Our society is lawsuit-happy. A woman sues a fast-food chain because the coffee is too hot. An injured man sues a mountain resort because he breaks his leg while downhill skiing. An employee sues his employer because 20 years of factory work resulted in back trouble. Hungry lawyers ask on billboards, “Have you been hurt at work?” Saddest of all, lawsuits do not remain outside the church, but they hit close to home. Not long ago, an article in a Wisconsin newspaper exposed a church fraught with lawsuits. The deacons sued the pastor and he sued them in return—all to the shame of the Lord’s name in their community. But this is not new. Christians suing each other is as old as the New Testament.
To the Corinthian church, Paul wrote, “Does 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?” (1 Cor 6:1). Rather than solving their problems within their own community of faith they had taken their dispute into the local courthouse. In response, Paul asks them why they are asking people void of the Holy Spirit and wisdom of God to give them counsel. The apostle’s shock is not hidden.
He is not saying that secular judges are always unrighteous in their judgments or that a Christian can never get a fair trial in the world’s courts. His point is that conflicts between brothers and sisters in Christ are to be settled inside the church. John Calvin wrote, “Paul does not here condemn those who from necessity have a cause before unbelieving judges, as when a person is summoned to court; but those who, of their own accord, bring their brethren into this situation, and harass them, as it were, through means of unbelievers, while it is in their power to employ another remedy. While acknowledging the reality of this pitiful situation, the apostle provides four reasons why this should not be so.”
- Because Christians will one-day judge the world (v. 2) - What does Paul mean when he says the saints will judge the world? Is he speaking of the present? Well, there is a sense in which the godly behavior of Christians pronounces judgment on the world in the present. This was true of Noah (Heb 11:7). The obedience of Noah pronounced judgment to the world because it exposed their wickedness. But that is not what Paul is primarily writing about here. Instead, he refers to the eschatological day in which believers will judge the world with Christ, as fellow heirs with Him (Rom 8:17). This echoes Jesus (Luke 22:29-30) and the Apostle John (Rev 20:4). Believers will one-day be resurrected to judge the world with Christ. Paul’s logic is that if this is so then believers certainly can deal properly with their problems here and now.
- Because the local church contains the resources for proper judgment (vv. 3-6) - When Christians have disputes among each other they are to lay the issues before a group of godly counselors and be content with whatever their judgment may be. “We shall judge angels” refers to the fact that because believers are united with Christ, and He reigns over the angels, there is a day in the future in which in some sense we shall rule and judge them. If we shall judge in the spiritual realm, “how much more” shall we, through the Word of God and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, be able to solve matters of daily living? If you have the resources within, why go outside? Paul says, “I say this to your shame.” They should have been ashamed of themselves. Paul continues with biting sarcasm, “is it so, that there is not among you one wise man?” They who professed to be so wise could not even find one man wise enough to bring his wisdom to bear upon the given situation, to decide between brethren. The reality was appalling. Paul was disturbed, and rightly so.
- Because it is better to endure personal wrongs with patience (v. 7) - Paul continues “it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another.” These believers had already lost the battle. Satan had already conquered them. The moment a Christian takes another Christian to court he has already lost his case in God’s eyes. The defeat spoken of was not the material loss they were suing over, but the spiritual defeat incurred by the loss of public testimony and unity at the hands of Satan. Instead Paul asks, “why not rather be wronged?” In other words, it is better to suffer personal loss than to shame the name of Christ by making a mockery of His teaching. If a Christian is wronged by another Christian through some sort of business shenanigans, it would be better for him to swallow it hard than to take a fellow brother to court and ruin the testimony of God (Matt 5:39-40). Our sinful nature is radically opposed to such kinds of abuse, but it is the way of Jesus (Luke 6:27-31). Jesus does not throwing justice out the window, but says when it comes to personal offense and personal loss, generally speaking, the best thing a Christian can do is trust God that in the end all wrongs will be made right. It is a very sad day when Christians go to such lengths to get whatever they can out of this life—forgetting it is just a vapor. Christ not only taught the principle of enduring personal suffering; He modeled it (1Pet 2:20-23). It is better for a Christian to suffer material loss while entrusting himself to His faithful Creator than to bring shame to the cause of Christ by fighting for his “rights” (Rom 12:21). God never promised a life without suffering. Who are we to expect it? If a Christian must decide between enduring personal loss and taking his brother to court then the courageous choice is to humbly and graciously endure loss while knowing that one-day the Judge of heaven will right all wrongs.
- Because it violates the law of brotherly love (8th verse) - Paul concludes his argument with these tough words, “and that your brethren,” to stress how contrary lawsuits among believers are to the familial commitment present in the body of Christ (1 Jn 3:10-12). According to Jesus, the most powerful visual witness of the church to the world is brotherly love (Jn 13:35). The world needs to hear our verbal witness of the gospel, but we are also called to provide a visual witness that is consistent with our message. It is this kind of selfless love and forgiveness that the world needs to see. Nothing will undermine that witness quite like lawsuits among Christians.
In our lawsuit-happy world, let us who know and love Christ be willing to be defrauded—to mimic the selflessness of Jesus in a self-absorbed world.