The Problem (6:1-6)
Paul must deal with another shocking situation in the Corinthian church. We have seen in our study that the Corinthians are fighting, arguing, and dividing over all kinds of issues. In chapter 5 we noticed that they were glorying in the wrong things, including unrepentant sin. When we look at chapter 6 we see another problem in the Corinthian church.
When any of you has a grievance against another, do you dare to take it to court before the unrighteous, instead of taking it before the saints? (1 Corinthians 6:1 NRSV)
Verse 1 reveals that these Christians were taking each other to court over grievances that they had with each other. Now we are able to truly see the disfunction of this Christian group. They are fighting and dividing over a variety of things. Further, when there is a dispute or a grievance with another Christian, they would take the situation to court. You will notice the appalling astonishment of the apostle Paul in verse 1. Paul is incredulous. “Do you dare to take it to court?” Two Christians have a dispute and the way that you think you should resolve this is by taking before the unrighteous! Why would you depend upon someone who does not have the same worldview as a Christian, who does not possess the wisdom of God but the wisdom of the world, and whose values and standards do not match with God’s? How is this the logical resolution? The logical resolution that Paul gives in verse 1 is that you would take this dispute to other Christians to help decide the matter, not the unrighteous.
We are to have a spiritual mind so that would be able to decide earthly disputes (6:2). What Paul does it verses 2-3 is make an argument from the greater to the lesser. Christians will judge the world. Christians will judge angels. Therefore, how can it be that you cannot be competent enough to make judgments regarding these smaller, earthly cases, when in view of the judgment of the world, is trivial! We must be able to judge these kinds of matters because we will have a greater responsibility of judgment in the future. We should be able to apply godly principles now to these smaller cases.
Now many stumble right here over the idea of the saints judging the world and judging angels, to such a degree that we lose the message that Paul is giving. So let us not lose sight of the point we just made because the purpose is an argument from the greater to the lesser. But let us answer the question concerning how we will judge the world and judge angels. I do not believe the point is that we will all become judges on the day of judgment and the angels and the wicked will pass before us and we will offer our judgment upon them. I do not see anything in the scriptures that gives us an indication that we are judging the wicked independent of Jesus. Rather, the scriptures do picture us reigning with Christ and sharing in that rule with him.
The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. (2 Timothy 2:11–12 ESV)
And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him. (Daniel 7:27 ESV)
We share corporately with the Lord Jesus in his rule and lordship over the creation. So if we are reigning with Jesus and judging with Jesus, how can it be that we cannot sort out these small disputes among ourselves as Christians? There should be someone in the church who possesses godly wisdom and integrity to settle this dispute between Christians (6:5). But instead of being wise in dealing with each other as Christians, you are taking your brothers and sisters in Christ to court instead (6:6).
The True Attitude of Christians (6:7-8)
But I think it is important to notice that the apostle Paul does not leave the situation with this resolution. He does not merely say to stop taking each other to court and have someone in the church be your judge and arbiter instead. This could be the end of the matter but instead Paul wants to dig deeper to the heart of the matter. There is a heart problem with Christians that have to take each other to court. You see this problem declared in verse 7. “To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you.” The word used for “defeat” is the word used for a defeat in court. So the point is you might win your case in the human court but it is a defeat for you in God’s court. You will always lose in the sight of God, suffering spiritual defeat. The Christian life is not about winning, being vindicated on earth, or always enjoying personal justice. The Christian life is about being right in God’s sight. What a condemnation that Paul declares that they have suffered defeat before God when they handle their conflicts by taking each other to court. We have already failed.
So how should we handle conflict with other Christians? First, Paul asks why not suffer wrong and why not be defrauded. It is far better to lose financially than to lose spiritually. It is far better to experience injustice than to experience God’s judgment against us. I think this is an important principle that we must consider. Even if we are in the legal right does not mean that we are in the spiritual right or moral right. What is right in the eyes of the world is not necessarily right before God. Just because we are in the right does not mean that we should not be wronged or defrauded. Why not just suffer wrong? Why not just be cheated? Why not just be defrauded? Why not just experience the injustice? Why is it that we think we have to win? Why are we so consumed with being vindicated? Please especially consider that our context is teaching regarding another brother or sister in Christ! Just let them win! We do not have to be in the right. Be willing to suffer the harm.
Now I think it is important to consider that if two people are truly changed by the love of God and are thinking and behaving as Christians, then neither would want the other person to suffer wrong. If a Christian thinks that I have caused them to suffer financial loss, I would want to correct that whether I think the other person is right or not. Paul is also saying that if you think you have suffered loss, just accept that. Why not suffer wrong and why not be defrauded! This is not for us to take advantage of each other but understanding that we must desire to sacrifice our rights for the good of our brethren.
We learn this principle with Jesus. Jesus sacrificed himself and gave up his rights, for he was innocent and did nothing deserving of death, because it was for our good. He suffered loss so that we would experience gain. We must have this same kind of thinking. Divisions will come to an end when we stop thinking about ourselves, in particular, our own rights. Be willing to forfeit your rights for your brethren.
Further, notice verse 8. Not only must we be giving up ourselves and our rights for our brothers and sisters in Christ, but we must never do anything try to take advantage of or defraud another Christian. Give, do not take from one another. Now please notice where this leads in Paul’s teaching. Look at verses 9-11.
We already covered this section in a prior lesson when we studied did the marriage rules study. But I want us to see how this connects together. Do not act like the world. Do not behave like them. That is what you used to do in your life. You used to be concerned about your rights. You used to fight for yourself at all costs. You used to be focused on never suffering loss at the hands of another. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God (6:11). You are different now. The differences in our lives should be clearly seen in how we treat each other. God wants us to live in harmony with each other. God wants us to not have strife or fighting or divisions. We are to be one body, depending on one another completely as we live before our God. Who can imagine your left hand attempting to take advantage of your right hand! We must think in terms of the body of Christ. We must think in terms of we are the family of Christ. We are the household of God because that will change our behavior toward one another (cf. 1 Timothy 3:15). Let us strive for the goal that Paul puts before the Corinthian church and let it govern how we speak and act toward each other.
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. (1 Corinthians 1:10 ESV)