1 Corinthians 6a
1 Corinthians 6:1-2… When any of you has a legal dispute with another, does he dare go to court before the unrighteous rather than before 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 not competent to settle trivial suits?
In 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 Paul summed up the issue of judgment. He said that it is the Christian’s responsibility to judge the behavior of other Christians, but it is God alone who is to judge the behavior of non-Christians. After all, it is Christians who confess Christ as Lord and vow to live a life that glorifies him. When they don’t they are to be confronted, but unbelievers are to be left to God alone to judge them, for it is God they have rejected, not Christians.
Now Paul addresses a similar issue in 6:1-11. The Corinthian Christians were taking one another to court and allowing the secular courts of the day to judge their cases. Paul is horrified over such behavior because it, just like the incestuous man in the preceding passages, is behavior unbecoming of Christians, and Paul earnestly desires that Christ’s church remain pure.
History reveals that lawsuits in first century Greece, where Corinth was a province, were about as common as they are in the modern-day. The case in the present passage isn’t specified, but it is possible that it involves the incestuous man and his father – a case that would have received high exposure and granted the church there great embarrassment. Paul is furious over such a spectacle, and this prompts his teaching in chapter 6. One can almost hear the anger and confusion in Paul’s tone. As Gordon Fee has noted, Paul “alternates between statements of horror (vv. 1 & 6), rhetorical questions (vv. 2-4, 5b-6, 7b), sarcasm (v. 5), and threat 9vv. 8-11).” He is clearly a man on an inspired tirade against the immature behavior of these Christians.
In verse 1 the problem is introduced, and it involves the fact that Christians are suing each other in non-Christian courts as opposed to taking their disputes to the church leaders. The non-Christian courts are called the “unrighteous” (Greek adikos) but this is in reference to the fact that they were non-Christian courts as opposed to immoral courts. The word is used in scripture in contrast to righteous people – those who call on the Lord Jesus for salvation.
Paul explains in verse 2 how ridiculous the lawsuits were. The rhetorical question gives great insight as to the end-times judgment of God upon all who reject Jesus Christ. In keeping with the prophecy of Daniel 7:22, that “judgment was given to the saints of the Most High,” Paul reminds his readers that God’s children will be given authority to judge the world. The focus is the end of time, but the rhetoric is designed to show how stupid it was for the Corinthians, who will one day judge the world, to allow the same ungodly world to judge them and their legal disputes. Now if the world is going to be judged by the believers in Corinth, how ludicrous it was for them to allow the same group of ungodly people to judge their “trivial lawsuits.”
Food for Thought
One of the problems with Christians today is that we tend to forget from time to time who we are in Christ. In so doing we also tend to forget that God will judge the world through us. Jesus told the disciples in Luke 22:30 that they would sit on thrones and judge the 12 tribes of Israel (the Jews), and from the present passage it looks like Gentile Christians will judge the rest of the ungodly world. How off-kilter it is then that Christians take their disputes to secular courts. They divorce and allow non-Christians to defend them. And far too often they sue one another. The truth of the matter is that Christians should never enter into a secular court against another believer. If the present passage doesn’t teach us that, then we’ve been blinded indeed.
1 Corinthians 6:3-6… Do you not know that we will judge angels? Why not ordinary matters! 4 So if you have ordinary lawsuits, do you appoint as judges those who have no standing in the church? 5 I say this to your shame! Is there no one among you wise enough to settle disputes between fellow Christians? 6 Instead, does a Christian sue a Christian, and do this before unbelievers?
The entire point of 1 Corinthians is to deal with proper doctrine and purity in Christ’s church – qualities that must be taken seriously. In verse 3 Paul expounds on the theme of judgment, namely that Christians will judge angels. This is in keeping with Paul’s mindset of the future, but it’s noteworthy that he should speak of angels again, for in 4:9 he spoke of being a spectacle to them. As an apostle of Jesus Christ he knew that he was watched by both men and angels, but he also knew that the very same people who mocked him for his beliefs in Christ would be judged by him and his Christian brothers. He merely reminds the Corinthians of this truth. But what angels are Christians to judge? It can only mean those evil angels (i.e. demons) who followed Satan in his rebellion as recorded in Revelation 12:3-4. Though recorded in the last book of the Bible, that rebellion actually occurred prior to Genesis 3. Paul’s teaching here is to remind the Corinthians of their power in Christ. They had the clout to judge God’s heavenly beings, but they were so bogged down in their sins that they were allowing unbelievers to judge them! Verse 4 adds an appropriate ironic question from Paul best translated in the NEB: “If therefore you have such business disputes, how can you entrust jurisdiction to outsiders, men who count for nothing in our community?” And verse 5 adds a biting sarcasm to show how disgusted Paul was with their behavior. He observes their actions accurately in verse 4, but to make sure the Corinthians understood his disgust he adds, “I say this to your shame!” Then he sarcastically asks why they had failed to appoint a Christian arbiter to decide their petty disputes.
Verse 6 once again pictures an angry father (Paul) lecturing his immature and delinquent son (the Corinthians) who has once again become a victim of his own teenage arrogance. What concerns Paul the most is that “unbelievers” are brought into the dispute, and this puts the “temple of God” – the church – in a terrible light. It takes the dirty laundry of the church, as it were, and piles it up for the whole world to see. In doing so, the temple of God is discredited and destroyed – an act for which God Himself will take revenge upon (cf. 1 Cor. 3:16-17).
Food for Thought
One of the great things about Bible study is Christian education. Christians learn who they are in Christ and what that means. Without careful study of God’s Word Christians remain in a state of ignorant confusion just like the Corinthians. It took a teacher (Paul) to shame them and bring them around to understanding who God is and who they were in light of who God is. So it is today. In keeping with the teaching of the Bible Christians must never enter a court of law against a fellow Christian – no matter what! In light of our position in Christ and the fact that we will participate in the end-times judgment, how can we even care about the petty little matters on this fading planet? We certainly have no business bringing them to secular courts whose decision-makers too often have no share in God’s eternal blessings. The fact that the court system is by and large against the posting of the ten commandments proves this beyond doubt. Dr. Gordon Fee says of Christians who take one another to secular courts: “A trial between two Christian brothers before pagan courts is no ‘innocent’ matter; it reveals how lacking in truly Christian wisdom they are, and therefore how poorly they understand their true place in Christ.”
1 Corinthians 6:7-8… 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? 8 But you yourselves wrong and cheat, and you do this to your brothers and sisters!
The church in Corinth was really scraping the bottom, so to speak. They were a haughty bunch who not only had sexual scandal in their midst but were also known for suing one another in public non-Christian courts. It is likely that their influence in Corinthian culture, as opposed to being a light to the dark world they lived in, was a joke to the locals. So it is today with the church. One of the main reasons unbelievers won’t step foot in a church is because the church is full of hypocrites. Church people say one thing and do another, and in doing so their testimony of God’s grace is repudiated. The church’s light is a dim glow if even that in most congregations.
Paul alludes to all the sins of the Corinthians but specifies his complaint concerning lawsuits in verse 7 above. The very fact that the Christians in Corinth were taking one another to court meant that defeat for them was not imminent but already present. It didn’t matter if one won their case, they were already defeated, and there would be no true victory. In other words, one man might emerge the victor after a judge’s or jury’s decision, but the fact that Christ’s church was airing its dirty laundry for the world to see already spelled defeat.
Paul’s solution to the problem then is the same solution to the problem today when Christians have issues of law against other Christians. “Why not rather be wronged?” “Why not rather be cheated?” Why indeed! Instead of “getting even” or “taking one’s stand” the proper way to handle such disputes is to just allow ourselves to be wronged and/or cheated. Now this is of course next to impossible for those filled with pride (the very problem the Corinthians suffered from) because they want justice, and they want it swiftly. They are so filled with themselves and the reputation of their name that nothing will get in the way of their “legitimate” lawsuits so as to obtain what is rightfully theirs. The Bible’s answer to such problems? Allow yourself to be wronged; allow yourself to be cheated. This was Christ’s attitude, and since his church is commissioned to carry out his example, it must also reflect the behavior of the church.
Verse 8 turns the table 180 degrees. Whereas the plaintiff in this instance is demanding justice and is seemingly correct in pursuing a lawsuit, in doing so he becomes the liar and the cheater. In other words, when a Christian who has been wronged by another Christian takes that man to court to prove his own innocence he immediately becomes the very one he set out to sue. He becomes the one doing the wrong; the one doing the cheating if he sues a fellow Christian.
Food for Thought
So what is the conclusion to Christians going to court? The Bible speaks plainly that when one Christian is defrauded by another, he/she is either to suck it up, as it were, or go to the church leadership to decide the case. Since divorce represents failure, and since it almost always involves issues on both sides, it too must not enter a secular court. Of course a church can’t grant it either, so that means no divorces among Christians! The question in many folk’s mind is always, “But you don’t know what he/she did to me.” This is almost always motivated by self-protection and selfish ambition – qualities reminiscent of pagans, not Christians.
The question then becomes “What about Christians suing unbelievers?” Even Paul appealed to Caesar when his life was in danger (Acts 25:11), but that wasn’t a lawsuit for selfish gain. And Paul was willing to die for his faith even if falsely accused. The simple answer for Christians and court cases is: “Why not rather be wronged?” “Why not rather be cheated?”
1 Corinthians 6:9-11… Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.
While the Corinthians were exposing their sins in front of secular courts Paul shows them just how ignorant their thought processes were by reminding them that their judges, “the unrighteous,” “shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” The word “inherit” means to “come into possession of something.” This usually comes to the family of the deceased, and those in the family of God, those who receive Christ as Lord/Savior, are always the recipients of the inheritance of eternal life in the Bible. Their inheritance is far more than money; it is the kingdom of God. Those kept from that future eternal kingdom are those in Paul’s list.
Paul begins with, “Do not be deceived!” The deception comes to those who shun God’s teachings. Those kept from God’s kingdom are called “the unrighteous,” and all terms that follow in the passage describe “the unrighteous.” Fornicators, idolaters, the covetous, revilers, drunkards, and swindlers were all dealt with in 5:11, but Paul inserts some new terms here concerning those who will not inherit God’s eternal kingdom. First, they are “adulterers” – a term for any and all extramarital activity. Second, they are “effeminate.” Though some translations read “male prostitutes,” that implies a man who has illicit sex with women. The word, however, literally means “soft,” and it was specifically used in the Greco-Roman society to describe “males who allowed themselves to be misused homosexually” (BAGD). This would include men who dress as women (transvestites) and men who undergo medical procedures to become women (transsexuals). The fifth group, “homosexuals,” are akin to the effeminate, but homosexuality represents those who actively pursue their sin. The effeminate is a term that describes the passive partner in homosexuality – normally a child. Socrates was a homosexual, and Plato’s Symposium on Love glorified the practice. Both had effeminate partners.
The third term describing those who will not inherit God’s kingdom is “thieves,” and it’s noteworthy that petty theft would be listed among the vile sexual sins that preceded it. One is no more evil than the other. All ten words describe those who “shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” Active and chronic participation in these sins spells one thing: death.
In verse 11 Paul says in reference to all the sins he just listed that “such were some of you.” Clearly many of the Corinthians had been saved out of these perverted lifestyles, but he reminds them that they were “washed” (made clean), “sanctified” (made holy), and “justified” (declared righteous) all in the “name of Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” This is the picture of God’s grace. It is the picture of salvation for wretched sinners. Salvation comes only through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Now Paul does what any preacher does who is worth his salt – he pushes them and exhorts them to live out their lives in obedience to the scriptures.
Food for Thought
Those who inherit God’s kingdom are those who trust in Jesus Christ as Lord. It doesn’t matter how evil one was prior to belief in Christ. God’s kingdom is for all, but it has no room for those who sin willingly and presume upon God’s grace – those who misconstrue God’s love as that of a sentimental old man who forgives their hatred for Him. Their condemnation is just. Clearly God’s kingdom is for His children – those who separate themselves from disobedience.