Judging the Church   Leave a comment

The first four chapters of 1 Corinthians focus on the problem of fleshly divisions within the church. Little factions, each with their own leader, had arisen. Worldly wisdom was embraced in place of the wisdom of God in Christ. Pride was a distinguishing feature of these Corinthians. In their false pride, the Corinthians began to judge Paul (and other apostles) unfairly, and to look down upon him, his ministry, and his message. Paul had gently rebuked these saints, and at the end of chapter 4, he urged them to heed his admonition so that he would not have to come to them “with a rod” (4:21).

Image result for image of christian courtsWhile the Corinthians were wrongly dividing over petty distinctions, they were unwilling to separate themselves from a church member who persisted in a sin so abominable that even the pagans of very rowdy Corinth were shocked. Paul rebuked the church for failing to exercise church discipline on a man who was living with his father’s wife. Paul informed the church of his action, even from afar, and urged them to follow his example. They had somehow misunderstood his previous letter, supposing that he was teaching that Christian separation is separation from unbelieving sinners. Paul corrected this misconception not just for them, but for us as well.

The divisions Paul spoke of theoretically in chapter 4 are now addressed specifically in chapter 6. Paul sought to show the Corinthians the “higher road” of morality, which doesn’t come from civil laws but from the gospel.

When any of you has a legal dispute with another, does he dare go to court before the unrighteous rather than before the saints? 1 Corinthians 6:1

Paul had been exceedingly gentle in the previous chapters, only indirectly introducing the problem of divisions in the church. How dare the Corinthian Christians air their disagreements out before the unrighteous rather than go before the church!

Paul was distressed on many levels in this topic:

  • Disputes were erupting between believers in the church. Christians were at odds with one another.
  • These disputes between believers were being taken to the secular courts by these Corinthian believers.
  • Unbelieving judges were being asked to arbitrate between Christians.
  • When these disputes were taken before unbelieving judges, the whole ugly ordeal was carried out before the curious eyes of unbelieving spectators. The world gets to watch these Christians fight with one another in court.
  • These disputes had not been taken to the church, where they belong.

Remember what Jesus said about church discipline in Matthew 18? Disputes between believers should be resolved as privately as possible within the church, unless the wayward saint chooses to disregard the church, in which case that individual should be publicly disfellowshipped. Instead of these two individuals at Corinth going through this process, they took their grievances to the local courts to seek a judgment from an unbelieving judge. Paul was flabbergasted.

Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you not competent to settle trivial suits? Do you not know that we will judge angels? Why not ordinary matters! So if you have ordinary lawsuits, do you appoint as judges those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame! Is there no one among you wise enough to settle disputes between fellow ChristiansInstead, does a Christian sue a Christian, and do this before unbelievers? 1 Corinthians 6:2-6

Paul asked a sequence of questions which indirectly exposed the pathetic condition of the saints at Corinth. Five times in this chapter Paul asks the question, “Do you not know…?” This strikes a very hard blow at the pride of the Corinthians, who think themselves so very wise, and Paul so very naive and provincial in his thinking. I suspect Paul had already taught on these subjects and was flabbergasted that they had forgotten.

Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” (see Daniel 7:21-22, 27;  Matthew 19:28; Revelation 20:4.

Paul assumes they do know it, and that their actions are completely contradictory to their theology. If Christians are going to reign with Christ and participate in the judgment of the world, how in the world could these Corinthians turn to the unsaved for judgment? If the righteous will judge the unrighteous at the Second Coming, how could the Corinthian Christians look to a heathen to judge the righteous

Do the Corinthians not know that they will be judging the angels? (See Isaiah 24:21-22; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6; Revelation 20:10)

If they know, why would they feel they are unable to judge in trivial matters of this life?

Both the Old and New Testament scriptures are clear that the saints will judge the world. However, there is no clear statement in the Old or New Testaments (other than this statement by Paul) that the saints will judge the angels. It is not a great reach to infer this, however. The saints will reign with Christ when He comes and establishes His kingdom. When Christ judges the world, we will participate. Through Jesus, God will also judge the angels . If this judging of the angels is also a part of Jesus’s reign, and if we shall reign with Him, then we too will judge the angels. Furthermore Paul, as an apostle, was given the authority to reveal that which is a mystery in the Old Testament. If the Corinthians had begun to trust in other (false) apostles, then perhaps it was time they reconsidered their source of authority and revelation. If they were listening to Paul, they would know such things.

Verse 4 is understood in a number of different ways, depending upon the translation. I prefer the translation (paraphrase) of J. B. Phillips: “In any case, if you find you have to judge matters of this world, why choose as judges those who count for nothing in the church?”  If the saints will judge both the world and the angels at the coming of Christ, why in the world would they turn to the world’s judicial system to pronounce judgment in a dispute between two believers? Paul had just written in 1 Corinthians 2:14-16, that natural men cannot understand thing Spirit of God, so why would church members turn to them for judgment in spiritual things?

Wasn’t there even one wise person among the Corinthians who was qualified to judge the dispute between these two believers? This church thought it was very wise. They were so quick to judge Paul and find him wanting. They proudly followed one leader and condemned the rest. Where were these Corinthian “wise men” when they were needed? They were very good at judging when they wanted, so why was no one able to judge such mundane matters? Believers were at each other’s throats before the world.

The fact that you have lawsuits among yourselves demonstrates that you have already been defeated. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? But you yourselves wrong and cheat, and you do this to your brothers and sisters!

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God. Some of you once lived this wayBut you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:7-11

For the competitive Corinthians, life was all about winning and losing. Lawsuits are certainly about winning and losing. Paul argued that any Corinthian Christian who took another believer to court had already lost. Going to court with a fellow-believer is a no-win situation. The better way is to take the loss. Yeah, Paul is telling us that it is better to be a victim than a victor. We want to argue against that because we don’t want to take a loss because of our pride. We don’t want to let the other person get the better of us. We don’t want to lose — money, possessions, prestige …. We protect and exercise our rights, no matter what the cost to others. Our rights are unlimited … the other guy’s can be limited.

Christians are supposed to have an utterly different value system from the unbeliever. When Jesus invited men to follow Him, they were instructed to “take up their cross daily” to follow Him. Thus, the Christian is a person whose life is dominated and directed by the cross of Calvary. It was on the cross of Calvary that Jesus was wronged to bring about our salvation.The wrongful death of Christ is the model for the Christian (see 1 Peter 2, 18-25). This is the reason Jesus taught His disciples not to retaliate, but to return good for evil (Matthew 5:43-48). Paul teaches us similarly (Romans 12:17-21). Jesus taught that if a man forces you to go a mile, you should go two miles instead (Matthew 5:41). The one who asks of us should receive from us (Matthew 5:42). Our goal in life is not to accumulate possessions or to protect and preserve them. We are to give all these things up, gladly. Our attitude should not be to seek our own interests ahead of others, but rather to seek the interests of others ahead of our own (Philippians 2:1-8). This being the case, we should be willing to be wronged and defrauded, especially for the sake of the gospel and for the testimony of the church.

Yes, I am an individual rights advocate, but the non-aggression principle teaches that my rights are not more important than the other person’s rights.

It is a terrible thing for a Christian to take another Christian to court. In verses 1-7, Paul addressed the plaintiff, the one who felt offended or ill-treated and urged him to take his grievance to the church and to risk suffering loss rather than damage the reputation of the church and hinder the gospel by exposing the sins of a brother to the world. Love covers a multitude of sins (Proverbs 10:12; 1 Peter 4:8). Paul then turned to the defendant, who might have been feeling self-satisfied at that moment, comforted by Paul’s rebuke of his adversary. Paul didn’t left him off the hook, though.

If the plaintiff must be willing to be wronged and defrauded, it’s not an invitation for others to wrong and defraud. Some of these Corinthians Christians are crooks, and they prey upon their fellow Christians. Paul warned them that heaven is not a haven for sinners, but a blessed sanctuary for those who have been saved, whose sins have been forgiven because they have forsaken their sins. Some Corinthian Christians were once sinners with sinful lifestyles, but that was the past, and this was the present. Paul provided a broad and all-inclusive list of their sins that include:

  • those who commit sexual sin outside of marriage (idolaters),
  • those who serve other gods of various kinds (idolaters),
  • those who commit sexual sins against their partner in marriage (adulterers),
  • passive (effeminate) and active (homosexuals) sexual deviates.
  • thieves
  • those who lust for what others possess (the covetous),
  • alcoholics (drunkards),
  • those who speak against others (revilers), and
  • con artists (swindlers).

This is a sampling of those who won’t make it into heaven because heaven is a holy place, because God dwells there. Consequently, unholy people will not be there.

The Corinthian church included people who had previously lived such sinful lives, but when they were saved, this became a past, which should be forgotten and forsaken. Salvation includes repentance. Repentance means that we not only agree with God that we are sinners, doomed to eternal torment, and that Christ’s righteousness will save us, but also that we turn from a life of sin to a life of righteousness. Of course this does not mean that we will live a life of sinless perfection. It means we can’t keep on living in sin, as we once did while we were unsaved. Salvation is the process of turning from darkness to light, from death to life, from sin to righteousness. Salvation means that we should never consider continuing on in sin, even though God’s grace is greater than all our sin (see Romans 6:1).

That’s a sobering thought! The gospel is about sinners who are turned from sin to righteousness. It is one of the greatest comforts for the Christian. What we were as unbelievers, we are not now as Christians. Our sins of the past are not only forgiven, they are forgotten by God. God doesn’t treat us like felons on parole. The Christian who was once a thief is not just an ex-thief; he is a new creation. Old things have passed away, replaced by a new person (2 Corinthians 5:17). What we once were as an unbeliever, we will never be again. No sinner is too far gone for God to save.

Paul had a very different view of the relationship of the past to the present than that popularly held by many psychologists and psychiatrists today. In the psychological world of our day, what one was in the past determines what he is in the present. This is why so much time and money is spent digging up the past. It makes a great excuse for sin in the present. Paul’s thinking was just the opposite for Christians. What we were in the past does not determine what we are today, because the cross of Christ separates us not only from our sins but from our past. Christ stands between us in the present and us as we were in the past. What we were is not what we are. The cross of Christ is the reason why we can be now what we were not then. Christians cannot and must not be crooks. It is not because Christians cannot sin, but because they must not sin. For a Christian to be a crook is for a person to return to that wicked state from which he or she was delivered by the grace of God in Christ.

When we were saved, we were completely saved, severed from our past identity and given a new identity. We were washed, cleansed of our sin and our guilt. We were sanctified, set apart from sin unto holiness. We were justified, legally declared righteous through the righteousness of Jesus Christ, imputed to us by faith. All of this transpired in the name of Jesus Christ.

Paul rebuked the Corinthian saints for failing to resolve their disputes with one another within the church. Paul wanted his readers to see the folly of taking spiritual matters before unbelievers, who have no grasp of the real issues. Paul knew, as the Corinthians should have known, that the legal system deals with the protection of men’s rights and the seeking of one’s self-interest, while the gospel is about the surrender of one’s rights and the seeking of the best interests of others. If the dispute cannot be resolved within the church, Paul advocated that the offended party suffer the loss, for the sake of the gospel. In no case should any Christian think that breaking the laws of man or God is something a person can continue after coming to faith in Christ, as though this doesn’t matter. Crooks do not go to heaven. Only saints do.

Why did Paul take this situation in Corinth so seriously? He was gentler with them over condoning sexual immorality in the church than he was about lawsuits between Christians. The issue is the unity of the church, the body of Christ. The church is one body, and believers are all brothers. The focus of each believer is to build up the body of Christ, which means that he must build up individual believers. Taking a fellow-believer to court is not what building up is about. Generally, we take another person to court to take him apart. The church is a temple, the dwelling place of a holy God. To destroy the temple by attacking its members is to invite divine destruction (3:16-17). Lawsuits in Corinth were a denial of the gospel. To continue to act as we formerly did as sinners denies the radical change the gospel makes. We were sinners; we are now saints, a holy nation, declaring the excellencies of Him who saved us (1 Peter 2:1-11). As Christians, we cannot persist in thinking and acting as we formerly did, apart from Christ.

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