Selective Obedience

Studies in First Corinthians

by Bob Burridge ©2016

Lesson 14: 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 (ESV)

Selective Obedience

It’s sadly common for people to tolerate horrible things
while they get all upset about little things.

Our fallen nature strikes out indignantly at things that bother us personally, while it tends to overlook our own even more offensive sins against God’s word.

Some have no concern that they scream at some poor server in a restaurant because the cook didn’t make their grits they way they like them, yet they don’t seem to be troubled at all at their own offensive display of anger and intolerance.

I’ve seen absolute rage by drivers over someone going slower than they like, yet never giving a thought to how offensive their own foul gestures and language might be.

And there are those who call themselves Christians who gossip angrily about others, get totally upset that the sermon was too long, complain that someone painted the church classroom the wrong color, or that someone wore an outfit to church that was clearly out of style or didn’t match, yet they spend God’s tithe to improve their homes or wardrobe, violate the Sabbath, make notes during the sermon about what they need to do next week, watch immoral movies, or show no respect toward those God commands them to love.

This was one of the objections Jesus brought against the Scribes and Pharisees. In Matthew 23:24 he said, “You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” It puts a dramatic image in our minds when we imagine someone gulping down a camel. A mental picture like that helps us remember the lesson.

Some mistranslate it as strain at a gnat as if it meant straining to swallow one. That ruins the contrast Jesus was making for these Pharisees. The correct translation is to strain out a gnat from some liquid.

The Jews were required by rabbinic law to strain their drinks through gauze. They were often kept in open containers so little insects had to be removed before drinking. Leviticus 11:41 forbids the eating of all creeping things. It was part of the Levitical dietary code for the ancient Jews before the time of Christ. The Pharisees became extremely careful about this little issue. Rabbi Moses Maimonides warned against straining drinks in the dark by candle light. He reasoned that some creeping thing might be left in the strainer and fall unseen back into the cup.

Yet the overly meticulous Pharisees tolerated the most horrible sins among them. Failing to effectively strain a drink would be an unintentional error, not a rebellious sin. But to swallow something as obvious as a huge dirty camel (which was on the forbidden foods list in Leviticus 11:4) would be intentional and not just a mistake or careless oversight.

In Corinth there was a similar problem. In chapter 5 Paul described a serious case of incest that wasn’t being dealt with at all. The church was permissive and morally apathetic about this serious sin. But now in Chapter 6 Paul deals with other issues that were getting a lot of attention.

The members of the church were suing one another
in the Roman courts over personal matters.

1. When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?

The church members were filing law-suits against each other. These were personal law suits. They couldn’t have been criminal charges. Crime fell under the jurisdiction of the state, not the church. In cases like that, Rome would be the prosecutor. No one would have to file a law-suit. And Paul wouldn’t be telling the church to deal with criminal acts by itself.

These cases would have been internal, personal disputes. This fits well with the words “matters pertaining to this life” in verse 3. Dr. Parry, in the Cambridge Greek New Testament says the expression means, “the common issues of daily life”.

There are several reasons here why what they were doing was very wrong.

First: The church was neglecting its God-given duty.

2. Or 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?
3. Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!
4. So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church?
5. I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers,
6. but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?

Paul reasons that if God calls his church to make judgments in large matters, like judging the world and angels, then why should the members of the church run to unbelievers to settle their lesser disputes?

But it helps if we understand how believers will judge the world and the angels. Scripture shows that humans do not stand in eternal judgment over any creature. God alone is the final judge of the eternal destiny of men and angels.

The idea of judgment is often confused by our modern understanding of it. We live under a culture that divides the courts from the other branches of government. Those who make our laws, enforce them, and lead in our defense are not the judges in our courts.

In biblical times, these duties were usually combined in the same office. For example, the Elders, both of ancient Israel and now of the church, rule, lead, teach and make judgments for God’s people within the covenant community. When God raised up Judges after Joshuah’s conquest of Canaan, they were military leaders rather than judges in courts of law. This is the context in which the writers of the Bible speaks of humans judging the world.

To judge the world and the angels doesn’t mean to decide their eternal fate. We are not going to help God make his decisions. The decisions are already made eternally. There is no uncertainty remaining for us to decide as if we were court judges.

A judgment is made whenever a person looks at the facts of a situation, compares it with some general standard, then decides whether the standard is being complied with or not. We make judgments about things every day, but not to decide guilt or punishments.

This is the kind of “judgment” Paul spoke of in Galatians 1:8, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.”

On the final Judgment Day, we are going to stand with Christ as those united to him by redemption. God will display the truth about all persons, then pronounce his sentence. He already knew eternally how each person will measure up. It’s not that in the Judgment he has to make a decision.

When we judge the world and angels with Christ in that day, it’s when we see God’s evidence, and witness his pronouncements, and recognize that it’s a perfectly just and fair judgment. The saints will judge the situation by fully concurring with the wisdom of God.

There’s also a very real sense in which we judge the world now. We reign with Christ in this life because we know and apply God’s word. We use that word to correct wrongs in society around us as much as we can as the salt of the earth, and to explain God’s truths both inside and outside the church as the light of the world. In this sense we expand the fact of God’s Kingship as judges appointed to these duties.

Since God calls us to this important duty as Judges to apply his word daily, and even to concur with his dealings toward the world and angels in the last day why would the bickering Corinthian Christians prefer to go to the Roman courts? There is no justification for taking a brother to the civil courts over common every-day issues. They should be taking responsibility for peace and fairness in their own spiritual family.

Good judgments demand that we rightly use good standards of truth. Those in the church, who are well trained in Scripture, not the pagan civil judges, are the ones who should settle disputes between believers.

The principles that should govern the lives of Christians are different than those of the world. Unbelievers have a different set of standards and a different threshold for determining guilt.

There’s a famous mural by Paul Roberts in the Supreme Court building in Switzerland. It shows the judges looking up to the image of justice holding her scales in her right hand, and her left hand she holds a sword that points to the floor at an open book. On the book are the words, “the Law of God”. The painter was illustrating that justice finds its direction and foundation in only one place: the absolute standard God has given us in his word.

Paul told the Corinthians that they ought to be ashamed for how they were behaving. They felt they needed to go to pagan courts to decide what’s fair and right between them. Was there no one able among them to settle matters God’s way? Certainly their ought to be! The word for “to settle a dispute” in verse 5 means to arbitrate, to calmly settle matters in the congregation by those who know God’s ways and wisdom.

Second: these little issues should be settled
without any kind of litigation.

7. To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?
8. But you yourselves wrong and defraud–even your own brothers!

The real tragedy is that these complaints existed in the church to begin with. Rather than to press charges and demand settlements, it’s better to simply be wronged and defrauded. It doesn’t marginalize harm. Remember that these weren’t matters of civil crimes like theft or murder. Paul had given the civil courts full authority in matters like that. But in the church, among Christians, there should be a desire to settle matters peaceably, according to God’s word and his principles of justice, Certainly, these should not be settled by the perverted judgments of the world.

It’s better to be the victim of the weak and inconsiderate, than to commit the horrible sin of being unforgiving and quickly litigious. The world’s values want revenge, pay-back, counter-harm and protection from discomfort. The world wants the courts to force others to do what they want without the injured person becoming personally responsible for settling the dispute.

So rather than putting up with these daily inconsiderate acts of others out of deeper concerns, they were bickering and dividing the church over little things. Real peace in the church comes from obedience to God who blesses us, not by awards forced on our brothers by a court of law.

Robinson, in his Word Pictures on this passage says, “Better undergo wrong yourself than suffer defeat in the matter of love and forgiveness of a brother.”

The context of this passage, considering the chapter before it, shows the larger inconsistency. While they were bickering and suing one another over little every day issues, they were totally ignoring incest and the grossest of moral sins among them. They were proud of tolerating these serious matters, while they sued one another over little things. They strained out the gnats, but swallowed the camels.

Third: The world isn’t even fit to make those kinds
of judgments. It has no authority.

9. Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,
10. nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

These who were being asked to settle their problems for them were not even citizens of God’s Kingdom.

Paul points out what really characterizes these aliens from God’s Kingdom. He lists the kinds of sins those outside God’s Kingdom defend and promote. It’s a good summary of the evils that continue today, and have ever since the fall of man.

The first group lists primarily the sexual sins that were rampant in Corinth: Those who are not heirs of God’s Kingdom are unashamedly …

  • the sexually immoral: They tolerated sexual activity outside the bond of marriage.
  • idolaters: This might seem like a strange sin to insert here among the sexual sins. But we need to remember that in Corinth the idolatry of the pagans involved sexual sins. To them worship involved temple prostitutes, some heterosexual, some homosexual. It was generally accepted there that this was a proper way to honor their heathen gods.
  • adulterers: They saw it as normal that people would be sexually unfaithful in marriage at times.
  • Next, the ESV combines two terms into one, “… men who practice homosexuality”

There are two separate sins listed after “adulterers”. The Greek text separates each word by the word for “nor”, which separates the other words in this section. The KJV, NKJV, ASV, and NASB maintain the two terms as separate sins. Most translate the first term as “effeminate” with minor differences (malakoi, “μαλακοὶ”). When describing people, it’s mostly used of effeminate men who like being sexually submissive to other men. The second term (arsenokoitai, “ἀρσενοκοῖται”) is a compound word that seems to refer to males who
engage in sexual practices with other males, “homosexuals”.

The contrast between these two last words which the ESV combines seems to be that the first one (effeminate) refers to a submissive homosexual, and the second (homosexuality) refers to a dominant homosexual. Today homosexuality is promoted as a civil right, rather than as a sin directly condemned in God’s word.

The next group of sins are issues showing disrespect for others:

  • thieves: They find ways to justify taking what God has entrusted to someone else.
  • the greedy: the covetous, self-centered people – They have no concept of being satisfied with God’s blessings and callings, or the needs of others.
  • drunkards: They abuse intoxicants, making it socially acceptable to come under their influence
  • revilers: They revile others, lash out against them, gossip, slander, harm other’s reputations. They do whatever they think would diminish others and promote themselves.
  • swindlers: They have no problem with deceit and deception in business or personal relationships. They use extortion and threats to get what they want at another’s expense.

People who value these vices should not be the ones to settle our disputes or set our moral standards. People like this have no citizenship in the Kingdom of God. Therefore, they have no right or qualification to adjudicate within the church.

But they needed to remember the fact of redeeming grace.

11. And such were some of you. 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.

There was a time when the believers in Corinth were also outside of God’s Kingdom. They once lived the way these pagans lived and valued the same standards. But that’s all been changed. They should live differently now.

By God’s grace alone they were washed from their guilt by the blood of Christ. Jesus paid their debt for them. He clothed them in his own righteousness, therefore they are declared to be sanctified objectively. They are made able to stand before God justified, declared innocent.

The point is that now they should be living differently, obediently, sanctified subjectively. They had no business still dabbling in the ways of the world when it served their perverted goals.

In chapter 5 the danger was not only the sin of incest among them. It was also that the church tolerated it and was doing nothing to correct it. There was no concern for the soul of the one caught up in that sin. There was no interest in defending the reputation of the church. And no one seemed to care that this influence was corrupting others in the church.

So also here in chapter 6 the sin was not only that some were going to the Roman courts. It was also that the church was not encouraging biblical arbitration. No one tried to settle these personal differences in love and forgiveness, and respect for church Elders. They had a responsibility as a congregation of God’s people to apply God’s word to these little daily matters that were dividing them.

It’s easy with a study like this to dismiss it
saying that it only applies to others.

Maybe we never actually took another Christian to court by a personal law-suit. But do we look to the world’s judgments about issues rather than to God’s word? Sadly, many Christians still would rather find ways of getting what they want by force, than to do the hard thing by going in love and forgiveness to the person doing them harm. Too often believers are influenced by the standards around them. They wish they could feed their lusts unbounded by God’s law too, just like the unsaved world. But these perverted values need to be confessed to God, forgiven, and overcome.

When believers follow the self-help advice and pop-psychology of the fallen world, they show the same disobedience as was in the church at Corinth.

Do we have something against somebody in the church? Are there a differences that upset us about others? Are there matters that should be settled for the peace of the church and of our own conscience? We need to go to God’s word for our methods and standards, not to the world. We should look for help from believers in the church, not from pagans still serving the Kingdom of Satan.

The non-criminal harms which others do to us can be tolerated, no matter how horrible they may seem. Usually our own sufferings seem incomparably painful and we’re tempted to strike back. But in the larger scheme of things, we do greater harm by swallowing the camel while we obsess about straining out the gnats. Our own unlove and lack of forgiveness are greater infections to our souls than all the inconsiderate or hateful things others might do to us.

(The Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)

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