Taking Believers to Court
1 Corinthians 6:1-8
Taking Believers to Court
Just this week I heard of two Christian brothers who have been business partners but are now in an ugly legal battle in the courts because of a disagreement they have. The one is likely to lose his share of the business as well as his home. This issue has caused great bitterness. We all know of many professing Christian spouses who have separated and taken each other to court to contest how their assets would be divided and to determine custody rights with the kids. And it is increasingly common for professing Christians to sue their church or a Bible camp or a Bible School in the courts for damages they suffered in an accident or for even petty reasons such as hurt feelings over careless words. But the Bible is very clear that it is absolutely wrong and a complete moral failure for a Christian to ever take a fellow Christian to court in order to have the courts resolve their differences.
Before we begin our study of chapter six let’s quickly review the context. There were leaders in the church at Corinth who disagreed with Paul’s humble style and with his politically incorrect emphasis on the crucified life. Therefore they were determined to lead the church in a new direction, one that harmonized with the philosophy and wisdom of the popular culture. Instead of a humble approach they emphasized eloquence, charisma and impressive speech. In this letter Paul is confronting these leaders and those following them and he is addressing the problems resulting from their ways.
Look at 1 Corinthians 4:17-20 “For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church. Now some are puffed up, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord wills, and I will know, not the word of those who are puffed up, but the power. For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power.” As we saw when we studied this passage, the power of the kingdom of God that Paul was looking for primarily refers to power to live godly; it is power over sin and power over the flesh and the devil. Still today many Christians are infatuated with power, they gravitate toward powerful music and powerful preaching and powerful outreach events and to leaders who have a powerful personal charisma. But where is the power to live godly lives in this world?
As evidence that these believers in Corinth lack the power of the kingdom of God in spite of all their efforts to appear more powerful in the eyes of the unsaved, Paul draws attention in chapter five to the fact that there is sexual immorality going on in the church. And now in chapter six he draws attention to the fact that the believers are taking each other to court. And he says, contrary to their opinion, this is not a powerful church, this is an utter failure of the church.
The NLT states this about as clearly as it can be said: “When one of you has a dispute with another believer, how dare you file a lawsuit and ask a secular court to decide the matter instead of taking it to other believers!”
Disputes and disagreements will occur from time to time among believers but God’s word says it is absolutely unacceptable for believers to take these disagreements to a secular court to be resolved. All disagreements between believers are to be taken to other respected believers to be resolved. Never to a secular court of law.
The Bible is not speaking against the courts of the land. According to Romans 13 they are appointed by God and they serve a legitimate and beneficial purpose in society. Paul himself on at least one occasion in the book of Acts appealed to the Roman courts for justice and protection from his enemies. (i.e., Acts 25:11-12) But God does not intend for believers to take their disputes with other believers to court. God’s design is for believers to resolve their differences with other believers in the church and not in the courts.
Once again the Biblical pattern for resolving conflict of any kind between believers is laid out for us by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17. “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ 17And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” At no point in the process of seeking to resolve the problem are we to take our brother or sister to court, not even as a last resort.
In the next verses Paul gives some reasons why believers should never take their disputes to court.
Back in chapter five and verse twelve the Bible instructs us that we are not to judge (present tense) those who are outside the church, meaning the world. But now in chapter six Paul says that we will (future tense) one day judge the world. When Jesus returns to rule His kingdom on earth the Bible has repeatedly told us that we will rule with Him.
Beginning with Daniel 7:22 “Until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom . . . 27 Then the kingdom and dominion, And the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, Shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High”.
In Luke 22:29-30 Jesus said, “And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” And in 2 Timothy 2:12 Paul says, “If we endure, we shall also reign with Him . . .”
Therefore if believers are destined to rule and judge the world surely we are able to give wise judgment on the simple matters that arise among ourselves. The NLT translates verse 2 this way: “Don’t you realize that someday we believers will judge the world? And since you are going to judge the world, can’t you decide even these little things among yourselves?”
Angels are the highest class of created beings. Yet we, the saints of God, will one day judge them. The point that Paul is making here is that as children of God, the Lord has given us everything we need to effectively make just, wise and accurate judgments on disputes between one another.
In other words, why take your disputes to unbelievers who are least qualified to judge? (c.f., ESV, NASB and Amplified for example)
What is it that makes a Christian better suited for judging disputes than a non-Christian? It is the indwelling life of Christ in you as 1 Corinthians 1:26-30 makes clear: “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise . . . 29that no flesh should glory in His presence. 30But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God . . .”
Also, the child of God has the potential to understand spiritual truths and the hidden wisdom of God but the unbeliever cannot. 1 Corinthians 2:6-10 “However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory . . . 10But God has revealed them to us [believers] through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.
1 Corinthians 2:14-16 “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things [appraises or understands all things], yet he himself is rightly judged [appraised or understood] by no one [that is by no natural man]. 16For “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ.”
That is what puts the Spirit-led believer in a far superior position to be able to judge disputes between believers, the believer has available to him/her the mind of Christ. But notice verse 15, the natural man cannot understand or rightly judge the spiritual man. Therefore the spiritual man is foolish to go to the courts to resolve an issue with a fellow believer.
Those in the church of Corinth who thought they were wise and sophisticated and powerful are put to shame in the sight of God and of Paul because they look to the wisdom of the world to resolve their problems. Shame is a strong word and it is the opposite of victorious Christian living. Shame is associated with failure, guilt, weakness and defeat. But look closely at 1 Corinthians 1:26-28 to see who it is that is put to shame:
1 Corinthians 1:26-28 “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are ”.
Look at what Paul says in 6:5 to this church that arrogantly prided themselves for their great wisdom and spirituality: “Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren” so that you have to take your problems to the unsaved? “I say this to your shame.”
Paul says it is an extraordinary spiritual failure for one believer to even want to sue a fellow Christian in the first place but it is even a more extraordinary failure for him to do this before unbelieving judges. (Morris, p. 92) It doesn’t matter what kind of a verdict you receive from the judge, you have already utterly failed and are ultimately the loser by default when you take a believer to court, even if the judge rules in your favor.
And it’s not just those involved who lose. The whole body of Christ is injured and damaged when believers take each other to court. “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it.” (12:26) The Bible cannot state this any more clearly or in much stronger terms. There is no blessing, there is nothing to be gained but all is lost when you take a believer to court.
“Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated?” God’s word says here that you would be further ahead to be wronged and cheated of everything than to go to court and win. Jesus never taught His followers to go to court when someone wronged them, look at what Jesus taught in Matthew 5:39-40 “But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.”
1 Peter 2:21-23 “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: . . . who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.” To take another to court is contrary to the life of Christ.
Is it OK to take a non-believer to court? This text does not answer that question. However we should always ask ourselves why we would ever take anyone to court. What is our motive? If it is out of concern for the one who defrauded and for the protection of all others who might also be so taken in, then one might seem fully justified. (Fee, p. 238) But if it is for the sake of asserting our own rights or of protecting our own possessions then we need to carefully examine our heart and our priorities in light of Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 5:39-40 about turning the other cheek and giving your cloak also to the one who sues you for your tunic. But never, under any circumstance is a believer to take another believer to court to resolve a conflict. We are always to take the matter to other believers in the church.