Sermon: “Lawsuits Between Believers” (1 Corinthians 6:1-8)
Listen to the Sermon:
1. When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? 2. 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? 3. Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! 4. So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 5. 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, 6. but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? 7. To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? 8. But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers! 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, ESV
When I was a small child, I don’t remember this, but my mother afterwards found it amusing so she shared the story many times. Apparently, she had asked me to do something and I didn’t think that it was something I cared to do. As I was interacting with her, I guess I must have been thinking that the best way out of this would be to dispute whether or not she has the authority to ask me to do such a thing. So, I told her that. I said, “You’re not the boss of me”, which was extraordinarily disrespectful, and I apologized to my mother this morning for having said these things to her as a child. She said she thought it was kind of funny at the time, but it was still disrespectful.
I was at that stage of understanding where there are really two issues that go along with authority. One, if there is someone who can ask you to do something. The other issue is if someone has the ability to ask. There is the asking and the ability to ask. In legal terminology the ability to ask is called jurisdiction. Here is a definition of the word jurisdiction, “The extent of the power to make legal decisions and judgments.”
The issue that the Bible tells us about is that in general there is a jurisdiction that God has given to worldly governments. God has given worldly governments authority over many of the matters pertaining to this world If you want to flip with me to 1 Peter 2:13-17. In Romans 13:1-7, Paul says the same thing in different words, but I want to look at this passage in 1 Peter chapter two, because Lord willing, we will come back to this passage later.
13. Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14. or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. 1 Peter 2:13-17, ESV
We, the people of God are called to be subject to every human institution. Not for the sake of those institutions, not for the sake of emperors, or presidents, or governors, or congresses, or anyone else you might want to include in that list. Rather it’s for the Lord’s sake that we are subject to the various government authorities that God has put in this world. In fact, God has given them a duty to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.
What Peter is saying is that we have a responsibility to these worldly governing authorities. It will not do when you are asked to pay taxes or comply with various laws to simply tell the worldly governments that you’re not the boss of me. That’s not the way this works, unless the governments pass laws that are contrary to what God reveals in his word.
What Paul is talking to us today in 1 Corinthians chapter six is that there are some issues among believers that are not a matter of public crimes committed but are matters of disputes or trivial cases. There is a possibility that Paul is acknowledging, both in his day and in ours, that we can take fellow believers to the worldly courts. Those governmental authorities are there, and we might reason from Romans 13 or 1 Peter 2 that since those governmental authorities are there, I can take my fellow believers to court to sue them to get what’s mine.
Paul says in those cases, that’s not the right jurisdiction. I do want to say a word that sometimes this passage has been misused and abused to cover over wrong doing such as evil and abuse in the church. That’s not what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 6. That’s why we have to read 1 Peter 2 or Romans 13 as well. There are cases involving criminal cases or cases of abuse, especially against children, that can’t just be dealt with internally. We have to go to the governing authorities that God has appointed specifically to punish evil doers and to praise those who do good.
We are going to look in this particular passage about the source of our recourse, our legal help in a difficult situation. What we are to do when something is not a matter of crime, but a matter where we don’t feel like we are getting what’s due to us?
Our big idea for 1 Corinthians chapter six is this God is our only righteous recourse.
Again, the definition of recourse is a source of help in a difficult situation, specifically we are talking about legal help. God is our only righteous help. We don’t go to the courts when we don’t feel like a brother or a sister in the church is treating us rightly. God is our only righteous recourse in such situations.
We are going to see three aspects on this in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8.
- True jurisdiction
- True justice
- True joy
Now again, jurisdiction from the definition I found is, “The extent of the power to make legal decisions and judgments.” In verses one through four, let’s look at what Paul is talking about true jurisdiction, as it pertains to disputes in the church. Paul says in verse one,
When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? 1 Corinthians 6:1, ESV
This word of “dare” is one commentator points out isn’t about being bold and courageous but daring in the sense of an utterly shameful activity. What’s interesting is that in the original Greek, the word for dare is moved to the front of the sentence. In our English it’s buried half way through the sentence. Originally Paul puts this front and center saying, “Dare anyone do such a thing?”
Why does Paul say this so shameful? Paul isn’t saying that it’s shameful that there are issues to address at all, though to some degree that’s true. In the previous chapter he was talking with a horrendously situation. An issue where there was an ongoing incestuous relationship that wasn’t being dealt with in the church. Paul’s a realist, he knows that there are things that are going to go on. It’s not about whether there are issues to address.
The shamefulness that Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians 6:1 is how the believers in the church in Corinthian are dealing with this situation. Specifically, that they are going to these worldly courts dragging fellow believers in front of unbelieving and unrighteous judges. Then having those judges pronounce judgement against fellow believers.
Paul is pointing to a hypocrisy here. In the past chapter there was this incestuous man and it was a horrifying situation. But when Christ’s glory and honor was at stake, nobody did anything. Everyone just silently hoped the problem would go away when the glory of Jesus was at stake. Now we are talking about issues that affect individual’s bottom lines, their reputation and glory. It’s like they are saying, well, if you’re actually going to step on my toes, now you have gone too far.
Do you see the problem? They aren’t concerned with Jesus’ glory, but they are concerned about their own. There’s a hypocrisy here. Paul is saying that this is shameful. Not just because of how they are doing this, but it’s also shameful because they are misunderstanding the jurisdiction of the church.
Again, there are crimes that we can’t cover up and cover over and hush up to try to avoid the gaze of the world when evil things happen. We are called, as Christians, to bring darkness into the light to expose it for what it is. That means in cases of crimes we need to bring those things to the worldly governments that God has created to punish evildoers.
In these cases, when someone has a grievance. Someone has maybe defrauded them for money or did something to affect their reputations. What we are called to do is not to go to the worldly court rooms and here’s why. In verse two Paul says,
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? 1 Corinthians 6:2, ESV
This is his first argument, that the saints, will judge the world. Look back up the page a bit at 1 Corinthians 5:12.
For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 1 Corinthians 5:12, ESV
Right now, my responsibility is not to pass judgement on those people out there who are living immoral lives. If you were here last week, the big idea was that holiness reaches out to heathens but rejects hypocrites. We’re called to deal with hypocrites in the church, but we are not called to pass judgement on those who are away from the church.
But now Paul says that it isn’t that we will never judge the world. It’s just not something we do now. We’re not called to pronounce judgement on the world now, but don’t think for a moment that it won’t happen someday. Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? Of course, we’re not going to do this independently, we’re not going to do this as individuals. We will be gathered with Christ as the tribunal, the courtroom of Christ, as he judges the world. Therefore, we will be judging the world with Christ. What Paul is saying is that you’re turning this upside down. You are going to judge the world and yet you are having the world judge you. If the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try these small cases?
Then in verse three he gives a second argument.
Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! 1 Corinthians 6:3, ESV
This could refer to fallen angels. Demons were originally created by God to be angels, his ministers. Some of those angels, including Satan, rebelled against God. Paul may be describing a case where in this tribunal where on the last day believers will be gathered with Christ as he judges and puts away condemns those fallen angels who are now operating as demons.
Another possible way to read this, it’s not entirely clear what Paul is saying but both meanings point in the same general direction. It’s possible that Paul is talking about the fact that for right now angels are in a superior position over us. They have abilities that we don’t have and yet God has always intended angels to be our servants, our ministers.
This idea of judging in the Bible is often connected with the idea of ruling. Paul may be saying that on the last day that we are going to be installed as rulers over even the angels. Don’t you realize the kind of jurisdiction you have? You have this extraordinary jurisdiction and you’re going to judge the angels and the world. How much more is that than trivial matters pertaining to this life? You don’t get it. You are turning it upside down. You’re behaving shamefully and foolishly.
So, in verse four Paul talks about who has true jurisdiction over these matters pertaining to believers. Now this verse is translated in two very different ways. Either translation works with the grammar of the sentence but I just want to let you know that if you are reading for the King James Version, you have a very different statement there than what I’m reading from the ESV. The ESV takes verse four as a question.
So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 1 Corinthians 6:4, ESV
The King James Version puts this like a command, talking not about outsiders but about how the lowest members of the church are competent to judge over members of this life.
If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church. 1 Corinthians 6:4, KJV
The grammar works either way. In both cases it’s saying the same thing. You shouldn’t have outsiders judge you because really only the church should be working to resolve and deal with these disagreements between believers.
The church has true jurisdiction over the church. Therefore, it’s shameful and foolish for the members of the church to subject themselves and fellow believers to the jurisdiction of the worldly in order to dissolve disputes and quarrels between believers.
How then should we solve these disputes and how should we find recourse? Remember that God is our only righteous recourse, when we are at odds with other believers. Maybe this moment you have a disagreement is another believer. What does God tell you about how you should deal with it? This brings us to our second point.
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, 6 but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? 1 Corinthians 6:5-6, ESV
For believers to pursue justice against one another at the hands of the world should bring us to shame. Dare anyone do this?
Remember the irony here, remember the early chapters of 1 Corinthians. The Corinthians are bragging all over the place about how wise they are. They are saying, “we’re just wise and we have all these things figured out and we are soaring on the heights of worldly wisdom.” Then Paul points out the irony, you think you are so wise and yet there is no one wise enough to handle this petty little quarrel you have in your midst. You don’t actually think you are wise when it affects you and your bottom line.
Notice also, the word Paul uses for what a believer would help another believer to do, “can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute.” This word is different than we see in verse six. You have to settle a dispute, that is to arbitrate, to help people negotiate their differences to figure out what’s right and what’s wise and what’s godly. Then you have on the other hand go to law. This means to seek a judgement against a believer, to try to win and force your brother or sister in Christ to lose. See how they are very different kinds of things?
Paul was saying, look God has to be our standard. God is the only righteous recourse we have. He’s the only one who can solve these issues, who can deal with these issues. Therefore we need fellow believers who understand the things of God. Who have studied the word of God. Who have the mind of Christ by the Holy Spirit of God. We need those believers to help us to settle our disputes, rather than trying to crush our fellow believers in the courts of justice.
We only can find true justice by God’s wisdom. So, we need fellow believers, not worldly courts, to interpret God’s word and apply God’s wisdom. As we seek true justice, as God defines it in his Word, and as fellow believers help us to work out in seeking God’s true justice, here’s the irony and the good news. In seeking the justice that we can find through God’s methods; we will actually find true joy.
We think it would be better to crush the person who has dared to offend us in some way. But God says you won’t find true joy there. That’s the way of the world, it’s not the way of the gospel. So, this brings us to our third point.
We can only find true joy if we truly seek God’s recourse alone. Look at verse seven and eight.
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
Regardless of the outcome, when you seek to win you lose. Period. Before you get out of the gate, when you seek to win you lose. You cannot seek your own way. To have lawsuits at all is already a loss. So, at the end of verse seven Paul says something that shocks American minds, “Why not rather be defrauded?”. If you’re like me, every bone in your body is saying I can’t be defrauded, I shouldn’t have to suffer wrong. That person should be made to pay. That’s the culture that is everywhere around us.
If you look at social media, it’s amazing if you scroll through social media, and I try to do it very infrequently, but when you scroll through it and one of the most common things that is posted is outrage. Maybe have you even seen the posts that say to watch this person destroy the other person. That’s the way of the world. Someone somewhere is wrong, and that person needs to be crushed. That attitude can’t infect the church Paul is saying. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?
The Paul takes it one step further in verse eight. “But you yourselves wrong and defraud – even your own brothers”. You refuse to suffer wrong. You refuse to be defrauded, and therefore by dragging your fellow believers into a worldly court for unrighteous and unbelieving judges to judge for you and exact a judgement against your brother on your behalf, you are the perpetrator. They are not the one who perpetrated something against you anymore. You have perpetrated against them. You yourselves wrong and defraud even your own brothers.
That isn’t our mind set, is it? Understand that we don’t think this way because there is so much worldliness in us. We don’t want to be wronged; we want to get our way. But we have to remember exactly this, suffering wrong and being defrauded is the wisdom that God himself displayed and entered into at the cross.
All of us are rebels, we are unrighteous and robbed God of his rightful glory. When God went to deal with us, he could have dragged us directly before the righteous justice of his holy law. All of us would be crushed and condemned forever to be tormented eternally in hell. God would have been righteous and just to do exactly that. Instead God settled his dispute with us by mercy, by love. You know that verse in Isaiah 1:18 he says,
“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
Isaiah 1:18, ESV
When God says come let us reason together, he’s saying let’s settle this. Let’s be done. Your sins, they are scarlet, let’s make them white as snow. How are we going to do that? It’s nothing that we can do on our behalf. Instead it requires God to show such mercy by sending his own son into the world. For his son to take a human nature upon himself, where God in the flesh, the Son of God, fully God fully man, Jesus Christ, would suffer the wrath of God against us. It isn’t that God put away his desire for righteousness in favor of seeking mercy. It’s that God sought both at the same time. Both righteousness and justice and mercy and love met in the sufferings of Jesus at the cross.
That is why we call the cross the power and wisdom of God. It is powerful to save sinners and it is wise because it allows God to justify us and also to remain righteous himself. God doesn’t overlook sin, he punishes it. Whether in us if we refuse to believe in Jesus Christ or if we trust in Christ at the cross of Jesus Christ himself.
How do we deal with this, what do we do with this? Here are four applications.
- We refuse to see the world’s recourse.
- We seek out fellow believers to help us settle disputes in the church.
- Seek the purity and the peace of the church
- Set your hope on the final judgement.
We Refuse to Seek the World’s Recourse.
You and I must reject the false hope that is offered by this world’s unrighteous justice. God has appointed worldly governments to have jurisdiction over worldly matters and God will judge those governments for how well they wielded the power that God has given them. Understand that is the only recourse this world has at its disposal. So, the world lives and dies by the ballot box, by court decisions, by executive orders, because that’s all the jurisdiction this world can see.
We however acknowledge a greater judge with far more infinitely extending jurisdiction. The one who offers much better recourse. The greater judge to whom the whole earth will one day give an account. And because we know that one day, we with Christ will be gathered with him to judge the world, we refuse to world’s recourse. I can’t punish you by depending upon the world’s unrighteous judgement.
We refuse to submit to the world’s jurisdiction It doesn’t mean that we never seek the world’s recourse or jurisdiction. Again, there are these crimes that we have to bring into the light, that we have to entrust to the proper authorities that God has called upon to deal with those things. But it means that when we have disputes that’s not the avenue that we take with one another. We settle our disputes; we don’t drag one another to law.
We Seek Out Fellow Believers to Help us Settle Disputes in the Church.
Every one of us has to acknowledge that every time we have a grievance, we have mixed motives. We want to say that this is a matter of justice or a matter of principle, but at the end of the day I just don’t like that you stepped on my toes. I don’t like to be defrauded or suffer wrong at your hands. I have mixed, selfish, greedy, self-centered motives. We all have to recognize that and acknowledge it.
We also have to acknowledge that we have limited knowledge and perspective. I don’t know everything, I don’t know your heart, I don’t know what you are trying to accomplish. I am limited so I need other believers, you need other believers, who can help us to keep that eternal goal of Jesus Christ and his glory front and center in our hearts and minds and lives. This helps to confront our selfishness, our idolatries that we can’t see in our own hearts. It helps us to remove that log when we’re trying to prosecute the speck in our brother’s eyes. It help us to see the other person’s perspective in all of this. That’s why we need each other. Seek out fellow believers to help settle your disputes.
Seek the Purity and the Peace of the Church
You and I need to be careful to not only seek the purity of the church but also the peace of the church. We talked a lot about the purity of the church as we were studying 1 Corinthians chapter five. I hammered that point pretty hard because it’s so important to seek the purity of the church. We need to care about the holiness of the bride of Christ, the church. But understand if purity is your only goal because you were limited, because you have mixed motives, that’s going to get warped and twisted. You are going to misunderstand what purity actually requires if you don’t realize that you’re not only called to seek the purity of the church but also the peace.
When Mason was up here this morning, that was one of the things that we asked, will you promise to seek the peace and the purity of the church? All of us who are members of Harvest Community Church say that we will pursue that together. Here’s the thing, it’s not a matter where we always have to settle every last thing that happens in us perfectly.
Sometimes we do and sometimes the soul of the other person requires that we enter in and say, “Do you see what you are doing? You’ve got to turn from this, you’ve got to repent. The purity and the holiness of Christ’s church is at stake.” Sometimes we see people who are just weak or having a bad day. We know what’s going on in their life and they do things that maybe are a little offensive or not quite handled in the right way.
Do you know what we are called to do? We are called to love them. 1 Peter 4:8, “Above all keep loving one another earnestly since loves covers a multitude of sins.” It doesn’t mean the we ignore things. Ultimately you can’t seek one or the other. If you only seek peace you will end up with a corrupt church. If you only seek purity you will end up with a harsh litigious church and we’re not called to do that. We are called to follow the wisdom of God that he displayed at the cross. Neither side was downplayed in Jesus Christ’s crucified God pursued both the peace and the purity of the church.
Set Your Hope on the Final Judgement.
Some of you have wounds and grievances right now that either you can no longer settle, maybe the person is gone, or the person has died, and you have these open wounds that you have to live with. Or maybe you are wondering what the right thing is to do with someone who has grieved you in some way. Should you seek the full recourse that you can from them?
We can’t look at these things short sighted. We have to have the eternal perspective in front of us. On the last day everything will be made right. Our God is a loving, merciful, gracious God and yet our God is also righteous. Everything will either be punished at the cross or in eternity God will have his justice satisfied.
So, you and I then are called to ask for God to give us the attitude of Jesus himself. To ask for God to give us the heart that our Lord modeled for us in the way that he himself went to the cross. Were people justified to nail our Lord to a tree? Not at all. That was the greatest act of injustice, that was the greatest defrauding of the glory of God that has ever been perpetuated in human history. They nailed the Lord of Glory to a tree. Yet, consider the words of 1 Peter, that goes back to the passage in verses eighteen through twenty-five. Listen to the attitude and the heart of our Lord Jesus Christ.
18. Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. 1 Peter 2:18-25, ESV
Our Lord Jesus entrusted himself to him who judges justly, and we must do the same. Friends, if you are here today and don’t know the Lord Jesus, the good news of the gospel is that you are a guilty sinner who has committed blasphemous treason. But that God made a way for you to be forgiven, for you to find mercy. For God’s infinite dispute to be settled. Come, let us reason together. God says, though your sins have been scarlet they shall be white as snow.
That can happen through the Lord Jesus. If you have never trusted in Jesus, do that this morning. I plead with you. Know the righteousness that is yours in Christ Jesus.
Brothers and sisters if you do know Jesus, understand that part of what that means is being conformed to his heart and character. That means letting love cover a multitude of sins. That means when you have to address a grievance, not the crime issues, but the grievances between believers. When you have to deal with those things, you do so looking to God as your only righteous source of help and looking to the Godly fellow believers to help you navigate those waters. May the Lord grant us grace as we do this as we seek to pursue both righteousness and justice, as well as peace and love and mercy. Let’s pray.
Lord, we pray these things. We have such short sightedness. We are so weak and limited and mixed in our motives. Father, what we think to be perfect justice you look upon and see the stains, the corruptions, the pollutions of our own greedy selfish desires. Father, forgive us for the sake of your son Jesus Christ, the righteous one who suffered as though he were guilty. The one who shed his blood so that we might be clean. Father, we pray that through Christ you would and would continue through the remainder of this life and on into eternity continue reconciling us to the overseer and shepherd of our souls. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.