Lost in the City 2013 – PART 4
What can be worse than rotten cheese and dead possums?
20 Oct 13
(You can find a recording of this sermon here.)
This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.
On Sunday I talked about disputes in the church. In our text, Paul addresses this issue in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8. The problem was not that they were having disputes, but that they were mishandling disputes. When you mishandle disputes, this can be worse than rotten cheese and dead possums (you needed to have been there on Sunday to understand my cheese and possum reference). Can you think of any nasty disputes that stank up a whole office, church, friendship or marriage?
Question: How are we to handle disputes?
Realize that Paul is addressing a very specific issue in the church, in the first century, in Corinth. While the text does not provide every answer to our question, it does provide some answers, unfortunately coming from the negative example of the Corinthians.
1. WE NEED TO FOLLOW THE RIGHT PROCESS (V.1)
What was the wrong way (v.1)?
What was the right way (v.1)?
Note the following about the Gentile court systems:
The Roman judicial system was pervaded by “improper influences” and this “made equality before the law unattainable” or virtually so. To the wealthy, well-born, and well-connected went the chief rewards of the legal system, along with many of the other benefits available in society. There was a strongly aristocratic bias to the whole culture. (Witherington, B., III. (1995). Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)
In this particular situation the wrong way for dealing with conflict between believers was to take the case to the corrupt courts. As you think of disputes in a varied number of contexts, what are the wrong ways we often deal with conflict? What Scriptures inform you of the right way?
Sample: Matthew 18:15-20; Eph 4:25-31; Hebrews 12:15; Romans 12:10; Proverbs 19:11
What I find interesting about the Corinthian situation is that the way they were dealing with conflict and disputes was a reflection of their life before Christ. See the following:
“The Corinthian believers had been so used to arguing, disputing, and taking one another to court before they were saved that they carried those selfish attitudes and habits over into their new lives as Christians” (MacArthur NT Commentary on 1 Corinthians page 136)
Here are some discussion questions: What do disputes reveal about your character? What does your dispute style indicate about the health of your soul? Do you have a track record of handling disputes that is reflective of bad family patterns that you grew up with? Has coming to faith in Christ made any difference in how you handle disputes? Have you allowed God to sanctify your default dispute resolving style?
Bottom line - Paul is saying “don’t take fellow believers to court.” That is part of the old way that has got to go.
2. LET YOUR HOPE IN THE FUTURE SHAPE YOUR HELL ON EARTH (V.2-3)
This might sound like an overstatement BUT, one’s hell on earth could very well be the dispute they are currently engaged in. Paul is about to say something about their future that should shape their present circumstance.
Let me illustrate before we look at v.2-3:
“If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.” (Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis)
I think that, in what Paul says next (v.2-5), he is attempting to remind them or teach them of how perfect justice will one day be meted out and to use that understanding to empower them to handle current day disputes with greater justice and integrity. If they will one day play a key part in the courts of heaven, where there is justice and integrity, certainly they should be able to handle cases in this age with justice and integrity. A mind preoccupied with Heaven will result in a person seeking to handle disputes in ways reflective of God’s coming kingdom.
Paul does not explain the Christian’s role, but just references it. I have included an article at the end of this TB that will help flesh out a bit more on this issue.
“Jesus himself taught that his followers would act as judges at the end of time (Matt. 19:28; see also Rev. 20:4). The language of the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) also implies this in Daniel 7:22 where it says that judgment was given to “the saints of the Most High.” This future role of believers reflects that they will be victorious over their enemies and enjoy the honor of ruling with Christ after he returns (cf. 2 Tim. 2:12).
Second, Paul reminded the Corinthians that believers will judge angels. Many angels fell from their positions of authority when they rebelled against God (2 Pet. 2:4). Followers of Christ will pass judgment on these angels when Christ returns…”
With this understanding of our future role in the just courts of heaven, here is the question we need to ask ourselves when facing disputes here on earth in the church, or elsewhere: “In what way can my attitudes and actions demonstrate the Kingdom of God in this dispute that I am currently engrossed in?
3. NIP IT IN THE BUD (V.7)
This verse can be translated, “It is already a complete defeat for you.” For this third answer to our question (“How are we to handle disputes?”) we could reference the whole text, but I thought v.7 really clarifies why disputes need to be handled properly. Like smoke, the first inkling of a dispute, if not dealt with, can burn the whole “house” down. Corinth was defeated because they were a permissive environment for disputes to begin with. Note that they have many lawsuits among them. The fire is raging.
Is there any dispute currently in your relational network that you are just hoping will go away? If you smell the smoke, you’d better deal with it… or it might deal with you! Just ask Corinth - “It is already a complete defeat for you.”
4. BE WILLING TO WALK AWAY FOR THE SAKE OF THE GREATER GOOD (V.7-8)
I think Paul is referring to the classic case of where you win… but you lose. Ever won but lost? Ever got the last word in but wish you hadn’t? Ever scored more points, but felt like a loser? Ever successfully proven your point but felt like nothing was gained or so much was lost? Sometimes it is better to walk away.
Paul was certainly referring to our Lord’s teaching in Matthew 5:39–42. Better to lose money or possessions than to lose a brother and lose your testimony as well. Perhaps this is the hardest thing to do but at times it is the right thing to do.
Is the Christian never to go to court under any circumstance? I have included a good article on this that perhaps will add some fuel to your discussion.
As you think of your family, friends, church, and work, what answers to our question most aptly apply? Take some time to pray into this issue.
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EXTRA: IS THE CHRISTIAN NEVER TO GO TO COURT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES?
By Bob Deffinbaugh at Bible.org
Does this apply to civil proceedings or to criminal proceedings as well? Should a Christian ever “press charges” against a fellow-believer? These are very difficult questions, for which there are not always black and white answers. Allow me to make a few comments on these issues for your consideration.
We know from the Scriptures that Paul has several encounters with the court system of his day. When Paul is brought before Gallio, it is in Corinth (see Acts 18:12-17). There, Gallio’s decision is reached and announced before Paul can even speak a word, and the result is a landmark decision. Gallio rules that Christianity is Jewish, and thus men like Paul can proclaim the gospel under the same protection of the Romans that the Jews enjoy. Later, when Paul is arrested in Jerusalem, he appeals his case to Caesar, knowing that a fair trial is impossible in Jerusalem or Caesarea (see Acts 25:6-12). We do not know the outcome of his trial for certain. The Book of Acts ends with Paul in Rome, and we know a few more details from Paul’s “prison epistles,” such as Philippians.
It is not wrong for Paul to appear in court in these cases, so we must conclude that while Christians are urged not to take one another to court, this is not the same as saying that a Christian should never appear in court. A Christian may find that his or her spouse files for divorce in a civil court, and we may have no other choice but to respond (failure to respond brings its own foreknown results). It would seem, at least in my way of viewing the New Testament teaching on divorce, that a Christian may even have the option to file for divorce in the case of immorality (see Matthew 5:32). When another party chooses to sue us, we have little recourse, other than to make our best case before the court. In this day and age, churches are being sued much more frequently, ironically, sometimes because they have exercised church discipline.
What Paul seeks to forbid in our text is Christians looking to the secular court system to resolve spiritual conflicts between themselves. There are times when two Christians appear in court when neither is attempting to harm the other. For example, one Christian might accidentally run into the car of another believer. His insurance company may try to withhold payment, even though he admits guilt. In such a case, the two parties might appear in court, but it is the two parties’ insurance companies seeking some kind of legal judgment. I know of one case where a property deed was altered, and the property in question belonged to a Christian camp. The property was donated by a Christian, who allegedly altered the deed. In this case, the ownership of the property had to defined, and it could only be done in court (or so I was told).
It may be necessary to go to court to protect the interests of someone other than ourselves. Suppose you were appointed the guardian of two young children, and a relative was illegally trying to gain control of the property of these children, property for which you were given responsibility? In such a case, you might have to act through the court system to protect the interests of the children. When we are acting in a fiduciary capacity, and not for self-interest, legal action may be necessary for us to serve others well.
It is possible that while one cannot take a brother to court apart from church discipline, it might be required after church discipline. You will remember from our Lord’s teaching in Matthew 18 that once the whole church has sought to turn a man from his sin and been ignored, the church is to excommunicate him, treating him as a “Gentile and a tax gatherer.” As I understand our Lord’s words, the person is to be dealt with as though he were an unbeliever.57 If this person were, let’s say, sexually molesting his little girl, a concerned Christian mother might have to seek a custody hearing or might even request an injunction. Once again, this cannot be for revenge, but for the best interests of both the husband and the child.
It should be said that some Christians get into legal troubles, troubles which necessitate them going to court, because they do not seek proper legal counsel before making agreements or commitments. Lawyers are not just in practice to get us out of trouble; they are also there to keep us out of trouble. Sometimes we may get ourselves into trouble because we want to appear spiritual, and so we agree to do things without defining the details. Differences and disagreements which result from such agreements are unnecessary, and the result of our own carelessness.
There may be a time to involve both a lawyer and a Christian brother. (If you are fortunate, you may find a good Christian lawyer who meets both of these requirements.) As I understand and have observed the legal system, a person accused of a crime may very well need to be represented by one who is an expert in the law. The court system is set up in such a way that both the prosecution and the defense do their best to prove their case. The prosecution is not going to try to defend the one they are accusing. To fail to have an attorney when accused of a crime seems foolish in most instances. At the same time, spiritual issues need to be addressed, and an unbelieving lawyer is not capable of dealing with these matters. A similar situation is evident when visiting someone who is hospitalized with very troubling symptoms. This person needs the best medical help he can find. On the other hand, he and his family members and friends need prayer and biblical encouragement. While there are cases in which we must choose between a lawyer and a Christian who is wise in the Word, there are also many times when we need both. Sometimes we must choose the courtroom or the church, but at other times we must not lose contact with either.
I must admit that in the past I would have said that Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6 are to be applied to civil cases, and not to criminal matters. The list of offenses Paul gives us in verses 9 and 10 include those matters which are morally wrong (adultery, covetousness) and those which are criminally wrong (e.g. swindlers, thieves). There may be times when the Christian chooses not to press criminal charges against a fellow-believer. There may also be times when this is done for the good of that believer and for the good of society. Violent physical abuse may be an occasion where pressing charges is in order, especially after church discipline has been carried out. There are no nice and neat answers to such troublesome matters, but we do have spiritual principles to guide us. In the final analysis, we should act in a way that we believe takes God’s Word seriously, which promotes the gospel, and which brings glory to God.”