The United States has become a remarkably litigious society. If we fall off a ladder, we sue the ladder company. If we trip on a crack in a sidewalk, we sue the homeowner residing behind the crack. Why not? It’s free! Our lawyer assures us that if there’s no award there’ll be no fee. Of course, the other guy pays whether or not we collect. His lawyer is not free-until we have the misfortune to bump his car at the stoplight and he decides he has whiplash . . . it never ends.
The Corinthians must have been like us in this regard. Maybe not quite as bad. That would be hard to imagine. Check out 1 Corinthians 6:1-11.
Paul wants to know why the Corinthians take their grievances against each other to court rather than to an arbitrator from among their own brethren. I can think of a couple of reasons:
- The saints didn’t have the authority to enforce a judgment. Of course, the parties to the lawsuit could have agreed between themselves to abide by the arbitrator’s decision just as people do today. Today, people aren’t generally suing each other so much as they are suing (by proxy) each other’s insurance companies. Such arbitration would not be binding on an insurance company.
- A party seeking an unjust settlement such as we so often see today would have less chance of collecting in an environment of mutually friendly arbitration, particularly arbitration performed by a brother or sister who knew both parties well. Again, the party pressing the lawsuit today is most likely looking for the deep pockets of an insurance company-not accessible through an arbitrator.
As we’ll see later in this passage, Paul isn’t talking about serious legal matters. He’s referencing small grievances over which the Corinthians were taking one another to court. This is behavior unbecoming to believers, particularly when directed against one another. The Corinthians weren’t looking for huge settlements as we might seek today, yet the matters brought to court today are often as petty. The addition of possible massive infusions of cash in the form of insurance payouts adds another layer of greed to our lawsuit climate. Not only can we get rich from make-believe hurts, we can tell ourselves that we haven’t injured our brother by suing him unjustly. We have only finally gotten our due from the evil insurance companies that have been overcharging us for so many years. Do I need to point out the flaws in this “logic”?
Paul makes an offhand remark here that puzzles a lot of us-me included. “Don’t you know that the saints will judge the world?”
Is Paul saying the saints will participate in the Great White Throne judgment? Looking through my commentaries, I find all kinds of opinions and rationalizations, so I guess I’m not be the only one saying, “What? Li’l ol’ me? Judge the world?”
One commentator suggests Paul meant that, since we are in Christ Jesus, having been put there by God (1 Corinthians 1:30), we participate in the judgment He gives, just as we participate in His death and partake of His righteousness and resurrection. This may be true, but I don’t think that’s what Paul was talking about. Paul postulates that since we are to judge the great matters of the world in the future, we should therefore be capable of judging present small matters. Our vicarious participation in Christ’s judgment doesn’t seem to qualify us to personally judge anything.
Another commentator muses that maybe we participate in Christ’s judgment by sitting with Him on His throne and approving His judgments. Again, that’s likely true, but doesn’t seem to apply to Paul’s present argument any more than the first reason does.
Could it be that Paul just means for us to take his words at face value? John the Apostle reports seeing the devil bound for 1,000 years in Revelation 20:1-6, following which he says, “and I saw thrones and they sat on them and judgment was committed to them . . . and they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” For a number of reasons, “they” seems to refer to the saints. This all happens before the unsaved dead are raised, so it would appear that the saints are not being told they will judge at the final judgment, but during the Millennial reign of Christ. The Greek word for “judge” means not only what we mean today by the word, but also carries the concept of governing.
This makes more sense to me. Whoever else may make it into the Millennial kingdom, there will certainly be children of the believers who survive the tribulation and who need to make their own decisions for or against Christ. The scriptures tell us that some of them, as incredible as it seems, will decide against following Jesus, even with the devil bound and unable to tempt them. If there are unregenerate people, there will be crimes and the need for judges. If there are people at all, there will be the need for some form of organization and thus government.
Paul also mentions in his offhand way that the saints will judge angels. I’m glad he said that and not me. Was he speaking of passing judgment on fallen angels or of governing holy angels? I suspect the latter, but I haven’t been able to find a sure answer for this. As children of the kingdom, sons and daughters of God, it would be our natural destiny to govern under Him upon reaching our majority. This is as far as I’m going with this subject just now. Maybe it will come up again.
The point of the passage, aside from the asides mentioned above, is that we will have great responsibility in God’s kingdom, and should thus be able to handle passing a decision in small matters among ourselves rather than behaving like stubborn, peevish, quarreling children and running to the magistrates the moment we don’t get our way or someone takes some small advantage of us.
Certainly there may be occasions for Christians to defend themselves against other so-called Christians who wish to do us great harm, whether financial or otherwise. This was not the case here.
The Corinthian Christians apparently thought nothing of defaming the name of their Lord rather than let their brethren take some perceived or real advantage against them. They aired their dirty laundry before the world and submitted trivial matters to the judgment of heathen magistrates rather than appointing some wise person of the church to hear their grievances. Paul asks, perhaps sarcastically, whether there is not some one of their members wise enough to decide such small matters as they brought against one another. As we have learned from earlier portions of Paul’s letter, the Corinthians were proud of their wisdom. Paul tells them they should be ashamed to take their cases to the heathen courts in full view of unbelievers.
I can just see some aggrieved person puffing out his chest and self-righteously proclaiming, “I don’t care if it’s a small matter-it’s the principle of the thing!” Have you ever said or thought something similar? I have. It hurts our pride if not our pocketbooks or our emotions to be taken advantage of. We want to get back at the person who wronged us. Even though the wrong may be small, the hurt feels large, especially coming from someone we feel should be on our side-our friend and sister or brother. The more excellent way, however, is the way of love. Forgive, swallow our pride, allow ourselves to be wronged rather than bringing reproach on the name of Christ with our petty squabbles. Instead, the Corinthians were not only failing to forgive, but were committing offenses themselves against one another.
Now we come to the root of the problem. The Corinthian church lived in a town infused with Greek philosophy, one tenet at least of which doggedly burrowed its way into the church so that bits of it are with us still. It gave birth to the heretic Gnostic church. This was the idea that the physical world is evil by nature and cannot be redeemed. The logic that followed was that it didn’t matter what the Corinthians did in their bodies; that their bodies were irredeemably evil and would be discarded along with the rest of the physical world.
Paul has to explain to them that the unjust will not inherit God’s kingdom. Praying the sinners prayer will not save us if we do not truly repent. If we want to arrive in God’s kingdom, we must leave behind the kingdom of this world. We will leave sin behind gradually as we grow in grace, but our eyes must always be on the prize of becoming like Christ. We must not look back longingly at the world as did Lot’s wife, or we will never make it out. We must rather flee from the things of the world as from an evil plague.
Once more, Paul gives the Corinthians a list of sins, the habitual practitioners of which cannot hope to inherit the kingdom of God. These are: sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, male prostitution, homosexuality, thievery, greed, drunkenness, reviling and swindling. Christians don’t do these things. It isn’t that abstaining from these sins makes one a Christian, but practicing them as a habit of life is a sure symptom that one is not a Christian.
Some of the Corinthian Christians had come out of such sins. By the order of his sentence, Paul emphasizes the washing necessary to salvation. Some wanted to be justified without being washed; saved without being set apart from the world, but that isn’t possible. Cleansing, sanctification, and justification come as a package. If you haven’t got the cleansing, you haven’t got the others, either. Christ died to make us holy and pure, not to permit us to be justified while still clinging stubbornly to filth and shame-to sin.