Studies in First Corinthians
Lesson 17: The Christian and the Courts
I Corinthians 6:1-11
The story has been told about the Christian who went from church to church for many years looking for the “perfect” one. Finally, after years of searching, he found it! Very excitedly he went back to a mature Christian friend and told him about this perfect group. To which his friend replied, well, if it’s really the perfect church, you’d better not join it.” “Why?” the first man asked, surprised. “Because, his friend replied, if you join it, it won’t be perfect any more!”
No church is perfect, because every church is full of sinners! And because of that, all kinds of disagreements and problems are possible. But the beautiful truth is that God enables us, because of the forgiveness of our sins. To rise above all of that. And the chapter before us tells us how to deal with those problems that inevitably arise between saved sinners.
The chapter falls into two parts: First, The problem of settling disputes in verses 1 through 11 And second, The problem of sexual depravity in verses 12 through 20.
So let’s begin our study of chapter 6 by looking at the possible options in a dispute. Woven into this text are three options from which a Christian must choose when he has a dispute with another believer. And the first of these is the obvious and well known option of argument before the courts in verse 1.
Dare any of you, having a dispute against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?
Even among Christians, those dreaded words “I’ll sue!”, or “You’ll hear from my lawyer about this!” are becoming more and more common. The phrase “having a dispute” is a translation of a common Greek phrase, referring to a lawsuit. And evidently this was the option that many of the Corinthians were choosing. – look at verse 4:
If you then have judgments pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge?
In fact, in verse 5 he speaks sarcastically:
I say this to your shame. Is it so that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?
The phrase “least esteemed” doesn’t mean that we look down on unbelievers, but that unbelievers have no way of understanding the principles upon which Christian’s decisions are to be made. Because Christians’ decisions are to be based on scripture, and it can only be understood by the enablement of the Holy Spirit, which unbelievers do not have. And as our society gets worse and worse, Christians are more and more misunderstood. So Paul makes it clear that this is an option that Christians should not choose.
Now since this is so different from the “normal” action of our day, let’s think very carefully about what he is and is not saying: first, he is not saying that Christians would not receive justice in a court of law. (“the word “unjust” is a reference to unbelievers, not unfair jurors.)
Second, he is not saying that a believer should never go to court under any circumstances, just not with fellow believers. Although it is a digression, it is important to note that this statement lone alone would rule out divorce between two believers. Romans 13 says that government in all of its aspects (including the courtroom) is God’s institution. Paul himself resorted to the court system of the Roman government in Acts 25. He is not saying that believers should not have an opportunity to settle their disputes. But what he is saying is that when there is a dispute between two believers it should not be settled in court. There are at least two other options.
The first option, “argument before the courts” is not a valid one. But there is a second option, and that is arbitration by Christians, according to the last part of verse 1.
Dare any of you having a dispute against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?
Obviously, this is a reference to asking a group of fellow believers to arbitrate a dispute. It might be the elders of the local church, or some other group – the text doesn’t specify.
Now the question naturally arises, “would an untrained Christian be able to understand all of the technicalities and issues involved in something like that? And the answer is, “they certainly should be, because verse 2 shows that they will someday “judge the world.”
Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters?
There are other places in scripture that elaborate on the details of this surprising statement. And they are worthy of more discussion since we are on the subject. For example, Jude 14 and 15, say that “the Lord will come with ten thousands of his saints to execute judgement. Or think of Daniel 7:22, which refers to saints (believers) sitting with “the ancient of days” (Jesus Christ) sitting in judgement over the nations of earth.) Matthew 19:28 says that the 12 apostles will sit on 12 thrones ruling over the 12 tribes of Israel. II Timothy 2:12 says that if we suffer for Him we will also reign with Him. In fact, verse 3 of our passage says that believers will judge angels.
Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life?
Again, the point is that when Jesus Christ sits on His throne in the future millennial kingdom we will be part of the government. So the point is that if God can make us worthy to be a part of His government, shouldn’t we be able to settle disputes among ourselves?
(all of these references by the way, also give us a hint about the kinds of activities that we may be involved in in “ruling and reigning” with Christ in His eternal kingdom; not just floating around on clouds strumming on harps)
Now obviously the Corinthians had not been following this course. They are reproached in verse 4 for letting unbelievers settle matters for them.
If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge?
In fact, in verse 5 he speaks sarcastically:
I say this to your shame. Is it so that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, Who will be able to judge between his brethren?
Remember that one of the problems in the church of Corinth was their exaltation of wisdom. So what he is saying here is “in the very church that prides itself on its wisdom do you mean that there is not even one wise man to whom you can turn for theses kinds of decisions?
Verse 6 expresses two disappointing things.
But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers!
They were going to court, brother against brother (this was bad) thus they are letting unbelievers settle “family” disputes. (this was even worse).
Imagine the impact it would have on society if the word got around that believers could settle their own disputes without resorting the courts! What a testimony that would be! But what if a church just doesn’t have the elders or other spiritually wise men to handle things like this? (certainly possible in a small church or a small church with a complex problem.)
Now Paul has given two options that are open to believers; one valid and the other invalid. But in verses 7 through 11 he gives a third option. And it is the preferable option in a situation that cannot be settled between believers: simply to abandon the argument. Verse 7 brings out the seriousness of the problem
Now therefore it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be defrauded?
To have an unbelieving system judge in a dispute between two believers is already a defeat regardless of the decision rendered. So the only option open to a believer when a dispute can’t be settled by the arbitration of other believers is to just go ahead and be defrauded! This won’t work for the person who places a higher priority on money than on his testimony, nor for the person who can’t trust the Lord take care of his business. Nor for the person who cannot stand to lose an argument. Nor for the person who insists on his rights at all costs. But for the person who is able to have “the mind of Christ” it will work. Because this is perfectly typical of Jesus Christ. In Philippians 2:5-11 we read about His total willingness to give up His rights in order to bring us our salvation. In I Peter 2:21-23
Now at this point you may be thinking, “well, this is all well and good, but its really kind of impractical – the chances are pretty slim of something like this actually happening, aren’t they?” But apparently they were happening – look at verses 8 through 10, which give Paul’s reason for writing this chapter. give the setting for these kinds of problems
No, you yourselves do wrong and defraud, and you do these things to your brethren! (9) Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, (10) nor thieves, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.
Here is a representative list of all kinds of sins. And the thing we must never forget is that all of us are sinners. Look at verse 11
And such were some of you. But you are washed, but you are sanctified, but you are justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”
The sins listed in verses 9 and 10 are not just a list of taboos, which must be avoided if a person wants to go to heaven. Nicodemus, the Old Testament scholar who came to Jesus at night had probably done none of these specific things, yet Jesus said, “you must be born again.” But rather, this is a reminder that whatever grievance you may have against someone else, it is nothing compared to what you have been forgiven. And not only forgiven but “washed,” “sanctified,” and “justified,” because of Jesus Christ.
Do you see from this passage how thorough our relationship is meant to be? It is so easy to “compartmentalize.” These things over here are in the category of “spiritual activities” But these things over here (usually “mental attitudes” and “secret” sins) are outside the spiritual realm and we handle them just like we did before we were saved. But Jesus Christ paid for all of our sins and He deserves to be Lord of all of our life. What about that dispute that you are having with a fellow believer? Isn’t there some way you can give it to the Lord? And if not, just go ahead and give it up! Let the Lord take care of the inequity.
The purpose of these studies is to draw you closer to Jesus Christ. If you do not know him, it is my prayer that they will help you understand that Romans 3:23 says that you, like all of us, have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And Romans 6:23 says that the result of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ. And Acts 16:32 says “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. If I can be of help to you in understanding any of this information I can be reached at