1 Corinthians 6:1-8 – When any of you has a grievance against another, do you dare to take it to court before the unrighteous, instead of taking it before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels—to say nothing of ordinary matters? If you have ordinary cases, then, do you appoint as judges those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to decide between one believer and another, but a believer goes to court against a believer—and before unbelievers at that? In fact, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—and believers at that.
Apparently, the Corinthians were quite inclined toward suing each other. Paul admonishes them to find wise believers to settle disputes rather than going to secular courts. I think he is concerned about an image issue. If the church’s faith has given believers a deeper perspective on life, but that does not enable them to solve practical disputes, and they are then reliant on non-believing judges, Paul is concerned that observers will wonder whether the Gospel is all that it is claimed to be. But Paul’s deeper concern is their eagerness to sue in the first place.
Now, if someone has filed a lawsuit against you, there is nothing in this passage to forbid you from making your case in court. In this case, the passage above is directed toward the person that issued the lawsuit.
The real question is, what if you have signed a document such as a license agreement with another believer, which the other believer subsequently violates. Paul appears to advise that certain believers act as “judges” to handle disputes among other believers. But in most societies today, with churches split into many different congregations and denominations, I really do not see how such a “judiciary” among believers is possible. Furthermore, Paul assumes that if the Corinthians took their case to a government court, that they were taking their case before unbelievers to decide. But today, depending on where you live and whether Christians can serve in the judiciary, that may not be the case.
Paul also says “to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?” (1 Cor. 6:7). What should we make of this?
As with some other matters we have discussed in this epistle, I think it really comes down to attitude. I think what Paul is referring to are situations where a believer may feel the urge to sue another believer simply on the basis that some “right” was violated. I think Paul is encouraging us to exercise the principle of grace in real life. God has the right to punish any of us on the basis of immoral things we have done, but He does not exercise it, and as believers in Christ, God sees us as free from Law (Romans 7), and He works with us so that over time our lives line up with the way He wants us to live.
Similarly, instead of laying the law down on other believers and harassing them over our “rights,” Paul is implying we should be patient with them as God is with us. We can pray for God to work with them so that they become motivated to honor their commitments more seriously, and trust in God for wisdom on how to talk to them about the issue.
At the same time though, even though God does not deal with people in a punitive way, He has determined that His will shall be fulfilled in this world, and He can get people out of the way if they would obstruct what He is working to accomplish through believers (as we saw with the immoral man in the previous chapter). Likewise, in a situation where another believer has obviously wronged you and refuses to correct the situation, and the infraction could derail your progress toward fulfillment of your calling in life, I respect your judgment on what you believe to be the correct course of action. They key is to not make it a self-centered endeavor to defend your rights, but rather, to take whatever action you believe is correct to keep pressing toward the vision for life that God has given you, which is ultimately for the good of those He has placed in your life.
1 Corinthians 5:1-5 (NRSV) – It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Should you not rather have mourned, so that he who has done this would have been removed from among you? For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
There is a man in the Corinthian church living in an incestuous relationship. Paul takes this extremely seriously and urges the church to do so as well. But what really are the circumstances with this man?
Suppose that this man believes that Christ died and rose from the dead to set him free from sin and make him a new creation. Suppose that this man believes in God’s calling to him, and believes that God is working with him toward a future in which he will accomplish great things through righteousness. But at the moment, he is in a sinful relationship. Suppose God has finally had enough of it and tells Paul and the church to “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.” What would this accomplish? In my view, it would accomplish nothing except to end his life prematurely. Under that scenario, this man would have a vision for his life that would last until he’s dead, and would never come to true fulfillment.
To the contrary, I believe that what we are dealing with here is a man who is building his whole identity and vision for life around this immoral relationship. For him, this relationship is what life is about. This contradicts the Gospel message, which should remind us that there is more to life than our passion at the present moment. God has made us new creations and set us on a new path in life as part of his working of all things according to His will (Eph. 1:11). The Christian life is about living in appreciation of this. I believe that the point of this man in Corinth being handed over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh is to get him to think about God rather than the sexual relationship. If he gets sick and fears that his life is coming to an end, he may seek knowledge of something that transcends this life and recognize that God’s sovereign purpose and the power of grace that comes through Christ are what really give meaning to life. Through this recognition, his spirit would be saved. If anything else were required, salvation would be of his own works or effort at holiness rather than by God’s grace through faith.
Paul strongly urges the Corinthians to recognize the serious of this man being in their gatherings. He calls for the man to be excommunicated. He criticizes the church for being arrogant, yet in all their supposed wisdom, failing to recognize that a person in fellowship with them held an attitude about his life that contradicted the vision of the Gospel message. By maintaining fellowship with this person, the church was legitimizing his attitude and compromising the entire church’s sense of vision for a righteous future. In order to preserve the integrity of the church’s vision, that man had to be removed.
1 Corinthians 5:9-11 – I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons— not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one.
Again, we are dealing with people who claim to be believers but whose vision for life revolves around these immoral behaviors. Paul wants true believers to have no association with such people. Notice that Paul explicitly says that he does not apply the same standards for association with nonbelievers. There are cases in which you might know a nonbeliever who, despite having built his life on some wrong things, still has some common interests with you on other matters. In this case, Paul is not exhorting us to cut off communication.
It is really important that we view this chapter in light of the previous four chapters, which were all about unity in the church on the basis of respecting God’s calling to each other. If we utilize principles of this current chapter to cut off interaction with other believers simply because they have some issues in their lives, we are discarding the message of unity in the prior chapters, and exhibiting a lack of faith in God’s ability to work things out in others’ lives according to His will. What we are dealing with in this chapter are people with an attitude that is toxic to the vision for life that God instills in believers.
1 Corinthians 4:1-5 (NRSV) – Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God.
Paul apparently perceives the Corinthian church to be judging him, but he is not bothered by it because he recognizes that ultimately only God can judge him. In our current day, there seems to be a trend of Christians accusing famous church leaders of character issues. In the context of this post, I am not addressing cases of serious moral or criminal offences committed, but rather, judgment on church leaders that stems primarily from disagreements on theological or cultural issues. For instance, those who do not agree with the Prosperity Gospel will accuse its proponents of being “greedy.” Or Fundamentalists will accuse liberal Christian preachers of being “lukewarm,” “asleep,” or “cowardly.” Then liberal Christians will accuse hardcore Evangelical preachers with a fire-and-brimstone message of being “abusive.”
But ultimately, it is only God who truly knows these people and can judge their character. It may be tempting to think of famous preachers as celebrities who are trying to gauge what is popular or see what power or wealth they can gain from their ministries. But only God can truly see whether this is the case, or whether they are preaching out of genuine conviction, albeit possibly misguided. It is in this way that God will “disclose the purposes of the heart,” as Paul writes.
1 Corinthians 4:7-13 – What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift? Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Quite apart from us you have become kings! Indeed, I wish that you had become kings, so that we might be kings with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, as though sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to mortals. We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day.
Apparently the Corinthians were first-century armchair experts. It seems they had a tendency to view apostles as celebrities who, like themselves, were very opinionated or image-focused. As a result, the Corinthians felt free to take sides the same way people today might side with certain political leaders or cultural icons. Paul seeks to dispel this notion by showing how apostleship is actually not glamorous.
I have to admit that this is another area where I go through some internal debate. I see preachers who are teaching things that I disagree with, but I see that they have sacrificed a lot to spread their message and that their beliefs enable them to endure hardship with a great deal of grace. They also seem very humble and empowered by the Holy Spirit as Paul describes of himself in the beginning of Chapter 2. Thoughts cross my mind about whether my disagreement with them carries an attitude of arrogance.
At the same time though, when I look at my past experiences from a Scriptural perspective, there are certain things that have to be true. The process of realizing these things was difficult personally. But perhaps that was for a reason, so that remembering the process would keep my ego from inflating and thinking I was naturally “wise” enough to choose to believe certain things.
When my mind is confronted with the fact that I disagree with some believers who are sincere and devout, my thought processes are healthier if I focus on the fact that I am believing what I have to believe as a result of Scripture and experience, rather than trying to build an “identity” around my beliefs to contrast with the identity I perceive from the beliefs of others.
1 Corinthians 4:14-21 – “I am not writing this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you might have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers. Indeed, in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. I appeal to you, then, be imitators of me. For this reason I sent you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ Jesus, as I teach them everywhere in every church. But some of you, thinking that I am not coming to you, have become arrogant. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power. What would you prefer? Am I to come to you with a stick, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?”
I think the essence of this passage is to just calm down and be reasonable. Paul says that his writing in this chapter is not intended to shame anyone. He just wants the Corinthians to stop the incessant, arrogant chatter in order to think clearly and follow his teaching to live from an appreciation of life. When he suggests he might have to come to them “with a stick” if they do not change their attitude, I don’t think this is about punishment, but rather, speaking sternly enough to startle them a bit and at least make them be quiet for a minute.
1 Corinthians 3:10-15 (NRSV) – “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.”
After Christ’s return, we will undergo a review of our lives. My understanding is that by the time this happens, believers will have already been resurrected or converted to immortality. So, on a physical level, we will fully embody the new creation. However, our intellectual understanding of matters will still need to be adjusted. That is what the process described in the passage above will accomplish.
As I said in the first post in this series, when all is said and done, we accomplish in this life what we were made to accomplish. But at the same time, we do things and think things that are not in line with the new creations that we were made to be. It is often difficult to tell what deeds are in line with God’s ultimate vision for us, and which ones are not. We do the best we can in this life, but it is the fire described above that will ultimately set it all straight. The fire will reward acts that are in keeping with the gospel of grace and transformation, and also show us which acts were out of line with that message, so that we can arrive at a full understanding of the new creation.
1 Corinthians 3:16-17 – “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”
This means that a believer’s physical and psychological being is illuminated by God’s Spirit. Suppose there is a house that, normally, would not be very attractive to you. Maybe you don’t like the design or colors, or you think it’s messy. But if a person you really like and respect lives there, and you can think of the house as that person’s place, then perhaps you think more positively about it.
So it is with ourselves and God’s Spirit. Suppose that you do not particularly like another person’s personality, in and of itself. But if you can see that person’s brain as part of the Holy Spirit’s temple, then the person’s personality should seem fascinating and inspiring.
There is also a concept of justice associated with the treatment of God’s temple, as Paul writes, “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person.” This applies to both physical violence and psychological violence. On a psychological level, if you destroy a person’s self-confidence over perceived faults, then the consequence is that your own conscience will disrupt your self-confidence by constantly nagging you over your own flaws.
1 Corinthians 3:18-20: “Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness,’ and again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.’”
The Holy Spirit works with people in ways that confound normal sensibilities. Instead of focusing on judging or critiquing other believers, why not just watch them out of curiosity and see what God is up to? You are going to see a lot of fascinating, and sometimes perplexing, things happen. To “become fools so that you may become wise,” as Paul writes, I think the key is to just get off the soapbox long enough to be intrigued and perhaps amused by God’s working with somebody else, and then you will see others with new eyes and be more capable of giving useful advice if needed.
On that note, Paul returns once again to the subject of sectarianism in the Corinthians church:
1 Corinthians 3:21-23 – “So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.”
Sometimes, unhealthy sectarian dynamics result not from substantive disagreement, but rather, just differences in personality or manner of speaking. But the teaching of believers being the Holy Spirit’s temple should enlighten people to be open minded to the way God works with others and resist the urge to separate into groups as a knee-jerk reaction to perceived differences.
Since this post opened with the subject of limitations in our understanding of spiritual matters, I will close by being honest about something. When Paul says, “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you.”
I don’t know what that means.
1 Corinthians 3:1-6 (NRSV) – “And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? For when one says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ and another, ‘I belong to Apollos,’ are you not merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”
Individuals in the Corinthian church were fixated on trying to affiliate with certain individuals, whether it be Paul himself or other church leaders. Paul said that this mentality of the Corinthians was “of the flesh” and in accord with “human inclinations” rather than a spiritual mindset. There is a lot of talk today about spiritual growth, spiritual maturity, and the difference between carnal Christians and mature Christians.
In the context of this passage quoted above, spiritual maturity is about recognition of God’s working. Spiritual growth, correspondingly, is about developing a more expansive view of God’s working. The more you recognize God’s influence in your life, the more you see how you have gotten somewhere or accomplished something that you would not have expected of yourself, the more you are growing spiritually, and the less “jealous” you will be of other people.
But what about the reference to “quarreling” in the passage above? This is a bit difficult because the fact is, believers have some very different doctrines and passions. I know from experience that it is difficult to engage in these matters among those who think differently without the discussions developing an argumentative tone. When you run into people who have a very strong conviction about something, and you say something to the contrary, the people you are talking to will see your comment as quarreling.
But sometimes I feel that I have to say something. For example, I will be scrolling through comments posted on Christian articles and videos, and I’ll see a comment that, while well-intentioned, really goes against certain core principles I carry. Typically, it will be a comment I consider unduly judgmental, critical, or pessimistic in a way that clashes with values connected to my faith. I will then scroll through the replies and see that seemingly everyone else posting agrees with the original commenter.
So, I post my own comment in reply. I sometimes get a reply back from somebody implying that I am quarreling. I never say anything judgmental or critical of the original commenter. Nevertheless, I sometimes wonder if I really needed to say what I said. If virtually everyone commenting thinks a certain way, should I have just let them be? But then, there are a few people who will click the “like” button on my comment or reply saying that they agree. I don’t live for “likes,” but nevertheless, it is meaningful to me to know that somebody read what I had to say and found it interesting. Perhaps they too were uneasy with the prevailing sentiment but did not know how to express what they thought or how to make a case for their own view. Perhaps they will think about something I said as they go about their day, and maybe this will lead to their own realization of something that will have a positive impact for them.
If what I say is able to have this impact for somebody, I do not consider it quarreling in the way that Paul describes in the passage above, because my objective is not to be dissentious. That said, the content of what I say is better if it comes from a desire to express the values I have to help people, rather than making a pronouncement of the fact I disagree with something that was said. I try to focus on appreciating the values that I believe God has instilled in me, rather than focusing on how those values differ from those of other people.
The next post in this series will continue on in Chapter 3 of this epistle.
1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (NRSV) – “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.”
When it comes to writing these articles, each week in this series I am fascinated to see what happens. On one hand, I am actively thinking throughout the week about what I am going to write regarding the week’s chapter. But in another sense, I see myself as an observer of the series.
Paul says that he came to the Corinthians “in weakness and in fear and in much trembling” and that his message was delivered “with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” While I am not able to put myself fully into that experience, I observe these articles coming out as though it is part of God’s plan for me now to do this blog. My thoughts leading up to these writings originate from mental energy states that span from low to high, but I get energy and inspiration from watching this series take form.
Regarding Paul’s message, he also states that “among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age” (1 Cor. 2:6).
I tend to see myself as an outsider, though I do not have a deliberate endeavor to be one. I just find that the popular worldviews (both secular and religious ones) do not quite resonate with me. There are, however, individuals in both realms with principles and attitudes that I respect and value.
Paul seems to be particularly passionate about conveying the fact that his teaching came from the Spirit of God rather than human reasoning, because he brings up the point again:
“What human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God” (1 Cor. 2:11-12).
As I look at my own experience, how do I distinguish between the “human spirit” and the “Spirit of God?” What I would say is that my “human spirit” is behind my psychological reactions to situations and my natural approaches to problem-solving and processing information. But I see the Spirit of God as inspiring the faith and vision that I have for my future, and the Spirit works through Scriptural teaching and life’s experiences.
Lastly, I want to discuss Paul’s statement that “those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny” (1 Cor. 2:15).
When you have beliefs on the basis of Scripture, I do not want for you to worry about scrutiny and criticism from those who may question the character associated with or produced by your beliefs. Believers can, from time to time, adjust their understanding based on insights from others, but I do not want for anyone to be guilted into changing their beliefs.