Summary: In this sermon we seek to understand what Paul taught about lawsuits among believers and how the text applies to us today.
A. One Sunday a preacher was addressing the children during his children’s sermon.
1. He wanted to help the children think about Jesus as their friend and helper.
2. So he began with a question – “Who would you go to if you had a problem?”
3. One child said that he would go to his grandma. Another said she would go to her teacher. Another said their mother.
4. The preacher and congregation were surprised when one youngster said, “If I had a problem, I would call my lawyer!”
B. As you know, we live in a very litigious society.
1. There are 1 million, 150 thousand lawyers in the United States of America.
2. That’s one lawyer for every 265 Americans.
C. We’ve all heard about the number of frivolous lawsuits that end in huge awards for the plaintiffs.
1. The most famous of all is the one about the woman who spilled scalding coffee on herself and successfully sued McDonald’s.
a. It was February 1992 and Stella Liebeck ordered a cup of coffee to go from McDonalds.
b. Liebeck was sitting in the passenger seat of her nephew’s car, which was pulled over so she could add sugar to her coffee.
c. While removing the cup’s lid, Liebeck spilled her hot coffee, burning her legs.
d. It was determined that Liebeck suffered third degree burns on over six percent of her body.
e. Originally, Liebeck sought $20,000 in damages.
f. McDonalds refused to settle out of court. However, they should have.
g. Liebeck was ultimately awarded $200,000 in compensatory damages, which was reduced to $160,000 because she was found to be twenty percent at fault.
h. She was also awarded $2.7 million in punitive damages.
2. Forty or fifty years ago, someone standing on a street corner whose elbow was brushed by a passing truck would likely exclaim, “Thank God, I’m alive!”
a. Today a person in the same situation shouts, “Thank God, I’m going to be rich.”
3. Lawsuits have become a way of life in North American culture.
D. But once again, we find that the circumstances in first-century Corinth are quite similar to ours today.
1. The Greeks loved to sue as much as we do.
2. The law courts were one of their chief amusements.
3. Roy shared with me that Dr. Malherbe, and member of the church and scholar at Yale Divinity School, had told him about the Corinthian guilds and how the city had dense housing with multi-story buildings with balconies overlooking narrow streets.
a. The guilds had their own court systems of sorts, and the disputes were held in the streets and people would watch from their balconies.
b. Roy said it was often a spectacle like Judge Judy or Judge Wapner – truly entertainment.
4. I discovered in my research that first-century records from Athens (a neighboring city of Corinth) show that first attempts to settle a suit were carried out by private arbitration.
a. Each party chose its own arbitrator and a third was chosen by agreement between both parties to be an impartial judge.
5. If that failed, then the case moved to a court known as The Forty.
a. The Forty referred the matter to a public arbitrator, all who were male Athenian citizens in their sixtieth year – in other words, they were old, wise guys.
b. To refuse to be an arbitrator was to face the penalty of disenfranchisement.
6. If the matter still was not settled, it was referred to a jury court, which consisted of 201 citizens that handled minor cases and 401 citizens for cases involving larger amounts of money.
7. There were juries that could be as large as 1,000 to 6, 000 citizens, each of whom was paid for acting as a jury member.
8. You can see that practically every Athenian male was in his own way a lawyer who spent a great deal of time either deciding or listening to legal cases.
9. Greeks who became Christians had a tendency to bring their litigious tendencies into the church.
9. For good reason, Paul was shocked by this behavior.
10. The last thing the church needed was to have its dirty laundry aired in public.
E. Now, let me say upfront that Paul is not talking against lawyers and lawsuits as a whole.
1. Paul is not speaking against civil courts or Roman law.
2. He himself had been the beneficiary of the court system several years before when the Jews of Corinth brought him before Gallio.
3. Gallio had defended Paul’s right to preach – that story is in Acts 18.
4. In Romans 13, Paul gives a statement in defense of civil authorities and their divine appointment.
5. And it should be noted that Paul makes those statements at a time when many of those Roman rulers were pagans who were immoral or amoral.