In I Corinthians 11:5-9, Paul discusses the subject of women wearing veils.
“But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.”
Some have speculated from these verses that women are commanded to wear veils on their head during worship and anywhere else in public in order to cover their hair. However, if we look onward to verse 9 of this chapter we see that Paul states “But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.” Paul is saying there that the wearing of veils during worship is not required of women. Then why did Paul discuss the subject of veils in the first place?
It is certainly not wrong for a woman to not wear a veil during worship. Our culture in the United States does not have the custom of women wearing veils, so for a Christian women to not wear one, would not be considered offensive by others. A woman leaving her hair uncovered is perfectly acceptable by God because her hair is her glory; “But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering” (I Corinthians 11:15). However, if we were to go on a missionary trip to one of those countries that have the custom of women wearing veils, then we should also wear one, so that our message of the Word will not be hindered due to others in that culture being offended.
Paul was teaching us that we, women, should not dress ourselves in such a way that is considered “taboo” in our culture. In Paul’s culture, most women wore veils on their heads, just as they do today in that part of the world. To not wear a veil meant that a woman was going against the “social norms” of her culture, and thus, she would be compromising her reputation before her peers. Not only that, she could be placing a stumblingblock before those who believed that she was doing wrong by not wearing a veil. “But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak” (I Corinthians 8:9).
If a Christian woman dresses in such a way that others would consider “going against the grain” of their culture’s expectations of how women should dress, then that Christian woman not only harms her influence before others, but she also runs the risk of influencing those who are spiritually weak to commit a sin themselves. Others may be influenced to commit actual sins because they believe that a Christian who dresses differently is committing a sin, so therefore it would be acceptable for them to commit a sin, also. We must ever be mindful of our influence before others, and that is why we should focus on spreading the Gospel and teaching others the way to Heaven more so than trying to appear different. Of course, in all things, we must always work to be modest (I Timothy 2:9-10).
Fearing God and keeping His commands and thereby helping others (and ourselves) go to Heaven should be our sole purpose in life (Ecclesiastes 12:13, Matthew 28:18-20). Our bodies are just temporary dwellings that we have been given while we live this temporary life on Earth. While it is important that we dress modestly, trying to be different in the eyes of others who share our culture is a waste of time, because we are then putting too much focus on the temporary, and too little focus on the eternal. “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). May we all keep our eyes fixed on the prize of Heaven, and be sure that our outward appearance helps others to see more of Christ than ourselves.