Lawsuits Among Believers
1 Corinthians 6
1. If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? 2. Or do you not know that the Lord’s people 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, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned 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 takes another to court—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 and sisters. 9. Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with mena 10. nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11. And that is what some of you were. 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.
It is better to be wronged and cheated…
I love the tragic irony that this passage reveals: Christians have been fighting and seeking retribution against each other since the dawn of our religion. Not much has changed in nearly 2,000 years.
From this letter Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth, we can deduce that the Gentile Christians of Corinth must have been struggling with this whole “judge not” concept that Jesus taught. Which is understandable, because Greece was a very litigious culture (much like our own, and even moreso):
When we study the details of Athenian law, we see what a major part the law courts played in the life of any Athenian citizen; and the situation in Corinth would not be so very different. If there was a dispute in Athens, the first attempt to settle it was by private arbitrator. In that event, one arbitrator was chosen by each party, and a third was chosen by agreement between both parties to be an impartial judge. If that failed to settle the matter, there was a court known as the Forty. The Forty referred the matter to a public arbitrator, and the public arbitrators consisted of all Athenian citizens in their sixtieth year; and any man chosen as an arbitrator had to act whether he liked it or not under penalty of losing his rights as a citizen. If the matter was still not settled, it had to be referred to a jury court, which consisted of 201 citizens for cases involving small sums of money and 401 for cases involving larger amounts. There were indeed cases when juries could be as large as anything from 1,000 to 6,000 citizens. Juries were composed of Athenian citizens over thirty years of age. They were actually paid three obols a day (equal to half a drachma) for acting as jurymen. That is the equivalent of the wage paid to a labourer for half a day’s work. The citizens entitled to act as jurymen assembled in the mornings and were allocated by lot to the cases on trial. It is plain to see that, in a Greek city, every man was to some degree a lawyer and spent a very great part of his time either deciding or listening to law cases. The Greeks were in fact famous, or notorious, for their love of going to law.
Barclay, William (2010-11-05). The Letters to the Corinthians (New Daily Study Bible) (p. 59). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
You wrong me, I bring charges. I wrong you, you file a lawsuit. And so on, and so on…
The problem is, Paul wasn’t Greek, and at that time in Jewish culture, all disputes stayed “in-house”. In fact, not only were most disputes handled by town or synagogue elders, but to seek retribution and judgement through an outside source (the Gentile law system) was considered blasphemy for the Israelites in Judea! So to Paul, the litigious culture of these Grecian cities was appalling.
Add to that the new reality of Christ who taught not to judge at all… (but, you if absolutely have to have a quarrel… keep it in-house), then Paul’s perspective on Christian infighting becomes clear:
1. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
2. 15. “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17. If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
In Paul’s eyes, to use the Gentile court system to try and have justice against a Christian brother or sister was a true sin, tantamount to cheating and wronging each other. True Christians are not to judge each other, because such matters are passé to the new church due to the forgiveness and new life they’d found in Christ.
1 Corinthians 6
Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with mena 10. nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11. And that is what some of you were. 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.
Essentially, Paul is saying, “Why are we still fighting about these things?? You can’t judge another Christian for sin against you when you want to be a forgiven sinner yourself! How are you supposed to judge the rest of the world when you can’t even understand that concept amongst your fellow Christians?”
“Were”… or “might be”…?
And here’s the rub of this famous passage, 1 Corinthians 6:1-11:
“11. And this is what some of you were.”
Here is the issue I have with bible translators: inconsistency. The fascinating issue with 1 Cor 6:11 is the translation of the words “you were”. English translators arbitrarily choose between two tenses: 1) “you may/might be”, and 2) “you were”. There is no difference in the Greek: ἦτε
Here’s 1 Cor 6:11 in the Greek:
καὶ ταῦτά τινες ἦτε· ἀλλὰ ἀπελούσασθε, ἀλλὰ ἡγιάσθητε, ἀλλὰ ἐδικαιώθητε ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ Κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ καὶ ἐν τῷ Πνεύματι τοῦ Θεοῦ ἡμῶν.
And that is what some of you were. 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.
Here’s an earlier passage from the same letter, 1 Cor 5:7, in the Greek:
ἐκκαθάρατε τὴν παλαιὰν ζύμην, ἵνα ἦτε νέον φύραμα, καθώς ἐστε ἄζυμοι. καὶ γὰρ τὸ πάσχα ἡμῶν ἐτύθη Χριστός.
Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch–as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
This difference may seem minor, but the impact upon Paul’s underlying message is monumental!
1 Corinthians 6
Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with mena 10. nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11. And that is what some of may be! 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.
Suddenly the entire passage becomes clear: How can we fight about who is right, who is wrong, who is a sinner, who isn’t one… WHEN WE ARE ALL SINNERS?!?!
All this time wasted over this infighting amongst Christians, when all along we shouldn’t be judging each other at all: for we are all alike. Sinners all. Forgiven all.
… and let the Christian infighting begin! ; )