Bible read me 2The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 6:1-8

Lawsuits Against Believers

When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? 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? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 5 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? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers![a]

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s conclusion on church discipline in order to keep the congregation pure.

In this week’s verses, Paul rebukes the Corinthians for taking out vexatious and trivial lawsuits against each other in secular courts rather than try and resolve their differences in Christian love and wisdom.

The Corinthians were troubled and troublesome people. It is not surprising, considering that they lived in a city known throughout the Ancient World for its iniquity.

Paul was keen to get the Corinthian church back on track.

In 1 Corinthians 6, he begins by chiding them for suing each other.

He asks why the Corinthians go to civil courts to resolve their differences rather than seek reconciliation within their church community (verse 1). He rewords the same question in verse 2.

John MacArthur explains the gravity of their situation (emphases mine):

Now, the problem in the church at Corinth was that Christians were suing each other. Now, the Corinthian church, to which Paul wrote this letter, had a lot of problems. The letter was written as kind of a problem solver.

He deals with problems of their divergence of human philosophies resulting in their inability to get along together, problems such as incest, somebody having a sexual relationship with his father’s wife, problems of pagan worship, problems of drunkenness, all kinds of problems that the Corinthians had, and each chapter deals with a different one of them. Well, one of the problems they had was the problem of suing each other. They were very busy taking each other to court and really, their motives became very impure. It got to the place where they were even doing it in order to rob each other.

By contrast, the Jews, who were widespread even during that time, were known for settling their differences within their own congregations. They did not take each other to a civil court:

the Jews did not ordinarily go to law in a public law court. That just wasn’t something they did. And if they ever had a problem – and in every city where there were Jews, there was usually a Jewish synagogue. If you had eleven men, you could have a synagogue, and they would start one, and so the synagogue would become kind of the court, and the deciding process would be carried on right within that little framework of the Jewish family, and they never would take their problems into the pagan world.

They were trying to show the world their unity. They were trying to show the world their love. They were trying to settle their own problems, and they also felt that God’s Word, the revelation of God, the law of God, the Old Testament, had all the answers to the problems of their life. It had answers to all the family problems, all the problems on a social level, cultural and economic level, and why would they need to go to a pagan court?

And it was an interesting thing, too, that the Roman and the Greek world accommodated this Jewish attitude. They allowed them the right to decide their own cases. In fact, even in the case of Jesus Christ, you know, it was their own decision to do what they wanted with Jesus Christ. They had that right, short of the right of execution, to decide their own cases, and the Romans and the Greeks were very tolerant in that regard. And Roman law was somewhat advanced and – and very, very tolerant in allowing the Jews to do what they wanted in terms of their own decisions.

What is interesting about this, too, is that it translated over into Christianity because the Romans and the Greeks saw Christianity as a form of Judaism, and since they saw it as a form of Judaism, they allowed Christians the same rights they’d always allowed Jews; that is, they could decide their own issues. So there was absolutely no reason for them to wind up in a pagan court. They had no reason to go there because the courts would’ve accepted the decisions they had made in their own community and granted them sanction by the government. So it was ridiculous for them to even wind up in court, but here they were, always going to court.

But that was not enough for the Corinthians:

… the reason primarily was they didn’t want to settle it in their own community because they couldn’t get what they wanted and they wanted to gouge each other. So they wanted to drag it into a pagan court and see if they can get more money out of it or more whatever they were after. And in addition to that, in the community in which they lived, particularly in Athens, the law system and the process of litigation was so much a part of life that it became the chief entertainment.

Let me tell you why. In Athens, there were suits and law problems going on continuously. In fact, one historian said everybody in the city of Athens was a lawyer, more or less. I’ll show you why. Let’s say you had a problem with a guy and you wanted to settle it. The first process you followed was known as private arbitration. A private arbitrator was given to you, a private arbitrator was given to him, and a neutral third party was chosen, and those three people were supposed to resolve the problem.

If those three people couldn’t come to any agreement and couldn’t solve the problem, then your case was turned over to a court known as the Forty, and the Forty would appoint another arbitrator. There were certain public arbitrators, not private, now, but public like a public defender. Everybody 60 years old, for the duration of his 60th year, served the community as a public arbitrator. And so if you couldn’t get your thing settled by private arbitration, then public arbitrators were assigned to your case.

Now, if that didn’t do it, there was a multiple-jury court in Athens made up of 201 people for small cases, and we have records of anywhere from 1,000 to 6,000 people for big cases. You could have a jury of 6,000 people in your court case. Talk about a hung jury. How’d you like to try to convince all them? Well, it was a majority situation but the idea simply being this: that with juries that big, and with the process this involved, everybody got into it.

Everybody in his 60th year, knowing he’d have to be a public arbitrator, would have some sense of knowledge about the courtroom process, and all the jurors in those large juries were 30 years and older, so by the time you hit 30, you’d be involved in all of that. Law was a big deal and as I said, everybody was more or less a lawyer. If you weren’t really in on the case, you were in on it in terms of sharing your opinion, discussion, and everything else because it was so much a way of life.

Well, here are these people in the Corinthian system. They are so used to doing this kind of a thing as a process of life, they get saved, they become Christians, they enter the church, and just like they did with everything else, they dragged that whole deal into the church, too. They dragged their philosophies into the church. They dragged their immoralities into the church. They dragged their litigation attitudes into the church. The whole style of life that they used to have just kept coming into the church with them. They never really knew how to make the break.

Paul was looking ahead to the afterlife by reminding them by asking about saints being able to judge angels (verse 3). Therefore, he says, the same principle should apply in this temporal life.

MacArthur explains:

there’s no article. Doesn’t say “the” angels or which angels or what kind of angels, just says angels, and that gives it a qualitative sense. Angels as beings. In other words, he’s saying we’re going to be put above superior beings. We’re going to be placed above the angels.

Now, there are two kinds of angels, good ones and bad ones. Evil angels and holy angels. Does this mean we’re going to judge the evil angels? Well, there is going to be a judgment of evil angels. There’s no doubt about that. 2 Peter 2:4 says that “God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them to hell, delivered them to chains to be reserved unto judgment.” Says the same thing in Jude verse 6. “The angels who kept not there first estate, he reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment.”

So there’s going to be a judgment of evil angels. Will we be a part of that? Could be. Doesn’t say which angels here, but it might be that we’ll be co-reigning with Christ and judging – ruling over – fallen angels. Now, others say, “No, it means good angels. It means good angels because if it meant bad angels, it probably would say that, so it probably means good angels.” Well, that could be. If it means good angels, what are we going to judge them for? They didn’t do anything.

Well, then you’d have to say, “Well, the word ‘judge’ is used synonymously with the word ‘rule’” and that’s true. To judge in Israel and to rule in Israel meant the same thing in the Old Testament, so maybe he’s just saying generally we’re going to rule over them. You say, “Which view do you take?” Well, I’m sort of a theological packrat, so I’ll take both, and I’ll assume that what he’s saying here is he’s collecting everything up and saying, “You’re going to rule the world, and you’re going to rule angels. You may be in on the judgment of evil ones, and you will certainly be part of the rule of the good ones.”

Just think about it. In heaven someday, we’ll have a position to rule over angels. And, of course, their submission to us will be voluntary. Now, I don’t understand all the implications of that. I just – I just kind of feel that’s kind of interesting to think about. But if we can judge the world someday with the equipment that we have in the power of the Spirit of God and the knowledge of His Word, and if we can judge angels, then we ought to be able to settle our own matters down here. That’s a fairly good argument, isn’t it? That’s what he’s arguing here.

Paul asks whether believers should be placing their grievances before a civil authority, those who have no standing in the church (verse 4).

MacArthur interprets that verse for us:

the least esteemed Christian is better equipped to handle a family matter within the framework of Christianity than the most competent pagan judge.

Paul points out that they should be ashamed of going to a civil court to resolve matters that could be done within the context of the church family (verses 5, 6).

Matthew Henry offers this analysis:

It is a shame that little quarrels should grow to such a head among Christians, that they cannot be determined by arbitration of the brethren …

Note, Christians should never engage in law-suits till all other remedies have been tried in vain. Prudent Christians should prevent, if possible, their disputes, and not courts of judicature decide them, especially in matters of no great importance.

Paul criticises the Corinthians for suing each other, calling such behaviour a ‘defeat’ for them (verse 7). Clearly, they were not showing Christian love for their neighbour. Furthermore, they were demonstrating that lack of love before the pagan world.

Paul goes further, asking them if it were not better for them to be defrauded rather than to engage in unloving behaviour.

MacArthur points out that even pagans believed it was worth being defrauded from time to time, quoting Plato:

… even a – a non-Christian like Plato said this – Plato said, “The really good man will always choose to suffer wrong rather than to do wrong.” The truly good man will always choose to suffer wrong rather than to do wrong.

Now listen, I’ll apply that to this. Even the pagan man knew that. It’s a sin to sue a Christian. It’s better to suffer wrong than to sue a Christian, right? It’s better. You say, “But he took a lot of money.” It’s better to suffer wrong than to sue a Christian. You never sue a Christian. That’s wrong.

For a Christian with the love of Christ in his heart, he would rather suffer insult, injury, loss, damage, rather than inflict it on somebody else, especially a brother. Vengeance, for a Christian, is absolutely absurd. It is absolutely absurd. A Christian does not order his acts by recompense, by a desire for revenge. A Christian orders his acts by love and forgiveness, doesn’t he? And a Christian will seek peace at any cost. Paul says, “I can’t believe it. Suing each other.”

Paul ends this series of questions with a sharp statement about the Corinthians’ preference for doing wrong and defrauding each other rather than loving their brethren (verse 8).

Henry explains:

It is utterly a fault to wrong and defraud any; but it is an aggravation of this fault to defraud our Christian brethren. The ties of mutual love ought to be stronger between them than between others. And love worketh no ill to his neighbour, Rom. 13:10. Those who love the brotherhood can never, under the influence of this principle, hurt or injure them.

Paul has much more to say to the Christians of Corinth. This is but the tip of the iceberg.

Next time: 1 Corinthians 6:9-11