayer and prophesy. That’s what He wants the angels to see.
Human reason (1 Cor. 11:13-15)
“Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering”
Note that, the ESV uses “wife” instead of “woman” in v.13.
The Greek adjective translated “uncovered” (akatakaluptos #177) means “unveiled” or “uncovered”. It also occurs in v.5.
The Greek noun translated “covering” (peribolaion #4018) means a covering that is thrown around, a mantle or a veil. Note that it is different to that in v.6-7 (#2619).
At that time it was respectful for a Corinthian woman to have her head covered in public and disrespectful to have it uncovered. So the instruction for women/wives about head coverings in this passage corresponded to the current cultural practice.
Why is “long hair” linked to whether one’s head is covered or not? As he then discusses hair length, some think that the women’s covering is her long hair. But the covering in v.15 (#4018) is a different word to that in v.6-7 (#2619). If the covering was long hair, then v.6a wouldn’t make sense, “For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off”. If her long hair was already cut, it can’t be cut off again! Also the only time a women’s head was to be covered and a man’s head uncovered was when praying and prophesying. So the covering was temporary not permanent, but long hair isn’t something that can be put back on after it is taken off! Furthermore, Paul used the word “nature” when describing hair (v.14) and “custom” or “practice” when describing the head covering (v.16).
When Paul says “For long hair is given to her as a covering” (v.15b), he is drawing a parallel between long hair (a natural covering) and a veil (a fabric covering). Long hair is a natural covering paralleling the veil. Previously he said, “Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him” (v.14). This means that long hair and a head covering are appropriate for women, but not for men. So the instruction for women/wives and men/husbands about hair length in this passage corresponded to the current cultural practice.
Uniformity (1 Cor. 11:16)
“If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God”
Paul’s final reason for this practice by the Christians at Corinth is that this was the practice in other churches in the Roman Empire. He wanted uniformity amongst the churches at that time in how males and females showed respect when they prayed and prophesied.
So we have seen what this passage meant to those it was written to at Corinth in the first century. But what does it mean to us today?
How does it apply today?
The main difference between now and then is that we live in a different culture. And cultures differ across the world. Women and men often wear head coverings in some cultures and not in others. And the accepted hair length for men and women varies in different cultures. Also, there are differences in how respect is shown between people. In some places women show respect by a head covering, while in others a head covering has nothing to do with respect.
Generally the principles given to the church in the New Testament are written in a way that enables them to be practiced in different ways in different cultures. This is because the church is comprised of people from all nations and not primarily one as was the case in the Old Testament.
If a culture with respect to head covering and hair length matched that of Corinth in the first century then the application of this passage will probably be the same. But what if the local culture is different?
Obviously the principle in v.3 is universal. God is head over Christ, Christ is head over a man/husband, and a man/husband is head over a woman/wife. If a woman lives in a household without a husband or father, then it may be difficult to identify the males she is to respect. Maybe they are relatives or church leaders.
There are two main views on how the practices in v.4-6 apply today. One is to say that the application is universal because some of the reasons are universal (v.7-9) and it was to apply universally across the Roman Empire (v.16). In this case the application today is the same as at Corinth in the first century. This would mean that Christian attire may have to differ from what is culturally acceptable.
The other view says that because the culture is different, the application can be different. The symbol is meaningless in societies where it is not disgraceful for a wife to have her head uncovered in public. Like with the holy kiss and drinking wine for indigestion (1 Cor. 16:20; 1 Tim. 5:23), we need to distinguish between the principle and its cultural expression. Today we use culturally acceptable greetings and medicines, instead of a holy kiss and wine. We translate Biblical practices into their equivalent modern practices. The need for respect and honor remains (v.4-5), but how this is expressed depends on the local culture. For example, if it isn’t shameful for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved, the reasoning in v.5-6 collapses. If it isn’t improper for a woman to pray with her head uncovered, the reason given in v.6 collapses. If long hair isn’t disgraceful for a man, the reason given in v.14 collapses. Also. if long hair isn’t glorious for a woman, the reason given in v.15 collapses. So how can one’s demeanour indicate submission to God’s leadership (for men) or submission to male leadership (for women)?
In Western culture there are few recognized symbols of a husband’s headship. One such symbol is when the wife takes the husband’s family name. And a wedding ring signifies marriage. But, veils are a sign of subservience and inequality (as in the Muslim culture). And hats are worn for shading or fashion.
If you are a man, how do you bring glory and honor to God? How do you respect God and reflect His goodness? Are you serving Christ to fulfil God’s plans for humanity? If you are married, how do you lead your wife and children to help them respect you? Do you welcome her contribution to your marriage and family? Do you need to step up and speak up and take more responsibility?
If you are a woman, how do you bring glory and honor to your father? Do you respect your father? If you are married, how do you bring glory and honor to your husband? Do you respect your husband and reflect God’s goodness evident in a godly husband? Do you support his leadership in the family? What do you contribute to your marriage and family? Do you need to step down and be quieter and take less responsibility?
As 1 Corinthians was probably written about AD 55, it describes the early days of the church. The only earlier books in the New Testament are James, Galatians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians and events described in the gospels and Acts chapters 1-19. When applying the principles in it to us today we need to consider the changes since then. There is Scriptural evidence that the frequency of speaking in other languages and prophecy changed later in the first century AD.
Speaking in other languages is only mentioned in two books of the Bible (Acts and 1 Corinthians). Also, it isn’t mentioned in any Scripture written after 55 AD (or in the case of Acts, events that occurred after 55AD). Therefore, it appears that this gift was primarily for the early church.
Prophecy is mentioned in the book of Acts up to AD 57 (Acts 21:9-10). Paul mentions prophecy in his books written in AD 55-60 but not his last six books (written AD 60-66). The only biblical record of prophecy after this time is the apostle John (Rev. 1:3; 10:7, 11; 19:10; 22:6, 9, 10, 18-19). He also mentions false prophets (1 Jn. 4:1). Therefore, it seems as though the prevalence of prophecy decreased significantly after AD 60. We now have the record of God’s revelation to the prophets in the early church in the New Testament. These truths are now communicated to us by preachers and teachers who also build up (strengthen), encourage and comfort believers and convict unbelievers. Therefore, I would apply these instructions for prophecy to preaching and teaching.
The church is founded on Christ’s completed work (1 Cor. 3:11) as taught by the apostles and New Testament prophets (Eph. 2:20; 3:5). This work was completed in the first century AD and we have a record of this foundation in the New Testament. So, in this sense, we no longer have apostles or prophets in the church today. As Paul links speaking in tongues with prophecy (1 Cor. 14), both of these gifts are no longer required now the church’s foundation has been laid.
The revelation given to the writers of the New Testament finished in the first century AD (Jude 3, Rev. 22:18-19). Just as the close of the Old Testament canon was followed by a 400 year silence (no prophecies from God), so the close of the NT has been followed by a 1,900 year silence. Since the book of Revelation was completed, no new written or verbal prophecy has ever been universally recognized by Christians as divine truth from God. The Scriptures are final and complete. According to Scripture, God will speak again with new prophecies, visions and revelations after the rapture, during the tribulation and Christ’s millennial kingdom (Acts 2:16-21; Rev. 11:1-13).
From an assessment of the text and context of 1Corinthians 11:2-16 we have looked at God’s commands for respectful behavior for Christians involved in spiritual activities like praying and prophesying at Corinth in the first century. This respect and honor was to be shown by males having their head uncovered and females having their head covered.
There are two main views on what this means today. First, is that this practice is universal for all cultures. When they are involved in spiritual activities like praying, preaching or teaching, males should have their head uncovered and females having their head covered. Second, is that the principle of respect and honor is essential when people are involved in spiritual activities such as praying, preaching or teaching but because the culture is different, the way this is shown can be different to the first century.
Paul says to “Judge for yourselves” on this topic based on the information he has given (v.13). So how do you think this passage applies today? How would you show respect for authority?
Written, December 2015
Tourists often fear dangerous animals in Australia, such as venomous snakes, poisonous spiders, crocodiles, sharks, killer jellyfish, and the blue ring octopus. On a recent hike we were surprised by a black snake. Most of us were afraid, but someone wanted to pick it up!
Fear can help us respond to a dangerous situation. This is protective fear. It’s why I told them not to go near the snake. It’s foolish to ignore real danger.
But constant fear is debilitating and can lead to anxiety that immobilizes and paralyzes us. This is chronic fear.
The fear (reverence and respect) of God is a feeling of awe and praise of a small creature before their immense Creator. This is respectful fear.
Let’s look at what the Bible says about these three kinds of fear. We’ll see that through the Holy Spirit, Christians can be courageous when others are fearful, can avoid the bad fear and practise the good fear of reverence and respect for God and Christ as our Lord.
There are at least 10 Greek words that are used in the New Testament to describe “fear”.
The two most common ones are:
– phobeo (Strongs #5399) is a verb which means either to fear and be afraid, or to reverence.
– phobos (Strongs #5401) is a noun which means either fear, or reverence and respect for authority.
This article is based on verses with any of these 10 Greek words for “fear” in the books of the Bible written to the early church from Acts to Revelation. We begin by looking at protective fear.
When Paul was a prisoner he was sent to Italy by ship. A storm with hurricane force winds struck when they were near the island of Crete and the ship was driven towards Malta for 14 days. During the storm, the sailors were afraid the ship would run aground, and near the island of Malta they feared the ship would be dashed against the rocks (Acts 27:17, 29). This is a fear of danger, when our body reacts with a boost of adrenaline and we prepare to fight against or flee from the danger.
People are also afraid when they face punishment. When a Philippian jailer thought all his prisoners had escaped after an earthquake, he was about to kill himself because he would be punished (Acts 16:29). When we do wrong we are afraid of those in authority because we can be punished (Rom. 13:4). Those living under the Jewish law feared God’s judgment, but believers don’t live in this fear, as sons shouldn’t fear their father (Rom. 8:15).
The Bible says that unbelievers will be afraid when they face God at the Great White Throne to be judged because their names are not in the book of life. Apostates who abandon the Christian faith will be fearful when they face God’s judgment (Heb. 10:27, 31). When Paul spoke about the judgment to come, the Roman governor Felix was afraid (Acts 24:25). This is a real fear because there is no protection for those who ignore Jesus Christ.
People are also afraid of dying. The Bible says this fear is like slavery (Heb. 2:15).
These are examples of fearing danger, punishment, and death. Protective fear can be an alarm that arouses us to protect ourselves.
Sin is another danger we should fear. We should be afraid that some people haven’t yet accepted God’s plan of salvation and so they aren’t going to heaven (Heb. 4:1). If an elder sins in such a way as to harm the testimony of the church they are to be rebuked publicly so the others may fear falling into sin (1 Tim. 5:20). And when responding to victims of apostasy, we should fear being trapped by the allure of sin (Jude 1:23). As Christians, do we fear sin and its consequences, which is a healthy fear that helps us live godly lives?
In First Aid when there is an accident or emergency we are told to follow DRABC. The first response is D for Danger. We protect ourselves, the casualty and other people from danger. After we have done this we can help the casualty. It’s risky to ignore this step, but it is also risky to not proceed on to the following steps. Likewise for us it’s good to have safety in mind by responding to reasonable fears.
If we obey the law of the land, there is no need to fear punishment from authorities. But do we fear danger or death? If we have no external resources to help us, it’s natural to fear these possibilities. But through faith in Christ, these fears can be replaced with courage, security, protection and peace when we realize two things. First, God and Christ are with us in the form of the Holy Spirit (Heb. 13:6). Paul was told, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you” (Acts 18:9-10NIV). God is always with us. Second, prayer is helpful in overcoming all types of fear (Phil. 4:6-7). “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” (1 Pt. 5:7). God always cares for us. Prayer draws us near to God. That’s how to deal with protective fear without lapsing into chronic fear.
But if fear persists it becomes anxiety.
In the case of chronic fear, people are too anxious and doubtful to respond appropriately. This is an unhealthy kind of fear, which keeps us from doing things we should do. It’s bad fear, which is based on one’s perceptions and assumptions. Such anxiety can lead to depression and possible mental illness (such as phobias, which are persistent fears of objects or situations).
In this case fear stops us from developing our spiritual gifts, from loving and serving God and loving and serving one another. Instead of being focused on God and others, we become self-focused. We worry about our needs instead of trusting God to take care of them.
Christians have a great foundation for overcoming fear and anxiety. All of our sins have been paid for. God isn’t angry towards us, and He will never punish us because His Son took our punishment. God has forgiven our sins, His Holy Spirit lives in us, and we will spend eternity with Him.
It is reported that about 40% of Australian police business involves domestic violence. During my last shift of telephone counselling, I spoke with three women who were constantly living in fear. They felt isolated and controlled by their partners. They were anxious not knowing when the next episode would occur. But they were seeking help.
If we are fearful and anxious do we seek help? Anxiety has various physiological, emotional and spiritual causes. As childhood experiences can have a big impact on personality development, are parents aware of their children’s needs? They need to be loved and wanted. To belong. And to feel worthwhile. Addressing these needs in childhood can help avert adult anxiety.
The process for overcoming anxiety is the same as for addressing any sin in the life of a Christian. The steps are:
• Identify what we are worried about.
• Identify our sin – what we doubt about God’s care for us.
• Confess and repent of our doubt.
• Remind ourselves of the truth about God and His promises in the Bible.
• Thank God in prayer for His care of us.
• Then we can have peace because we are trusting in God’s promises once again.
Courage is the opposite of fear; it’s the ability to face danger without fear. Next we look at when those who trusted in God demonstrated courage instead of fear.
The apostles were courageous when they faced the Jewish Sanhedrin (Acts 4:13; 5:29). This courage came from the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:8). Christians are commanded to be courageous against dangers and difficulties (1 Cor. 16:13). They were not to fear threats or be frightened when persecuted, and not retaliate, but endure it patiently and be kind to their persecutors (1 Pt. 3:14). The church in Smyrna was told not to be afraid of persecution and to be faithful even to the point of death (Rev 2:10). All this is possible because the Holy Spirit makes believers courageous and not timid; “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid (fearful), but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7).
When Paul visited Corinth during his second missionary journey, he preached to the Jews. But when they opposed him and became abusive, he moved and preached to the Gentiles. But Paul would have been discouraged and may have worried he would have to leave the city as had been the case in Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea (Acts 16:39-40; 17:5-10, 13-14). One night the Lord told him “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10). As Paul knew that God was with him, he kept teaching them the word of God for 18 months.
During the storm mentioned earlier, an angel told Paul to not be afraid of shipwreck because he would stand trial before Caesar (Acts 27:24). So God encourages us to be courageous.
Christians don’t fear death because it brings them closer their Savior. In fact, Jesus frees believers from the fear of death (Heb. 2:15).
Christians don’t fear God’s judgment because Jesus has already paid the penalty. John wrote, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 Jn. 4:18). Christ’s death on our behalf is the “perfect love” that “drives out fear” of God’s judgment.
These are examples of courage and not fearing trouble, threats, persecution, harm, danger, death, and God’s judgment. This courage is healthy because it is associated with godly living.
A young father was having a difficult time convincing his son to go to bed. “I don’t want to go to bed. I’m afraid of the dark!” the five-year-old exclaimed. “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” his father said reassuringly. “I sleep in the dark and I’m not afraid.” “Sure,” the youngster replied, “you’ve got Mom lookin’ out for you!”. He wasn’t alone. And that’s true for Christians as well – they have God the Holy Spirit with them.
Are you alone or have you turned away from sin and towards Christ as your Savior? That’s the only way to receive the Holy Spirit who can help us have courage instead of fear. In Revelation, unbelievers are described as being cowards because, they are afraid to believe that Jesus is the Son of God (Rev. 21:7-8).
Do we have courage instead of fear when we face authorities, trouble, threats, persecution, harm, danger, death, or God’s judgment? This courage comes from the Holy Spirit who empowers believers for godly living.
When facing our fears, do we act in the strength of the Holy Spirit? Are we motivated by love for God and love for one another? Are we self-controlled?
The second meaning of “fear” in Scripture is to indicate reverence and respect for authority.
Believers are commanded to give respect and honor to those owed respect and honor (Rom 13:7). This includes revering and respecting God and worshiping Him with reverence and awe (2 Cor. 7:1; Heb. 12:28; 1 Pt. 1:17). “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor” (1 Pt.2:17). They were not to fear persecution, but revere Christ as Lord (1 Pt 3:14, 15).
Paul respected the Lord as He is the one to whom Christians are accountable when they are rewarded at the judgement seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10-11). Similarly, we should fear displeasing the Lord.
Slaves (employees), children, and wives are to submit to their masters, parents and husbands out of reverence to Christ (Eph. 5:21). Respect is part of a healthy marriage. While the husband is to love his wife, the wife is to respect her husband (Eph. 5:33). Slaves (employees) should respect and obey their masters with reverence to the Lord (Eph. 6:5; Col 3:22; 1 Pt. 2:18). Similarly, as God’s slaves/servants, our attitude towards Him should be one of reverence and respect (Rev. 19:5).
These are examples of reverence and respect for God who we wish to please as our Lord. Such respectful fear is healthy because it is associated with godly living. It’s good fear.
This is opposite to unbelievers, who don’t revere or respect God – “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom 3:18).
After a cop shot and killed a teenager in Ferguson, Missouri last year, potential US presidential candidate Ben Carson claimed that young males living in inner cities need to be taught how to respond better to authority. He said that a major problem that faces many who grow up without fathers or other authority figures in their homes, is that they don’t learn the right way to respond when confronted by law enforcement. They never really learn how to relate to authority in the proper way. If you take a group of young men and you raise them with no respect for authority, not learning to take on personal responsibility, having easy access to drugs and alcohol, they are very likely to end up as victims of violence and imprisonment. When it comes to God, are we like the teenagers?
A child’s view of God is usually similar to their view of their father. So Dad’s, be awesome, not angry or absent. If they can’t respect you, they will struggle to respect God. Pray for the children of single parent and step-parent families and homosexual marriages. What will their father image be like?
Do we reverence and respect God and Christ as our Lord? Do we fear displeasing Him?
Do we respect His message for us in the Bible? Do we respect our employer, parents, spouse and our church elders?
Less respect of God means more trust in humanity, which leads to more anxiety and chronic fear. It also leads to less respect for authority in families, schools, and society. When parents don’t respect God, children don’t respect parents. When teachers don’t respect God, students don’t respect teachers. When our leaders don’t respect God, people don’t respect the police, the judiciary or the government.
While we are all products of our past to some extent, we don’t need to be fearful and anxious. God is always with us. He always cares for us. We can turn to God, and we can also have the help of friends, family members, or Christian counsellors.
Let’s confess and repent of our anxiety and bring all our fears to the Lord in prayer so we can exercise protective fear when we are aware of danger and not lapse into chronic fear. And most important of all, let’s be aware of God and Christ so we can practice respectful fear until it is part of our character.
Through the Holy Spirit, Christians can be courageous when others are fearful. Above all, let’s reverence and respect God and Christ as our Lord.
Written, June 2015
What do we fear? Terrorist attacks? The rise of radical Islamism? Danger? Crime? Failure? Rejection? Change? Loss? The future? The unknown? Uncertainty? Being alone? Unemployment? The rising cost of living? Economic recession? Climate change? Immigration? Pain? Death? Dentists? Public speaking? Heights? Snakes?
Fear can help us respond to a dangerous situation, but constant fear is debilitating. This can lead to anxiety, which is prevalent today.
The fear (reverence and respect) of God is a feeling of awe and praise of a small creature before their immense Creator. This type of fear is unusual today.
Let’s look at what the Bible says about these types of fear. We’ll see that through the Holy Spirit, Christians can be courageous when others are fearful. Although we shouldn’t be afraid, healthy fears help us live godly lives and we need to reverence and respect God and Christ as our Lord.
There are at least 10 Greek words that are used in the New Testament to describe “fear”. The two most common ones are:
phobeo (Strongs #5399) is a verb which means either to fear and be afraid, or to reverence.
phobos (Strongs #5401) is a noun which means either fear, or reverence and respect for authority.
In this study we looked at the 81 occurrences of all the 10 Greek words for “fear” in the books of the Bible written to the early church; Acts to Revelation inclusive (see the references in the next four sections). These occurrences were grouped according to whether they were about fear or about reverence/respect. We begin by looking at the fears of unbelievers.
Fears of unbelievers
Sometimes the first-century Jewish and Roman authorities were afraid. The captain of the temple guard and his officers didn’t use force to recapture the apostles because they feared that the people, who highly regarded the apostles, would stone them (Acts 5:26). The magistrates were afraid when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens because they had been beaten publicly without a trial (Acts 16:38). Likewise, the Roman commander in Jerusalem was afraid when he found out that Paul was a Roman citizen because he had put him in chains (Acts 22:29). Later because he was afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by the crowd, the commander had Paul taken to the barracks (Acts 23:10).
When Paul was a prisoner he was sent to Italy by ship. A storm with hurricane force winds struck when they were near Crete and the ship was driven towards Malta for 14 days. During the storm, the sailors were afraid the ship would run aground, and near Malta they feared the ship would be dashed against the rocks (Acts 27:17, 29).
People are afraid when they face punishment. When we do wrong we are afraid of those in authority because we will be punished (Rom. 13:4). Those living under the law feared God’s judgment, but believers don’t live in this fear (Rom. 8:15). When a Philippian jailer thought all his prisoners had escaped after an earthquake, he was about to kill himself. After Paul reassured him that all the prisoners were still there, the jailor was convicted of his sinfulness and he fell trembling before Paul and Silas and asked what to do to be saved from going to hell (Acts 16:29).
Unbelievers will be afraid when they face God at the Great White Throne to be judged because their names are not in the book of life. The degree of their punishment will be according to the evil deeds they have done. When Paul spoke about the judgment to come, Felix was afraid (Acts 24:25). An apostate is someone who professed to be a Christian and attended a local church, but abandons the Christian faith. The Bible says they will be fearful when they face God’s judgment (Heb. 10:27, 31). Unbelievers (whose destiny is hell, not heaven) are described as being cowards because, unlike the overcomer, they are afraid to believe that Jesus is the Son of God (Rev. 21:7-8).
People of the earth will be afraid after God’s future judgments. When two of God’s witnesses are resurrected after being martyred, those who see them will be afraid (Rev. 11:11, 13). After the two witnesses ascend to heaven, there will be a severe earthquake and the survivors will be afraid. When Babylon falls, the kings of the earth and the merchants will be afraid (Rev. 18:10, 15).
Finally, people are afraid of dying. The Bible says this fear is like slavery (Heb. 2:15).
These are mainly examples of fearing danger, punishment, and death. They may be called protective fear where people respond to protect themselves. This is a healthy kind of fear. In the case of chronic fear, people are too anxious and doubtful to respond appropriately. This is an unhealthy kind of fear, which keeps us from doing things we should do. It is an anxiety which can lead to depression and mental illness (such as phobias, which are persistent fears of objects or situations).
Next we look at the fears of those who trusted in God.
Fears of believers
People are afraid when they see a demonstration of God’s power. Moses trembled with fear at the burning bush and was greatly afraid at the sight at Mount Sinai (Acts 7:32; Heb. 12:21). Cornelius was afraid when an angel spoke to him (Acts 10:4). And people were afraid when they heard how Ananias and Sapphira died (Acts 5:5, 11).
Christians should fear sin and its consequences. We should be afraid that some people haven’t yet accepted God’s plan of salvation and so they aren’t going to heaven (Heb. 4:1). If an elder sins in such a way as to harm the testimony of the church they are to be rebuked publicly so the others may fear falling into sin (1 Tim. 5:20). When responding to victims of apostasy, we should fear being trapped by the allure of sin (Jude 1:23).
Paul was afraid about the effectiveness of his preaching and teaching ministry. He was humble when he visited Corinth as he came in weakness with great fear and trembling (1 Cor. 2:3). Paul was afraid that the Corinthians may be deceived by false teachers and that if he visits them, they will be disorderly (2 Cor. 11:3; 12:20). At Macedonia, he was harassed by internal fears because he was hoping that Titus would give him news about the church in Corinth (2 Cor. 7:5-7). This was alleviated when Titus told him about the Corinthians’ sorrow and their longing to see Paul. Also, Paul was afraid he had wasted his efforts in Galatia because they were following Jewish practices (Gal 4:11).
Sometimes the apostles were told to not be afraid. At Antioch, Peter separated himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of bullies in the circumcision group (Gal 2:12). But he stopped this after he was rebuked by Paul. When he was on the island of Patmos, John fell at His feet when he saw Christ, but was told to not be afraid (Rev 1:17). After Paul was converted he escaped Damascus (as the Jews planned to kill him) and went to Jerusalem. When he tried to join the disciples, they were afraid of him because they didn’t believe that he was a disciple (Acts 9:26-27). But they accepted Paul after Barnabas told them about Paul’s conversion and preaching.
These are mainly examples of fearing God’s power, sin and its consequences, pride, and that one’s preaching and teaching may not be effective. These are healthy fears as they are associated with godly living.
Courage is the opposite of fear; it’s the ability to face danger without fear. Next we look when those who trusted in God demonstrated courage instead of fear.
Moses’ parents weren’t afraid of the kings edict to drown every Hebrew boy that is born and Moses didn’t fear Pharaoh’s anger (Heb. 11:23, 27). The Psalmist wasn’t afraid when he was in trouble because the Lord was with him (Heb. 13:6).
The early Christians were to be courageous when they faced persecution. They were not to fear threats or be frightened when persecuted and not retaliate, but endure it patiently and be kind to their persecutors (1 Pt. 3:14). The church in Smyrna was told not to be afraid of persecution and to be faithful even to the point of death (Rev 2:10). All this is possible because the Holy Spirit makes believers courageous and not timid; “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid (fearful), but gives us power, love and self-discipline (2 Tim. 1:7NIV).
One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision and told him to not be afraid because “I am with you” and no one would harm him and there were many people in Corinth who would follow the Lord (Acts 18:9). During the storm, an angel told Paul to not be afraid of shipwreck because he would stand trial before Caesar (Acts 27:24). Also, Paul told the Romans, if you do what’s right, then there is no need to fear those who are in authority (Rom 13:3).
As marriage thrives in a climate of love, honor and respect, there is no place for fear in a healthy marriage. Peter said wives shouldn’t be terrified of their husbands (except for cases of domestic violence, which isn’t acceptable) (1 Pt. 3:6).
Christians don’t fear death because it brings them closer their Savior. In fact, Jesus frees believers from the fear of death (Heb. 2:15).
Christians don’t fear God’s judgment because Jesus has paid the penalty. John wrote, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 Jn. 4:18). Christ’s death on our behalf is the “perfect love” that “drives out fear” of God’s judgment.
These are examples of courage and not fearing authorities, trouble, threats, persecution, harm, danger, death, your husband, and God’s judgment. This courage is healthy because it is associated with godly living.
The second meaning of “fear” in Scripture is to indicate reverence and respect for authority.
Godly men who lived in Old Testament times had an attitude of reverence and respect for God. For example, after being warned by God of the coming judgment, in holy fear (reverence and respect) Noah built an ark to save his family (Heb. 11:7).
People were filled with awe at the miracles done by the apostles when the church was formed at Jerusalem (Acts 2:43). Although they were mainly Jews, it soon became evident that there were Gentiles who also had an attitude of reverence and respect for God. Cornelius and his family were devout and God-fearing (Acts 10:2, 22). They believed in one God and the moral and ethical teachings of the Jews. Likewise, there were Gentiles in Pisidian Antioch who reverenced and respected the Lord (Acts 13:16, 26). When Peter realized that God accepted Gentiles, he said God accepts those who respect Him and do what is right (Acts 10:35). When someone lives up to the revelation they have received about the Lord, He makes sure that they hear the gospel and so has the opportunity to be saved.
Gentiles shouldn’t be proud that there are more of them in God’s family today than Jews, but they should respect God (Rom 11:20).
After the people in Ephesus realized that Paul’s miracles were greater than the false exorcists, they were also filled with a deep sense of awe and the Lord’s name was honored (Acts 19:17).
Believers are commanded to give respect and honor to those owed respect and honor (Rom 13:7). This includes revering and respecting God and worshiping Him with reverence and awe (2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Pt. 2:17; Heb. 12:28; 1 Pt. 1:17). This is opposite to unbelievers, who don’t revere or respect God (Rom 3:18). There is a reward for those who revere God (Rev. 11:18). When believers respected the Lord, the early church grew (Acts 9:31). So although they didn’t fear persecution, they revered Christ as Lord (1 Pt. 3:14, 15).
Paul respected the Lord as He is the one to whom Christians are accountable when they are rewarded at the judgement seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10-11). Similarly, we should fear displeasing the Lord. Jesus is another example for us; He prayed with reverent submission (Heb. 5:7).
The Corinthians respected the Lord and they received Titus “with fear and trembling”, which means with a sense of reverence before the Lord (2 Cor. 7:11, 15). Paul urged the Philippians to work on deliverance from their contentions “with fear and trembling”, which means with a sense of reverence before the Lord (Phil. 2:12-13).
In the gospel of the coming kingdom, people are told to respect God and worship Him, not a man (Rev 14:7). At that time, God’s judgments on the earth will show that He is a God of holiness (Rev. 15:4). They will cause all nations to revere, glorify, and worship Him.
Slaves, children, and wives are to submit to their masters, parents and husbands out of reverence to Christ (Eph. 5:21). As already mentioned, respect is part of a healthy marriage. While the husband is to love his wife, the wife is to respect her husband (Eph. 5:33). Wives should also be morally pure, which springs from reverence toward the Lord (of course this principle applies to husbands as well) (1 Pt. 3:2).
Slaves should respect and obey their masters (no only when they are watching or to earn their favour) with sincerity and with reverence to the Lord (Eph. 6:5; Col 3:22; 1 Pt. 2:18). Similarly, as God’s slaves/servants, our attitude towards Him should be one of reverence and respect (Rev. 19:5).
These are examples of reverence and respect for God, who warns of coming judgment, who enabled the apostles and their delegates to do miracles, and who we wish to please as our Lord. They may be called respectful fear, which is a healthy fear associated with godly living. This reverence leads to slaves, children, and wives submitting to their masters, parents and husbands.
Lessons for us
From these Scriptures we see that if we obey the law, there is no need to fear punishment from authorities. But do we fear danger or death? If we have no external resources to help us, it is natural to fear these possibilities. But through faith in Christ, these fears can be replaced with courage, security, protection and peace when we realize that Christ is with us (Acts 18:9-10; Heb. 13:6). Prayer is helpful in overcoming all types of fear (Phil. 4:6-7; 1 Pt. 5:7). Then we can practice protective fear without lapsing into chronic fear.
As Christians, do we fear God’s power, sin and its consequences, pride, displeasing the Lord, or that our service and ministry may not be effective? These are healthy fears that help us live godly lives.
The apostles were courageous when they faced the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:13; 5:29). This courage came from the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:8; 2 Tim. 1:7). After Paul’s trial before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, he was told by the Lord to have courage because he would also stand before Caesar in Rome (Acts 23:11). Christians are commanded to be courageous against dangers and difficulties, including false teachers (1 Cor. 16:13). Do we have courage instead of fear when we face authorities, trouble, threats, persecution, harm, danger, death, or God’s judgment? This courage comes from the Holy Spirit who empowers believers for godly living.
Do we go against the tide in a world where one’s rights are given priority over one’s responsibilities? Do we reverence and respect God and Christ as our Lord? Then we can practice respectful fear. Do we respect His message for us in the Bible? Do we respect our employer, parents, spouse and our church elders?
Less respect of God leads to more trust in humanity, which leads to more anxiety and chronic fear. It also leads to less respect for authority in families, schools, and society. When parents don’t respect God, children don’t respect parents. When teachers don’t respect God, students don’t respect teachers. When our leaders don’t respect God, people don’t respect the police, the judiciary or the government.
Let’s bring all our fears to the Lord in prayer so we can exercise protective fear when we are aware of danger and not lapse into chronic fear based on assumed dangers. And most important of all, let’s be aware of God and Christ so we can practice respectful fear until it is part of our character.
Through the Holy Spirit, Christians can be courageous when others are fearful. Although we shouldn’t be afraid, healthy fears help us live godly lives and we need to reverence and respect God and Christ as our Lord.
Written, February 2015
Also see: How to overcome fear
Selfies are common in social media like Facebook and Instagram. It’s easy because all smart phones have cameras. A selfie is a photo of yourself. It’s is all about me. I am in the center of the photo. The word “selfie” was first used in an Australian internet forum in 2002. But what does the Bible say about selfies? We will see that normal Christian relationships are characterized by respect and care; not selfies.
Let’s look at a verse on a Christian’s relationships with others: “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble” (1 Pt. 3:8NIV). The letter of 1 Peter was written to churches facing suffering and persecution. The verses beforehand address a Christian’s relationships with the government, their employer and their spouse (1 Peter 2:13 – 3:7). The main attitudes to be shown in these relationships are respect and submission. The verses afterward address a Christian’s response to suffering and persecution, which is to be characterized by doing good and pursuing peace.
Our verse lists five characteristics: like-mindedness, sympathy, family love, compassion, and humility. These may be grouped into two categories of “respect” and “care”.
If we are like-minded and humble towards each other, we will respect each other. Being like-minded is to have unity and to be harmonious. Paul said, “Live in harmony with one another” (Rom. 12:16). It is like a musical instrument playing along with others in a band or orchestra or a person singing in a choir.
How do we get along with other Christians, especially those at church? Are we harmonious together? Or are we just a disjointed group of individuals who don’t get along together?
Being humble is the opposite of being proud and having an inflated view of one’s importance. Peter also wrote, “clothe yourselves with humility” (1 Pt. 5:5). It’s as essential as clothing. So it’s not all about me. It’s all about you. It’s all about us. That’s what’s wrong with selfies and wanting people to “like” us on social media.
Are we happy for others to succeed and to take a more prominent role than us? Do we seek recognition for what we do?
If we have sympathy, family love and compassion towards each other, we care for each other. I think “empathy” would be a better translation than “sympathy”. The verb form is used in Hebrews to say that Jesus empathizes with our weaknesses because He was temped like us (Heb. 4:15NIV). It means to be in touch with another’s emotions and feelings. Paul wrote, “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15). Do we recognize what life is like for each other and share the ups and downs? Or do we ignore them?
As all true Christians are children of God, we are to love one another as those in the same family or team. And we know that families and teams can be great or terrible. It’s meant to be great because Paul associates this type of love with humility, generosity and hospitality (Rom. 12:10-13).
The third aspect of our care for each other given in this verse is compassion. Paul associates this with kindness and a forgiving attitude (Eph. 4:32) and John says it is helping a fellow-believer and is associated with sacrificial love (1 Jn. 3:16-18).
Are our relationships with each other like this? Or do we go through the motions without any real empathy, love and compassion? We live in a selfish world. Selfies are common. At times like these, the Israelites were told to “stop doing wrong” and “learn to do right” (Is. 1:16-17). This is a change of 180 degrees. For us this means to stop focusing on our self so much.
My smart phone has two cameras that aim 180 degrees apart. When one lens is aimed at me, the other is aimed away from me. If we want to take less selfies, we need to either use the other lens and aim away from us.
So let’s look around and get involved in each other’s lives because God wants us to care for each other like He does.
“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be empathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble” (1 Pt. 3:8). These are the characteristics of normal Christian relationships. They reflect the attitude and example of Christ.
So let’s be respectful towards each other – full of respect. And careful towards each other – full of care. Let’s respect and care for one another because normal Christian relationships are characterized by respect and care; not selfies.
Written, April 2014