The Litigious Church – Part Two

1 Corinthians 6:1-11 This week’s lessons teach us how Christians are to resolve conflict with other Christians.
Secular authority and the Church

Let us look further at this third problem in the church that Paul discusses in chapter 6. Apparently, Christians in Corinth were taking each other to court. We have to be careful not to get the idea that somehow the courts are utterly illegitimate, because they are not. All you have to do is read the Bible to discover the contrary. In Israel God himself established judges who were to hear cases that came from the people and to deal justly in those affairs. We are also reminded that the Apostle Paul, when arrested in Jerusalem and brought before the the Roman courts, did not hesitate at all to appeal to Caesar because he was a Roman citizen, and as a result had certain rights in a Roman court.

Paul recognized that God sets up government and it is a blessing when it functions properly. Yet, though there is a legitimate role of the courts, it is quite obvious when we read this passage that there is something quite wrong in the Christian community with respect to its use of the courts. He finds several things that were to be faulted in their conduct.

Paul wrote “…you yourselves cheat and do wrong and you do this to your brothers” (v. 8). That was the fundamental problem. Men and women within the Church of Jesus Christ were cheating and defrauding their brothers. Obviously, this is what Paul is concerned about because you will notice that the verses immediately following this begin to talk about the nature and the characteristics of those who will inherit the kingdom of heaven versus those who will not. Paul says, “You were like some of those who were ungodly before your conversion, but now you are different. You must live differently.” What he is concerned with is upright Christian character.

It is from this ungodly character that two other faults came in. One fault he cites is that Christians were fighting with one another. They were cheating and defrauding one another, and then out of that came the kind of disputes that eventually spilled over into legal contests. The other fault, the one with which he begins the section, is that in order to resolve these disputes, they were appealing, not to someone in the Christian community who was capable of justice and wisdom in such a matter, but rather to the secular authorities. It is this practice that he found to be outwardly and obviously offensive. “If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints?”

As he analyzed it, he proposed two solutions. The first solution, whenever possible, is that Christians should find someone within their own believing community who is capable of judging in such matters. He said that even in their church there ought to be somebody capable of dealing with the disputes among them. He said that even if they would have to appoint men of little account, those not best qualified to judge, they were to do so. It is better to do that, Paul said, than to take their disputes out of the Christian community. He added that if they were unable to find anybody with enough wisdom to settle their disputes, it is a great disgrace. There should be people in the church who can handle these matters.

But it is not always possible. Unfortunately, some situations are so disgraceful that people like that are not to be found. So Paul goes on to propose a second solution, one that is more radical than the first: “The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means that you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” Paul is saying that if they find the situation impossible to work out, it is better for the sake of the testimony of Jesus Christ to allow themselves to be cheated by someone rather than to bring disgrace upon Christ’s name.

Study Questions
  1. How do we know that law courts and civil authorities are not bad institutions?
  2. What was really behind all the legal difficulties and disputes among the Corinthian believers?
  3. Name the two solutions Paul proposed for solving their disputes.

Further Study
Spend some time meditating on James 4:1-12. According to James, how do conflicts arise? What concrete ways do you discover here for avoiding conflict?

How do you handle conflict with others? Do you apply biblical principles, or do you employ sinful means?

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