1 Corinthians Part 8
Reid A Ferguson
1 Corinthians / 1 Corinthians 6:1–12; Luke 12:13–15
The more we study this letter of Paul to the Church at Corinth, the more I am struck by its timeliness for Christians today.
As Ken took us through Ch. 5 last week, we couldn’t help but see how the Corinthian Church’s inability to address sexual sin straightforwardly mirrors our own situation today.
Christianity’s tendency even now is to capitulate more and more to the prevailing views of society, rather than standing on Biblical principle.
And if it were only in one area like the current hot button of gender fluidity that we see seepage of the World’s views into the Church, we could set our sights on that issue quite easily and move on.
But in fact, there are more subtle ways which the World’s thinking shapes our theology rather than our theology shaping how we see the Word.
2 of those ways show up in the passage before us today. And all of the issues we’ve seen Paul address thus far – and will see throughout the rest of this epistle – all share this same underlying problem:
When it come to maturity – be it psychological, emotional or spiritual – all 3 share this in common: Maturity requires shifting from thinking in terms of mere Precepts: Do this, don’t do that, to Principles: I do this because… or do not do that because…
Precept: Do this, don’t do that.
Principle: I do this because, and I don’t do that because.
One of the greatest challenges Paul faces in writing to his Corinthian brothers and sisters in this letter, is helping them begin to make that very shift.
And it remains one of the greatest challenges in our own Christian lives.
We like rules. Laws. Clear expressions of simply “do this, don’t do that.”
And when one is young and cannot reason things out well – this is necessary. But if we stay there, then something is seriously wrong. It works well for children and puppies, but not for adults.
Just following a set of rules takes all of the responsibility for how we live off of our shoulders. We don’t have to think very deeply about our actions. We don’t have to face our motivations. Just tell me what I should be doing, let me do it and then leave me alone. I don’t want to think that hard about life. And if there is no direct command or prohibition, I’m free to make up whatever I want.
But our salvation isn’t about bringing us into a new set of rules for believing Jews and Gentiles versus the old rules for Jews alone – it is about conforming us to the image of Christ. It is about transforming us from the inside out. As Paul will write in Romans 12:2 ESV / Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
The secret to not being conformed to this present culture and the entire fallen World system, isn’t a matter of mere or rote obedience to some set of regulations – it is being “transformed by the renewal of your mind.” It is to think in a radically new ways. About the World, about ourselves, about each other, about our behaviors, about our motives and reasonings – about everything. It is to move us to becoming more like God Himself.
We must always bear in mind that God does not do anything because it is right – as though there is some standard outside of Himself which He conforms to. We know holiness by what God does – because God IS holy. And He is in the process of bringing Believers to that same state. To think about things as He does, and thus to act as He does out of the very same motivations.
And so as this letter progresses, Paul will dig deeper and deeper into this issue of spiritual maturity and governing principles. And nowhere does he begin challenging the spiritual immaturity of the Corinthian’s thinking more he does than here.
As I already mentioned, there are 2 vital areas which the text begins to address here, that give laser bright insight into how the World’s thought process has invaded, or might I say infected the thinking of many in the Church today:
- Looking to human courts to determine right and wrong.
- Insisting on individual rights as the highest good.
Paul will take these up in the portion before us today – but the 2nd one especially, will play a major role throughout the rest of the letter as we’ll see in the weeks to come.
But do note here: Both of these serve as chief indicators of critical spiritual immaturity, as does vying for status in this Church, being divided up into spiritual camps and trying to look a certain way in the eyes of other Believers, and even un-Believers.
But let’s dig into the text to see what is going on here and how the Holy Spirit addressed it though Paul in this letter.
1 Corinthians 6:1 ESV / When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?
Now we need both to understand the situation, and to be clear on a couple of things there.
Just like our justice system today, the Roman courts were divided up into Criminal and Civil branches.
Criminal offences are not just against an individual, but also against the state. That is not what Scripture is dealing with here.
What is going on here are civil cases: A neighbor builds a fence that crosses your property line. Defaulting on a loan. A business deal gone bad. Siblings in a fight over an inheritance. A sidewalk wasn’t shoveled in the winter and someone slips and falls and breaks an arm.
What was happening is that these matters were coming up between Believers. And instead of coming to other Believers to settle them – they just sued each other in the public courts. But one more thing about the civil courts of that day is helpful to understand.
Remember how we’ve seen that their whole society (and the Church) was huge on status and wealth and success? This carried over into the civil court system. Those with money and standing got preferential treatment. And in the course of a trial, the ordinary means of argument was basically character assassination. Just make your opponent looks as bad as you can in order to win the case.
Those things said – we need to see:
- What Paul ISN’T saying.
- What he IS saying.
- Why this is a problem.
The basic issue is that some Believers – in disputes with other Believers – are taking them to court, rather than resolving their disputes through mediation with other Believers.
Now be careful here, because the REAL or bigger problem isn’t really conflict resolution. That isn’t the point of the passage. We see what the real problem is further down –
In 5-7 he says: 1 Corinthians 6:5–7a ESV / 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, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?
Here’s the problem: Such a condition is a “defeat.” But in what way?
It runs counter to the Church’s testimony of being Christ’s People on Christ’s Mission. Something else is taking center stage. And that, on the same stage the World parades on. It makes Christ followers out to be only interested in the very same things the World is, and going about getting them the very same way. And we have to see how much emphasis Paul is going to lay on this.
In Chap. 4 where Paul dealt with how factions in the Church were rallying around personalities like him or Apollos, he says that he did not write to them to make them ashamed, but just to admonish them – to help them grow into a better place.
But here his language is much stronger – “I say this to your shame” – you should be ashamed of yourselves that such a thing is happening.
Now he ISN’T saying Believers might not have some legitimate disputes with one another which require mediation. It happens. And it was Jesus Himself who gave us a mechanism for dealing with disputes among Believers in Matt. 18. – outlining how those things should be dealt with internally.
BUT! – how dare we as Believers, as ambassadors of Christ, how dare we air this kind of dirty laundry in an arena where others in Christ will be dragged through the mud publicly! Paul is absolutely incredulous that Christian to Christian, we can’t sit down with others in the Body of Christ and bring these things to some sort of resolution.
Think about it he says: 1 Corinthians 6:2 ESV / 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?
Drawing from passages like Daniel 7 and Matt. 19 where we are told that those who rule and reign with Christ will one day judge the World in matters of cosmic and eternal importance – will we then take our grievances to those who know nothing of the spiritual implications of settling such disputes for relief? Really?
1 Corinthians 6:3 ESV / Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!
Don’t you know that in the age to come, the Believers, joining in the administration of Christ’s kingdom will render judgment on the demonic forces that plagued the world during this age? How much more then ought we be able now to settle these petty matters among ourselves!
1 Corinthians 6:4 ESV / So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church?
So you take this stuff, these (comparatively) petty squabbles, and fight them out in front of those who have no business dealing with the spiritual side of how they ought to be resolved?
1 Corinthians 6:5–6 ESV / 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, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?
Shame on you! You don’t have one level-headed person in the congregation you can go to? Really? And this, after all your divisions about who has supposed spiritual superiority over others?
1 Corinthians 6:7 ESV / To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?
And here he brings this down to a stark bit of Biblical and spiritual reality and reasoning: If you can’t settle a matter like this to your satisfaction in the Church, then it is better to let the matter go and suffer the loss – for the sake of the Gospel – and not bringing each other into disrepute before the World.
The Gospel is more important than any wrong done to you by any other Christian.
And so you see here how the spiritual principle needs to take precedence over the mere letter of the Law. And how what is “right” might be a much higher consideration than just what is right on paper – for the Gospel has to be considered in it all.
Now once again, I want to be clear here he is NOT talking about criminal activity which you and I have no power to dismiss because of the larger concern for the safety and well-being of our neighbors. God Himself institutes government in part to punish just such criminal, evil doers (see: Rom. 13).
Now The Spirit’s directive here is extremely sobering for those on both sides of any such dispute. We don’t want to miss this.
1 Corinthians 6:9–10 ESV / Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
If you are the one who, professing to be a Christian, defrauded or swindled another Christian – or reviled them in the courts – do not imagine you can do so with impunity.
Thieves, the greedy, swindlers and revilers will suffer the same fate as those who are sexually immoral, idolaters and drunkards. In other words, you will prove yourself to be no true Believer in the end, and perish as an unconverted sinner. Beware! Tremble to be anything but honest and upright in your dealings, especially with other Believers. There is no “Christian” immunity from prosecution.
And you, the one defrauded – if you cannot find a just solution now, do not imagine there will not be justice in the long run. Leave it to the Lord. When God declared that vengeance is His, He was not using some sort of religious rhetoric or hyperbole. He WILL bring justice.
But even here – there is a very important spiritual opportunity at hand. For to let the matter go for the sake of the Kingdom, will keep you on the lookout for, and challenge what greed might reside in your own heart!
Do you want to take your defrauder to court? Beware!
Jesus dealt with this scenario in a very startling way in Luke 12:13–15 ESV / Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
This man comes to Jesus and on the surface of it anyway has a legitimate beef. My brother is failing to divide our inheritance properly, and I’m looking for you settle it for us.
The assumption here is that the brother regards Jesus enough that if Jesus says “Hey, do the right thing” – that the guy will respond.
But Jesus moves the conversation someplace else – and I’m not sure you or I would be very satisfied with His approach.
What’s the issue to Jesus? “Watch out for the covetousness of your own heart.”
If I’d have been that guy, I would have said: “but what about the covetousness of my brother’s heart?” To which He probably would have replied: “What is that to you, follow me.”
So Paul goes on in vs. 11 – As Believers you USED to be guilty of all of those things listed in vss. 9-10 – but that is no longer to be who you are!
1 Corinthians 6:11 ESV / And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
If you are in Christ, you’ve been cleansed from those former things which defiled you. Why would you go back to wallow in that mud?
You’ve been set apart for Christ and His mission – sanctified. Don’t go back and behave like you are still a part of the World system in the same way.
You’ve been justified: Declared righteous with the righteousness of Christ! Don’t dirty-up yourself or any other brother or sister before the World to try and make them guilty.
You see: 1 Cor. 6:12 – and here he gets to the bottom line: 1 Corinthians 6:12 ESV / “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.
Yes, it is LEGAL to take my brother or sister to court. I have a right to do it. But how in the world is this helpful to them, to my own soul, or most importantly – to the cause of Christ?
Yes, it is LEGAL for me to sue them, I have a right to do it. But I would rather be freed from greed, and vengeance and from needing to act on the World’s principles, than stand on my rights.
For my aim, my goal, is to live as Christ’s, and on His mission, above anything else. I want to live in this world, but not as one who is OF this world, but as one who has been born from above.
Well now, how do we put all of this together so as to truly mature in Christ, and not just fall into even using this passage like it is a mere law to live by?
Let’s look at 3 principles we can extract from the passage, and then at a summary of sorts of Paul’s Spirit informed line of thinking.
For the Believer:
Lawfulness does not define what is right or what is wrong.
This is not the role of the law courts either in Corinth, or in Rochester NY.
For this, we must come back to God’s Word. And it’s not hard to see this is it? Simply because our legal system says abortion is lawful, does not make it right. Because it legal to get drunk does not make it right. Because it’s legal to divorce your spouse for non-Biblical reasons doesn’t make it right. Because it’s legal to shack up with whomever you please doesn’t make it right. Because same sex marriage is legal, does not make it right. We could go on and on and on. The examples are endless.
We must always be brought back to God’s Word, and the revelation of His character in the Word to make such determinations. And neither the World nor the Church has any right to usurp this authority from God alone.
Lawfulness does not determine what is best for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom.
The World’s legal system can’t possibly be of any help in this regard.
Once again we must come back to God’s Word. To consider God’s goals, and God’s own methods and means to achieve those goals.
The World will never have as its goal to go into all the World and preach the Gospel to every living creature, and to make disciples of all men. In fact, it may even enact laws to the contrary of those goals. Laws which we would be duty bound to disobey.
The Courts can have nothing to do with us growing in the image of Christ.
And very often – as in this passage – utilizing those courts and the legal system may actually work contrary to putting to death the sinful inclinations that still lurk within us.
Rights are not the highest guide for Believers – love for Christ, and His mission and His people is.
I’ll not develop this point here because it is going to be teased out in great detail in chapters to come. We have rights which the World can never conceive of – such as the right to reject our earthly rights for the cause of Christ.
It will suffice to say here that love for Christ and His people will find us often willingly setting aside our rights so that the cause of Christ may be best served.
We need only to look at the life of Jesus to see that if we share His Spirit, sacrifice of our supposed rights will often be the very means to serve others in the Gospel best.
The very heart of the Gospel is in these 2 things.
In John 5:22, Jesus tells the Disciples that God the Father has committed all judgment of sin to Jesus the Son. It would be perfectly legal for Him to drag us before the judgment bar of God, to prosecute the case against us for our sins to the nth degree – but in love He went beyond what is legal, that He might purchase our salvation.
It was His right not to die. Not to absorb the loss to Himself for our sins.
The night He was betrayed in the Garden, after rebuking Peter for cutting off the ear of one of ones sent to capture Jesus – He said: Matthew 26:53 / Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?
But if He had not willingly set aside His rights, and refused to take advantage of all that was legally in His power to do – He would never have suffered, bled and died for our sins.
Don’t miss the power He is calling us to here in being effective in the kingdom that men and women might be brought to Christ.
And don’t miss that it will lead us at times to forsake what we COULD do legally, and what our rights are before God and man, for the sake of the witness of His kingdom in this World.
I subtitled this sermon: Rights, Wrongs, and Higher Things. Living IN the World, as no longer OF the World.
In closing, let me try to summarize this text and how our thinking is so radically different from the World. To better grasp some of the principles which will lead us to far different places than mere precepts or laws ever could.
As Christ’s people on Christ’s mission:
We live by:
A higher principle than what’s legal
We look to please our Heavenly Father in all things. To comport ourselves according to His holiness.
As Christ’s people on Christ’s mission:
We have a:
Higher pursuit than the pursuit of our rights
We’re looking to be conformed to the image of Christ in our whole being. Even if that means surrendering every natural human right.
As Christ’s people on Christ’s mission:
We aim at:
A higher prize than any earthly settlement
We seek an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, unfading and kept in Heaven for us.
As Christ’s people on Christ’s mission:
We sit in:
A higher position than being the victors in earthly disputes
We are seated in Heavenly places with Christ Jesus.
As Christ’s people on Christ’s mission:
We trust in Christ for:
Higher promises than earthly justice
That we will be with Jesus, to see Him in all of His resplendent glory, and to behold that glory for evermore.
As Christ’s people on Christ’s mission:
We live by: A higher principle than what’s legal
We have a: Higher pursuit than the pursuit of our rights
We aim at: A higher prize than any earthly settlement
We sit in: A higher position than being the victors in earthly disputes
We trust in Christ for: Higher promises than earthly justice
Beloved, we must live IN this world, but we live here as strangers and aliens, as citizens of a Heavenly country.
And to grow spiritually, we must have our minds transformed to live in the light of those realities.