Should a Christian file a lawsuit against another Christian? Is there ever a time when you believe it is appropriate to the courts in order to settle a dispute with a brother or sister? Suppose a fellow Christian was a financial planner who handled accounts for church members. If this planner misappropriates, mismanages, or embezzles funds from a church member, is this worthy of taking him to court?
If you are like me, your mind recalls Paul mentioning something about the topic of taking a brother to court. It is in his first letter to the Christians in Corinth. “When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints” (1 Corinthians 6:1)? He goes on to ask, “So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church…Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?” (1 Corinthians 6:4-6). Why do you think Paul is so concerned about a brother taking another brother to court? Why would it really matter? If a brother or sister has been wronged by another person, even if that person is a fellow Christian, doesn’t the offended party have a legal right to seek restitution? The question of legality arises in the context of Paul’s discussion on this subject. “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful” (1 Corinthians 6:12). Historically, we have not connected this statement with the concerns raised regarding lawsuits. But I have become more and more convinced that this entire chapter deals with the foundational elements of Paul’s concern with unity among the Christians in Corinth.
So how do these issues which Paul addresses in this letter relate us today? Is there any parallel we can draw between their context and our own? I think the connection becomes clear when we begin to see Paul’s juxtaposition of the unrighteous and the saints. Check out 1 Corinthians 6:1 again, “When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?” He goes on to offer examples of those that are unrighteous: sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Paul says these will not inherit the kingdom of God. This list of examples of those that are unrighteous is place just prior to his clear statement concerning those within the church at Corinth. “And such were some of you” (1 Corinthians 6:11). You used to be numbered among the unrighteous. You were once involved in these unrighteous activities. 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” (1 Corinthians 6:11).
Paul once again presses the saints up against the unrighteous. Why? His point appears to be helping these Christians see how foolish it is to bring grievances among brothers and sisters before those who have no interest or standing in the church. This picture, graphic as it may be, is illustrated in Paul’s exhortation to not be joined to a prostitute. It is the picture of one who has been cleansed of filth and dross taking a dip in a sewage pond. What sense does that make?
Paul concludes his thoughts by exhorting, “So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20). This is a statement that incorporates all that he has stated to this point in the larger context of this chapter. Refrain from joining with the unrighteous. This is not Paul saying they should avoid all contact with those outside of Christ. After all, how would they accomplish the will of God if they never interacted with those outside the faith. Basically (and I understand I have greatly simplified this), what Paul is saying is that there is no reason why two Christians should take their grievances to those outside the church. Doing this would be the same as a Christian joining his/her body with a prostitute. For the Body of Christ to do this fails to bring glory to God.
Now…what about our context? I am saddened by the vast number of Christians who rant and rave on social media. Often, message of disdain and disrespect fill the news feed. And all too often, Christians pour their hearts out over issues within the church. And they do this in front of the whole world. Is it possible that doing so is congruent with what Paul addresses among the Corinthians? Why is it that so many have no problem airing their differences and grievances regarding the Body of Christ on social media for all to see? And I mean all to see. Paul would say, “So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame” (1 Corinthians 6:4-5). Without a doubt, Paul’s major concern throughout his ministry was the church. This letter, this discussion, is no different. What do our actions and words say about the Church for which Jesus died? What impact are we having on the unrighteous? How are we influencing the unrighteous? Maybe closer to home…what impact are we having on our children/teenagers? How are we influencing them?
Technology, even social media, can be very beneficial. Think about the number of people that can be reached with the message of Christ through these avenues. Think about the number of people that can be turned away from God through these avenues. We must be diligent to remember the power of a word. Our message must be one of love and hope. We cannot allow ourselves to be deceived into thinking that it is okay to abuse and slander a brother or sister. It is not okay to overtly, or passively (as is the case with far too many), berate a fellow Christian. When we speak/type/post, we must allow the love of God to penetrate every word. So glorify God with your body. Glorify God with your speech.