It All Sounds So Easy

1 Corinthians 6:1-8
1When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? 2Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? 3Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! 4So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 5I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, 6but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? 7To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? 8But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers.

Back in 1928, in Brisbane, Australia, a dispute arose between two pastors as to who the rightful pastor of St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church. The headline over the newspaper story was “See How They Love One Another.” All of the details of the case are somewhat murky at this point, but the damage to the reputation of the church is apparent in the headline. We looked bad in the eyes of an unbelieving world. Paul takes on the idea of church members suing one another in the public courts and how that hurts us all.

A Talmudic dictum forbade the Jewish people from going to law with one another in pagan courts. Rabbi Tarfon was quoted as saying this: “In any place where you find heathen law courts, even though their law is the same as the Israelite law, you must not resort to them.” Paul expected no less from Christian people. When Christians washed their dirty linen in public, they made the church a laughingstock. The world was likely to respond sarcastically, “See how they love one another!”
Lockwood, G. J. ©2000. 1 Corinthians (p. 190). Saint Louis: CPH

I’ve never been involved in a situation where the courts were engaged to solve a problem within the church, but it is certainly not unheard of. Paul makes a case for the fact that if we are truly governed by the wisdom of God, public court is no place for Christians to settle their disputes. And make note – he doesn’t suggest that disputes won’t arise. We are not going to agree about everything. We’re just not. But what we must agree upon is that we will not take our issues out into the world and allow non-believers to make the decisions for us.

Paul points out that we are made capable of such decisions by the indwelling of the Spirit and the Mind of Christ. Are we not going to find ourselves seated at His side, making judgments with Him in the Heavens? Apparently so. As such, we are more than able to settle such disagreements here and now. But – and this is a sticking point – so too must we be willing to submit to such decisions when made by fellow believers, either for or against our desires. This is part of what it means to live in community with one another.

Since I try (most of the time) not to shy away from the tricky passages, I do want to make comment on “Do you not know that we are to judge angels?” There are some principles here that make this passage fairly simple.

1.  We don’t become angels when we die – that would be a demotion!

Psalm 8:5
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.

Hebrews 1:14
Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?

Hebrews 2:5-11
For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? 7You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, 8putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. 10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source.

Your friends and relatives who have passed before you are not now watching over you as angels. The angels are in awe of the fact that God would send His Son Jesus to die for us. That promotes us to a place above them in the pecking order. Yes, they are powerful and holy because they look constantly into the face of God. But we will not become one of them as is pointed out in the three passages above.

2.  We will (do) indeed agree with God’s determination to send those angels who follow Satan into hell.

“Judging” angels will be an exercise in agreeing with God’s already declared judgment upon the fallen angels. While they are already aware of their (chosen) fate, it won’t be made final until Judgment Day. They have tormented us throughout our lives here on earth and we will see them receive their punishment in the end.

Back to our commitment to stay out of the courts with fellow Christians. This can be easier said than done. When we are not embroiled in something litigious, it is easy to say, I won’t take my brother to court. But emotions can get hot when we feel that we are wronged and it may our first response to drag someone before a judge. If we are to adhere to Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians, we will avoid that circumstance. To do otherwise damages our witness and what soul is worth losing because we are ticked off at someone? No one’s!