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First Corinthians

Legal Unemployment

1 Corinthians 6:1-8

One of the most neglected aspects of our Lord’s commandments come in the matter of seeking our rights in court.

(1 Cor 6:1-8 NIV) If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? {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? {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, appoint as judges even men of little account 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 goes to law against another--and this in front of unbelievers! {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.


We must begin by recalling where Paul has been taking them.

· We are not given the task of judging the world. That’s the function of the Holy Spirit. As we shall see in this lesson, we have a role to play in that, but not in this present age.

· Paul now turns to disputes between Christian brothers. It is a different question, but the principles – especially the honor and unity of the church – are the same.


If we are to understand this passage correctly, we must understand some of the Greek words used; otherwise we may reach the wrong conclusions.

· The word used for “dispute” in verse 1 is the Greek pragma – from which we get our word “pragmatic.” It means a dispute about ordinary matters – not something stemming from a sin, but (for example) a commercial dispute.

· The word used for “judge” in this passage is the Greek krino, which carries the meaning of a formal courtroom judgment. So we can see that Paul is talking about the legal system of his time.

· The phrase “ungodly” is actually the unrighteous or unjust. It does not mean so much those without God as those without a real sense of justice and righteousness. It is both a description and a comment on the corruption of the time.

· Interestingly, the word translated “disputes” in verse four is different from the word in verse 1 – it is kriterion, from which we get our word “criterion.” The subtle meaning is that we are to apply criteria, or standards, to such disputes. So it is that Chrysostom tells us that the world will be judged “in us” – not by us. As the men of Nineveh will rise to condemn those of Christ’s generation by their repentance, so our example is to set a criterion for the judgment of the world.

Sense of outrage

Paul uses the word “dare” – to express his outrage that any Christian would do such a thing. Why the outrage?

· First, because of the authority of the church. The world has no authority over the church, except as God permits. Do recall that all authority in heaven and on earth is given to Christ, and by that authority he has established the church. To permit the courts to settle such disputes denies that authority, and thus denies the Lord who gave it.

· Next – as even the ungodly would acknowledge – a judge must come to his task with clean hands. If his decisions are to be respected, then he must be seen as one who is impartial. If his decisions are to be honored, and not put into action by force, he must be seen as one who is worthy of that honor. You may be forced to obey the decisions of the unrighteous, but you cannot be forced to honor them. Who then should judge these matters for Christians?

· Such actions attack the unity of the church, and this (as Paul has been proclaiming) is a most serious matter. After all, this letter begins by attacking the factions in the church; this is more of that same message. The unity of the church is in God’s stated will – Christ thought it so important that he prayed for it on the night of his crucifixion – and it is the Apostle’s care.

These are not trivial matters. To have them trivially cast aside for the sake of money or anger is indeed outrageous.

Should a Christian “go to law” at all?

There is a greater matter to be considered here: should a Christian go to law at all? I’m speaking of matters between a Christian and a non-Christian. Do you not recall our Lord’s words?

(Mat 5:39-41 NIV) But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. {40} And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. {41} If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.

Will you consider the implications of going to court?

· It implies that we are more concerned with our money, our lifestyle or our pride than we are about another man’s soul. For what dispute in court could possibly be worth a man’s soul? If you abandon your case and win a brother, are you not greatly enriched?

· It implies that we place “our rights” first – we, who are sinners. By proclaiming Christ we admit we are sinners, those who have offended. With our dirty hands we sign the court documents seeking to grub money from others.

· We do this in defiance of our Lord’s command. Command?

(Mat 5:25-26 NIV) "Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. {26} I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

· We do it in defiance of our Lord’s example – we, who proclaim ourselves his imitators.

Ray Stedman tells us a story about this in his sermon on this passage:

I will never forget the time when Dr. H. A. Ironside, with whom I have traveled, told me of an incident in his own life as a Christian. When he was only eight years old, or so, his mother took him to a meeting of the Brethren who were discussing some kind of difficulty among themselves. Evidently there was some terrible injustice that one felt others had done. Young Harry Ironside did not know what the trouble was, but it was clear they were deeply disturbed. He said that one man stood up and shook his fist and said, "I don't care what the rest of you do. I want my rights! That's all! I just want my rights!"

There was an old half-deaf Scottish brother sitting in the front row, and he cupped his hand behind his ear and asked this man, "Aye, brother, what's that ye say?" And the fellow said, "Well, all I said was that I want my rights. That's all." The old man said, "Your rights, brother, is that what you want, your rights? Why the Lord Jesus didn't come to get his rights. He came to get his wrongs, and he got them." Harry Ironside said, "I'll always remember how that fellow stood transfixed for a little while. Then he dropped his head and said, 'You're right, brother, you're right. Settle it any way you like.'" And in a few moments the whole thing was settled.

What should we do?

What, then, is a Christian to do?


If nothing else can be done – and we are greatly negligent in this matter in the church today – endure the wrong. Why?

· So that the church may not be exposed to shame and disgrace. Rosemary Nixon tells of her secretary. Whenever a Christian woman would call her – Rosemary is a divorce attorney – the secretary would rail against the church, proclaiming that submission was the problem. Should we give the enemies of Christ a chance to rave?

· So that we might seek our recompense from God the just, rather than from men. Who would you rather have handle your case, anyway?

· So that we might not be defeated by Satan. Defeated? How?

There are several ways in which Satan uses disputes in the church to attack both us as individuals and as a church:

· When we get taken up in such a dispute, is it not the case that we are usually setting our hearts on the things of this world, not on the things of God? We don’t sue people over theology. Set your hearts on things above!

· Should we not accept adversity at the hands of our Lord? Perhaps he is using this incident to train us for greater things; should we then reject his training and discipline in favor of “our rights?”

· We preach forgiveness. We preach it as being without limit or condition. Should we not practice what we preach?

· Isn’t often the case that our real motive in court is vengeance? But to whom does vengeance belong – us, or God? How will He react to our stealing what is rightfully his?

· Finally, should we not show mercy upon others, as God has shown mercy to us? He causes his rain to fall on the just and the unjust – and that was said when rain was a blessing to farmers, not something to muddy your Cadillac. We have received his mercy; we cannot repay it; we can at least pass it on.

If possible, seek resolution and reconciliation in the church

Is it possible that the church has no person capable of rendering good judgment in our trivial, worldly affairs? If that is so, it is a terrible disgrace, for we are commanded to seek wisdom. If we have run from it, we are indeed in great distress as a church.

So the church is capable of doing this; but why would we prefer the church to the courts? I submit there are three reasons:

The power of the church is greater than the power of the courts. All power and authority is given to Christ, and the church is his body on earth. With the courts you risk the anger of the judge; within the church you risk the wrath of God.

So why, then, do we not routinely turn to the church in these matters? Perhaps it is because the church has relinquished the authority, and no longer speaks as being the body of Christ, given the authority of binding and loosing. This is a very sad thing.

The church brings more to the problem than the courts. The courts are limited. The church has techniques a court cannot imitate:

· The church can get to the root of the matter. If the problem is pride, then the church can deal with it. I know of no court which can deal effectively with this.

· The church can provoke generosity by love, where the courts can only provoke anger and bitterness.

· The courts can settle only the evil at hand; the church can bring a greater good out of it.

The unity of the church is strengthened by this. When we submit matters to the church, we actually strengthen the unity of the church.

What we shouldn’t do

One obvious thing: we shouldn’t go to court. It embitters us; it embitters our brothers.

Perhaps more subtle is this: we should not disgrace the church.

· We should not disgrace the church by going to court – that is clear.

· But should it not be equally clear that we need to keep control of our tongues in a dispute – for exactly the same reason?

What does the world think, hearing two Christians scream at each other?

We have a choice: we must decide what we truly are. Are we ambassadors of reconciliation – or attorneys-at-law?

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