Should believers take other believers to secular law court? Paul confronts the Corinthian church for doing so. But like the other issues he’s addressed, Paul is more concerned with the attitudes behind their taking legal action.
1Corinthians 6:1-8 presents two interpretative challenges: 1) how does it fit in the context? and 2) exactly what is Paul advocating?
We have several reasons to believe 1Corinthians 6:1-8 is not a tangent.
- Paul discusses sexuality both before (1Corinthians 5) and after (1Corinthians 6:9-20) this section on legal action.
- We find similar lists before (1Corinthians 5:9-10) and after (1Corinthians 6:9-10) this section.
- Immediately before 6:1-8, Paul introduces the concept of judging insiders versus not judging outsiders in 1Corinthians 5:12-13.
- Since 1Corinthians 1, Paul has been challenging the Corinthians for not using a Christian worldview to evaluate their circumstances. Their unwillingness to embrace a distinctly Christian lifestyle is a factor in the issue of legal action.
5:12For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves. 6:1Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints? -1Corinthians 5:12-6:1
Paraphrased flow of thought
You have misunderstood me if you think I was telling you to pass judgment on unbelievers and refuse to have any dealings with them. I can’t call them to account for being inconsistent with the gospel because they don’t believe the gospel.
But as believers you have a distinct perspective from the rest of the world. If someone claims to embrace the gospel and yet pursues a lifestyle that’s in rebellion to the things of God, you need to make clear to him that this is hypocrisy and his belief is in question.
To show you the appropriateness of judging those inside the church, suppose you have a conflict with another believer. Would you dare go to unbelievers to settle this dispute? Why would you expect unbelievers to render a judgment that is keeping with the values and priorities of those who follow Christ?
6:2Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? 3Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life? -1Corinthians 6:2-3
Judging Angels – Option 1
- We will judge the world in the sense that we will stand with Christ and be vindicated. The path we chose will be shown to be right and the promises of the gospel are true.
- We will be vindicated not because we were better or smarter but because God in His grace chose us.
- Paul could mean judge angels in the sense that we will be vindicated before fallen angels in the same way we will be vindicated before fallen humanity.
Judging Angels – Option 2
- The context suggests the contrast should be a “what”, not a “who.” If we’re competent to judge “angelic matters,” how much more ordinary, mundane matters. Thus we would expect the Greek word ( ἄγγελος ) to mean the message.
- The Greek word ἄγγελος (Strong’s G32) means “messenger”. It can be a divine or a human messenger depending on the context.
- A minority viewpoint holds this word can mean the message because the messenger can become synonymous with the message he proclaims.
- This view understands 1Corinthians 6:3 to say: “If we can judge a difference of opinion about a statement from God because God has given us wisdom and maturity through his holy spirit, how much more should we be able to understand the mundane issues of ordinary life?”
4So if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? 5I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, 6but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? 7Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? 8On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud. You do this even to your brethren. -1Corinthians 6:4-8
- The irony of 1Corinthians 6:5 is that the Corinthians have established themselves as wise enough to judge that Paul is not wise and yet none of them are wise enough to settle a mundane dispute.
- Paul is NOT saying it is virtuous to let injustice triumph. The virtue is not being passive and letting evil run its course. The virtue is seeking what is best for another.
- Why not rather be wronged when I have a chance to show the love of Christ? Why not rather be defrauded when I can show mercy and grace?
- Paul is not advocating establishing a formal church court. Institutions tend to become corrupt over time.
- Rather Paul is advocating that they seek wisdom from a more mature believer, just like siblings turn to mom to settle a dispute.
For more detail and explanation, please listen to the podcast.