(A) Introduction. (Read the reference)

Litigation was a 'Greek thing.' The Greeks were notorious for their love of going to law. A case could be heard privately before three arbitrators or publicly before between 40 and several hundred jurymen. The law courts were a public entertainment rather like the televised trials in the U.S.A..

Greek converts to Christianity introduced the spirit of litigation into the church. The Corinthians were insisting on their rights and suing one another in spite of the teaching of Jesus.

(B) Whose judgment do we respect?

(1) The Corinthian Christians seemed to respect the secular justice system above the judgments of their fellow church members. If they were in dispute with a Christian they chose to decide the matter in a pagan court. Paul wrote with great indignation: If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? v1.

(2) To whom do we turn if in a dispute with, or upset by, another Christian? Do we confide in non-Christian family members or ungodly friends? I have occasionally done this and talked church matters over with my irreligious friend Tommy. In some ways it helps me to do so but I invariably feel guilty afterwards.

Issues between Christians need to be resolved by Christians. Jesus gave instructions how to proceed if a brother or sister sins against us. (Read Matthew18v15to17) Jesus teaches us to be conciliatory: "Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Mt5v25.

(C) Why we should respect the judgment of Christians.

Paul gave three reasons:

(1) Christians are not ungodly.
Paul listed some of the characteristics of the wicked: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. v10.

Do we want people like this to judge our case? Surely the judgment of Christians is preferable. Paul wrote to his Greek converts: 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. v11.

Consider the implications:

    (a) Christians are washed. Their sins are forgiven. Believers are indebted to God's grace. Their indebtedness should make them gentle and compassionate judges.

    (b) Christians are sanctified. God sets them apart as a special people. Jesus equips them for service by the gift of his Spirit. Believers have a high and holy calling and must take their duties seriously.

    (c) Christians are justified. They are put right with God, reconciled to him and adopted as his dearly loved children. As his children they are able to ask for the best gift - the Spirit to give enlightenment and wisdom in time of need.

(2) The saints are to judge the world.
Paul may have surprised the Corinthians by his assertion: Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? v2

This is a strange statement and makes several commentators uneasy! By and large the New Testament declares that Jesus will be our judge in that Last Day. For he (God) has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead. Acts17v31. Moreover, the Father judges no-one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son ... . John5v22. He (Jesus) commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. Acts10v42. See article on the afterlife - judgment section.

It is by no means certain what Paul meant when he wrote that the saints will judge the world. There are at least two possibilities:

    (a) The saints will surely concur with the sentence passed by Christ on wicked, unbelieving men at the final judgment. We shall be like the multitude of heaven of whom John writes in Revelation: After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting:

            Salvation and glory and power
            belong to our God,
            for true and just are his

    (b) The saints will judge in the way described by Jesus in John12v48: "There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day." Just as the words: 'Danger. No bathing. Strong currents.' judge the person who ignores them, so a statement like: "For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day." will condemn the unbeliever.

    Our lives and conversations will judge the world in the same way that Jesus word's do. The Christian's faith will judge the world's unbelief; the Christian's repentance will judge the world's impenitence; the Christian's commitment will judge the world's neglect; the Christian's enthusiasm will judge the world's coldness; the Christian's holiness will judge the world's profaneness; the Christian's love will judge the world's hatred.

    A son brought up by believing parents, raised in the light of a fine Christian example, who rejects Jesus will be judge by the reality of his parent's profession.

    A worldly husband who has lived with a saintly wife for years and who has observed her heartfelt devotion to Jesus and is aware of the prayers she offers daily on his behalf will be judged by that devotion and by those prayers.

    The thief - the profane and blaspheming man who was dragged up by a brutal father and slut of a mother will be condemned by the example of that other thief who said: "Don't you fear God, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly for we are getting what our deeds deserve. ..... But his man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus remember me when you come into your Kingdom." Lk23v40to42.

    I think this is the idea the writer tried to convey in Heb12v1: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses ..... let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. See exposition on 'The Race'

(3) The saints are to judge angels.
Paul assures the Corinthians: Do you not know that we will judge angels? v3.

This came as a shock to me! Nowhere else in Scripture is it clear that the saints will judge angels. I don't feel equipped for the task! I consider this is God's job.

Perhaps, we will judge angels as we judge the world - by what we are and by what we believe. It is possible that there was some doubt amongst the angels about the wisdom of creating man and even more unease about God's plan of redemption. Certainly some angels fell: For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell ..... . 2Pet2v4. What if they rebelled over God's decision to create mankind! Maybe, among those 12 legions of angels Jesus referred to at his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane there were some just itching to get the call to rescue him from his enemies.

Fallen angels and those with reservations about God's plan of redemption will be judged by the believer's ultimate majesty. John wrote: But we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 1John3v2. We shall exceed the angels themselves in splendour because we shall be like the Son.

I love the words of Zechariah the prophet: The Lord their God will save them on that day as the flock of his people. They will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown. How attractive and beautiful they will be! Grain will make the yong men thrive, and new the wine the young women. Zec9v16and17.

            When he cometh, when He cometh
            To make up his His jewels,
            All His jewels, precious jewels,
            His loved and His own.

            Like the stars in the morning,
            His bright crown adorning,
            They shall shine in their beauty,
            Bright gems for His crown.

The glory of the redeemed in the day of Christ's appearing will vindicate God's decision to create us and redeem us. The love of the redeemed for the Lamb will prove the doubting angels wrong. How my mother loved to sing:

            The bride eyes not her garment,
            But her dear bridegroom's face;
            I will not gaze at glory,
            But on my King of grace, -
            Not at the crown He giveth,
            But on His pierced hand.
            The Lamb is all the glory
            Of Immanuel's land.

Paul concludes that if we will judge the world and angels: How much more the things of this life! v3.

(D) The church must take responsibility.

An appointed team of church members, not necessarily the elders, should be willing to mediate or arbitrate when their is a dispute between Christians.

Paul indicates that this is:

(1) Not too difficult.
Paul did not consider the issues upsetting the Corinthians were difficult to resolve. He was very scathing: Are you not competent to judge trivial cases? ..... Therefore if you have disputes about such matters appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! v4.

So what were these trivial disputes about? We can be sure that they were mostly about money! Corinth was a centre of commerce and business. Some of the wealthier church members undoubtedly did business together. The disputes were about shoddy goods, poor service, inferior workmanship, unpaid wages, outstanding debts, rents, land ownership, land deals, broken contracts, wills and so on. Paul considers these matters are of little consequence - easy to both judge and settle.

Disputes like these are quite rare in the church because Christians do not do so much business together as the Corinthians. However, they do exist. I know of three cases: one where a Christian was very slow repaying a loan from a fellow member of our congregation, another where a young man removed all pictures of Bible scenes from a church and a third where a lady's dogs were barking incessantly and disturbing a Christian neighbour. In the first case the Christian who was owed money consulted his solicitor, in the second case an irate church member threatened the young man with the police and in the third case environmental health officers of the local authority were involved. In none of the cases did the church sort out the problems without recourse to the world!

The only reason that Christians do not ask their church to sort out disputes is because of the low opinion in which they hold it! I was talking on the phone only this morning to a former minister who feels he has to leave the church he pastored because the new minister resents his comments in church meetings. I said to my friend: "This shouldn't be. Jesus told us to love one another as he loved as us. We should be able to work together in unity. That is what the Master wants us to do." The former pastor replied, "Yes I agree with you but in practice ....." For goodness sake! Christianity is practical. If we do not put it into practice there is no reality of belief. That is why Paul was so annoyed with the Corinthians. Where was the reality of their belief?

(2) Vital for the reputation of the church.
When Christians fall out and look to the world to sort out their problems how the world exults. This is what made Paul so indignant. You can almost hear his indignation in the words: But instead one brother goes to law against another brother ... and in front of unbelievers. v6.

Some years ago we had the sad spectacle on BBC TV of Pastor X barricaded in his house and refusing entry to the bailiffs. Pastor X's wife divorced her husband and the divorce settlement involved selling the house and dividing the proceeds. Pastor X claimed he was making his stand because he disagreed with divorce. However, the divorce was a fait accompli. The dispute was really about property and money. It is a pity Pastor X and his wife did not make use of Christian advisers and mediators to sort out their mess. When it comes to the nitty-gritty of real life are Christians no practical good?

There are sad episodes, ruinous for the reputation of the church, when denominations or missionary societies split and then squabble over the assets. Instead of employing secular lawyers and the courts to fight over money and property recourse could be made to independent Christian arbitrators. But it seems Christians do not trust one another and put, instead, their trust in the ungodly and unbelieving.

(3) The best way.
When Christians are in dispute the best way to settle things is through mediation rather than litigation. The mediator tries to get the two parties to agree - to reconcile them.

Christians should desire to be reconciled. We all depend on Jesus, our mediator, to reconcile us to God. A mediator needs to be fair, tactful and firm but, above all else, concerned for the best interests of both sides in a dispute. Jesus our great mediator is concerned about his Father's glory and mankind's salvation. Those in dispute should respect their Christian mediators. If they can respect a worldly judge surely they can respect joint heirs with Christ. It must be doubtful whether people in the church who prefer the world's litigation over Christian mediation are Christians at all.

(E) A sure sign of defeat.

Paul argued that to sue a fellow Christian in the law courts, to insist on your rights, was a sure sign of defeat. Paul wrote: The very fact you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. v7. The Corinthians failed as Christians because they scarcely tried to love each other as Jesus loved them. They failed to forgive as they had been forgiven.

Believers are wise never to forget the parable of the unmerciful servant told in Mt18v21to35. The profligate servant was forgiven so much - millions of pounds. The servant's master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go. v27. What a contrast to the profligate's behaviour: He found one of his fellow-servants who owed him 100 denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. The unmerciful servant was turned over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. v34. This is one of Christ's most chilling warnings.

Paul indicated that it was better to be cheated and wronged than to involve a non-Christians in a dispute about money. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers. v7and8. Some of the Corinthians Christians were using the system to defraud their brothers. Today Christians are not immune from this - exploiting loopholes to pay less tax than they should.

Paul's remarks are in line with Christ's teaching. When a dispute between Christians gets out of hand it is a deep and damaging failure to live as Jesus desires. It is, perhaps, fortunate that we have few business dealings one with the other!

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