CHRISTIANS IN COURT

1 CORINTHIANS 6:1-8

Law courts and legal arbitration were a part of the way of life among the Greeks of Corinth. The Roman government had set up a system of legal courts. The courts were held in the agora, the city marketplace. Today you can go to the ruins of Corinth and stand in that same marketplace. To one side was a large stone seat. It was known as the Bema Seat, the seat of judgment. It was from here that the local governor would preside over each case, rendering his judgment after all sides of the question had been heard.

The Jewish way of doing things was somewhat different. The Jews believed that, since they were the chosen people of God, they ought not to take their disputes into pagan courts. They thought that to do so would be to imply that Godís law was inferior to pagan law. Thus among the Jews it was considered to be a form of blasphemy to take another Jew to court.

Roman law recognized this attitude of the Jews and so the Jewish synagogues were empowered to try any case and to pass any sentence upon a Jew as long as it did not carry a penalty of death.

With the rise of the church at Corinth, it was not long before legal disputes arose between the new converts.

Perhaps Brother Marcus is in the market for a new camel. He goes down to Alexanderís Used Camel Dealership in downtown Corinth. He picks up a camel but does not purchase the warrantee. As soon as he gets the camel home, he notices that it is cross-eyed. Nobody wants a cross-eyed camel, so he immediately returns to the dealership and demands to speak to the manager. Lo and behold, the manager is none other than Deacon Alexander from church. Brother Marcus explains his predicament to Deacon Alexander who listens and then says, "Iím so sorry that this had to happen to you and I wish that you had taken our low-cost camel warranty, but there is nothing that I can do for you."

At this point, Brother Marcus decides that he has one of three options. First, he can beat Deacon Alexander with a big stick. This might be fun, but it is obviously not the spiritual thing to do. Besides that, Deacon Alexander might have an even bigger stick.

Secondly, he can take his case to the Jewish synagogue and have it tried there. However neither he nor Deacon Alexander are Jewish.

So the only alternative is for him to take Deacon Alexander to the civil court of the city. In this way, it will be a Gentile judge who is bringing judgment upon two Gentiles.

This situation was evidently becoming more commonplace in Corinth. The law courts were filling up with Christians who were filing suit against other Christians. Paul moves to direct his attention to this problem.

In chapters 5-6, Paul deals with three specific problems that were infecting the church:

5:1-13

6:1-11

6:12-20

Sexual Misconduct that called for church discipline

Legal Lawsuits that called for church oversight

Lustful temptations that called for a connective reminder

Unity broken by sin

Unity threatened by disagreements

Unity shared in Christ

It is interesting that this one is sandwiched between two issues that deal with sexuality among Christians. The real issue was one that goes back to the earlier chapters of the book. It was the issue of unity.

 

THE PROBLEM STATED

Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? (1 Corinthians 6:1).

Paul has a very interesting way of dealing with this problem that was taking place in the Corinthians church. Instead of making accusations, he asks a series of questions. He will ask a total of nine questions in the first seven verses. The implication is that, as the Corinthian Christians read this passage and ask themselves these nine questions, they will be passing judgment upon themselves.

This reference to "the unrighteous" does not necessarily mean that the pagan rulers of Corinth were particularly bad people or that they did not have the means to judge the issues of their society. It does not mean that they were any worse than the Corinthians Christians. This could be pretty bad at times.

What it does mean is that the Christians are to be different. They have been credited with the righteousness of Christ. It might not show at the moment, but Christians are righteous.

Paul is not concerned that the Corinthian Christians might not receive a fair hearing before the civil courts. Fairness is not at issue here. What is at issue is that the Corinthian Christians have such a low view of their authority and the position of the saints.

What is a saint? We have a false view if we think of a saint as some super stained glass spiritual mighty man. If you have come to Jesus Christ in faith, then you are a saint. You have been "saintified" -- set apart as a special person who is Godís personal possession.

This is a special position. Not everyone is called to be a saint. Only Godís people are thus called. If you have such an exalted position, then you are qualified to be a judge. There is coming a day when you shall be a judge.

 

REASONS FOR REMAINING OUT OF COURT

Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts?

Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, matters of this life?

If then you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church?

I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, 6 but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers?

Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? 8 On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud, and that your brethren. (1 Corinthians 6:2-8).

Paul now goes on to explain why the Corinthian Christians were wrong in taking one another to court. The fact that Paul gives such an explanation tells me something about Christianity. It tells me that Christianity is not merely a list of arbitrary rules. There are REASONS for my faith and for my new lifestyle. When I come to church, I am not instructed to leave my brain outside in the parking lot ("Pick up your brain when you leave and donít forget it, lest you lose your mind").

Christianity isnít like that. It is a religion with reasons. Paul is going to give six reasons why we ought to settle disputes between Christians within the church.

  1. Because Saints will Judge the World: Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? (6:2).
  2. Jesus promised His disciples that one day they would sit in judgment over the nation of Israel.

    And Jesus said to them, "Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." (Matthew 19:28).

    This promise of rulership is not limited to the twelve disciples. Jesus offers this same promise to all who obey Him.

    "And he who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations; 27 and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also have received authority from My Father" (Revelation 2:26-27).

    There is coming a day when the meek shall inherit the earth. Right now, the earth belongs to the strong. But it is going to change hands. God is going to take back this planet and He will give it to His people. His people will judge the world.

    Here is the point. If you are going to be in a position to sit on the supreme court of the whole world, then you are certainly qualified to sit on a civil dispute between two Christians.

  3. Because Saints will Judge Angels: Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, matters of this life? (6:3).
  4. It is one thing to say that you are going to judge the world. It is quite another thing to say that you are going to pass judgment on angels. Angels are most impressive beings. They hold a high position in Godís kingdom; but your position is even higher.

    If you will be considered capable of judging angels, then you ought to consider one another as capable of judging between your present issues.

  5. Because Saints have a Higher Position than Unbelieving Judges: If then you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? (6:4).
  6. Corinth was the seat of the local proconsul over all of Achaia, the country that we know today as Greece. His authority was second only to the Roman Emperor. Yet the proconsul and even the emperor of Rome held a lower position than the least believer at Corinth.

    The justice who sits upon the Supreme Court is of no account in the church. He will not judge the world. He will not judge angels. He will not rule in the kingdom.

  7. Because Saints have a Higher Wisdom than Unbelieving Judges: I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren (6:5).
  8. Disputes between believers ought to be settled by believers because saints have a higher wisdom than unbelieving judges.

    It this first three chapters of this epistle, Paul develops how the wisdom of God is greater than the wisdom of the world. The secular jurist has no basis for a correct judgment over believers because he cannot see the bigger picture. His judgment has only the temporal in view. He does not have a correct perception of the eternal picture. Therefore his judgment must be viewed as inferior.

    Why didnít the Corinthian believers go to other Christians to help them judge their disputes. I think that one reason might have been because each person within the church thought himself a capable judge, but considered that no one else was. Perhaps each member of the church thought that he or she was the only person qualified to judge.

    It reminds me of a story I heard of a church that met one night to discuss some matters. During the meeting, a newcomer stood up and asked, "Does this church have any spiritual leaders?" There were several people within the church who had considered themselves to be spiritual leaders, but no one else did. They sat waiting for someone to stand up and to mention their name so that they could swell up with pride. Eventually one man did stand up. To their surprise, he reported, "Leaders? No, we donít have any spiritual leaders."

  9. Because Saints are Brothers: Brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers (6:5).
  10. Another reason that disputes between believers ought to be settled by believers is because believers are brothers.

    When my family has a family argument, it stays in the family. My younger brother and I used to fight upon occasion. Those conflicts would sometimes get to the point where my parents would be called in as the arbitrator of a dispute. It would usually be over who got to play with a certain toy or who received the larger piece of cake.

    Do you want to know something? My parents never took our problems before a judge or a lawyer or a court of law. Why not? Because this was a family matter. Whether big or small, family matters are generally settled within a family. When this stops happening, the breakup of the family is imminent.

    If you are a Christian, then you are a part of a family. This is Godís family. One thing a family doesnít do is to take its problems and disputes to outsiders.

    Christians are not to be characterized by disputes. We are to be characterized by love.

    This brings us to a question. What about those instances when going to court with a believer is absolutely unavoidable? What about when some sort of irreconcilable difference that takes place that legally demands that the secular courts be involved? In cases of child abuse or neglect or abandonment or in other such criminal cases, Christians may be forced to turn to secular courts.

    Let me suggest that, if this takes place, the Christian is to enter into the court system with the attitude that his desire is to glorify God rather than to seek material advantage for himself.

  11. Because even when you Win, you Lose: Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another (6:7).

A final reason that Christians are not to take one another to court is because even when you win a financial or legal victory, you ultimately lose. You may win the legal award. The judge may award you the victory. But the Judge of the universe has judged it as a loss.

Paul asks the rhetorical questions: Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? (6:7). It is better to suffer wrong and to be cheated than to stoop to taking another Christian to court.

You might be inclined to argue and to disagree with such a statement, "How can I possibly survive in the world today if I try to operate by those rules? I could end up losing everything that I have!" Yet this is exactly what Jesus demands of us. He set forth this standard in His Sermon on the Mount.

"But I say to you, do not resist him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you, and take your shirt, let him have your coat also." (Matthew 5:39-40).

The situation that Jesus describes is only slightly different than the one in Corinth. He pictures a believer who has been taken to court. He is being sued. Someone is attempting to take a portion of his material possessions from him. What is to be the Christianís attitude in this case? The Christian is not to be concerned with protecting his material wealth.

I do not think that this means the Christian is to act foolishly with his money. But it does mean that the protection of his material and financial wealth is to take second place to his spiritual wealth.

The wisdom of the world say to protect yourself from any kind of physical or financial harm. The wisdom of God says to protect yourself from any kind of spiritual fall. A Christianís primary concern should be that his attitude toward his circumstances is a mirror of the attitude of Jesus Christ.

In the case at Corinth, this meant that it was better to suffer wrong than to take another Christian to court in an effort to sue him.

Now letís make this personal. Letís bring it into the 21st century. Letís apply it to your own situation. What is your first concern when you deal with other believers? Is it for their spiritual best? Or is it for the protection of your own material possessions? The Bible tells you to put your money where your mouth is. He tells you that, as goes your possessions, so will go your heart.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21 for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21).

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