These disputes revealed two serious problems. On the one hand, there were those who were cheating their Christian brothers and sisters, making unjust gain out of them. On the other, those who were wronged were taking the culprits to court in front of unbelievers. Paul seeks to address both problems in this chapter.
1. When any of you has a legal dispute with another, does he dare go to court before the unrighteous rather than before the saints?
Surprisingly, he turns his attention first to the wronged party, and contends with them for taking the matter before unsaved magistrates. Paul does not mean to imply that they would not get justice at these courts. By calling the magistrates "unjust" he does not mean that the civil courts at Corinth were corrupt; but rather that they were not "right with God". The affairs of believers ought not to be aired in front of unbelievers, for here is a question of loyalty to Christ and His Church. Unbelievers will never be our true friends. Many would relish the opportunity to malign Christ and His Church. Believers taking believers to a non Christian civil court exposed the Church of Jesus Christ to constant public ridicule and did much to weaken the spirit of unity in the church. If a judgment is required in a civil dispute, the case should be brought before the saints. Most usually, this would mean bringing the matter to the attention of the local church oversight; it being unwise, especially in small matters, to involve the whole church. Sadly, church members have a habit of taking sides, which is human nature; but this can lead to problems far more serious than the original compliant! Just as a fire is better kept in the hearth than allowed to roam about the house, so it is better to confine the problem to those who need to know, rather than fuel gossip and division in a local church. Many years ago, the church of which I am now minister adopted a condition of membership which states in effect that church business is not to be discussed with outsiders. This is not a reference to church finances - any member of the public is entitled to view the church's balance sheet. Nor does it prevent us talking about our services - we want people to know about them! Rather, it ,means that if there is a dispute between two or more Christians, then we are not at liberty to enter into discussion about it with anyone, whether believers or unbelievers. It should be pointed out, however, that Paul is writing here about civil disputes and not the criminal law. Paul's views about that are clearly expressed in his other epistles. If a believer has been found to have committed a crime, then he is to be handed over to the secular authority and not merely disciplined by the Church (Titus 3:1 ; 1 Pet. 2:13-17).
2. Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you not competent to settle trivial suits
Paul insists that there is no need to go to the civil court to get justice. Since the saints are to judge the world they should certainly be capable of settling disputes within the local church. The reference to judging the world is not to final judgment of the sin of unbelievers. It refers to the time when we shall "reign with Him on the earth". If, during the millennial era, the saints will decide questions of justice for the people, they should be capable of doing so now.
3. Do you not know that we will judge angels? Why not ordinary matters!
The saints will one day decide questions which relate to the unseen and spiritual realm. No where else in Scripture are we told that saints "will judge angels". Whether Paul is asserting that we shall actually pass judgment on the angelic host is not clear. The verse does show, however, that the saints possess discernment of the unseen spiritual matters of God's heaven. The force of the argument is that if we are called upon to discern and decide spiritual issues, how much more the ordinary things of life.
4. So if you have ordinary lawsuits, do you appoint as judges those who have no standing in the church?
Only Christians have the mind of Christ and so only they are able to judge according to God's standards. Why should they appoint as judges those whose standard is from the world's viewpoint? Paul has previously pointed out that only those with the mind of Christ can comprehend others who have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). Only those whose judgment is based on Christ's standard are able to give judgment for God's people. Again we note that Paul's this teaching concerns civil disputes. In criminal cases a believer must be handed over to the secular power (Rom. 13:1-7). Such matters are for the police and the criminal courts, not the church.
5. I say this to your shame! Is there no one among you wise enough to settle disputes between fellow Christians?
The Corinthian Christians should have been ashamed that lawsuits had arisen between them in the first place. Was it because there was no one in the church wise enough to resolve these issues that believers resorted to the courts? It is far more likely that they involved the magistrates without first considering other ways of resolution. Today courts realize the value of arbitration as a successful alternative to litigation. In any church oversight there should be those who are able to "decide between" believers in this way; which according to Grosheide means "to bring to an amicable settlement by means of arbitration."
6. Instead, does a Christian sue a Christian, and do this before unbelievers?
The believers had taken matters to civil court without first giving arbitration a try. Jesus taught the correct way to settle disputes in Matt. 18:15-17. To take our brother to court in front of unbelievers is to disobey Christ.
7. The fact that you have lawsuits among yourselves demonstrates that you have already been defeated. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?
Whatever the result of the legal process, argues Paul, you have already lost more than you did in the first place. Whatever the verdict of the case, greater harm has been caused to the body of Christ by the suit than ever was caused by the matter you went to court over. The attitude of retaliation had left the Corinthians utterly defeated. To win a real victory in Christ, believers must take the wrong done to them as Christ did, with love, forbearance, and forgiveness (Matt. 5:39-40).
8. But you yourselves wrong and cheat, and you do this to your brothers and sisters!
Until now Paul has been challenging the wronged party of to settle matters "out of court". But he is not taking sides. Just as he rebukes those who are unforgiving, he equally rebukes those who were robbing and cheating their own brothers. Sadly, such behavior is not restricted to first century Corinth. The Christian businessman who fails to pay his Christian landlord's rent month after month; the Christian craftsman who is paid to do building work on a local church but who leaves with the work still incomplete; the Pastor who sells church assets and disappears with the money; the Pastor who demands a high salary from a poor church and then leaves it bankrupt. The author has personally witnessed these things, and they constitute a great wrong done to the church of Christ.
9,10. Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God. Here is a stern warning for the wrong doers. Don't you know, asks Paul, that here is no place is God's Kingdom for those who do such things? We are not to fool ourselves. Those who live immoral lives - such as the sexually immoral, idol worshipers, adulterers, and sodomites (homosexuals) - will have no share in God's Kingdom. Neither will thieves, greedy people, drunkards, slanderers, or robbers. Those who live unrighteous lives cannot expect to have a place in the Kingdom of a righteous God.
11. Some of you once lived this way. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
Paul reminds believers that this is exactly how some of us lived our lives before they came to know Christ. But Christ has now washed and cleansed us from sin in His precious blood (Rev. 1:5) and set us apart to God by His sacrificial death, making us right in the sight of God (Rom. 5:1). All this was achieved through the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the power of the Spirit of God. We have been made new creations in Christ Jesus.
Since we have died to the former life, how can we live in it any longer? We have been raised with Christ to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:2-4). In his characteristic way, Paul is urging believers to "put off" the old sinful life and "put on" the new life in Christ (Eph. 4:22-24). A life lived in sin is entirely inconsistent with the nature of Christ who dwells in the heart of those He has called and redeemed.
From lawsuits, Paul turns his attention again to the problem of sexual immorality in the church. We have noted on previous occasions that the city of Corinth was well known for its "anything goes" attitude to sex. Having dealt with an specific case of incest in chapter 5, Paul now deals with the general principle.
12. "All things are lawful for me" -- but not everything is beneficial. "All things are lawful for me" -- but I will not be controlled by anything
Some Corinthians had taken hold of part of Paul's teaching and distorted it in order to justify their own sexually immoral behavior. Paul owns up to saying that "all things are lawful for me" before explaining this maxim. The Corinthians were misusing their new found freedom in Christ. This was a common error in the early church (Rev. 2:14) and so one can readily see the importance of Paul's explanation of Christian liberty. Other religions proscribed rules which men must keep if they would be saved. Food laws were especially common, about what you could and could not eat. Abstaining from unlawful things was a necessary part of obtaining salvation. This is not so with Christianity. The believer does not earn salvation. Salvation is of grace and depends on what God has done in Christ. That is why the believer is not subject to a legal code of restrictions. In that sense "all things are lawful" for him. But if some things are not forbidden by a written code, they are nevertheless harmful or "not beneficial". Since Paul belongs to Christ, he is not to submit to the power of any other master; and sin is another master. Paul is recalling Jesus' teaching about sin, that the person who commits sin is brought into bondage by it (John 8:34). This is a teaching which he enlarges in Rom. 6:16. It may be the case that I am free to do as I wish, but if what I wish to do is sin, then I am bringing myself into bondage. Sin will deceive and ensnare those whom Christ has set me free, if they allow it. Christ gives us power to overcome sin, but if we are not prepared to resist temptation, then it avails us nothing. "There is a danger that in claiming his Christian freedom a man may bring himself into bondage to the things that he does." - Morris. It is important to understand that the believer lives under Christ's authority. In another place, Paul affirms that he is not without law to Christ (1 Cor. 9:21). He does not live to please himself, but recognizees that since he belongs to Christ he must submit to Christ's rule if he is to live in a way that Christ approves of. The Scripture makes very clear what is Christ's attitude to sexual immorality in His Church (Rev. 2:20-21).
13,14. "Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both." The body is not for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. Now God indeed raised the Lord and he will raise us by his power.
The Corinthian believers encouraged a casual attitude to sex. Sex, they believed, is like eating; a natural and a necessary function of the body to be enjoyed however you like, whenever you like, and with whoever you like. Paul strongly refutes this erroneous idea. God made the stomach for food, but he did not make the body for sexual immorality. Eating is not a moral issue, but sex is. One day the Lord will do away with both the stomach and food, for our need of them will cease, but the believer's body will not be destroyed, but resurrected, changed, and glorified; it will remain as a temple for God to dwell in throughout eternity (Philip. 3:21; 1 Cor. 15:51-52)
15. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!
Paul questions whether his readers were aware that their bodies belonged to Christ? Since Christ was living in them, He wished to live and express himself through their bodies. Every day our lives and bodies must be surrendered to Him for His use (Rom. 12:1). Since I'm joined in union to Christ in the closest possible way, and since my body belongs to Him, and since He intends me to use my body for His glory - shall I take my body and join it to a prostitute? Will that glorify him? Of course not! That would be taking my body away from its proper use in serving Christ and using it to serve sin. At the very idea of which Paul exclaims "never!"
16. Or do you not know that anyone who is united with a prostitute is one body with her? For it is said, "The two will become one flesh."
In quoting Gen. 2:24 (used there of man and wife), Paul understands two becoming one flesh as signifying the sexual act. The sexual union is so intimate as to make one body out of the two. Whoever unites with a prostitute in this way becomes one with her by virtue of that union. Whilst it is acceptable for the believer to take his body and join it in an holy union with his wife in marriage, it is not acceptable to take his body which is holy to the Lord, a member of Christ, and join it in an unholy union. This verse has given rise to some confusion among young people who, before their conversion, had many sexual partners. Is it true, they ask, that we are "one flesh" with everyone we have ever slept with? Paul is not saying that. What Paul is emphasizing is that it is God's purpose for a man to be joined to his wife and that they two should become one flesh. Christians of all ages must realize that nothing less than faithfulness within a Christian marriage is God's intention for their sex lives.
17,18. But the one united with the Lord is one spirit with him. Flee sexual immorality! "Every sin a person commits is outside of the body" -- but the immoral person sins against his own body.
The believer is one in spirit with the Lord. This fact should govern all our actions. We should share the Lord's attitude to fornication: we must run away from it and constantly stay clear of it. There is no other way to deal with it. Paul does not mean that sexual sin is the most serious of all, but that it relates to the body in a way that no other sin does. Other sins have an effect on our bodies (e.g. drunkenness), but when a man takes his own body which is united to Christ and makes a union which is contrary to Christ, he dishonors his God given body by using it for a purpose for which it was not intended.
19. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?
In chapter three Paul referred to the whole Church as being the temple of God. Now he refers to the individual believer's body as being a temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells. We must avoid using our bodies for purposes which are not appropriate for the temple of God. It is obvious that sexual immorality would not be fitting inside God's temple, and so should not be present in the believers life. The principle has a wider application; for nothing which would be amiss in God's temple should be seen in the child of God.
20. For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's. (NKJVTM)
How is it that we are God's in spirit, soul and body? It is because we have been bought at a price. On Calvary the Lord's Jesus gave His life to redeem us for God. His death was the price paid to purchase us that we might be freed from the slavery of sin. Having been made free from sin, we become His own possession. He has not bought us so that we can be independent of Him; but that we might be His own. We have an obligation to glorify God, not only in spiritual service, but with our bodies, for they too belong to God. If the previous verse gave us a negative "flee fornication" then here we have a positive "let your whole life and all you do be for God's glory."
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