Summary: In today's lesson we learn about how Christians are to handle disputes among themselves.
We continue our study in The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians in a series I am calling Challenges Christians Face.
One of the challenges that Christians face is the question of whether to sue fellow Christians in civil court. Let’s learn about this in a message I am calling, “Lawsuits against Believers.”
Let’s read 1 Corinthians 6:1-11:
1 When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? 2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! 4 So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 5 I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, 6 but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? 7 To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? 8 But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. 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. (1 Corinthians 6:1-11)
The United States is the most litigious society in history.
One website says that in 2002 over 16 million civil cases were filed in state courts. That’s 1 lawsuit for every 20 people in this country. In fact, Americans spend more on civil litigation than any other country, accord to a study in the Economic Journal.
Why are there so many lawsuits in America? Part of the reason, according to the Economic Journal, has to do with incentives to sue, of which Americans have plenty. While in most European legal systems the loser in a suit must pay a large portion of the winner’s legal fees, in America each party pays its own. So, simply speaking, in America there is little to lose. Many people apparently file a lawsuit just to see how far they can go with it.
In his commentary on 1 Corinthians pastor and author John MacArthur points out that the legal situation in Corinth probably was much as it was in Athens, where litigation was a part of everyday life. It had become a form of challenge and even entertainment. One ancient writer claimed that, in a manner of speaking, every Athenian (and Corinthian) was a lawyer.
When a problem arose between two parties that they could not settle between themselves, the first recourse was private arbitration. Each party was assigned a disinterested private citizen as an arbitrator, and the two arbitrators, along with a neutral third person, would attempt to resolve the problem.
If they failed, the case was turned over to a court known as the Forty, who assigned a public arbitrator to each party. Interestingly, every citizen had to serve as a public arbitrator during the sixtieth year of his life.
If public arbitration failed, the case went to a jury court, composed of from several hundred to several thousand jurors. Every citizen over thirty years of age was subject to serving as a juror. Either as a party to a lawsuit, as an arbitrator, or as a juror, most citizens were regularly involved in legal proceedings of one sort or another.
In Corinth, Gentile Christians had been so used to arguing, disputing, and taking one another to court before they were saved that they carried those practices over into their new lives as Christians. That course was not only wrong spiritually but practically unnecessary.
On the other hand, for centuries Jews had settled all their disputes either privately or in a synagogue court. They refused to take their problems before a Gentile court, believing that to do so would imply that God, through his own people using his own scriptural principles, was not competent to solve every problem. It was considered a form of blasphemy to go to court before Gentiles. Both Greek and Roman rulers had allowed the Jews to continue that practice, even outside Palestine. Under Roman law Jews could try virtually every offense and give almost any sentence, except that of death. As we know from Jesus’ trial, the Sanhedrin was free to imprison and beat Jesus as they pleased, but they required the permission of Rome, represented by Pilate, in order to put him to death.