Another very disagreeable feature "among" the Corinthians is described as "a fault" (1 Cor 6.7), the fault being that they were "go(ing) to law one with another". Chapter 6 consists of two major themes; the first is Litigation (vv.1-11), and the other is Fornication (vv.12-20). Apparently, one of the assembly was in debt to another and was in default as far as repayment was concerned; he had no intention of addressing the situation and the aggrieved individual had taken him to court to retrieve his money. Paul has stern words to say to both parties. The pursuer is criticised in vv.1-7, and the defendant is under the spotlight in vv.8-11, with a question mark placed over the reality of his profession of faith. So a division of the chapter could be as follows:
vv.1-7 - Daring to go to Law
vv.8-11 - Defrauding a Brother
vv.12-20 - Dishonouring the Body
The dirty linen of the assembly was being hung out in sight of the public in Corinth. Paul's language betrays his dismay at the situation: "Dare any of you…go to law before the unjust?" (v.1). The situation was unhealthy and impacted adversely on assembly testimony. Internal problems should never be dragged into the public domain. "Tell it not in Gath…lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice" (2 Sam 1.20). There, David was stating the obvious that unsaved people will gloat when they hear of disasters, difficulties, divisions and disorders among God's people. Joseph's instructions to his bickering brothers were, "See that ye fall not out by the way" (Gen 45.24). In other words, never be seen to be at loggerheads with your brother. When problems arise, keep your lips sealed.
Unjust Judges and Saints
Paul regarded it as incredible that they would air these issues "before the unjust", the unrighteous. Those adjudicating were unrighteous as to their standing before God, and very likely unrighteous in their practices also. Paul further describes them as "of no account in the church" (v.4, RV) - they were "unbelievers" (v.6). Are such in a position to arbitrate between "brethren"? Never. Their standards of integrity and their sense of the ethical could never match that of people indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. Unbelievers! How can someone who does not even believe basic Bible facts properly appraise issues between Christians?
By contrast, those equipped to come to a wise, unprejudiced assessment are called saints, sanctified ones as distinct from the unjust. They have a moral compass that is lacking in the unbeliever no matter how qualified the attorney may be. Saints are destined for great responsibility in the Lord's future administration; they shall "judge the world", administering the millennial Kingdom; even angels will be subject to their jurisdiction (vv.2-3). In light of that, Paul sees it as incomprehensible that people with such a destiny could not adjudicate what was really a minor issue. He deemed the present problem as among "the smallest matters" in contrast to the enormous concerns of the future. He saw it as among "things pertaining to this life" in contrast to issues relating to "the world to come". In light of their glorious future, why could they not handle this? There was a fault among them, but it appears that there was not "a wise man" among them (v.5)! His criticism must have stung these proud believers at Corinth. He was speaking "to (their) shame" (v.5), and their faces must have been scarlet as the letter was read in the assembly. His Spirit-inspired argument against recent events establishes the Biblical principle that it is never appropriate for believers to seek redress against fellow-believers through the courts; the assembly itself should always be able to pass judgment on any issue.
Another factor which should have weighed heavily with the plaintiff was the fact that the accused was his brother; "brother goeth to law with brother" (v.6). The brotherly link was the leverage that Abraham used with Lot; he was attempting to douse the flames of rivalry that threatened to engulf their encampments: "Let there be no strife…between me and thee…for we be brethren" (Gen 13.8). Moses used the same tack when confronting two squabbling Hebrews: "Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one to another?" (Acts 7.26). Nehemiah found it intolerable that the rulers were squeezing people financially: "Ye exact usury, every one of his brother" (Neh 5.7). The brotherly connection ought to be a reason for avoiding strife of any kind, especially raising an action to impeach a brother "before the unbelievers" (v.6). Paul reasons that it is unthinkable that family feuds should be aired in public.
He calls the civil action that had been initiated "a fault" among them (v.7). The word carries the idea of a defect, a loss, a diminishing. While the claimant may have seen his action as an opportunity for gain, Paul sees it as something that was to the loss of the assembly, something that diminished them seriously, especially in the eyes of the general public in Corinth. The tabloid press sensationalises stories that involve anyone professing religion. The media were not in existence in ancient Corinth, but tongues wag, and the flames of gossip rage, so the whole episode would have lowered the standing of the church of God at Corinth. The seriousness of the situation is seen in Paul's usage of the word "utterly" (altogether, RV). This was a comprehensive error of judgment on the part of the pursuer that impacted immensely on assembly testimony in the city.
The question might be asked: If the offender refused to pay his debt, even though pressurised by the assembly to be honourable, what alternative did his creditor have but to take recourse to the process of law? Paul tells us what the alternative is; be willing to "take wrong"; submit to "be(ing) defrauded" (v.7). That would involve sacrifice; it would require gallons of grace; it would necessitate the ability to quell the rising tide of a sense of injustice. This situation really would test a man's commitment to the Word of God. But the Lord Jesus did encourage that attitude of non-aggression and the willingness to forego rights. It is the attitude that turns the other cheek, donates the cloak as well as the coat, goes the second mile, and responds to a borrowers request (Mt 5.38-42). It is immensely difficult but it is the essence of Christ-likeness.
Having dealt with the pursuer, at v.8 Paul turns to the defendant. He deals with the issue in an even-handed way. True, he had been stern with the litigant when we might have been more sympathetic considering that he had been treated shabbily. But he will now speak equally harshly to the defendant. There is no doubt in Paul's mind that that person had been dishonest. He speaks of him defrauding. Doubtless the pursuer had a cast-iron case but his mistake was in initiating the civil action. Certainly, the offender was "do(ing) wrong", and Paul goes on to show that persistent dishonesty indicates that a person has known nothing of God's saving grace: "the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (v.9). He uses the word "unrighteous" as an umbrella term that covers all the vices mentioned in the subsequent list. Included in that catalogue of evil are thieves, the covetous, and extortioners. Each of these sins come under the phrase, "the love of money", which of course is "a root of all kinds of evil" (1 Tim 6.10, RV). Of this, the man was surely guilty.
It is clear that the offender had been sued, not because he was unable to discharge his debt, but because he was unwilling to do so, and hence the use of the word "defraud". He was taking advantage of the fact that his creditor was "a brother". Paul shows that there is a distinct possibility that the relationship was only in name and not in reality, for a genuine experience of conversion inevitably changes the life. "Such were some of you: but ye were washed" (v.11, RV). Should this man persist in his dishonest ways, should the spirit of covetousness continue to dominate, he would be exposed as another Judas who would ultimately "drown (himself) in destruction and perdition", and presently "(pierce himself) through with many sorrows" (1 Tim 6.9-10). The rule of God in the lives of those who profess to be subjects of His Kingdom requires that the moral and ethical demands of the Kingdom be observed. Let us all be subject to these standards of honesty and integrity.
We are left in the dark about the outcome of this issue. However, whatever this man's true position was, Paul seemed satisfied that the bulk of the assembly were genuinely justified people despite having been guilty of disgusting sins in the past (v.11).
To be continued.