“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)
This verse begins about eight verses of Paul addressing an issue in Corinth where there were disagreements. Again, all this division in the church at Corinth. There were disagreements among followers of Christ that they could settle within themselves, but they were not settling within themselves. Instead, they were going to the courts to settle their disputes that could have been settled among themselves.
God give us wisdom to find reconciliation in the church. May we be a picture of unity to the watching world around us.
And Paul says, “Why are you doing this? You have the spirit of Christ in you, you’re followers of Christ, you’re brothers and sisters in the family of God, you can settle these things together. Why are you going to people who don’t have the spirit of Christ in them to settle these disputes, to tell you what to do? And what is that doing as far as your witness in the world? There’s so many problems here that could be addressed in the church, but instead of doing that together as the body, you’re going outside the body in ways that are unhelpful.”
Now, with that context, I want to make sure to give a clear caveat of what the Bible is not teaching here. And we could spend all kinds of times in Romans chapter 13, for example, talking about God establishing government for the protection and promotion of that which is good, for the punishment of evil. We could actually go all the way back in Genesis to see the foundations for this. This is actually a whole topic of Secret Church; God, government, and the gospels. That could be six hours right now. It’s going about 30 seconds. The thing I want to make sure to emphasize is this passage is not teaching that there’s not a place for government, that there is not a place for courts, that you should not involve authorities, civil authorities in matters of particularly things like abuse, things like physical harm, physical danger.
There’s a litany of things where God has, by his grace and in his wisdom, set up civil authorities to be able to address. Therefore, when you are in harm’s way, then it is entirely right to call the police, to call civil authorities immediately. And yes, to look to your church to be helpful in that, but not for the church to handle these things outside of civil authorities. That is not what first Corinthians chapter six is teaching. This is talking about disputes that can be handled within the church. The followers of Christ in the church, instead of just sitting across the table from one another and walking through the word of God with the spirit of God and thinking through this together in a spirit of unity, are going outside the church into court. I just want to make sure that as we think about this verse, what this chapter is teaching, that we don’t in any way think, “Okay, that means we should not involve civil authorities.”
Whenever something arises to the level that civil authorities say, “We want to be involved. We need to be involved,” then we should involve civil authorities, because God has instituted governments by his grace for good in this way, and for the punishment of evil in this way. At the same time, when we think about disagreements with other brothers and sisters in Christ, our first impulse needs to be… Okay, assuming that civil authorities don’t need to be involved. That’s a big caveat, but assuming that, then how can we work this out together in the body of Christ? So many different issues this could pertain to. I’m not even going to go into a list of them, but the key is, are we seeking reconciliation with one another in the body of Christ? And we need to pursue that.
God, help us, we pray, in this fallen world of sin and evil and conflict. God, we pray. One, we do praise you for government and the way you use law enforcement, for example, to enforce good laws for our protection and for the promotion of good. We pray for your blessings on those who are involved in law enforcement, in making laws, in legislating them. We pray for their wisdom. We pray that you would help them to work with the fear of you, and we thank you for the good institution of government in this way. At the same time, God, we pray you would give us wisdom in the church to know how to reconcile with one another, particularly in issues that don’t necessitate involvement of other authorities. Lord, help us. Help us to sit down at the table with one another, filled with your spirit, and find reconciliation in you.
We need your help in this, but we want to be an example. We want to be a picture of unity in the world around us, to the world around us. We want to be a picture of the beauty of Christ. We want judges to see followers of Jesus loving one another, working things out together in ways that glorify your name. Please help us, particularly when we get into situations where there is serious conflict division like seems like was happening here in first Corinthians chapter six. God, we pray that in those moments, you would help us to honor you through making peace, reconciling with one another in Christ. Help us, we pray. In Jesus name. Amen.