When I look back at one particular period of my childhood, I am surprised that I ended up being a pastor all of these years. Within the church that so many of my family attended (four generations at once), there was a huge fight that was ridiculous on so many fronts. Even watching it as a 10-year-old, I recall thinking that these silly adults were far less mature than my own circle of friends. It was embarrassing. The church split, and even now, 53 years later, it has never really recovered from that time.
Imagine a family where two brothers are in business together, let’s say in the construction industry. They have a disagreement that becomes very public and well-known. Various family members side with one or the other. As you look at it, you don’t know what to think, especially if you are friends with family on both sides of the dispute. It gets worse. They end up going to court, where the contention becomes even more public, and the settlement sets up long-term resentments. Would you want to be a part of that family?
So why would unsaved people in Corinth want to be attracted to the church when there were disputes between church members in the public arena? That certainly wasn’t a very good testimony that the concepts being taught about knowing God through Christ would yield a better life.
Unity in the church and a testimony before the unbelieving world were issues that were bigger and more important than whatever controversies were leading fellow believers into court proceedings adjudicated by mere people of the world. This was very upside-down and shameful, according to Paul’s rebuke. Rather, these disputes should be settled within the church family. There is a role for friends, fellow saints and leaders to work together toward resolution and peace.
In fact, Paul says it would be better for the one being cheated and wrongly dealt with to, rather than continue the fight for justice, accept the situation and bring it to an end. But the Corinthians appeared to be quick to seek to take advantage of others, and likely to retaliate by upping the stakes.
This sort of behavior was not different than the rest of the world, and it called into question the reality of their faith and allegiance to the gospel truth. This was a life pattern that was not the Christian way. And just as those who had consistent life patterns of common, Greco-Roman activities of sexual immorality of varied sorts, idolatry, greediness, drunkenness, slandering others and swindling were clearly not connected to God’s kingdom, so also was this wrongful issue of public lawsuits.
Bottom line: the Corinthians needed to understand that genuine faith should yield genuine life change. They needed a commitment to be who they were now in Christ – redeemed sinners – and not who they were when lost and separated from God. And that is a timeless truth with application coming down to our own time.
6:1 – If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? 2 Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! 4 Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? 5 I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6 But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers!
6:7 – The 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? 8 Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters. 9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And 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.