The word litigious is relatively new in common speech. It means “prone to litigation” or “prone to go to court.” The reason this is somewhat of a new word is that a proneness to go to court is something relatively new, at least in American life. Generally, when there was a dispute between people several generations ago, it was settled in an informal way by neighbors helping the opposing parties work out their differences.
Then there was a period in which people would tend to work out disputes by laws – that is, by having a local assembly, or a state, or even perhaps the congress pass a law of the land. People lived by the law. But laws and their interpretation frequently come under dispute. What has happened in our time is that such disputes have increasingly found their way into the courts.
An article I read called “The Litigious Society” in Time magazine pointed out that people today run to court with suits at the drop of a hat. During a plane flight I noticed another article on a related topic in an airline magazine. The article was about lawyers. I am not sure of the figure, but it predicted that by the end of the twentieth century, there would be one million lawyers in the United States. Following the statement were dots and the word…”unfortunately.”
Well, it may be unfortunate that that happens in the secular world, but Paul says in the sixth chapter of 1 Corinthians that it is extremely unfortunate when that attitude passes into the Church of Jesus Christ. More than that, it is a shame that it should happen. It is not just that we have a litigious society, but now we have a litigious church. Many disputes, which in previous generations were properly dealt with outside of the courts, are now dealt with through litigation. This is the third problem that Paul is dealing with in this very interesting and helpful first epistle to the church at Corinth.
We studied the first of the problems in that church last month. There Paul addressed their pride in human wisdom. They were proud that they were wise and noble, superior to the common, ignorant folk. Paul grappled with this head-on, calling it a sin, and challenged them with this great fact: God has set himself against the wisdom of the world. God’s business in this world is to tear the world’s wisdom down because the world by its wisdom crucified Jesus Christ. Instead of that, says Paul, God uses the foolish things of the world, those who don’t have reputations, those who are not important in the world’s eyes, those who lack magnificent educations, as the channel of his blessing. If the Corinthians were to do things in God’s way, they had to readjust their thinking regarding the way they viewed themselves and others.
The second problem he dealt with was the question of immorality, which we studied last week when we examined chapter 5. Back in that chapter Paul was distressed because rather than repenting of immorality, instead of repenting, instead of being ashamed that such a thing could happen in the church, the Christians at Corinth were proud about it, even boastful, because they thought they were so open-minded. Paul says it is shameful and his cure is church discipline.