LAWSUITS AMONG BELIEVERS
1 CORINTHIANS 6v1-11.
ILLUST: The week before last [May 1994] on the national TV news a case was reported of a golfer who having been accused by two fellow player of cheating, took them to court and lost his liable case. Now is faced with a bill of 250 000 Pounds.
These days if anything goes wrong in Hospital or school or with the neighbours, people are very quick to go to court and sue for damages. Sometime people are afraid to help those in need because if something goes wrong they could be sued.
There are cases where legal action is necessary. BUT very often it is simply greed and the motivation is self gain and sums of money gained are out of all proportion to the offence.
When a celebrity is awarded millions for a defamatory newspaper article and a rape victim is offered BP500.00 for a holiday and the rapist gets a suspended sentence then something is sadly wrong.
Litigation has become a way of life in our society.
Litigation was a way of life in Corinthian society! The Corinthians were very quick to take each other to court. And of course the courts were public – the famous Bema [the judgement seat] was located in the heart of the market place.
The Corinthians Christians were so used to arguing and disputing and suing one another before they became Christians that they continued the practice after they became Christians without thinking of the wider issues involved.
They had continued this practice because they had misunderstood some key aspects of what it meant to be a Christian.
They misunderstood the Real position they had as God’s people in relation to the World. [v.1-6]
They misunderstood the correct attitude they should have had in relation to one another. [v.7-8]
They misunderstood the correct attributes they should have exhibited in relation to God’s standards of righteousness. [v.9-11]
1. THEIR CORRECT POSITION AS THE PEOPLE OF GOD. [v.1-6]
Paul’s tone in this first 6 vv. is a mixture of horror, sarcasm and rhetoric.
If anyone of you has a dispute with another,
dare he take it before the ungodly for judgement
instead of before the saints [v1]
Paul is outraged! The gall of the man to even consider such action!
You may be saying, “Well I have never taken a fellow Christian to court!” And I hope that you never will but we can be guilty of the same attitude. What was the motivation behind these court cases! Well these Corinthian Christians were fulfilling what they thought were their rights. I have a right to defend myself, don’t I? After all, what about the spirit of fair play?
Sometimes we can get onto our high-horse and defend our rights and be very self-righteous. We might not actually go to law but we are going to get our pound of flesh.
Why is Paul so angry? Was it because they could not agree? I am sure that he wished they could agree BUT his anger is at the fact that they are taking their cases before the “Ungodly”. Paul did not mean that Roman Law was necessarily unjust. He deals with the Christians relationship to the civil law else where [e.g. Rom.13]. His meaning is that the “ungodly” are those who are outside of the body of Christ. They are outside the kingdom of God .They are not Christians.
He then proceeds to explain why it is so outrageous for Christians to take their cases before civil authorities.
How Christians will judge the world and angels we are not told – we are not given many details but we do know that we will reign with Christ. When Paul speaks here of judging angels I believe that he is speaking of fallen angels [2 Peter 2v4; Jude 6]
Some of you will be asking – How is it possible that here Paul is saying that we will judge the world and angels and yet in 5v12 he says:
What business is it of mine to judge those
outside the Church? Are we not to judge
those inside? God will judge those outside.
The difference is in the kind of judgement. In ch.5 he is speaking of present judgement of people who make up the world, and it is not our business to judge them. But in ch. 6 he is speaking about the final judgement of the world as a whole, the entire anti-God system of things that will come under God’s judgement. Somehow the saints will be involved in this judgement.
Is it not true that when we begin to evaluate our lives and our conflicts with others in the light of eternity they seem completely trivial and unimportant. The Corinthians hadn’t grasped this true.
Remember a few weeks back we look at the problem of the Corinthian Christians thinking that they had already arrived.
They considered themselves to be wise and strong and honoured:
We are fools but you are so wise in Christ!
We are weak, but you are strong!
You are honoured, we are dishonoured [4v10]
We live in the tension between the already and the not yet – The Corinthians were putting too much emphasis on the ALREADY and not enough on the NOT YET.
If indeed they had already arrived as they claimed they would see that taking each other to court had no place amongst them. That these disputes were trivial in the light of the eternal judgement.
Paul’s argument is that when believers have earthly quarrels among themselves, and we do, it would be naive to think that we never have any differences – But when these disputes do arise it is inconceivable to think that those who will rule eternally with Christ should try to settle their disputes through courts runs by unbelievers.
If two Christians cannot settle a difference between them then they should ask a mature godly Christians to settle the matter and then be willing to abide by that decision.
It is an extremely poor testimony when Christians hang their dirty washing in public! We are not saying that we are trying to present an image that we are perfect – that we have arrived. That would be falling into the same trap that the Corinthians fell into. We need to be real and open and honest even about our weaknesses and failures but as God’s people we should be able, with God help to deal with any problems amongst our self without legal action.
When we cannot solve our disputes we shame ourselves.
I say this to shame you!
Is there no one wise enough to
judge a dispute between believers? [v5]
This verse is dripping with sarcasm. What have we seen in the first few chapters – the Corinthian Christians thought themselves to be so wise. They were very proud of their wisdom and philosophy and looked down on the apostle Paul because he was not in their eyes wise or eloquent. Paul says, “You are so wise but you can’t even settle trivial disputes”
Ideally Christians should never take each other to court. Sadly it does happen. Sometime one party has moved so far from Christ that they are no longer following him.
ILLUST: A Christians who is being divorced by his/her spouse has no choice but to go through the courts. Sometimes for the protection of a neglected or abused child we need to seek court protection.
If you are forced to go to court the aim should be to glorify God, to see justice done but not for selfish gain. The text does not deal with what a Christians should do when defrauded by an unbeliever – but even here public litigation would hopefully be the last resort. The emphasis being on being a good witness and upholding justice and not selfish gain.
So Paul goes on to deal with:-
2. THE CORRECT ATTITUDE OF GOD’S PEOPLE. [v7-8]
ILLUST: In the 1970’s two international mission agencies took each others to court in the USA. The gospel was dishonoured and the credibility of not only these agencies but Christian work in general was undermined and suffered untold damage.
They both lost – I don’t mean financially although maybe they did – but the real damage was spiritual, to them and to the gospel itself. For Christians to go to law is admitting defeat and dishonouring to God because we are saying that our God can’t help us in this matter! No wonder Paul says “SHAME ON YOU!”
When we cannot settle our disputes it because one is unrepentant or one is unwilling to forgive or both.
If we have been wronged it is better to endure the wrong – rather than to have a public dispute.
We might not go to court and therefore think that this passage doesn’t apply to us – wrong! If we have been wronged and then go about canvassing support for our position from others in order to balster self and put down the others then we are just as guilty!!
As we saw last Sunday evening we are to forgive one another even as God in Christ has forgiven us
In Luke 17 Jesus said to his disciples:
If your brother sins, rebuke him,
if he repents forgive him.
If he sins against you seven times in a day
and seven times comes back to you and
says “I repent”, forgive him.
The apostles said to the Lord,
“Increase our faith!”
It is not surprising the apostles said, “LORD INCREASE OUR FAITH!” That kind of forgiveness does not come naturally. And even if our fellow Christian does not repent Paul tells us here that it is better to suffer wrong than to be guilty of dishonouring the name of Christ in public.
It is not possible for one Christian to sue another Christian and win – spiritually.
Our primary concern should not be to protect our possessions or our rights BUT to protect our relationship with God and our relationship with our fellow believers.
When we try to settle our disputes in public we are behaving like the world the Paul has just reminded us we will one day judge with Christ. We are behaving like the wicked.
3. THE TRUE CHARACTER OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD. [V9-11].
Paul is not here giving a list of sins that if committed will lose us our salvation. Rather it is a catalog of sinner who are typical of unbelievers and this is not an exhaustive list. God is a righteous God and his kingdom is a righteous kingdom. It is the unrighteous who exclude themselves from the kingdom of a righteous God.
They exclude themselves by their chosen behaviour. God’s kingdom is characterised but righteousness and compassion and those who insist on living by different standards – standards other than God’s standards – will not be there.
That is why we need to be living righteous lives as a witness to the world and out of the context of our living telling people about the good news of Jesus Christ’s salvation so that God in his grace will redeem them.
Here Paul is not talking about isolated acts of unrighteousness – we al sin, we are not perfect. Rather he is talking about a way of life that is alien to the kingdom of God that is persistently pursued.
Corinth in Paul’s day was one of the sex Capitals of the world. It is not surprising therefore that he mentions so many sexual offenders.
Sexually immoral -[fornicators] sex between unmarried.
Adulterers – sexual relations of married with those other than there partners.
Male-prostitutes – call boys
Homosexuals – men with men [covering women with women]. Emperor Nero is said to have taken a young boy as his “wife”.
It is not popular to speak against these things today. Premarital sex is accepted in society. Open marriages are common placed -i.e. partner swopping.
If you speak out against homosexuality then you are accused of being a gay-basher.
What are these things wrong? Because God’s creation order was that sexual relationships were to take place only between a man and a woman who are married. Ant sexual activity outside of those boundaries is wrong! We will be dealing with this more in the weeks ahead.
BUT notice Paul places alongside these sexual sins – idolators,
Thieves and the greedy [greedy or covetous – those who desire what belongs to others; thieves actually take it].
Drunkards – excessive alcohol consumption [could included drugs – anything which causes you to lose control].
Slanderers – those who destroy with the tongue.
Swindlers – those who steal indirectly through things like shading business deals.
Bearing in mind the kind of city Corinth was with its gross immorality and corruption we can begin to appreciate something of the miracle of the church there. It was made up of these kinds of people.
And this is what some of you were! [v11]
Amazing that God can take people like that and make them into his people. Amazing that God can take people like us and make us His people. We like the Corinthians were guilty of the same kinds of sins.
BUT … BUT … BUT 3x Paul now uses the strongest contrasting word in the Greek language to show the difference between what they were and what they now are.
Paul has had some hard things to say to them but he can’t end without encouraging them by reminding them of what god has done.
BUT you were washed
BUT you were sanctified
BUT you were justified,
in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ
and by the Spirit of our God. [v11]
Paul reminds them, and us, that they have been washed from the sin of their former lifestyle.
They have been sanctified – set apart by God for holy Godly living that stand in stark contrast to their former way of life.
Once they were “unjust” – cut off from God and his kingdom – now have been justified, declared righteous by God and have been brought into His Kingdom and will one day inherit it in its fullness.
How is this possible? It has been made possible by the love and power of the triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
A life transformed by God should produce transformed living. In the light of what God has saved us from and in the light of what we will one day become we must strive to live at peace with one another. Settling disputes in a spirit of repentance and forgiveness. Not publicly or for selfish gain. So that our fellowship with God and each other is unhindered and our witness to the world is strong and true and God is glorified.
Make me a channel of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me bring your love;
where there is injury your pardon, Lord;
and where there is doubt true faith in you.
18 January, 2013