When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers! – 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 (ESV)
Paul is quite emotionally heated in today’s passage and we may wonder why exactly this is so. We can understand why the Apostle was so upset that a man in the Corinthian church had sexual relations with his stepmother. Beginning with verse 12 Paul will once again return to the subject of sexual immorality. Sandwiched between these two discussions is today’s discussion of lawsuits among Christians. Because Christians have been bringing other Christians to civil court in the West for hundreds of years, we can have quite a bit of difficulty grasping what the big deal is. A little history might help. Christians (like Jews) largely avoided bringing charges against other believers in civil courts until the advent of Christendom. Once the state became officially Christian, and the judges were at least nominally Christian, this prohibition naturally melted away. After hundreds of years of treating civil courts as though they were “Christian” civil courts, Westerners have been very slow to change the practice of suing brothers in Christ even though are courts have become largely secular – and in many cases even hostile to Biblical Christianity. If we are to re-evaluate this practice, we will need to grasp what is at the heart of Paul’s concern. Put simply, the Corinthians didn’t realize who they were as the people of God and they were acting in a way that practically denied the reality of the Church being God’s family. Richard Hays explains it like this:
Paul is summoning his Corinthian readers to a conversion of the imagination, calling them to understand themselves first and foremost as “the saints” (vv. 1-2) – that is, the eschatological people of God, called out of their previous social world, like Israel out of Egypt.
If we grasp that last point, or better are grasped by it, then all the details of Paul’s argument will fall into place. Can you imagine someone who had crossed the Red Sea and was heading toward the Promised Land suggesting that a dispute with one of his fellow Jews should be settled by an Egyptian court under the oversight of Pharaoh? Paul is saying that is precisely what we are doing when one member of a church takes another member of that congregation before unbelievers in court. When we consider the hundreds of millions (regretfully that is not a typo) of dollars that have been spent on legal fees over the past twenty years just by churches suing each other over property disputes – we should realize that something has gone terribly wrong with the churches in North America.
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 98
Q. 98. What is prayer?
A. Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.