By David O. Lanius
Paul had learned of brethren at Corinth who were taking each other before the heathen courts to settle their differences. While it is obvious that differences between brethren will arise, brethren must settle these differences before they reach a proportion that brings reproach upon Christ, his kingdom, and each other. Going to law with a brother further divided the church at Corinth and also hindered the work of God among the non-Christians (1:10-11; 3:3; 10:32).
First of all, let me state that this issue was settled by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-35. The first thing for one to do when there is a dispute with another brother is to go to him alone with the idea of restoring the relationship. If the situation is not resolved, then one must bring two or three brethren along in a continued effort to save this brother. If all fails, then and only then is the matter to be taken before the church. Notice that the Lord does not instruct us to bring conflicts between brethren before the civil courts. Jesus had complete confidence in his people that they could settle issues between themselves.
Paul’s instructions to Corinth do not forbid a Christian the use of the court system under all circumstances. In fact, civil courts are ordained by God (Rom. 13:1; Tit. 3:1). The apostle Paul who by inspiration wrote our text, appealed to the Roman authorities to prevent the Jews from hindering the work of God (Acts 25:1-11). So there must be a right time and a wrong time to “appeal to Caesar.” There are times we can appeal to the court systems when it is not for the purpose of defrauding our brethren. Sometimes we are even taken to court and must show up or be in contempt. These brethren at Corinth were selfish and greedy and thought only of themselves, and Paul was showing them that this was not the way to go before the courts of the ungodly.
The Corinthian brethren of our text chose the wrong time to use the unrighteous judges. Paul shames them by saying, “Dare any of you, having a matter against an-other, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?” The word “dare” implies disapproval and shame when differences between brethren are turned over to the courts of the unbelievers. The unrighteous judges would judge the issues according to worldly standards, where as the child of God lives by a much higher standard, a divine one (Tit. 2:11-12), and the saints would judge accordingly. How can the outsider judge the heart and actions of God’s child? They cannot!
Several reasons are given for not allowing the unrighteous judges to settle disputes between brethren. Two reasons given are: “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” and “Do you not know that we shall judge angels?” The term “Do you not know” or “know ye not” sets a tone for the answer to our question about going to law. Paul uses this expression “do you not know” ten times as he writes to our brethren at Corinth, and six of these times are found in chapter 6: 2, 3, 9, 15, 16, and 19. I personally believe that Paul is being sarcastic trying to deal with these conceited Corinthians who believe that they “know” everything. The term “judge” sometimes means: “to pronounce judgment; to subject to censure.” The term “world” (the Greek komos), according to Thayer, means: “the ungodly multitudes; the whole mass of men alienated from God, and therefore hostile to the cause of Christ.” The term “shall judge” carries with it the thought of this judging taking place during the lifetime of the child of God. The daily lives of God’s children judge the world and angels (Matt. 19:28; Rev. 2:26; 3:21; 20:4). We should not try to regulate or control the lives of those of the world. God will judge them (1 Cor. 5:12-13). Since we judge the world and angels by our lives, why should we want to take our differences before those that we judge. At the same time, the text tells us that the Corinthians did not esteem or have a high regard for these unrighteous judges (v. 4).
Paul asked, “Are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters?” (v. 2). He notes that these are very trivial matters, or things of little value, that separate these brethren. There must be someone among the brethren at Corinth that is wise enough to take care of these matters (v. 5).
In verse 7 Paul says that these brethren have “failed.” By what they have done, taking a brother before the unjust judges, it is an indication that they are spiritually sick, and that they have failed in living as they should before the world. The failure is also in defrauding (cheating) one’s brother. The spiritual loss which the lawsuit produced was not worth the small gain these brethren might realize. It is better to suffer wrong than to defraud a brother, especially before the world. Paul says, why will you not rather suffer wrong and be defrauded than to bring shame upon yourself be-fore the ungodly. A faithful child of God does not seek “his rights” at the expense of God and his brethren.
Again, our Lord has already settled this issue in Matthew 18, and the Corinthians should have known better. When a child of God has the world settle his disputes with brethren, the name of Christ and his body are drug through the dirt. Who can deny this? The child of God is a light into the world (Matt. 5:16), showing the world how saved ones live and even settle their differences. We love our brethren and esteem them better than ourselves and will suffer wrong instead of defrauding one who is our brother in the Lord (Heb. 13:1; 1 Pet. 1:22; Rom 12:1-2; Phil. 2:3-4). In a society such as Corinth, taking a brother to court only added to the suspicion of the non-believers. They no doubt could say, “If that is the way they treat one another, why would I want to be a part of such a self-seeking group.”
Guardian of Truth XL: 4 p. 5-6
February 15, 1996