Christians and Courts

Christians and Courts

W. Ross Rainey

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 6:1-11

As the Apostle Paul continued to deal with the disorders of the Corinthian assembly, the subject of judgment is carried through into chapter 6, thus linking chapters 5 and 6. Here, in 6:1, the question of lawsuits is introduced, and then, in 6:2-11, it is dealt with.

Let’s look at these verses from this twofold standpoint, the first thing being:

Paul’s Surprise Expressed

In the Greek text the opening words of verse 1 are very emphatic. “Another” means, of course, a fellow Christian. Now, this passage does not teach that a Christian should never go to court. This is something which at times would be impossible for believers to avoid. Even Paul himself, when falsely accused before a Roman governor, said, “I appeal to Caesar” (Acts 25:11). Also, the apostle did the right thing at Philippi when he demanded that the authorities make a public admission that he and Silas had been treated wrongfully and accused unjustly (Acts 16:35-40). Both these things were right and proper, but here it was a different matter altogether, for it involved Christians dragging other Christians before the world’s courts.

The thought, then of verse 1 is: how inconsistent for the justified to go before the unjustified for justice! We come now to our consideration of verses 2-11, or what we may call

Paul’s Solution Explained

Three times Paul uses the expression, “Know ye not?”, or its equivalent (vv. 2, 3, 9), and it is around these three occurrences that he presents the solution to this problem.

A. Christians Shall Judge the World (6:2; cf. Revelation 20:4).

Because we are linked with Christ, to Whom all judgment is committed (John 5:22; Matthew 19:28), we shall some day sit in judgment on the world. This being the case, we should be able to presently judge trivial matters that arise among ourselves (Psalms 133:1 with Galatians 5:15).

B. Christians Shall Judge Angels (6:2-8; cf. John 5:22; 2 Peter 2:4, 9; Jude 6).

Still further, Paul reminded the Corinthians that some day they would judge angels. Since this is so, how much more should Christians be able to judge the things pertaining to this life.

A translation problem arises in verse 4, and it is best remedied by placing a question mark at the end of the statement. In this way, it reads, “Are you setting them to judge who are least esteemed by the church?” Verse 5 presents an ironical suggestion that there may not be a wise person among the “wise” Corinthians.

“Fault” in verse 7 may be translated “defeat,” the point being that going to court against a brother represents a loss of the case already. But someone might say, “Paul, you really don’t understand, this brother cheated me out of a legitimate and lucrative business deal.” The apostle’s answer is, “Why not take the wrong? Why not allow yourself to be defrauded?” Two wrongs don’t make a right, and it’s a lot better to receive a wrong than to commit one.

The words of verse 8, however, make it clear that the Corinthians were not willing to accept the wrong and be defrauded. Instead, they were doing wrong and in reality defrauding their own brothers in Christ (cf. Matthew 5:38-42 with Romans 12:19; see Matthew 18:22; Psalms 136).

What havoc, hatred, revenge, and retaliation have wrought in the world, and on occasion, even among God’s people. The Lord’s Word for His own is “grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:30-32). If we disobey God’s Word, we not only grieve the Holy Spirit and hurt other people but end up hurting ourselves as well.

The account is told of a tenant farmer who from time to time renewed his lease. He had worked long hours year after year and had made the farm a model of its kind. One day the agent mentioned to him that the owner would require the farm for his son, who was about to be married. The farmer was greatly upset and made a number of offers in hopes that his terms would affect the owner’s decision. All his overtures, however, were in vain. The day drew near when the farmer had to vacate the home, and then he did something he had decided upon in his weeks of angry brooding. He gathered seeds of all the pests of the land, and when it was dark he moved up and down over that fertile, clean soil sowing the bad seed. The next morning bright and early the agent rode up to the door and informed him that the owner had changed his mind, his plans having fallen through, and he would be glad to renew his lease. The agent did not understand the farmer’s cry, “Oh, what a fool I’ve been!”

C. Christians Alone Shall Inherit God’s Kingdom (6:9-11).

The unrighteous are not qualified to judge; only the righteous may judge. Paul is not implying that Christians can practice such sins as listed here and be lost, but that those who practice such sins are not Christians.

And what a sordid list it is! The apostle cites fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, homosexuals, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, and extortioners. Of this list, Dr. A. T. Robertson, the famous New Testament Greek scholar, has said, “All these will fall short of the kingdom of God. This was plain talk to a city like Corinth. It is needed today. It is a solemn roll call of the damned even if some of their names are on the church roll in Corinth whether officers or ordinary members” (Word Pictures in the New Testament, IV, p. 119).

“And such were some of you…” (6:11). What depths there are to the grace of God! “Washed,” “sanctified,” and “justified” represent the new position of the Corinthians. The fact that “sanctified” is mentioned before “justified” poses no problem since Paul is stressing positional truth (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:2, 30), not the chronological order of their experience in Christ. Keep in mind, though, that there is a sense in which every Christian was sanctified before he was justified (cf. Ephesians 1:4). These three things, then, speak of the Corinthians’ cleansing, calling, and standing, respectively. “Justified” stands last as a fitting climax to the argument about seeking justice before the unjust (6:1-8).

It is important to observe that 6:11 testifies to the doctrine of the Trinity. All three Persons of the Godhead are active in the believer’s washing, sanctification, and justification.

How blessed to be able to sing from the heart:

O joy of the justified, joy of the free!
I’m washed in that crimson tide opened for me;
In Christ, my Redeemer, rejoicing I stand,
And point to the print of the nail in His hand.

O sing of His mighty love,
Sing of His mighty love,
Sing of His mighty love,
Mighty to save!

If at any time we are tempted to take another Christian to court, let us abide by the clear teaching of God’s Word and, if necessary, be willing to suffer wrong for the sake of love. After all, where would any of us be if the Lord brought us before His judgment bar and gave us what we justly deserve? Happily and thankfully, as the Psalmist tells us, “He hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Psalms 103:10). Furthermore, the Lord Jesus Christ is our standard and He has left us an example that we should follow His steps (1 Peter 2:21), the steps of this One Who “suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).