Courting Church Members
I Cor. 6:1-11
Looking at chapters 5-6 here is like watching Paul wade through an entire multi-sin pile up of a wrecked church and sort out the huge array of mangled morals and wrecked relationships.
How should Christians settle differences of opinion with each other, disputes, or even instances of personal damages? Through lawsuits?
Lawsuits have become a way of life in North American culture. In America there is one lawyer for every 300 or so people. By comparison in Japan there is one for every 8,200.
Forty years ago someone standing on a street corner whose elbow was brushed by a passing truck would likely exclaim, ’Thank God, I’m alive!’ Now a person in the same situation shouts, ’Thank God, I’ll be rich.’" If you think he is exaggerating, don’t forget the woman who won a million dollar suit against McDonald’s because the coffee she got at the drive-thru, which she spilled on herself, was too hot. Then there is also the fellow in New York who a few years ago attempted suicide by jumping in front of a subway car. He failed to kill himself, but he did win a $650,000 judgment from New York City, because their train hit him. Or the burglar who fell thru someone’s weakened roof and the primary damages were the ones he received in court!
Even the Church today is subject to threats of legal actions. There was a cartoon in Christianity Today many years ago and the setting was on a Sunday morning. On the church platform is a soloist about to sing a number as the pianist prepares to play the introduction. With microphone in hand, he says, “I’d like to share a song with you that the Lord gave me a year ago … and even though He did give it to me, any reproduction of this song in any form without my written consent will constitute infringement of the copyright law which grants me to sue your pants off … praise God … ”
Apparently the Corinthians were quite fond of law and lawsuits. It was actually entertaining for them to be a part of a legal action and to try to figure out penalties. And of course, this being the culture, the habit of bringing a lawsuit against someone seeped into the church.
The Apostle Paul was not impressed with this behavior and sharply rebukes the Church for settling their differences in this way. In our passage today, we are taught why this is inappropriate for Christians and what motivates a proper settlement between brothers and sisters in the Lord.
1. Bringing Church troubles to secular courts
Someone in the Church at Corinth was following the pattern of old habits and using a natural recourse to assert his rights. In other words, he was suing a fellow Christian.
Paul responds, “How dare you?” The implication is that it is an act of audacious boldness. It is outrageous. One who would do this in the church to a brother or sister is uncaring; this person has reached a point where he does not care what anybody thinks or feels. All that matters are his rights regardless of the injury it causes to others.
But what is really disturbing is the ignorance of such a person to bring church troubles before secular courts, pagan judges who have no understanding of the family of God, of what divine forgiveness is like, or of what peacemaking is all about.
The person who threatens to sue is ignorant of our position in Christ.
And yet this is happening more often than we think. The lawsuit explosion has hit the church in recent years.
Listen to these examples of court cases in recent years. A pastor sued his denomination for age discrimination because he could not find a church willing to hire him for the salary he demanded. -- The board of trustees of a Baptist church in Louisiana filed suit to remove their pastor from his position. A few days later, another group, claiming to be the real trustees, filed a counter suit, asking that those who had filed the previous suit be removed as church members. -- A family in Illinois sued their church for injuries their 15-year-old son suffered at a church picnic when he fell out of a tree. His parents had watched him climb the tree and had warned him to be careful because it was dangerous, but when he fell, they sued the church. Now I know that the way insurance works these days it may be necessary to use the legal system at times, but I’ve actually known of believers who would do this without even consulting the church or even attempting to work things out privately first. That’s a shame.
Paul responds to this earthly thinking saying, “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? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!” The Bible clearly tells us that we are going to be a part of God’s judgment of the world at the end of times. We are going to rule and reign with Jesus – what this means exactly, we don’t know. (Rev. 20:4; 2 Tim. 2:12). It seems that Paul is telling us to start practicing now for that time.
That’s what makes lawsuits so wrong for Christians. The behavior does not fit a heavenly people.
Since we do live here in this world for the time being, are we never to use the secular legal system? Actually Paul did use the Roman legal system to his advantage when he claimed Roman citizenship. In Acts 21:26 Paul was arrested and wrongfully accused. As they were about to whip him to make him confess Paul asked, “Is it legal for you to whip a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been tried?” It is not wrong to use such means as long as it is done with the right motive. Is it wrong to take another Christian to court over a church matter? Yes, absolutely. Should Christians take each other to court over civil matters? If it can be avoided, no. Should Christians take non-Christians to court? Again no, if it can be avoided. But it may be difficult to avoid that entirely in our society today.
Sometimes a Church leaves no other recourse, such as the case of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.
Otherwise, this is not how Christians settle things.
2. The Shame of it all
Paul goes deeper still into the reason that we as Christians should avoid lawsuits. The fact is it brings downright shame to the church.
Verse 4 is a little confusing so we need to look at it from all sides.
v. 4 That sounds odd, doesn’t it? But it simply means that any believer in the church is more qualified than the world at judging Christian matters.
The real shame when believers sue believers is that the dirty laundry of the church is aired out for the whole world to see. What a lawsuit within the church says
to the watching world is, “Christians are no better than you are; you do not have anything different than we have. We have to have a judge come and settle matters between us and force one to do the
right thing. We have nothing better to offer to you.” What results from this shameful exhibition is that the cause of Christ is degraded in society.
It just doesn’t fit the testimony of our faith in Christ.
When Tim LaHaye, writer of the Left Behind books sued the Christian producers of the film for not making a better movie, it became a perfect example of this. Shouldn’t they be able to work this out?
The alternative to this kind of behavior is this: Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers. What is the loss of a thousand dollars, or a hundred thousand dollars, compared to the cause of Christ? Can we risk damaging the testimony of Jesus for such temporal arguments? What are they in the face of eternity?
Why not rather be wronged? What does this remind you of? Hmmm, Jesus? At a certain church membership meeting a man 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." 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.
It’s better to lose money than to lose your testimony!
Like Jesus we must demonstrate a different lifestyle before the world. Jesus did not come to exert his personal rights but to surrender them for the sake of others. There is nothing that resembles Jesus more in us than when we surrender our rights, even at the risk of personal hurt, so that the gospel can be preserved. We must believe that justice will come one day, but not now.
3. The evidence of true Faith
v. 9-11 In terms of lawsuits specifically, Paul is saying “Look, when you are so aggressive in defense of your own rights that you take another brother to law before a secular court, you are wronging that brother. Even though you may be right in your cause, you are wronging your brother, and that wronging, that unjust action, gives rise to the question, ‘have you yourself been justified before God?’” Treating each other this way sure makes the church wonder, were you really saved? Because the behavior suggests that nothing in you has been changed by the grace of Jesus. And those who have not been transformed by their relationship to Jesus cannot inherit the kingdom of God. We have a new heart, a new purpose, and a new worldview, so we should deal w/ worldly things different than the world does whenever possible.
Rom. 12:2 says be not conformed to this world, but transformed.
We could say that this has been all about lawsuits and be done with it. However, what this message is really about is the way we treat each other in the church. How do we settle our differences and our disputes in the body of Christ? Do we give the cold shoulder to those we have personality issues with? Even families cannot seem to find peace with each other sometimes in the church.
Our pride can easily lead us to situations where we get heated and frustrated. Then if the Spirit is allowed, we are humbled and brought low so that God can show us
how stupid, really stupid we have been. Oh what fools we are! What a fool I can be!
Really what Paul is asking us to do is consider our behavior as a church, as a family of God, and to ask ourselves “How are we treating each other?” Because the world is watching and wondering what makes us different. They hear things and know things about us. We get a reputation that is hard to shake.
Have we been transformed? Are we different? Do we love each other the way Jesus told us to? “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my
disciples” (paraphrase of Jn 13:35).
Let’s settle this. With love and compassion for each other, let’s deal with the real problems between us. If we need to, let’s call in a third party of godly character and objective reasoning and let’s talk about our hurts. Let’s understand each other. The best way for that to happen is to sit down and talk. No sense holding it in and letting it fester. That only poisons us further against being able to love our adversary.
Could they find the true gospel of Jesus in us by the way we live?
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