Preparing Ourselves to Judge Angels
Preached Sunday morning, August 27, 2006
Lexington Church of Christ, Milton Stanley
After spending several weeks examining the overall problems of factionalism and poor leadership in the Corinthian church, we’ve begun looking at some of the specific sins of the Corinthian Christians. Last week we read about a particularly bad case of sexual immorality, and next week we’ll look at another of its manifestations. But right here in the middle of Paul’s discussions of immorality we have a section on lawsuits among believers. In one sense, the discussion of lawsuits seems like an interruption from the theme of immorality. Why does Paul include that subject here?
For one thing, Christians taking other Christians to court is a serious offense. Along with the sins of immorality, suing one another is a terrible testimony to the world. And, like the situation we studied last week, lawsuits among believers is a failure not only of those directly involved, but of the whole church to address the problem in-house. The fact that one Christian dares to sue another in public law courts shows just how much sin has taken root in the church.
Paul’s response to the situation is, first of all, a slap in the face of the Corinthians’ arrogance. They are a proud people, big-city sophisticates puffed up with a sense of their own knowledge and worldy wisdom. The Apostle uses fairly harsh language to show them the absurdity of their sin. And at the same time he reveals a profound image of the church in showing all Christians what our testimony should be, who our testimony should be, and how we ought to live our lives as the church.
The Apostle begins by emphasizing the shame that falls upon all the church when one Christian sues another. Notice the strong choice of words: “Do you dare...,” “Do you not know...” Ten times in his letter to the Corinthian, and six times in this chapter, Paul uses the phrase, “Do you not know...” That question is a challenge to the so-called wisdom the worldly, fleshly Corinthians believed they possessed . It also reminds them what a serious offense suing one another really is.
Why is it such a serious offense? Because one day Christians will judge the world, and angels. This is the “how much more” argument sometimes used by Jesus. If Christians will judge angels in heaven and the whole world, how much more should we be able to arbitrate earthly disputes among one another today. God is preparing his church to one day judge the world. How will we ever be ready if we are unable to resolve trivial matters now? The Corinthians presumed to judge Paul (4:3-5), but they cannot even resolve their own problems. In the mean time, the world around sees Christians bickering and fighting. Naturally, the world will see their conflict and conclude: That’s who Christians are.
And so the whole church is already defeated simply by the fact that two Christians are fighting each other. Two believers who are supposed to be united in Christ can’t keep from fighting on matters of personal property and so are divided against one another. Even Satan knows better than to do that (Mt. 12:24-27). How much more should the church be able to handle its own disputes? Even the least qualified Christian ought to be better able to judge these disputes than anyone outside (1 Cor. 6:4). As Paul reminded the Corinthian Christians earlier in the letter, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men” (1:25). And even if the Christian never obtains justice, it’s better to be cheated than to fight it out in a public way that brings shame upon the church.
It’s always a defeat when the saints of God fight each other in court. Now we should not take Paul’s words here as a total prohibition against going to court. Paul himself appeared in Roman court several times to defend himself against charges arising from his proclamation of the gospel. What the Apostle is speaking against here is Christians taking their grievances to open court. The church should not air its dirty laundry in front of the world simply for the selfish benefit of a few.
A family member of mine once worked at a small business owned by a rather disfunctional family. For some reason this family was divided into factions with the dad and his sons on one side and the mother and daughters on the other. After the father died, the whole community came to learn just how disfunctional this family really was. The mother and daughters sued the sons over the conditions of the old man’s will. Flesh and blood, immediate family, dragged each other to court and began speaking to one another through lawyers. What a shame that a family was split over money and worldly business. How much more shame falls on the family of God when we fight one another in court.
Exercising good judgement in disputes requires wisdom. When should Christians turn the other cheek and when should we take action? When is it time to encourage a wayward brother, and when is it time to throw him out of the assembly? The church needs the deep-down wisdom of the Word and the Spirit to help us in these situations (Deut. 6:6; Ps. 119:11). Once we’re in the heat of conflict, it may well be too late to discover the wisdom God has in store for us. We have to take in the wisdom of God before we need it so that its principles and values shape us when we do. We do know one principle from the Word that Christians in the U.S.A. need to keep in mind: there are no rights in the Kingdom of God.
That truth may be hard for Americans to swallow. We want both our rights and our salvation. But that’s not the way it works in the Kingdom of God. We’re so fond of our rights that we may not realize the that whole idea of rights is not a biblical concept. Yes, the word “rights” has crept into some twentieth and twenty-first century translations, but you won’t find it in the words of Jesus, Paul, or the other apostles. God is certainly concerned with qualities like justice and mercy and righteousness. He wants his people to be concerned about those things, too. But rights simply don’t enter the picture. Rights are all about what others owe us. Discipleship is about what we owe others—especially God.
I read recently about a row at a church business meeting. Some issue had caused a division among members of the congregation, and at one point a man stood up. “All I want is my rights!” he said with indignation. “I just want my rights!” After seeing the one brother’s impassioned plea, an older saint made this reply: “Your rights, brother, is that what you want, your rights? Why the Lord Jesus didn't come to get his rights. He came to get his wrongs, and he got them” .
Wrongs are what we sign on to as the church. Some folks have the mistaken idea that the church is a self-improvement society: a place to get my life on track, a way to live more “abundantly,” a means of getting what’s coming to me. But the church is not here to improve our lot in the world. In fact, after we have become Christians, we may find ourselves sicker, poorer, more heavily oppressed, at least in the short term. Many Christians have found that after their baptism the Devil runs away for a short time but that he soon returns with a powerful counterattack. Let’s not forget that the devil pulls the strings in this world (Jn 12:31; 14:30: 16:11). When you’re lost, the Devil wants to keep you happy. But when you’re saved, you can be sure he’ll come after you (1 Pe. 5:8). The Bible makes it clear that we should expect trouble for the simple fact that we are Christians: “Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in XI will be persecuted” (2 Ti 3:12). And God won’t always bail us out of trouble this side of the Resurrection. Sometimes it really is true that “no good deed will go unpunished.”
Yet it is the way Jesus told us to live. We are to go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow Jesus (Lk 9:23). So for Christians it is often better to be hurt than to hurt the cause of Christ. We are on a mission to proclaim the Kingdom and to glorify God. We have orders from the King to do right. But for Christians there are no “rights” in the Kingdom of God
There’s no place for wrongs, either. Paul begins this section by blistering those bringing the lawsuits against other Christians. Their selfishness caused them to fight over money, power, and standing. As the Apostle tells them, it would be better to be hurt than to damage the testimony of the church (1 Cor. 6:7). That is, however, only one side of the problem.
The other side is those doing things to be sued about. Some of those in the Corinthian church were defrauding and doing wrong to their fellow Christians (6:8). They were numbered among the Christians but were living like pagans, sinners. They were called Christians but were committing theft, adultery, idolatry, and other sins. Now, in verse 8, Paul turns his fire on them. If his words to the whole church are harsh in this chapter, his words to these wrongdoers are absolutely withering: there is no inheritance for you. He’s addressing the “Lord, Lord!” folks, those who call on the name of Jesus but don’t do the will of the Father to turn away from sin (Mt. 7:21).
Christians are saved by faith, not worthy behavior, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for obedience. A Christian may still sin on occasion, but if he simply goes on sinning as he did before he was saved, then clearly there is no true repentance in his life. And if there is no repentance, there is no salvation, no place in the Kingdom. To be Christians, we have to have a new mind toward sin. We have to renounce it, give it up, abandon following the spirit of sin and live by the Spirit of God. Paul gives a few examples of the kinds of behaviors Christians must abandon: both homosexual and heterosexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, thieving, drunkenness, greed, and speaking ill of others. If we’re honest with ourselves, everyone of us has been guilty of at least one of those sins. As Christians, we should be in the life-long process of repentance, of ridding our lives of every vestige of sin. We sometimes fail in our efforts to live holy lives—and some of us fall more often than others. But if there is no repentance in our lives, if we simply go on sinning, then we have no redemption and no inheritance. That’s the bad news—what we’ve done.
The good news is what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. As Paul told the Corinthians, "you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (6:11). That's what we receive when we are joined to Christ in the church. Those words about washing and sanctification recall our baptism into Christ, where we joined with Christ in his death and resurrection to eternal life (Rom 6:3-4). We've just seen the need for repentance—for taking on the mind of Christ and giving up a mind committed to sin. And of course, without a life-changing faith in Jesus Christ, all our actions are worthless. Thus Paul ends this section with a reminder of the wonderful grace with which God has blessed his people, and of the new life we have in Jesus Christ our Lord.
1. Bob Deffinbaugh, "Courting Sin (1 Cor. 6:1-11)," online study at www.bible.org.
2. Ray C. Stedman, "The Wrong Way to Right Wrongs," online sermon text at www.pbc.org.
(c) Copyright 2006, A. Milton Stanley