Posted by: Heather | April 23, 2009

1 Cor 6:1-11 Lawsuits Among Believers

Sunday I preached on 1 Cor 6:1-11.

Here is the text:

1 Corinthians 6:1-11
(1) Dare any of you, having a matter against his neighbor, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?
(2) Or know ye not that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world is judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?
(3) Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more, things that pertain to this life?
(4) If then ye have to judge things pertaining to this life, do ye set them to judge who are of no account in the church?
(5) I say this to move you to shame. What, cannot there be found among you one wise man who shall be able to decide between his brethren,
(6) but brother goeth to law with brother, and that before unbelievers?
(7) Nay, already it is altogether a defect in you, that ye have lawsuits one with another. Why not rather take wrong? why not rather be defrauded?
(8) Nay, but ye yourselves do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren.
(9) Or know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with men,
(10) nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
(11) And such were some of you: but ye were washed, but ye were sanctified, but ye were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.

For context, let’s keep in mind that this conversation begins in 1 Cor 3:1

1 Corinthians 3:1-3
(1) And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, as unto babes in Christ.
(2) I fed you with milk, not with meat; for ye were not yet able to bear it: nay, not even now are ye able;
(3) for ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you jealousy and strife, are ye not carnal, and do ye not walk after the manner of men?

From this point, Paul corrects the error of following men, rather than Christ by saying that all are builders who build on the same foundation. (Christ) – Chapter 3:4-17

Then he calls to their attention that the wisdom of man is foolishness to God and the wisdom of God is foolishness to God. In essence, these are two world views that are diametrically opposed to each other. One cannot subscribe to both views at the same time. – The rest of Chapter 3

He opens chapter 4 by pointing out that we all stand before God, and not before men. Clear consciences do not even absolve us. God is the ultimate judge. However, they have already judged themselves to be full, rich, and respectable (contrary to the apostles, who were poor, despised, and hungry). He points this out after calling to their attention that they have nothing that was not received from God.

Then he goes into correcting them for their arrogance. Their arrogance is masquerading as tolerance. They had been tolerating gross immorality in the church (chapter 5) See previous post.

In chapter 6, he points out the hypocrisy of their claim to tolerance. They were happy to tolerate the trashing of God’s name. However, when it came to their own personal financial condition, they were taking one another to court.

In verse 1, he uses the word “dare.” 1 Corinthians 6:1
(1) Dare any of you, having a matter against his neighbor, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?

This word (tolmaō τολμάω) is used 16 times in the New Testament, and is only used in the context of lethal danger. A very strong warning that should not be taken lightly. (Joseph of Aramathea “dared” to go before Pilate and ask for Jesus’ body – Romans 5 says that some would “dare” to die for a good man)

God takes his reputation seriously. We should not forget this, even though we can’t see Him. We see this in the statement made later about celebrating the Lord’s Supper unworthily.
1 Corinthians 11:27-30
(27) Wherefore whosoever shall eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.
(28) But let a man prove himself, and so let him eat of the bread, and drink of the cup.
(29) For he that eateth and drinketh, eateth and drinketh judgment unto himself, if he discern not the body.
(30) For this cause many among you are weak and sickly, and not a few sleep. (emphasis added)

In verse 2, he asks them, “Or know ye not that the saints shall judge the world?”

Should they have known? Yes, Jesus taught this:
Matthew 19:28-30
(28) And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, that ye who have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (emphasis added)
(29) And every one that hath left houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit eternal life.
(30) But many shall be last that are first; and first that are last.

Paul spent almost 2 years in Corinth when he planted this church, so this is a teaching they should have been familiar with. But notice the question Jesus had been answering when he taught about ruling with Him.

Matthew 19:27
(27) Then answered Peter and said unto him, Lo, we have left all, and followed thee; what then shall we have?

The price for ruling with Christ was (and is) to leave everything, put one’s treasure in heaven, and follow Christ. (as Jesus had just told the rich young ruler to do – Matthew 19:21)

Those in Corinth who were taking one another to court before worldy judges for earthly gain had not placed their treasure in heaven.

In 1 Cor. 6, Paul says they should be qualified to settle such disputes among themselves. He asks if it wouldn’t be better to suffer wrong than to abdicate their responsibility to represent Christ to the world. In verse 7, he says that it is altogether a defeat to even bring such a case before worldly judges. The phrase here means an utter loss or a complete rout. This is not just a minor retreat in the spiritual battle where in we are engaged, it is a complete rout! But even worse, they are behaving in such a way to deserve being dragged before a magistrate! They are defrauding one another.

Finally, Paul reminds them that the wicked do not have an inheritance in the kingdom of heaven. He begins by listing the types of sins mentioned in chapter 5 with their gross immorality. He finishes the list with the types of behaviour that is landing them in court.

So, it appears that we are to settle our disputes among believers. Now this is not to say we can’t have differences, but we must mannage our disputes in a godly manner.

So where do these disputes come from? James says they come from our desires that war within our members.

James 4:1-12
(1) From where do wars and fightings among you come? Is it not from this, from your lusts which war in your members?
(2) You desire, and do not have. You murder, and are jealous, and cannot obtain. You fight and war, yet you have not because you ask not.
(3) You ask and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it upon your lusts.
(4) Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever desires to be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.
(5) Do you think that the Scripture says in vain, The spirit that dwells in us yearns to envy?
(6) But He gives more grace. Therefore He says, God resists the proud, but He gives grace to the humble.
(7) Therefore submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
(8) Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners; and purify your hearts, double-minded ones.
(9) Be afflicted, and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to heaviness.
(10) Be humbled before the Lord, and He will lift you up.
(11) Do not speak against one another, brothers. He who speaks against his brother, and who judges his brother, speaks against the Law and judges the Law. But if you judge the Law, you are not a doer of the Law, but a judge.
(12) There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you who judges another?

Notice in this context that James does not even address who is right or wrong in the dispute on an earthly level. He gets to the heart of the matter. These disputes come from doubting God’s soverign care for our lives, and the assumption that we can care for ourselves better than God can. This is idol worship in effect and spiritual adultery as we are setting our affections on something other than our betrothed. James frames the warfare in the spiritual realm rather than the physical realm. He says the solution is to once again submit to God. Then we are to draw near to him and resist the devil. We are to cleanse our hands and purify our hearts from doublemindedness. (remember these two world veiws are diametrically opposed to one another, when we try to hold both, we are doubleminded) We are to humble ourselves in God’s sight and He will lift us up.

Ok, so how do we resolve these disputes with our brothers? This is addressed in Matt 18.

Matthew 18:15-20
(15) But if your brother shall trespass against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.
(16) But if he will not hear you, take one or two more with you, so that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
(17) And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he neglects to hear the church, let him be to you as a heathen and a tax-collector.
(18) Truly I say to you, Whatever you shall bind on earth shall occur, having been bound in Heaven; and whatever you shall loose on earth shall occur, having been loosed in Heaven.
(19) Again I say to you that if two of you shall agree on earth as regarding anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them by My Father in Heaven.
(20) For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst.

Now this is not the three step plan for driving an enemy out of the church. It is a dispute resolution method focused on repentance, forgiveness, and restoration. (verse 18 points out that what is decided on earth shall have been decided in heaven. Heaven made the decision first, we are to find out what that decision is)

For a broader look at the attitude that is to be employed in this process, look at the context.

Matthew 18:6
(6) But whoso shall cause one of these little ones that believe on me to stumble, it is profitable for him that a great millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depth of the sea.

Matthew 18:9-10
(9) And if thine eye causeth thee to stumble, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is good for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into the hell of fire.
(10) See that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 18:12-14
(12) How think ye? if any man have a hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and go unto the mountains, and seek that which goeth astray?
(13) And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth over it more than over the ninety and nine which have not gone astray.
(14) Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.

(then he talks about the brother who transgresses against you)

After this Peter asks how many times to forgive. Jesus tells him 70 x 7, and then tells the story of the unforgiving servant.

So, if we try to use the “three step process for running an enemy out of the church” with the attitude that was evident in 1 Cor. 6, we are still wrong. Yes, at times someone does need to be put out of the church, as is seen in Matt 18:17, and also 1 Cor. 5. But this should be the exception, not the rule. I believe that if the right attitude is employed in these situations, the usual result will be that we win our brother, and God will be glorified.

One last thing I would like to add. We don’t have to be taking one another to court to be guilty of the same sin in 1 Cor. 6. We only need to have our treasures on earth rather than heaven.

Just my thoughts,




  1. Interesting thoughts, Heather’s husband, 🙂

    I agree with you that this goes far beyond taking another believer to court. I once had the opportunity to speak with a woman who was demanding an apolgy from another believer for something she said that hurt her feelings. She would tell her side of the story to anyone who would listen. When I implored her to forgive and move on, since she wasn’t getting that apology, she refused to let it go.

    I cited the verses you referenced and asked her why she wouldn’t just let her feelings be hurt and take it to the Lord. She quickly said to me: “Those verses are about taking other believers to court.”

    To which I responded: “You are taking her to court every time you bring this up. You are asking for justice in the court of public opinion. Let it go!”

    Sorry for the ramble. Your post just made me think.

  2. Interesting application. I agree.

    Thanks for the comment Terry,


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