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In 1 Corinthians 6 Paul wanted church members to settle their dispute within the church, rather than by going to court. Some background information about the court system in Corinth will help us understand why Paul told them to take this action.
The social climate of Corinth affected justice in the court system to such an extent that a person of lower status could never expect to receive justice in court.
For example, a man would always win over a woman, a father over a child, and a high status person over a lower status person. In Corinth status was more important than substance, and power was more influential than the truth.
The eloquence of an attorney was more significant than the facts of a case. There were no district attorneys or public defenders. The prosecution, defense and the judge, had to be paid by the respective parties before a trial was able to begin.
In the Corinthian system powerful, high status, and wealthy persons held a superior advantage over anyone of less power, status or wealth.
Court hearings were public affairs and were attended for entertainment purposes by the crowds, just as people today watch “Judge Judy” or “The People’s Court” on television.
Don’t Go To Court
Paul was appalled that church members considered going to court against one another. A verse-by-verse explanation will help us understand his argument in chapter six.
— Verse 1 – When any of you has a grievance against another, do you dare to take it to court before the unrighteous, instead of taking it before the saints?
Jews in Corinth knew the corrupt nature of the public judicial system. They settled their cases in the synagogue and Paul expected the church to do the same.
— Verses 2-3 – 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?
Do you not know that we are to judge angels — to say nothing of ordinary matters?
Christians in Corinth had adopted the view of their fellow citizens of the city. They had a “you have to get it all now” attitude and did not think beyond the present moment.
God has an end-time judgment for all persons. In some unspecified way the church will play a role in executing God’s future justice.
Thus, it was highly improper for a Christian to bring a case against another Christian before a justice system that was already known to be corrupt.
— Verses 4-6 – If you have ordinary cases, then, do you appoint as judges those who have no standing in the church?
I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to decide between one believer and another, but a believer goes to court against a believer — and before unbelievers at that?
The church in Corinth was “puffed up” with pride over their own wisdom. Paul sarcastically asked them why they didn’t have someone “wise enough” to handle the dispute.
Why Not Be Wronged
Jesus endured the six most unjust trials in the history of the world, three by the Romans and three by the religious authorities.
He was willing to be wronged, pronounced guilty and punished on the cross, so that our guilt may be removed.
Isaiah said it well.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed. (Isaiah 53.5)
Paul understood that the “wisdom of the cross” was at stake in Corinth. The people knew how to assert their rights, but they didn’t know how to give up their lives in self-giving love to build up other people.
He chided the church that he had founded, “In fact, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?” (1 Corinthians 6.7).
I once watched one of my friends respond to an accuser, after being defamed with every hurtful word a Christian can receive. He took the “high road” and was willing to be wronged to the glory of God and the benefit of the church.
My friend knew the power of living a cross-life of self-giving love. He was in the right, but allowed himself to be wronged because of his experience of Jesus’ love.
The church in Corinth had members who did not comprehend the wisdom of the cross. Paul wrote, “But you yourselves wrong and defraud — and believers at that.” (1 Corinthians 6.8).
The wisdom of the cross is willing to serve and be wronged, but the “puffed up” pride of some of the members in the Corinthian church had no problem with wronging and defrauding others.
Paul wrote to help them evaluate their attitude and actions in the light of the gospel message they claimed to believe.
Application for Today
The message to the Corinthians is certainly relevant to the church in 2021. Here are three applications.
(1) When we wrong one another, rather than live in self-giving love, it affects our witness to the world.
High profile disputes among Christians give ammunition to the enemies of the church and the cause of Christ.
Humble men and women, who are willing to be wronged and to surrender their “rights,” will testify to the power of Jesus.
I recently saw a documentary on the Civil Rights Movement in America. A local sheriff in the 1960s marched black teenagers out of town, while sitting on the back of a horse.
The sheriff later suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized. The same students, who had been marched out of town, all knelt in front of the hospital where the sheriff was recovering and prayed for his health.
The church today needs to look more like the praying students than the prideful sheriff.
(2) There is a time for legal justice.
To compare the justice system in A.D. 50 Corinth with 2021 America is like comparing apples to oranges.
First, the dispute in Corinth could have been and should have been settled by the mature leaders of the Corinthian church.
Second, some crimes and injustices in modern times need public awareness to change laws and to address criminal behavior.
Paul’s counsel to the Corinthians should be taken into consideration as people contemplate legal action. The Holy Spirit is able to lead us into the right course of action, as we humbly seek his guidance.
(3) Live by the wisdom of the cross.
Paul clearly stated that people who live a cross-life of self-giving love will experience the power of God.
He said, “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1.18).
If we live in self-centered pride, we align ourselves with the crowd who thinks that Jesus’ death was foolish.
If we align ourselves with Jesus and his way of life, we will certainly discover the power of God active within and through us.
It is our choice – foolishness or God’s wisdom and power.
About This Blog
Tomorrow’s blog article will begin a study of the prophet Micah and his message of judgment, hope and promise.
If you have a prayer request, please email me at email@example.com or private message me on Facebook. The Maywood Baptist prayer team will be happy to pray for you.