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.