Summary: Let’s take an honest look at conflict in the church.
It is time for peacemaking, time for us to consider how to have peace in our lives and how to be instruments of peace for others. I daresay that if I set aside sixty seconds for us to list the names of people with whom we do not feel at peace with, everyone in this sanctuary could list one or more names. If I really gave you time to think and encouraged you to dwell upon the hurts that you have received, everyone would walk out of this sanctuary depressed and angry. All of us have been hurt and have done our own share of hurting others. For two weeks, we are going to focus on what needs to be done to receive healing and become healers.
This morning, we will study our text to understand what it has to say about conflict, specifically how one church failed to handle it well. Next week, we will consider how to be peacemakers.
Chapter 5 presented a case of sexual immorality that the Corinth Church failed to address and even seemed to boast about. Chapter 6 opens with a case of one church member suing another. Whereas in the previous instance the church showed a remarkable lack of concern about a peculiarly fragrant sin, in this case church members are overly anxious to take action when they are personally offended. They demonstrate the character of the human heart: As long as your sin doesn’t affect me, my sense of justice will not be aroused. But if it involves me, I will not rest until I have vindication! Let’s see what is happening in Corinth.
When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?
The Corinth Christians are evidently resorting to the civic court system to resolve disputes between them. Considering the church’s refusal to deal with the incestuous church member, this is not surprising. The leaders and members are reluctant to “get involved” in settling disputes.
What are the grievances? We are not told, but considering the list given in verses 9 and 10, they may include taking advantage of one another through deception and force. The offenders are motivated by greed and immorality. The Roman world during this time was as known for being litigious as our American society, so the cases may easily range from serious offenses to trivial matters.
What irks Paul is the means by which the church members are settling their differences: does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? By the “unrighteous,” Paul means people outside the church. “Saints” is his favorite term for Christians. These are theological distinctions for Paul, not his moral description of these groups of people. Everyone is unrighteous, i.e. failing to meet God’s just law and being under his judgment. In Christ, however, believers are made righteous, i.e. placed in a right relationship with God through Christ’s righteousness. Thus, the believers become saints – people set apart from the unrighteous to a right relationship with God. The saints ought to be living good moral lives, at least better than the unrighteous. But as the Corinth saints themselves are demonstrating, that is not always the case.
Why is Paul so troubled with Christians going outside the church to settle their disputes? Does he disapprove of civil law? No. Paul believes that civil authority is ordained of God and the authorities placed in their positions through God’s appointment (see Romans 13:1-7). In 1 Timothy 2:1,2 he urges Christians to pray for civil authorities because of their role in providing stability. He availed himself of civil defense to protect his life from unjust accusations. Paul’s problem with civil authorities was not that he found them to be particularly corrupt or inept, but that the Christians could not discern the implications of their new status as saints in Christ.
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?
Don’t you understand who you are? Your destiny is to judge the world, even to judge angels. What is Paul talking about? He is referring to the Judgment Day. We are not only to be judged, but to take part in God’s judgment of the unrighteous – both man and fallen angel. To describe how this will happen would be to speculate. What Paul wants Christians to understand is that now we are in Christ our status with God and with the world has changed. We are no longer citizens of the world, but of God’s kingdom. What distinguishes us from our neighbors is not merely that we are forgiven of our sins, but that we have joined up with the people belonging to God.