You be the Judge
I Corinthians 6:1-20
Paul has addressed two severe situations that had developed in Corinth.
- A competitive spirit regarding their local church which resulted in division.
- Allowing and even defending sexually immoral behavior in the church. He was shocked at behavior that was unheard of, even in the world of non-believers.
Paul sees this practice as unacceptable. How often have we heard (or used) the phrase, “How dare you!”?
Paul uses this word in verse 1. It implies ... “This too is unbelievable behavior!”
In the previous chapter we mentioned the four stages that can take place in trying to correct on offense. Jesus Himself gave us those stages. We also noticed that Paul's command skipped right to stage 4.
In this chapter we are reading about an 'offended' christian taking the 'offending' Christian to court.
To help our understanding allow me to try and give an example that might happen in our present time.
There are two kinds of offenses that are dealt with in courts. Accidental and intentional. A judge has to decide. If he rules that the offense was intentional, he will come up with what he finds to be a fair settlement. He may order that the offender pay a fine that will settle the loss and he may even order a punishment and jail time.
If he finds that the offense was an accident, he will still rule in favor of a fair settlement, but there would be no punishment or jail time.
As I said, this is what happens in court.
So what happens when a situation develops between two Christians? Paul has clearly said, Christians do NOT take other Christians to court.
Allow me to give a modern day scenario. Picture a small city that has about six good, conservative Bible believing churches. Several Christians, from various churches saw the need for a Christian school in the town, so they formed a Christian school board and founded a school. They needed a place to operate the school. One of the churches had a perfect facility and even had a large gymnasium. The church agreed to rent it to the new school. The school was a success, in that it had a full number of students and a full faculty of Christian teachers.
In the course of the year, the Principal and staff decided to hold a sports day. As the date rolled around, the weather did not co-operate, so the event was held inside the gymnasium.
One particular event was for the fathers. Is was to be a simple race from the starting line, to the far side of the gym. Two of the fathers were leading the pack. As they neared the far wall, the father that was coming up second, realizing he would not be first, 'good naturedly' gave number one a push on his shoulders, sending him into the wall at a rate of speed faster than number one would have intended on arriving. Number one put out his arms to stop himself against the wall. There was a bad sound. Number one had a broken arm.
That sports day did not end well. Number one went to the hospital, the arm was put into a cast … and his day to day life changed. Due to the 'accident' he could not go to work as usual. There would be serious loss of wages. But wait a minute … schools have liability insurance, do they not?
He went to the administration and asked about it. “You are not going to sue the school are you? The bible says that Christians should not sue other Christians!”
Apparently that is how insurance works … there must be a law suit.
So what were his other choices? Not only did the school have a liability policy, but so did the church who was renting their building to the school. And what about father number two … he is the one who gave father number one the 'friendly shove' which sent him into the wall at too great a speed. Does he have any responsibility in this? When he discovers his friend's loss of wages … should he do something about it? As it turned out, father number two had just inherited a sum of money. Should he use the money to help out his friend? Actually, he and his wife agreed, they wanted to use this money to go to Hawaii. There would not be any to spare.
Father number one was a member of a church across town. This church now has a father who is hurting for lost wages. Should they have a part in helping 'one of their own'?
Father number two was a member of yet another church in town. They now have a member who has put his friend into a bad situation. Should they help him out in some way? Should they give him money to pass on to father number one?
And what about father number one? Should he drop the whole thing? But how will he feed his family and keep the lights on at home?
Let's see how Paul told us to handle this. Let's read 6:1 again.
The accusation is two fold.
- You are taking your christian brother to a 'civil' court.
- You are not taking the matter to 'the saints.'
What about you … would you say 'Yes' to sitting as a judge and prayerfully using God-given wisdom to sort out a matter out Biblically?
Is the story I gave you 'trivial'? Compared to criminal investigations, murder trials etc., it is trivial. It would not seem trivial to a family that is suddenly thrown into need, but comparatively it is trivial.
How should this be handled?
Paul says in verse 4, “Choose a judge and set up your own court.” He suggests what kind of a judge … one that is impartial. That could be a problem. How easy it would be to pick a judge that would be seen as a friend of either one of the parties involved. The King James version says to pick one that is 'least esteemed' in the church. This means, pick one who is not popular, but rather pick someone who is quiet and impartial and less popular (But wise concerning scripture).
In verse 5 Paul sarcastically exclaims, “You don't even have one person wise enough to sit as a judge and settle the dispute!??”
Option two: Just drop it.
So what is so wrong about settling things in court? Did not God set up law and order? And they had judges in the Old Testament and it seemed OK back then to go before a judge, right?
Actually, the judges of the Old Testament support what Paul is saying. The Old Testament judges were judges in Israel only. Israel was the Old Testament church. Therefore the arrangement was just as Paul is advocating: Disputes need to be handled 'internally'.
Why? It is all about the glory of God and how we, as a church, hold up God's reputation. He gives us all we need to handle situations of all kinds. He says, “Does anyone need wisdom? Just ask. I will give it freely”. To go before a secular (non-christian) judge is to say that the wisdom God gives just isn't that good. Or God failed to give wisdom this time. Before we act we need to ask ourselves … How is this going to make God look?
If there is no one in church that will sit as judge … rather than go before a judge of the world … just drop it.
The case above is a true story. How did it play out? Father number one felt forced to go before the law. He hired a lawyer. The lawyer says "We will sue everybody - Father number two, the school, the church that owns the building … and we will let the judge sort it out."
In the end, I believe it was the liability insurance of the school that was ordered to pay for lost wages, since they were the ones who set up the sports day event and they were the ones who arranged the race that should be safe for people to enter.
No Christians came forward with any wisdom at all. Friendships were lost. Hard feelings existed.
What if father number one had 'just dropped it'? We can't predict for certain, but it would have given an opportunity for God's miracle working power to step in and provide what was needed.
Mt 6:33 "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
If the above story were to have developed using the four stages that Jesus gave us … it could have been reconciled at any one of those points.
In verse 8 Paul blames some people in the church with cheating, and wronging their fellow christian brothers. He makes this VERY serious.
He says your behavior is WICKED. Then he classifies this wicked behavior right in with other wicked behaviors.
1Corinthians 6:9 Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor prostitutes nor homosexual offenders (10 ) nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
Taking brothers to court is wicked. Defrauding your brother in the church is wicked. If this wickedness sounds like it is your nature, you are one and the same as any of these other wicked people.
Verse 11 says that this behavior should all be in the past. IF IT ISN'T … CHECK YOUR SALVATION!
We have been washed. Set apart for His service. Justified by Jesus Himself through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Evidently Paul had taught them some things about the freedom we have in Christ. He taught them that we are not under the law of Moses. Romans 14:17 says, “for the Kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
This freedom that he talked about released them from having to observe thousands of meticulous rules regarding food, clothing, washing etc. etc. So in verse 12 it is implied that they were taking his 'freedom' teaching too far. They were behaving in wrongful ways toward others in the church and claiming “I can do it if I want to … there is no law against it. Paul said we have freedom.”
But Paul's teaching now is … "If that is the way that you think, your thinking has not been changed. You likely are still unsaved".
Paul expands his discussion about their wicked behavior and includes sexual immorality that apparently was going on in the church. He talks about men and prostitutes. This would be a good time to briefly talk about the city of Corinth.
They had a term, 'Corinthianize'. Here is an online dictionary definition:
The Greek author, Aristophanes (approx. 450-385 BC) coined a new Greek verb - to Corinthianize - meaning participation in immoral sexual practices. The archaeological evidence suggests thriving homosexual practices also. A later historian (Strabo who wrote about 7 B.C.) spoke of a thousand temple prostitutes plying their trade in Corinth during its peak of prosperity.1
Comparing this very wicked city to a pond of fish, as the early believers 'fished for men', the fish that they caught would be exceptionally dirty. I realize that sin is sin, but when we get new believers to come to Christ from a lifestyle that to them was 'normal', the church has a teaching responsibility to show what the new normal is.
That being said, wicked behavior MAY mean that
- The person is still unsaved
- The person has not been taught the 'new normal' compared to the old.
- The person HAS a new nature but is not allowing it to rule.
This last point is not addressed here in Corinthians but Paul said this about it in Romans 7
15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.
17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.
18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.
19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do —this I keep on doing.
20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.
22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;
23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.
24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
25 Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
To a greater or lesser degree, this is the battle we all face daily. Everyone fails. But everyone can serve God. What is important is what our inner spirit constantly says to our mind. Do we hate our sin? Do we desire victory? Or … do we not really care and our Christian behavior is more or less 'an act' or an ongoing, tiresome effort?
Paul has heard some heart-breaking things about this church. Divisive denominationalism. Sexual perversions and promiscuity. A horrible reputation before the local courts. And he has dealt with these 'head-on'. There is more 'tuning-up' needed. From chapter 7 and onward Paul answers questions that they have asked him in a letter.