Over the last months we have looked at chapter 1-4. This was a whole section that spoke about worldly wisdom and worldly power over against the wisdom and power of God revealed in the Gospel. In these chapter in 5-6 we see the fruit of worldly wisdom and power. It leads to pride, and entitlement, and selfishness. Paul’s answer to this is apply the gospel remedy.
The judgement in the previous chapter was a judgement that pointed to the future eternal judgement of God unless the sinner repented. This judgement in this chapter speaks about temporal things in which they were taking each other court.
In the section that we are looking at today we have a whole lot of questions all the way through verse 9, which is ironic considering that Paul is talking about lawsuits among believers. He is almost acting as the prosecutor and the church is on the stand having to answer all his questions. Like a good prosecutor each question is building on the last so that he can really drive home his main point about their identity in verse 11. Again, if they really understood who they were they would never have gone down the road that they have gone down and made a big fuss about what Paul calls “trivial cases.”
Now before we dive in let me address a few things: First, No Christian or church must ever use this chapter to cover up a crime. This is not about sweeping sin under the rug! No it is actually about dealing with it in the RIGHT way. It’s been done with cases of abuse, when a church, rather than going to the authorities, tries to handle it all in house. That is wrong. If the government considers something crime, the church must report it.
Second the question has come up when speaking about this passage, “can Christians sue non-Christians?” And the answer is the Bible does not give a yes or no. But if we are doing ti for our own gain. NO. If we are doing it to get back. No. It has to be for the sake of Christ who is the truth. Disagreements will, and sometimes should, happen. But in our quest to win an argument, we can lay waste to our relationships, and frankly, that isn’t an option in the family of God.
When disagreements arise remind yourselves who you are.
- Mishandled Lawsuits
- Remember who you are
Mishandled Lawsuits (1-7)
Verse 1 “When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?” They failed to judge when they should have and now they go to the judges when they should not have.. His biggest grievance is the witness that it gives to a watching world! He is grieved that they go court before the “unrighteous (v.1)”, before those who have no standing in the church (v. 4), before unbelievers (v.6).
The Greek begins the who chapter with the word “dare.” How dare you! Who do you think you are that you take a “grievance (or matter)” before the unrighteous? It is ironic that you would go to the unrighteous (Those that are not right) to decide who is right. The unrighteous are also the unforgiven, but you are holy, and the the fruit of that holiness should be righteousness.. How does this look to a watching world when they are constantly bickering and arguing about temporal things.
Paul goes on with his line of questioning in verse 2 and 3, “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 judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life?” Yes. You heard that right. The saints will judge the world. The saints will judge angels. It’s an argument from the greater to the lesser. They will be judges in the greatest legal act imaginable, the judgement of the world, yet they are not capable of acting as justices of the peace in a tiny backstreet courtroom. Not only that but they will judge angels! What a range of judging the saints will be doing! Perhaps Paul is hinting that judging in these small things are preparing them to judge the great eternal things. But this means they must not shirk that duty.
If they will one day judge the world and the angels, shouldn’t they be capable of handling relatively minor disputes among themselves? And it is trivial in comparison with judging Satan and his angels. Here are the Corinthians who think they are wise, and he says, you are not acting like it! Do you not know? Do you not know? Is the refrain 5x in this one chapter.
“Do you not know?” And yet, if it weren’t for this very passage, how many Christians today would know? this is not something that Paul makes up. It is something that comes from the Old Testament, that Jesus himself picks up on. In Daniel 7:22 it says that judgement was given to “the saints of the Most High.” In Matthew 19:28 Jesus says to his disciples, “…you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
Dear brothers and sisters we are citizens of the kingdom of God. We are raised with Christ the king. This kingdom will rule over all earthly kingdoms. We are among those who have overcome the world through faith. If we are among those who will outlast any earthly government and justice system, why appeal to that system for justice on small matters – things of temporary nature? We are united to Christ. The ultimate ruler and just judge.
In our ordinary, day-to-day disputes with fellow believers, we need to remember our ultimate identity as co-heirs and co-rulers with Christ. We do not use worldly methods to achieve worldly aims. Rather, in all things, we should be set apart as people governed by God’s Word and empowered by God’s Spirit. A people who overcome evil with good. A people who turn the other cheek. A people who seek truth in love.
In Christ, we’ve been united as brothers and sisters. The Apostle Paul says to the Corinthian church, “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Corinthians 1:10). Paul doesn’t leave us a lot of wiggle room here. He’s not open to our excuses that start with “but, what if…” “But what if… this person is REALLY difficult? What if… they are REALLY wrong? What if… I am CLEARY the one in the right?”
Paul doesn’t give us the option of turning our backs on our siblings even when we disagree. There is no picking up our toys and going home. We’re related. And in the church, family is literally forever. Literally. Now, it’s possible that a relationship can become so toxic that distance from the other person is the only option, but it should always be the last resort. A very last resort. And should not be a long-term solution. It is only in the case of clear unrepentant, open sin when the church elders come in like in chapter 5.
Dear beloved – again it comes back to the gospel and understanding our identity in Christ. If we understand our identity, then we can follow Paul’s logic, that it does not make sense for those who are righteous in Christ to go to the unrighteous. For the forgiven to go to the unforgiven. That his point in verse 4, “So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church?” These people have no standing in the church. It is better that you be judged by the one that has the least standing in the church then by someone that has no standing. Someone with the least standing in the church is a co-heir with Christ. As he says, “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?” Is there no one in the church that can settle a dispute? That can bring unity? For all your boasting about wisdom, there ought to be one wise enough. Instead verse 6 says, “…but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?” Here is the family of God airing all their dirty laundry for the world to see.
Here is a family that cares less about union with Christ and the unity of the body then about their own rights and freedoms. In the church even if it is your right at times, you will lay it down for the weaker bother. The question in this chapter, beloved, is what are you willing to give up for the other for the sake of Christ?
The fact that they were participating in lawsuits shows that they do not know who they are. Even if the person won the lawsuit, it would still be a defeat. As Paul says, “To have lawsuits with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” Instead of allowing themselves to be wronged, they are taking others to court – even their own brothers!! This is the church of Christ we are talking about.
When is the last time you were wronged and did not respond? Or as Paul says, “why not rather suffer wrong? why not rather be defrauded?” and I am not talking about just the grin and bear it kind of thing, where you become self-righteous where you get puffed up about it over against your brother, but actually being wronged for the sake of Christ. because you love Jesus, and in Jesus you love the other brother or sister. How much are you willing to bear for his sake? Jesus bore all for your sake.
There will be a time even in the church when you are wronged. What do you do? The first reaction is to be angry, frustrated and to Judge. And respond with “How could that person ever do that and claim to be a Christian?!” But today I want us all to look inside our own hearts. Because it all starts there. In your own heart. If we are honest with ourselves most of our frustration with others arises from selfishness. We just want it to stop. But that is not the point. The point is to get people to see Jesus and his work.
The point is that if a family goes to court in the world, the world believes that family has major problems. We all know those movies where a sibling takes another to court. It is pretty messed up.
We have God as our Father; we are members of the Son of God. Indeed, as Paul implies, “it would be better to be defrauded, and follow in the footsteps of our Lord for the sake of the Gospel. It would better to be wronged. There is not such thing as getting back in the Christian life. As revenge.
The Christian faith is not about our rights! We have laid our rights down when the Lord Jesus became the master of our life. And in doing so we have become citizens of the kingdom of heaven, inheritors of God. Why fight over an earthly inheritance. When your inheritance is God.
Who are you? (8-11)
The question at the heart of it all, is who are you? Who are we? Paul continues his questioning, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?” Do you not know? You are inheritors of the kingdom of God! Inherit. It’s a gift. Not deserved. Not something you work for. This kingdom is the active rule of the Lord Jesus Christ. That kingdom was come through the overturning of Satan evil domination the world. This kingdom is growing through the preaching of the gospel, as God through the word of Christ sets us free from the dark dominion of Satan in this world, into the glorious assembly of Gods holy people.
Holy people. That is important. If you are in the kingdom you have been sanctified by Christ and are called to be holy (1 Cor 1:1-2).They should know, but they are acting like they don’t, and deceiving themselves. So Paul says, “Do not be deceived, Neither the sexually immoral, not idolaters, not adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, not the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, not swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” These are the people who they are asking to be their judges, but at the end of the day they will be judged! Now who are these people? They are those who are living in sin and are indifferent to sin. This is not about those who struggle. Who grieve, who repent. This is about those who willingly, and defiantly continue in sin.
In case pride rises in your hearts, look at what he says, “And such were some of you!” Such were some of you. All of us in this room can find ourselves somewhere in that list. We were what they are. We did what they do. We were enslaved. But thanks be to God! Thanks Be to GOD! For look at me at verse 11, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God!” But is repeated here in the Greek for emphasis. BUT You were washed! In the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ there is the washing away of those sins. Forgiven. Christ did not come to bring a lawsuit against our sin, but to free us from sin. He had every right to level the lawsuit against us!
Dear church! We deserved the wrath of God. If God acted the way we act sometimes against each other, desiring our rights, then we would be judged. But that is not what he did. He washed us. He sanctified us. He separated us from the world – why would we act like the world. He justified us by the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ. and by the Spirit of our God. It is in Jesus Christ, and through his Spirit. Again, this is all that God did! Nothing that we did! We did not fight for these rights. Earn them. We received them through the cross and resurrection! How much more shall we not follow in his footsteps.
Dear beloved let me lay out a few practical implications for us today.
- If you have something against a brother or sister – Jesus gives us the way in Matthew 18. Read it. When you approach a brother and sister ask yourself, “what is my intention? To prove him wrong and you right, or to seek to love that brother or sister to Christ. That is the point. How do we get out of an us against them mindset? Not by trying harder, but by recognizing who we are together in Him. Paul’s answer to verse 1-10 is the gospel in verse 11.
- The second lesson flows from this. Bad believing leads to bad living. If you don’t get the gospel right, it will lead to bad living. Broken relationship. A judgmental attitude. And oppression of the weaker brothers and sisters.
- It does not say do not deal with issues and ignore them. But this passage gives us a way of dealing with them that keeps the integrity of the body of Christ and the unity of the body intact. How do we deal with disagreements in this church? that is the question.
- The fact that we become angry and want to get back at a person that may have wronged us says more about us then it does about them. It is not about a heart that has been washed, justified, and sanctified. But the heart of someone that has been forgiven much, and then demands everyone pay their debt.
Dear Church do you not know that you will inherit the kingdom! That you are washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus. May our relationships with each other bear that out.