Settling Legal Matters Between Believers

Bible Study With Jairus – 1 Corinthians 6

1 Corinthians 6 contains three distinct paragraphs. The first paragraph is about lawsuits among Christian believers. A man in our Bible study inquired whether Paul’s perspective on lawsuits between believers is still relevant today, especially given the increasing number of lawsuits between believers in the United States. It is, in my opinion, highly controversial. Some people believe that Christians should not sue one another even if they are wronged. Others use Paul’s appeal to Caesar as an example, believing that we can make an appeal to Caesar too or, in other words to go to court. They believe Christians can file an appeal in a court of law to resolve issues of unfair treatment. We always thought about cases of lawsuits between Christians when we read this chapter in the past. Should we sue to protect our benefits, or should we accept being wronged?

The inspirations that we will share today while reading this chapter are not from this perspective. It is only when Paul mentions that the lawsuits could involve immoral behavior that the church felt ashamed. And in their case, the law may have been used to wrong others instead of protecting their own lawful rights at the time. This is probably why Paul advised us not to file lawsuits against other believers. On the one hand, it tarnishes the church’s image. On the other hand, believers should not use the law of this world to harm others, particularly our brothers and sisters in Christ. Please continue to read my explanation as I share a verse that touched us today.

Should Believers Rights be Protected in Court?

We were moved by 1 Corinthians 6:8 in today’s reading. It states in verse 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?” This is the background for verse 8. Christians often use this phrase to argue that we should not protect our rights in court. But this verse does not contain the full picture unless we read it in context with verse 8. Verse 8 says, “But you yourselves wrong and defraud – even your own brothers!” According to this verse, Paul condemns Christians who wrong and defraud others and file lawsuits against other believers. According to these verses, Paul condemns not only those who have been wronged but those who have wronged others in court. Paul does not say that even if our legal rights are threatened, we should still be submissive. This was not the intended meaning. Paul could be trying to say it is not good for those who have already committed offenses to bring lawsuits against others, especially other believers. Perhaps what he said about “Why not rather be defrauded?” was directed at those who defraud others in court.

Paul Warns the Church About Sin

Furthermore, we will discuss the conditions of the eight sins mentioned in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. In these verses, we will look at why Paul discusses the conditions of these eight sins. One fundamental principle must be followed when we try to understand the Bible, and that is the relationship between previous and subsequent verses. We often overlook the relationship between verses like these, especially if the previous verse appears to be unrelated to the subsequent verse. If the correlation between two verses is not obvious, it can be very difficult to see any connection. This is the case with the verses we have been discussing. For example, let’s take a look at Chapter 6 verses 1–8. This paragraph discusses lawsuits between believers. The main topic in verses 9 through 11 is prostitutes and sexual immorality. Why does Paul bring up prostitutes in this chapter after talking about lawsuits? Is the matter of prostitutes related to lawsuits in any way?

My guess is that some believers who filed lawsuits may be guilty of one or more of these eight sins mentioned here. This is just a guess but let me explain my reasoning. These are the eight sins mentioned in the second section of this chapter: “sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, men who practice homosexuality, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, swindlers” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Paul also says, “the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) When Paul wrote letters to people, including the Church of Corinth, he was probably aware of their situations. More than likely they understood what he was saying without him having to go into detail. Paul obscures details for them and does not mention their names or the sins they have committed. I believe he did so under the leading of the Holy Spirit and because many of the believers repented. Although Paul was led by the Holy Spirit and did not reveal their wrongdoings, this does not mean that the wrongdoings did not exist. Those who filed lawsuits may have committed some of the aforementioned sins. Otherwise, it wouldn’t make sense for Paul to mention them right after talking about the lawsuits. Although Paul does not discuss the details of their lawsuits, I assume it’s because he didn’t feel it was appropriate to address them publicly.

The reason I assume this is because in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, Paul specifically mentions two weaknesses in our flesh: gluttony and sexual lust. He only mentions gluttony briefly, but he spends a lot of time talking about sexual lust. In verse 15, he says our bodies are members of Christ, and those who join themselves to a prostitute become one body with her, and the two will become one flesh (6:16). However, those who join themselves to the Lord become one spirit with Him (6:17).

Paul withholds the names of those believers who are involved in lawsuits, as well as the content of the lawsuits, and whether or not these believers committed one or more of the eight sins, he mentioned in verses 9-11. However, sexual immorality was one of the special sins mentioned in verses 12-20. As a result, my guess is the lawsuits between these believers were related to sexual immorality. We do not know for certain what the lawsuits were about, but they could be about prostitution.

We know that the city of Corinth was a thriving commercial city. There was a lot of idol worship and sexual immorality. Mark Allan Powell, a theologian, says, according to some ancient historians “throughout the empire, the expression ‘to act like a Corinthian’ came to be Roman slang for engaging in sexual promiscuity.”[1] In Corinth’s society, sexual promiscuity was part of the cultural background. Some believers had grown up in this culture, and their spiritual senses were not strong enough to pull them away from it. So Paul reminded them that while some of the believers had previously committed these sins, they had been sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (6:11). As a result, they had to learn not to join in sin and instead learn to join with the Lord, because joining with sin caused them to become one body with sin. He who is joined to the Lord is one Spirit.

This is just my best guess, seeing as we will never know the exact details of the lawsuits mentioned in this chapter. However, one point stands out, and that is the distinction between joining with a prostitute versus joining with the Lord. If a Christian joins with sin, the flesh, or the world, he will more or less think, act, and behave according to the world’s laws. He will solve his problems in a worldly manner, not a in spiritual manner.

A Dispute Between Believers

Not long after I became a believer, one older man who we shall call Adam in my church told me a story. This story took place in our dorm which was called the Brothers House. There were two students that we shall call Bob and Chris, who came from China. Bob had been a believer for a longer period of time than Chris, who was a new believer. One day, Chris accidentally hit the bumper of Bob’s car, resulting in minor damage. This accident caused an argument between them. Chris begged Bob to settle the dispute privately because if the accident was reported to the insurance company, Chris would be charged a higher premium later. Bob plainly refused and insisted on reporting the accident to the insurance company. The older man, Adam, attempted to resolve their disagreements, telling Bob, “Chris is a new believer. If you insist on reporting the accident to the insurance company, this may negatively impact his newfound faith. Please think about resolving the incident in private. Furthermore, this was a minor accident with very little damage.” Bob did not follow Adam’s advice. He persisted and reported the accident to the insurance company.

I’ve never met Bob and Chris but heard their story from Adam, who regretfully told me that because Bob did not follow Chris’s suggestion, Chris had not attended any gatherings since. From the way it sounded, I believe Adam was sad. If he were Bob, he would have definitely treasured the fact that Chris, who had just received salvation, could feel the love of brotherhood more than his own insignificant loss.

By contrasting the attitudes of Adam and Bob, we can see that Bob was following in the footsteps of the world. This is not incorrect. In the United States, reporting a car accident to an insurance company is a basic step. To Adam, who was more mature and passionate, acting in a worldly manner was not wrong, but rather it lacked the love of God. He valued Chris’s spiritual life and didn’t want his faith to be hurt through this small incident.  Is there anything wrong with reporting an incident to an insurance company in this example? Certainly not! Does Chris feel loved if Bob reports this incident to an insurance company? Of course not!

I shared this story to explain Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6 and to provide a better understanding of Paul’s attitude towards lawsuits. Assuming that Adam in the above story is Paul and that the car accident between these two believers occurred in the Church of Corinth and is recorded in 1 Corinthians, can I assume that “Paul disagreed to report the car accident to the insurance company”? Or am I correct in assuming that Paul preferred “resolving the incident privately” following the car accident? It would not be reasonable for me to interpret Paul’s words in this manner. But, if we explain Paul’s attitude towards lawsuits in 1 Corinthians 6, we might make the same mistake.

Love Among Brothers

Paul was more concerned with whether or not there was “love among brothers” than with whether or not filing lawsuits in court was appropriate. Paul says, “can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers?” (6:5). Paul may not have objected to believers filing lawsuits in court, especially if believers were forced to do so or their rights were violated. If that was the case, Paul might have advised making an appeal to Caesar, similar to what he did. Paul was concerned that the believers of the Corinthian Church were still living in the flesh. Apart from having possibly committed some of the eight sins he mentioned in verses 9-11, the spiritual life of these believers was still immature as they were still living in their flesh.

Paul said, “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food.” (6:13). This verse contains a lot of meaning. It reminds me of the phrase: “Man eats for the sake of being alive, but man does not live for the sake of eating.” Eating is a necessary part of life, but it is not the center of our entire life. Our lives should be guided towards something more meaningful, much like human sexuality, which is not only for human reproduction but also many other rightful causes. Sexual lust is not all we want in marriage, and it is not right to have lust outside of marriage or with a prostitute. If some Corinthian believers committed sins out of lust, resulting in lawsuits as a result of these sins, this is not what Paul would want to see. Paul hoped the Corinthian believers realized that although some of them committed similar sins, they could experience the redemptive power of Christ that is mentioned in this verse: “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God.” (6:11). These words appear simple, but they are difficult to put into practice. How many Christians today live in sin, despite the fact that they have already been sanctified and justified by the Spirit of God? Why do they live with this contradiction? However, in our own journey, we must learn to overcome the temptations of sin and stay away from evil by the power of the cross and the strengthening of the Holy Spirit.

How do you overcome evil? Do you have an experience similar to Paul’s in Romans 7? The more you want to overcome sin, the more sin defeats you. The key to defeating evil can be found in Romans 8, where Paul discusses “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:2). How can we have “the law of the Spirit of life” within us but still lose the battle against sin? This is due to a lack of union with Christ.

That is why, after sharing something negative, Paul followed it up with something positive about how to join with the Lord and become one spirit with him (6:17).

The Spirit of God Unites Believers

One of the men in our Bible study shared his heartfelt thoughts. He believed that the Corinthians’ lawsuits were merely a problem on the surface and that the main reason for this was that they did not practice joining with the Lord. He felt they would be one spirit with the Lord if they practiced joining with Him. He believed we would also have more unity with other members in the body of Christ if we were joined to the Lord as one.

What this brother shared was extremely good. The Lord Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). However, we are constantly separated by different denominations and teachings and we cannot always love one another. Although we do not file lawsuits against one another in court, the nature of our relationship among different denominations is similar. Conflicts and disagreements between different denominations cause Christians to not have a good witness in the eyes of the world. If Paul was still alive, he probably would have agreed with this.

The ability to get along well with one another, whether it was believers of the Corinthian Church or Christians of different denominations, all depends on their ability to unite with God. We are members of the body of Christ, and like the members of a physical body, we are linked to one another. All members of a physical body are connected to the brain (or head), which sends instructions to each of the limbs, and the limbs must first follow the brain’s instructions before they can interact with other limbs. Suppose a person has Parkinson’s disease or another disease that affects the nervous system. In that case, this person’s limbs will be unable to function, perhaps even paralyzed, and his limbs will be unable to coordinate properly.

The same principle applies to the spiritual realm as well. We must connect with our head, Jesus Christ. We will become one spirit with God if we unite with Him.  As we become one spirit with God, this unites us in spirit with fellow believers as well. However, if we do not unite with God, it will be difficult for us to unite with  other believers.

Ezekiel 37 portrays such a picture. As Ezekiel prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. (Eze 37:7) And there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. (Eze 37:8) And the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. (Eze 37:10) Paul also said, “and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.” (Col 2:19) If we are unable to become one in Christ and hold fast to the head, we will not be fully nourished and knitted together.  We will not be able to grow with a growth that is from God, similar to Ezekiel 37’s description of rattling bones. We must first unite with God and receive abundant supplies from our head, Jesus Christ, just as our body parts receive instructions from our brain. Then we can unite with one another and grow and mature and experience the life of God within us.

In this chapter, I do not believe Paul is focusing on whether Christians should file lawsuits in court, but rather on the maturity of a Christian’s life and being one with Jesus Christ. His concern is that we should be good witnesses of one another’s love to the world so that the world may know that Jesus has sent us. Paul’s words are the inspired Word of God; however, it does not mean we need to take it literally.

[1] Mark Allan Powell, Introducing the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2009), 278.