Menu Close

“Why Not Rather Be Wronged”

1 Corinthians 6:1-11
Bob DeGray
May 7, 2006

Key Sentence

Believers should apply God’s principles to every dispute.


I. Keep disputes in the church (1 Cor. 6:1-5)
II. Handle disputes God’s way (1 Cor 6:6-8)
III. As God handled his with you! (1 Cor 6:9-11)


       Here at Trinity we’ve often used materials from Peacemaker Ministries to learn crucial principles of Biblical conflict resolution. Ken Sande, the founder of Peacemakers developed a heart for this kind of ministry as a practicing lawyer, who too often saw conflicts among Christians end up in the law courts. He wrote an article for the Peacemaker web site called ‘The High Cost of Conflict Among Christians’: “You may know from first-hand experience that conflict among Christians is costly. But just how costly? I admit it’s difficult to quantify the spiritual cost of conflict — how do you measure the pain, suffering, and diminished witness caused by Christians who fight one another? Yet as I've looked at several studies, I think it’s possible to estimate the more tangible costs of conflict: 20 million civil lawsuits are filed in state courts each year. No attorney I’ve talked to thought that Christians were less likely to file a lawsuit than non-Christians. According to Barna 40% of American adults claim to have made a personal commitment to Jesus and believe they will get into heaven because they trust in him. The implication is that about 40% of all lawsuits are filed by Christians. Maybe it’s as little as half that - but that would still mean between 4 and 8 million lawsuits. Lawsuits typically cost $50,000 or more to litigate. Using just 1/10 of this amount, $5,000, a conservative estimate of lawsuits involving Christians would be $20 to $40 billion.”

        So it’s a huge problem - and that’s just the legal cost. The other factors he mentions - pain, suffering and diminished witness - are even more significant spiritually. So what should we think about lawsuits among believers? Scripture doesn’t leave us in the dark. In our text for this week Paul gives clear guidance for our attitudes and our actions. I Corinthians 6:1-11 can be boiled down to a very simple truth: believers should apply God’s principles to every dispute. Believers should apply God’s principles, as seen in His word and in the person and work of Jesus Christ, to every dispute.

I. Keep disputes in the church (1 Cor. 6:1-5)

I Cor 6:1-5 If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? 2Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! 4Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! 5I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?

Paul recognizes that there will be disputes and conflict between believers, but he is very concerned as to how those conflicts are handled. He essentially says ‘how dare you take this before a secular court’ - the words ‘how dare you’ come first in the Greek. It may be that he is speaking specifically of a lawsuit that arose out of the case of immorality we studied last week. Or it may be that such lawsuits were so common he doesn’t need to cite a specific one. We’ve already seen that the Corinthians were known for sexual immorality, and it seems the Greeks were also known for their love of litigation. Barclay comments: “The Greeks were characteristically and naturally a litigious people. The law courts were one of their chief amusements and entertainments. . . In a Greek city every man was more or less a lawyer and spent a great part of his time either deciding or listening to law cases.” So naturally these Greeks had brought the same tendencies into the church. It was really no different than the situation with sexual immorality; the world was invading the church. But Paul is deeply concerned that the ungodly rather than the holy, or the saints, would be judging issues between believers. He’s probably not passing moral judgment on these secular judges, but simply saying that the way Christians are supposed to resolve things is different than the way the world resolves them. We’re supposed to be aware of Matthew 18, and the procedures of 1 Cor. 5, and to use these spiritually oriented tools to resolve conflict and deal with sin.

        Verse 2: “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!” Paul uses the phrase ‘do you not know’ six times in this chapter, as if to emphasize that the Corinthians, wise in their own eyes, should know better than to do what they are doing. That the saints will assist in the judgment of the world goes back to Jesus. Matthew 19:28 “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Indeed such judgment is seen in the prophecies of Daniel: “But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. 27Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High.” These Scriptures do not explicitly teach that the saints will judge angels, but angels fits in the broad definition of world - the whole kosmos - used in verse 2.

        So, verse 4: “if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! 5I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?” Verse 4 is a little hard to translate. I think the NIV goes too far, suggesting the Corinthians appoint as secular judges those who are of little standing in the church. But the point is that even a baby Christian is better able to judge spiritual things than a secular person. Paul has said: “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God; they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he is not subject to any man's judgment: 16"For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ.”

        Given their inability to comprehend or appraise spiritual things, the judgment of unbelievers cannot be allowed to count for everything in the church. In chapter 4, Paul assured the Corinthians he was not trying to shame them: but now, in chapter 6, Paul does try to shame them - and rightly so! They should be ashamed of themselves for taking disputes before unbelieving judges Paul asks the Corinthians if there is not one wise person among them who is qualified to judge a dispute between believers. What a blow to Corinthian pride! These are the ones who are so wise, so quick to judge Paul and find him wanting, to proudly follow one leader and condemn the rest. Where are these Corinthian wise guys when they’re needed? Why is no one able to judge these disputes? Instead, the saints are at one another’s throats, and all the while as the world looks on in disdain.

        So the principle here is exceptionally simple: when there is a dispute or a conflict between two believers, or when one believer sees another in sin, the matter should be dealt with in the church, using Matthew 18 and other Scriptures that provide wisdom in relationships. And this should apply to many things our culture takes for granted will result in lawsuits. Specifically, Christians who do business with other Christians should be prepared to use the resources of the church to settle disputes, rather than courts. Marriages should receive counsel in the church, not through a judge on the bench. Liability issues and injuries should be approached with Christian charity rather than a greedy desire to take people to the cleaners. Now I’m not saying that all legal recourse can be avoided. In some situations the culture may force us into the courtroom. But if both sides are believers, the essential and relational peace-making should have already happened. Even when non-believers involve us in a legal issue, believers should be intent on representing Christ well. And there should be times when a courtroom is avoided entirely through mediation by Christian conciliators, either from the local church or through an organization like Peacemakers.

II. Handle disputes God’s way (1 Cor 6:6-8)

        So Paul has already begun to imply ‘handle disputes God’s way.’ Verses 6 to 8: 6But instead, one brother goes to law against another--and this in front of unbelievers! 7The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 8Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers.

        Paul’s desire is that disputes as much as possible be dealt with by godly means within the church. So he is rightly appalled that this is not happening in Corinth. To go to law with a brother is a defeat in itself, whatever the outcome of the legal process. The gaining of the verdict matters little when the name of Christ is being misrepresented or sullies. So Paul is telling us that it is better to be a victim than a victor. Paul is saying that it is better to be wronged, better to be defrauded? How can this be? Well, let’s ask ourselves what keeps the Corinthian believers - or us - from accepting a loss, from being a victim? The only reasons we can think of are all bad.

        We don’t want to take the loss because of pride. We don’t want to let the other person get the better of us; we don’t want our reputation tarnished. Or in materialism, we don’t want to lose money or possessions, which are more precious to us than relationships. Or in self centeredness we don’t want to have our rights violated. We protect and exercise those rights, no matter what the cost to others. But Paul’s instructions can only be understood in terms of the utterly different value system of Jesus. When he invited men to follow Him, they were told to “take up their cross daily” - a clear invitation to die. The Christian is a person whose life is dominated and directed by the cross of Calvary. It was on the cross that our Lord was wronged for our salvation; his body broken, his blood shed. The wrongful death of Christ is shown by Peter to be the model for the Christian.

        So what if real victory can be obtained by choosing to be wronged, by choosing to be cheated? Isn’t this what Jesus taught in Matthew 5, that believers should turn the other cheek; that when sued at law for their tunic they should give up their cloak as well; that if a man forces you to go a mile, you should go two miles instead, and that the one who asks from us should receive from us. That’s radical Christianity, the kind we tend to avoid with phrases like “Let’s be realistic; let’s be practical.” Is that more important than being like Jesus? If this is the ethic and value system of Christianity, what are we doing in the law courts - or in conflict? Are we at all willing to be wronged or defrauded for the sake of the gospel and for the testimony of the church?

III. As God handled his with you! (1 Cor 6:9-11)

        You see we’re penetrating the surface to the heart of the issue, and learning to apply God’s principles, which are often surprising and radical, to the circumstances we face. And at the very heart of God’s eternal principles is the idea that sinful people receive grace. We should handle our disputes with others the way God handled his dispute with us. Verses 9 to 11: 9Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11And that is what some of you were. 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

        Paul again appeals to common knowledge: ‘don’t you know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?’ This ought to be common knowledge even to us: God has made it clear that all have sinned and fall short of His glory and therefore all of us are legitimately called ‘wicked’. We are rebels and sinners, and the wages of sin is death. Far from inheriting the kingdom of God and eternity in his presence, sinners have earned death and eternal separation. Now I don’t think Paul is talking here about believers who sin; he’s talking about unbelievers who live the way unbelievers live. And some associated with the Corinthian church may have been unbelievers, but the emphasis is on the change God works in those who believe.

        So take it as a truism, something we all ought to know at the very foundation of our souls, that sinners will not be part of God’s eternal kingdom. And Paul wants to be very sure the Corinthians recognize sin as sin. So he gives the list: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers. Paul lists ten items, six of which are repeats from chapter 5, where Paul was contrasting what we should expect from the world around us and what we should require inside the church. Six of the items on the current list are things we should expect to see in the world around us; so are the four new ones. He adds ‘adultery’, a specific form of sexual sin that violates the marriage covenant, and both passive and active homosexuality, another specific sexual sin that violates God’s design for marriage. By the way, when I say ‘passive and active’ homosexuality I’m not saying that Paul condemns the temptation to this sin - no, he’s referring to two different kinds of active involvement in sin. In the second part of the list where the emphasis is on sins against others, he adds the word thieves, using a Greek word that leads to our ‘kleptomaniac’ - someone with a lifestyle or addiction to stealing.

        Now if I hadn’t warned you, you might expect Paul to say ‘if you practice any of these you’re not a believer’. But that isn’t the direction he goes at all. He emphasizes instead the tremendous revolution God has brought about in believers through the Lord Jesus Christ. He says in an almost understated way ‘all those varieties of horrible sin? Something like that is what characterized you.’ It may not have been a sin on the list, but you had the disease, no matter how it manifested itself, and you were dying of it. If God had taken you to a court of law it would have been no effort at all to prove you guilty and get you the death sentence.

        Why then do you insist on justice in your dealings with each other? God has not given you justice - he has given you mercy: “But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Three times Paul emphasizes the revolutionary work God did in you through the sacrifice of Jesus. These are all aorist verbs: completed action. But you were washed: literally ‘you got yourself washed from’ - washed clean. Some have said that this must refer to baptism, but both Old and New Testament Scriptures point also to an internal washing of the heart. Psalm 51: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 2Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. . . 7Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” In Jeremiah 33:8 God promises “I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me.” So when you trusted Jesus Christ, his blood, shed for your sins, washed you clean. Isaiah 1:18 “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”

        You were washed, you were sanctified: now there’s a great word. It literally means being made holy, made ‘saints’, and set apart for a holy purpose. In the most important sense, sanctification is also something that happened to you when you believed. At the beginning of this letter Paul said “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus.” And sanctification is by grace and through faith. When Paul was called to ministry the Lord said that his task was to open the eyes of the Gentiles, and “turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” Yet sanctification is also a process: Jesus prays for his followers that God would sanctify them by his truth - his word. We are to become progressively more holy as the Christian life goes along, even though God declares us to be holy the moment we’re saved.

        Finally, you were washed, you were sanctified, and you were justified. This is the big one, Paul’s favorite. The same Greek word is translated ‘justify’ or ‘justified’ when it’s a verb, but ‘righteous’ or ‘righteousness’ when it’s a noun or adjective. It means that God declares you right with him. Once you were an alien, a stranger and an enemy, but now through the work of Christ God is able to put you into a right relationship with him and adopt you into his family. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and, Romans 3:24, “are justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” This is the central gift of the gospel. By grace we are made right with God. By faith we are made right with God. By the blood of Jesus we are made right with God and made holy and made clean. This is God’s way of doing things: he is a God of grace and mercy. He does give what we deserve, but not to us - he gives it to his Son. By the death of Jesus his justice is satisfied and we receive only mercy. Why then, people of Corinth and people of Friendswood, are you so concerned, with getting justice toward each other? God didn’t insist on getting justice toward you. Why don’t you resolve your disputes his way?