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Should Christians Take Each Other to Court? I Corinthians 6:1-11

I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.

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Introduction: Getting Along as Members of Christ's Body

In Wikipedia we find an article about a man named Rodney King. It tells us:

Rodney Glen King (April 2, 1965 – June 17, 2012) was an African American man who was a victim of police brutality. On March 3, 1991, King was beaten by LAPD officers during his arrest, after a high-speed chase, for driving while intoxicated on the I-210. An uninvolved individual, George Holliday, filmed the incident from his nearby balcony and sent the footage to local news station KTLA. The footage showed an unarmed King on the ground being beaten after initially evading arrest. The incident was covered by news media around the world and caused a public furor.

Four officers were eventually tried on charges of use of excessive force. Of these, three were acquitted, and the jury failed to reach a verdict on one charge for the fourth. Within hours of the acquittals, the 1992 Los Angeles riots started, sparked by outrage among racial minorities over the trial's verdict and related, longstanding social issues, overlaid with tensions between the African American and Korean American communities. The rioting lasted six days and killed 63 people, with 2,383 more injured; it ended only after the California Army National Guard, the Army, and the Marine Corps provided reinforcements to re-establish control.

The federal government prosecuted a separate civil rights case, obtaining grand jury indictments of the four officers for violations of King's civil rights. Their trial in a federal district court ended in April 1993, with two of the officers being found guilty and sentenced to serve prison terms. The other two were acquitted of the charges. In a separate civil lawsuit in 1994, a jury found the city of Los Angeles liable and awarded King $3.8 million in damages.

Sadly, Rodney King died in in 2012 from an accidental drowning in his swimming pool which was caused by a combination of drugs and alcohol and a heart condition that he had.

Mr. King has, since the incident that brought him to public knowledge, become a symbol for police brutality. And despite what anyone thinks of Rodney King, there is at least one thing that can be said that was positive about this man. Mr. King never advocated for hatred or violence against the police. And, when being interviewed, he said one thing that has stuck in my mind ever since. He simply stated:

"Can't we all just get along!"

According to Wikipedia, he made this statement the foundation for the rest of his life. And, since his death, his daughter Lora King has worked with the LAPD to build bridges between the police and the African American community. She also started a nonprofit called the Rodney King Foundation on behalf of her father.

In the book of I Corinthians 6 Paul is basically telling the Corinthians the same thing that Mr. King was trying to tell Americans. As Christians who are all members of the Body of Christ, the Church, we should all be able to get along with one another. The world is full of selfish people who don't ever seem to do anything but fight. And in the United States we are living in a litigious society where almost everything we do could get us sued. But we should be different from the society around us. We should all be unified as Christ's Church. Indeed, Jesus said that people will know that we are Christians by how we love one another (John 13:35).

The Corinthians, as we have seen in our earlier study, were having a lot of problems and weren't unified. In chapter 6 that lack of unity was seen by Christians who were filing lawsuits against their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

Let's look closer at this passage to see what it can tell us today as 21st century Christians living in this modern world in which we find ourselves. We can begin by seeing what Paul wasn't talking about in these verses.

I. What Paul Wasn't Talking About

When the apostle was speaking to the Corinthians in this passage, he wasn't saying that Christians should never have anything to do with the secular courts. There are times when it becomes necessary. Further, we find in the book of Romans that Paul tells us that all government was established by God. Romans 13:1-7 tells us:

"Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore, it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor."

Also, we see in the book of Acts that Paul, at times, made use of the secular court in order to help himself. Gotquestions.org has this to say about the subject:

"Acts chapters 21–22 talk about Paul being arrested and wrongfully accused of a crime he did not commit. The Romans arrested him and “the commander brought Paul inside and ordered him lashed with whips to make him confess his crime. He wanted to find out why the crowd had become so furious. As they tied Paul down to lash him, Paul said to the officer standing there, ‘Is it legal for you to whip a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been tried?’” Paul used the Roman law and his citizenship to protect himself. There is nothing wrong with using the court system as long as it is done with a right motive and a pure heart."

So, what is the Apostle referring to in this passage?

II. Church Problems Should be Solved by the Church (1-3)

We have to realize that the whole context of I Corinthians 6:1-11 has to do with disputes that take place within the church between fellow believers in Christ. In verses 1-3 Paul tells the followers of Christ at Corinth that they should not go to court over such trivial things before an unrighteous judge when the saints are more than capable to judge such matters. After all, we will one day have some part in judging the world and we will even play a role in judging the angels. How much more the things pertaining to this life on earth.

The whole reason for the secular courts is to judge civil matters. But even then, there should be very little that two brothers or sisters in Christ cannot work their way through if we love one another and seek to maintain the unity of the Body of Christ.

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Instead, the Corinthians were appointing the pagans to settle disputes among themselves. By doing that they were turning to the least qualified, the unbelievers, to resolve small matters. Paul is suggesting that the most untrained Christians legally who know the Word of God and are obedient to the Holy Spirit are, by far, more qualified to solve disagreements between fellow believers than the most legally trained unbelievers.

And there is also a major reason why we should make every attempt to solve our problems within the family of believers rather than running to the secular legal system.

III. Running to a Secular Court is a Spiritual Defeat (4-7)

The reason that the apostle Paul gives for us to solve our church problems within the church is that running to a secular court is a spiritual defeat and ruins our testimony before a watching world. In verses 4-7 he tells the Corinthians:

"So, if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren? But brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? Actually, then it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud. You do this even to your brethren."

What a horrible testimony before the world if Christian brothers and sisters, who each claim to have a new life in Christ, cannot even resolve the simplest of issues amongst themselves but have to go running to the world courts. And, if a fellow believer is not living as he should but is in a carnal lifestyle, then going to a secular court won't make things any better. Rather, it will move the sinning brother or sister farther away from the Lord.

Paul says that allowing yourself to be defrauded and taken advantage of is much better than the consequences of taking a fellow believer to court.

IV. The Unbeliever and Believer are from Separate Kingdoms (9-11)

Paul concludes this section by pointing out that the unbeliever and the believer are from separate kingdoms. In Colossians 1:12-14 the apostle tells the Christians at Colossae:

"Giving thanks to the Father, who made you acceptable to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light, who rescued us from the kingdom of the darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we now have the redemption, that is, the forgiveness of sins."

And here in I Corinthians 6:9-11 he says to the Corinthians:

"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you. But you were washed but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God."

Because unbelievers are part of that kingdom of darkness and are still living in sin, they are less qualified than believers, who have been delivered from that sinful lifestyle, to judge what is going on in the church between fellow Christians.

So, in other words, if at all possible, we should keep church business within the church and solve our own problems.

Conclusion

In summary, the Church of Jesus Christ is not to be anything like the world around it. We are to be salt and light in a world that is unsavory, rotting with sin, and living in darkness. We cannot be constantly going to the world's courts to solve the problems that are, if the truth be told, caused by not getting rid of the sins in our own lives that continue to characterize the people of this world that we wish to evangelize.

Therefore, we should never take each other to court over church matters. Further, in civil matters we should try, if at all possible, to avoid using the legal system with fellow believers as well. And the same should be true of the Christian with the non-believer. We should do our best to avoid any lawsuits involving those to whom we wish to tell the good news of Jesus Christ.

Of course, as we have seen, the government, including the courts, is not evil in and of itself, though there may be some evil persons participating in government. But it has all been put here by a holy God to punish the evildoer and to reward those who do good. (Romans 13).

Further, if we are asked to, for instance, be on a jury, it is our civic as well as our Christian duty to be the best juror that we can be. In a situation like this, God can use us to help bring His justice to a world that is in dire need of it.

May we always seek, by our actions, to be uniters and not dividers in the local body of believers, that God has placed us in, by seeking to solve any problems that we have with our fellow believers as quickly and as efficiently as possible. For we truly are to be one in Christ Jesus. So let us all allow His Spirit to end all divisions that we have so that we can live the rest of our lives together as one, for His honor and His glory!

© 2022 Jeff Shirley

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