Christian Lawsuits

I Corinthians 6

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
January 2024

If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? 2 Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!

4 Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? 5 I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6 But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers!

7 The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 8 Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters. (I Corinthians 6:1-8 NIV)

We have been studying the Book of I Corinthians. It is a book that is very relevant to the day in which we live.  It is a book that could come out of the 21st century, rather than the first century.

It is a letter written to the American Church. Ancient Corinth was like America today. This was not your grandma’s church. We saw last week that people in the church were sleeping with their mammas.  It is a book that deals with some adult topics.

Every problem they had in the Church of Corinth is a problem for churches today. Today, we come to a new topic.

Today, we are going to talk about lawsuits. We are going to talk about God’s House and the Court House. We are going to talk about the gospel and your rights.

The Bible talks about this. Did you know that both Jesus and Paul specifically said something about lawsuits. What did they say? Do you know?

What do you do when someone wrongs you? What do you do when someone rips you off and cheats you? What do you do when it is done by someone who is a member of your local church?

Is it ever right for a Christian to file a lawsuit against someone? Is it ever right for a Christian to go to court to get justice? We come to a passage that answers that question.

There are some shocking verses in this chapter.  Paul says that we will judge the world (I Corinthians 6:2).  Isn’t God going to judge the world?  Why does Paul say that we will judge the world.

He also says that we will judge angels.  What does that mean?  Angels are greater beings than we are.  How are we going to judge them?

A Worldly Church

We are going to talk about the world entering the church. That is what we see in I Corinthians 6. The world crept into the church. We have the same problem today. Whatever way society changes, the church changes, even if those changes contradict Scripture.

There was no gay marriage anywhere in the world for five thousand years. Then gay marriage entered society and not long after it entered the church, even though there is nothing like it in Scripture.

There is no gay marriage in the Bible. If you read the Bible cover to cover, you won’t find it anywhere.  God was the one who created marriage. He started it and He started it with Adam and Eve, not with Adam and Steve and for good reason.

The whole race would have died out after the first humans. Nowhere in Scripture is an alternative lifestyle acceptable, not the NT or the NT. If you want to see what Paul said about homosexuality, we will see next week what he said about it in I Corinthians 6.

Another example is the theory of evolution. Darwin comes up with evolution, society accepts it and then many churches accept it.  They claim to believe both the Genesis and Evolution.  A big church in Elon celebrates Evolution Sunday.

You say, “What’s the problem?  Science is good.  Progress is good.  Technology is good.”  That is true but everything in Genesis 1 completely contradicts the theory of evolution.  You have to tear that chapter out of the Bible.

Evolution is a way to explain the universe without God. God is not necessary to believe in evolution. You can be a complete atheist and believe in evolution. Evolution explains origins by a completely natural process.

In I Corinthians 6, we see the world creep into the church at Corinth. It crept in with lawsuits. People were dragging fellow church members into court before pagan judges.

The Corinthians loved to go to court, like Americans do today. It was in their blood. They lived in ancient Greece. The Greeks loved to argue and debate. The Greeks loved to go to court.

It was a way of life for the Greeks. They were a litigious society. It was part of their culture.

It was entertainment. They didn’t have television.  They would have loved Judge Judy. The courtroom was in the public square or the marketplace.

The Corinthians were a litigious church. It was an apostolic church, and it was a carnal church. It was a worldly church.

Forbidden Lawsuits

The world entered the Church of Corinth and Paul wrote to address the problem.  He has some strong words for this church. The gloves come off in this chapter.  Paul gives the Corinthians a strong rebuke in this chapter.

In I Corinthians 4, he told the Corinthians that he did not write to shame them. He said, “I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children” (I Corinthians 4:14 NIV)

In I Corinthians 6, he writes to shame them.  Notice how the chapter begins.

If any of you has a legal dispute against another, do you dare go to court before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? (I Corinthians 6:1 HCSB)

Paul says, How DARE you do such a thing? He says in I Corinthians 6:5 “I say this to your shame!” (HCSB)

Christians were taking other Christians to court. It was Saint versus Saint in a secular court.  This was not just a sin.  It was a disgrace.

Paul was Jewish. The Jews believed that it was wrong to take their disputes before pagans.  They considered it a form of blasphemy to take another Jew to court. That was the rabbinic view.

Misunderstood Text

Many Christians have misquoted and misapplied what Paul says here. Paul says that believers should not go to court against other believers. That raises an important question.

The question is this: Can a Christian ever take legal action? Can a Christian file a lawsuit? Is it wrong for a Christian to use the legal system? No. Paul does not say that courts are evil.  He did not say that courts are bad.

Courts are not perfect.  Judges are not perfect. Jesus didn’t get a fair trial, but Paul is NOT attacking the government here.  He is not attacking the justice system here. He is not attacking the legal system here.

There is a legitimate use of government. There is a legitimate use of the legal system. They have a place in society. That is clear from Romans 13.  They are God-ordained institutions.

Sometimes believers may have to go to court, even if it is a last resort. Paul is dealing with believers going to court against other believers. That is what is forbidden here.

But instead, one BROTHER takes ANOTHER to court—and this in front of unbelievers! (I Corinthians 6:6 HCSB)

Paul is specifically dealing with believers in the church who bring trivial cases before pagan judges. Notice what he is not dealing with.

1) Paul is NOT dealing with violent crime.

Paul is not dealing with that situation.  He is dealing with civil matters, not criminal matters.  He is not dealing with sexual assault. He is not dealing with child abuse.

He is not dealing with armed robbery.  He is not dealing with domestic violence.  He is not dealing with someone breaking into your home.  He is dealing with trivial matters.

He says, “Or don’t you know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest cases?” (I Corinthians 6:2 HCSB).

These were all trivial cases.  They were small matters.  These are what we would call today “frivolous lawsuits.”

Paul calls them “a dispute” (1 Cor. 6:1).  He calls them “trivial cases” (1 Cor. 6:2).  He mentions property crimes, like cheating people (I Corinthians 6:7).  These had to do with civil matters.

If a person commits a criminal act against you and they are a professing Christian and attend church every Sunday, you should do something different than what Paul says here because it is a different situation.

Some churches make a big mistake when someone in the church commits a major crime, a felony, and they do not report it to the police.  A youth pastor abuses children, and they sweep it under the rug, because it happened in church.  That is wrong.

2) Paul is NOT dealing with lawsuits against non-Christians

Paul was talking about fellow believers who cheat you.  He was not dealing with the situation of people outside of the church doing it.

That is a different situation, and we are not to judge unbelievers in the world.  We are to judge believers in the church.

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? (I Corinthians 5:12 NIV)

Seven Penetrating Questions

Paul deals with this problem by asking seven penetrating questions.  He used the Socratic Method.  He asks the Corinthians seven questions in eight verses.

It shows the power of questions.  He didn’t immediately start teaching them about lawsuits and rights.  He asked them a series of questions.  What were the questions?

1. Why do you take your disputes before the ungodly?

2. Do you not know that God’s people will judge the world?

3. Are not believers in Christ competent to judge trivial cases?

4. Do you not know that saints will judge angels?

5. Why do you ask for a ruling from those who have no standing in the church?

6. Why would you not rather be wronged?

7.  Why would you not rather be cheated?

Some of these questions are radical.  They are unnatural.  They are counter-cultural.  He tells them to do the exact opposite of what you would expect people to do and what they would normally do.

Question about Testimony

Why do you take your disputes before the unrighteous?  This is a bad testimony.  Christians are supposed to be know for their love.

Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:13 NIV)

We are supposed to be known to the world by love and yet what they see is Christians fighting with one another and dragging them to court.  Are we concerned with our testimony?

Everything we do in the world affects our testimony before the world.  We represent Jesus.  What type of testimony do you have at work or in the community?  Is it good or bad?

Question about Prophecy

Do you not know that God’s people will judge the world?  Do you not know that the saints will judge angels?

These are questions about prophecy.  They are questions about end-time prophecy.  How well do you know prophecy?  We just finished a study of the Book of Revelation.

The problem of the Corinthians, and the problem of many Christians today, arose out of ignorance.  There were some things about the Bible that they did not know.

Paul asked them the question, Do you not know?  In fact, he asked them that question repeatedly.  He asked it six times in I Corinthians 6.  It is a problem today.

How many Christians today have a similar problem?  Many Christians do not know the Word and have no desire to know it deeply.  We have whole churches like that.

How many spiritual problems today do we have because we don’t know some things that we should know.  There are many examples of this.

People say, “I am born gay, so just accept it.  God made me that way.”  Even if the premise is true and some people are born gay, there is a flaw in the argument.

The Bible says that we are born sinners.  We are born with all kinds of evil desires and impulses.  It is called a sin nature.  It may manifest itself in homosexuality or it may manifest itself in some other sin.

Do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? I Corinthians 6:2

Do you not know that we will judge angels? (I Corinthians 6:3)

Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? (I Corinthians 6:9)

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself (I Corinthians 6:15)

Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? (I Corinthians 6:16)

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit? (I Corinthians 6:19)

How will we judge the world?  How will we judge angels?  We will not judge the good angels, but we will be involved in the judgment of bad angels (demons).

That is an interesting thought.  We do not have to tremble before demons.  One day we will judge them.  We will be involved in their judgment.  We will be involved in the judgment of the world.

Jesus will judge the world, but the saints will rule and reign with Jesus.  We have no idea what that will be like?

If we are going to judge demons and the world, we can decide a few minor squabbles in the church. As Paul says, are not believers in Christ competent to judge trivial cases?  We are.

Question about Their Judgment

Why do you ask for a ruling from those who have no standing in the church?  Why are you going to pagan judges to resolve this trivial church problem.

You are going to unrighteous judges to resolve this problem.  These are the same unrighteous judges that you will be judging one day.  That makes absolutely no sense.

Going to the unsaved to revolve a minor contract dispute between Christians would be like going to nonbelievers to resolve a theological dispute.  That would be disastrous.  That would only give you worldly or demonic wisdom.

Question about Mistreatment

This is perhaps the hardest for us to accept.  Paul asks the Corinthians two questions.  Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?  Why would he say this?

Paul tells the Corinthians to allow themselves to be defrauded, to be cheated, to be ripped off.  He tells them to allow people to scam them.

That seems little un-American.  Why didn’t he tell them to stand up for themselves?  Why didn’t he tell them to fight for their rights?  That is what we are told to do in society today.

It is not wrong to stand up for your rights.  There are times when we need to do that.  In fact, Paul did that.  He did not do it for a trivial matter.  He did it to prevent being flogged and put to death.

Paul used his legal rights as a Roman citizen to keep from being flogged (Acts 22:22-29).  He asserted his rights as a Roman citizen.  He said, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?” (Acts 22:25 NIV)

When Paul was falsely accused by the Jews. The Sanhedrin brought serious charges against Paul, some worthy of death. He appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:1-12).

That was his right as a Roman citizen to have your case tried in Rome. Romans could appeal their case to a higher court.

He didn’t just say, “I will be defrauded and take the wrong”. He took advantage of his rights as a Roman citizen, and we can take advantage of our rights as American citizens.

There are other times when we should take wrong.  There is a place to JUDGE WRONG.  We see that in I Corinthians 5.  There is also a place to TAKE WRONG.  We see that in I Corinthians 6.

Jesus did not stand up for His rights when he was arrested and beaten.  There are times we need to give up our rights for the gospel.

We also should not be tied to our possessions.  If we have to give them up, we should be able to.

 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. (Matthew 5:40 NIV) 

The Jews wore a shirt and a coat or tunic.  Here someone wants to take you to court.  They want to sue you for the very shirt on your back.

Jesus says “Don’t fight him for it.  Go ahead and give him not only your shirt but give him your coat as well.

A coat is more valuable.  It keeps you warm when it is cold.  It was used as a coat and a blanket in Jesus’ day.  We should not be tied to our possessions.

Our Christian testimony is more important that our money.  It is more important than our possessions.  Better to lose a few dollars and have a good testimony than to gain a few dollars and make the name of Christ look bad.

Paul says, “The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already” (I Corinthians 6:7 NIV).

He says if choose to take another believe to court over a trivial matter before a pagan judge, and if you win, you actually lose.  You win the case but lose your Christian testimony and the testimony of the local church.


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