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TEXT: I Corinthians 6:1-11
SUBJECT: Sacrifice and Witness
Since the spring of 1969, I have loved major league baseball, and the San Francisco Giants in particular. When I was a boy, I spent a lot of time poring over terms like, 'earned run average, on-base percentage, stolen bases, and complete games'. That year, the beloved Willie McCovey nearly won the Triple Crown, leading the National League in home runs and RBIs, and finishing near the top with a .320 batting average. These were the baseball words I learned back in the 1960s.
Later I learned other words: steroids, free agency, lockouts, and arbitration. Arbitration, of course, is a kind of trial. The player makes a salary demand, the general manger makes a salary offer, and a judge rules in favor of one of the other. This sounds like a reasonable way to do things, but nobody wants to do it. Both players and teams hate it because while the player has to say how great he is, and how much he deserves the higher salary, the teams have to go the other way. They have to say what's wrong with the player, why his statistics are inflated, how he hurts the team on defense, that he's a cancer in the clubhouse and makes the game look bad in public. No player likes to hear this.
Even when the judge rules in his favor, he leaves the room offended at what the team thinks of him, and often sulks and plays down to their assessment because of it. On paper, arbitration looks good, but in the real world, it's bad. It may be a necessary evil, but it's evil. Nobody wins.
This brings us to today's text. The problem is lawsuits in the church, or, to say it more clearly, it is lawsuits between members of the church taken to secular courts. Compared to the problem in chapter 5-incest-lawsuits seem like a Mickey Mouse affair. But read the chapters with any care and you'll see that Paul is very upset at the church for both of them!
You see, secular courts at the time were very much like arbitration in baseball is today. You went to court over, let's say, an inheritance. Your brother got more than his fair share of your father's estate. How did you prove it? By tearing the man to pieces! By telling the judge what a rotten son he was and how that he took advantage of the old man in his declining years. The accused would then turn the tables on his accuser saying that he had taken care of their father for many years, bearing heavy expenses, and that the brother was a neglectful son when their father was alive, and greedy for his property now that he's dead.
Whoever won the trial, nobody went home satisfied, family life was permanently scarred, and the judge felt sorry for the old man for having such selfish and ungrateful kids!
This is what I Corinthians 6 is about: family squabbles going public and making the brothers and sisters look bad-and the Father look even worse.
HOW DARE YOU?
Most Bibles soften the wording of v.1, but there's nothing 'soft' about it. Paul says, in effect-
How dare you?
If you're a reasonable person, think of how seldom you've said these words, and what you said them about. They imply a sense of shock and horror; 'betrayal' might be the word I'm looking for. The Apostle is scalded by what's going on in Corinth.
They're going to law against each other, airing their dirty laundry before pagans who are sure to use it against the church-and the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ.
What are they thinking? If they can't settle things on their own, why don't they ask their brothers and sisters in Christ to help them? This is what Paul wants to know. The church is not full of lawyers and judges and people with legal experience, but so what? The church is made up of.saints, the people God has separated from dying humanity to live and reign with Him forever.
Surely, some of them could make things right between the litigants, couldn't they?
THE COMPETENCE OF THE SAINTS
Paul thinks so. He might point to some mature believers in church who have the patience to hear both sides of the issue, the wisdom to know who's in the right, and the courage to say so. He gets to that later, but he starts with something a lot bigger, v.2-
Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And, if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters?
'The saints will judge the world', he says. Why does he believe this? Is this a doctrine he made up himself? It is not. He got it from Daniel 7.
This magnificent chapter starts four beasts rising from the sea to tear the world apart, and, in particular, to oppress the saints. This goes on a long while, but then the Lord acts on behalf of His people. Over against the wild animals who are devouring the world, a Man shows up to oppose them. He breaks their power and turns the rule of the world back over to God, to whom it rightly belongs. The Lord gives His despised people a share in His Rule, v.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.
This theme is picked up in Revelation where the people who have been so cruelly treated by the devil reign with Christ. Romans 16:20 has to be one of the most surprising verses in the Bible-
And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly.
Genesis 3 says Jesus will crush the serpent's head-and that's right, He has and will, but Paul adds, we will have a part in His victory, and an active part, too!
From this soaring prophecy, Paul comes down to earth, 'If saints will one day judge the world and even angels (cf. v.3), why can't we judge trifling cases like inheritance or property lines or whatever they were slugging it out in court over?
There is a message in here for us that goes beyond the immediate subject. We live in a time of professionalism and specialization. If a man doesn't have a doctorate or certificate or a license, we assume he's unqualified to help us. In some cases this is true. I can't help you with medical advice. But in most areas of life-and the things that matter most-the church is competent to help people with spiritual problems, some of which have psychiatric or medical aspects to them. If we need non-Christian help in particular areas of life, there's nothing wrong with seeking it. But most things can be handled in-house, and should be.
This is no rebuke to people seeking help so much as it is to people who could help if they studied the Bible, prayed, and took the time and effort to provide it. The Church should be a caring community, and when we are, we are-to steal Jay Adams' line-
Competent to counsel.
The Corinthians should have known this, but they didn't. Or, more likely, they did, but were not acting on the knowledge they had. They were falling back into old habits, the habits that Jesus died to save them from! They were being conformed to the world and not transformed by the renewing of their minds.
In First Century Corinth, judges were famously corrupt, making most decisions on who offered the larger bribe. The Bible hints at this, and secular writers at the time, spelled it out. Saints were passed over in favor of pagans; the judgment of crooks was preferred to the wisdom of the church.
You have to wonder why. Why go to court when you could settle things privately and with the good name of the church intact? V.8 explains-
No, you yourselves do wrong and defraud, and you do these things to your brethren!
In other words, the people going to court were themselves crooks, and needed crooked judges to win their crooked cases! Paul can't believe how selfish they had become, and, in v.5 vents his feelings-
Shame on you!
Why look for justice from judges who themselves are unjust? Why seek the Rule of Heaven from men who are going to Hell?
They wall want to win their lawsuits, of course, but Paul says that in such a scenario, everyone loses, v.7-
It is already an utter failure.
It is better to lose your inheritance-he says-for the honor of God and the good of the church-than to win it by disgracing the Lord and making His Church look bad in the world.
In a lifetime of going to church, I have never known a church member to sue another, but the bigger issues I've seen a thousand times-and sometimes in myself-and that is to put want I want over what others need, to be 'in the right' no matter how much harm it does to the my brothers and sisters in Christ!
Paul wants them-and us-to set our priorities with the glory of God first, the good of His Church second, and only then, with our own rights and wishes and feelings. When I was a boy, I learned an acronym that remains a goal in my life-though not met as often as it should be: Joy-Jesus, others, yourself. That's how the Lord wants us to live. That's a life consistent with the Gospel.
CHARACTER THEM AND OURS
Paul winds up the argument by informing the Corinthians what they already know, but forgot in the heat of battle. The judges they're criticizing their friends to are unjust men-unjust both in their standing with God and also in moral character. They are-
Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, sodomites, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, and extortioners.
When you hear people harking back to the 'good old days' when politics were a lot cleaner than they are now, remember this verse. For the most part, powerful men are corrupt whether they're judges in Corinth, governors in Sacramento, or presidents in Washington DC.
This shouldn't surprise us, of course, because before God got a hold of us in Christ, we were the same kind of people, maybe not as publicly as they are-because we lacked the opportunity-but in the inside, every bit as bad.
Until God acted for us, washing us, sanctifying us, justifiying us in the name of the Lord Jesus and by His Spirit.
As members of the Body of Christ, therefore, let us always remember what we were-no better than the worst of men. Let us remember what we are now-and why we are this and not what we used to be. And let us remember that our brothers and sisters in Christ are washed, sancitified, and justified as much as we are.
Finally, let us put the honor of God and the good of the church ahead of our own petty interest. God help us to do so. For Christ's sake. Amen.
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