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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 6:1-2 Grievances

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, January 10, 2023

6 If any of you has a case against another, does he dare to take it to court before the unrighteous, instead of before the saints? 2 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is judged by you, are you not competent to deal with insignificant cases?

Paul now takes up the case of taking up cases, which might be lawsuits or other grievances. This is the moment in the letter when strictly secular things are under scrutiny, but notice how little time Paul spends on this subject. This has led me to consider an alternative outline for the letter, based on the three estates of man: the church (beginning with Genesis 2:15-18), the home (marriage) (beginning with Genesis 2:19-25), and finally the state or government (see Genesis 4:17, etc.).

Looking at 1 Corinthians in terms of these three estates yields a chiastic (A B C B A) pattern that is, however, quite unbalanced, since most of the letter is about the first estate, the church (chapters 1-4 and 8-16), with somewhat less time spent on the home (chapters 5 and 6:12-7:40), with only a handful of verses on the third estate, or secular affairs. I think that this outline is weak because of this imbalance, but it sparked my interest and I offer it here for consideration:

I. First Estate (Church)
  Chapters 1-4 and factions
II. Second Estate (Marriage)
  Chapter 5, but also a church issue.
III. Third Estate (Government)
  6:1-11 (lawsuits)
IV. Second Estate (Marriage)
  6:12-7:40 sex, marriage, and prostitution.
V. First Estate (Church)
  8   Food and freedom
  9   Rights vs freedom
  10   Review of the previous and freedom
  11   Lord’s Supper
  12-14 Spiritual gifts
  15   The resurrection
  16   The collection and personal matters

While Paul is talking about secular things, he doesn’t hesitate to compare such judgments with the Christian’s spiritual judgment: The saints will judge the world, so why don’t you think you’re capable of judging more ordinary things?

In the final judgment, both men and angels will be judged, but men of faith and the good angels will take part in that judgment. First of all, the angels will accompany Christ in his descent, that is, his glorious return to earth for the judgment. “When the Son of Man comes, all his angels (will be) with him” (Luke 9:26). And the Lord says: “Before the angels I shall deny him who denies me” (Luke 12:9). And many other passages describe the involvement of the good angels (1 Thessalonians 4:16; 2 Thessalonians 1:7; Jude 1:14). To this we add the testimony of Daniel: “Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened” (Daniel 7:10; see also Zechariah 14:5). They will serve him as he judges as his assistants. As Ambrose said so well: “They will come in obedience, he in glory. They in a company, he at the head. They stand, he sits. To use a word of human usage: He judges, they minister” (Exposition of the Christian Faith III:7).

Godly human beings will also be aides and witnesses of the final judgment. Christ mentions the apostles in particular: “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). But in general, we see that all of the saints will participate in a similar way: “The Lord enters into judgment with the elders and princes of his people” (Isaiah 3:4), and even “the men of Nineveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it” (Matthew 12:41; Luke 11:32). He will come “with all his saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:13), also described as “thousands upon thousands of his holy ones” (Jude 1:14). We should not think (or concern ourselves) that we will judge with the authority of judges, for the sovereign authority to judge belongs to Christ alone (Revelation 19:1-2). But the saints will assist the Judge in these ways: Because Christ is our head we give him glory for his judgments (Ephesians 2:5-6). We will aid Christ in whatever way or ways he commands. We will also approve the sentence of the Judge with our voices and public cry: “His judgments are true and just,” etc. (Revelation 19:2, 16:7). We will also participate by bearing witness about the good works of the godly: “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves,” Jesus said, “so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9). And finally, we will participate in the judgment on account of the example of faith and repentance: “The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here” (Matthew 12:42).

Paul’s main point is not so much doctrinal here but practical: Aren’t you competent to deal with insignificant cases? Paul’s word that I have translated “insignificant” is elachistos (ἐλάχιστoς), as in “the least” (Matthew 5:19; 25:40) or “very small” (James 3:4). Matters of grievances and lawsuits don’t impact people’s souls except when people hold sinful grudges and harden their hearts. Therefore Paul is absolutely right: We should be willing and even eager to settle our differences privately. Even if two people can’t figure out what should be done, looking to a wiser, older Christian might help. Lawsuits between Christians, especially when both parties are from the same congregation, can be emotional, painful, divisive events. It might become a temptation for one Christian to claim that the other is not a Christian at all based on the outcome of a lawsuit, or the process itself. As Paul will say about another issue later in this letter, “When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak consciences, you sin against Christ” (1 Corinthians 8:12). And if Jesus said about our enemies, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27), isn’t it even more pressing to us that we love those who are brothers and sisters in Christ? Isn’t some loss in this lifetime worth proving our love in Christ to show the true unbelievers who surround us what true Christian love and forgiveness really is? “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back” (Luke 6:30). A lawsuit can be a messy, grueling, shameful thing. Is it better to drag a brother or sister in Christ through such a thing or to find a way to work out our differences quietly, privately, and with love and respect, the way Joseph had it in his heart when he suspected his young fiancé had been unfaithful to him (Matthew 1:19)? Our God is a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love (Nehemiah 9:17). How can we please such a loving, forgiving God, if not by showing our faith by being loving and forgiving ourselves?

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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