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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 6:4 lawsuits about everyday matters

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, January 12, 2023

4 If you have lawsuits about everyday matters, then why do you appoint judges who have no standing in the church?

Sometimes we need to spend some time figuring out what a verse says before we can apply what it means to our lives. Here Paul seems to address any concerns the Corinthians might have by asking them about those who judge ordinary matters among them. But who is Paul talking about when he says, “do you appoint judges who have no standing in the church?”  Is Paul talking about judges who are not esteemed “in ( = within) the church” (King James Version), or are not esteemed “by the church”? Both are possible according to the grammar of the Greek text. If Paul were talking about men “of little account” within the congregation who were judges, he would seem to be despising the judicial process, and we see Paul submitting willingly to that process over and over again in his life (Acts 21:39, 25:6), even appealing to Caesar (Acts 25:11, 28:19).

In Luther’s 1522 New Testament translation, he interpreted the passage with the sense of “least esteemed in the church,” which the later King James Version agreed with. But from 1530 on, his understanding of the verse changed, and he added a marginal gloss referring to the heathen, the way that the RSV takes it: “least esteemed by the church.” Some modern translations ride the fence here by saying, “men of little account in the church” (NIV). But the ESV (English Standard Version) has “those who have no standing in the church,” which leans toward those who are outside the church altogether (that is, non-Christians or pagans, Luther’s later understanding). This is the understanding of my translation above.

Is Paul saying that human, secular courts should not be used by Christians? And more, is he saying that according to Scripture, secular courts have no jurisdiction over Christians? Certainly not. Secular courts have authority over human beings, whether those people are Christian or not. This is the position that the government is given under the Fourth Commandment, and which Paul describes in detail in Romans 13: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1). Even the secular government, the pagan, “is God’s servant” in such matters, “an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). When the people grumble against their leaders, Moses says, “You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord” (Exodus 16:8). And Daniel said: “The Lord sets up kings and deposes them” (Daniel 2:21). Our confession agrees completely with all of this, and says: “All governments in the world and all established rule and laws were instituted and ordained by God for the sake of good order, and Christians may without sin occupy civil offices or serve as princes and judges, render decisions and pass sentence according to imperial and other existing laws, punish evildoers with the sword, engage in just wars, serve as soldiers, buy and sell, take required oaths, possess property, be married, etc.” (Augsburg Confession, Article XVI:1-3).

Now, as to Paul’s question about whether a Christian should make use of the secular court for a minor matter, or even a larger matter, we will wait until hearing the next few verses to comment more thoroughly. But a minor point here can become a major point elsewhere, so let us be clear: A Christian is able to use the courts if necessary. Of course, the Christian’s obligation to obey the government ends when a citizen is required or forced to do something against God’s command, but we should be careful not to go combing through every single turn of phrase to find “Aha!” excuses for turning against our God-given government. “To suffer evil is not against the Christian conscience. To do evil is.”

To walk the life of the Christian is not always an easy series of steps. We want to give God glory. We want to preserve and strengthen our faith and the faith of our loved ones. We want to do what is best for God’s kingdom, which is not always what might be preferred by us. To set aside our own desires and aspirations, or our preferences, for the sake of God’s kingdom, is the goal we pray for. When we falter, we are encouraged: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). And again: “Be strong in the Lord” (Ephesians 6:10). And “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

The Lord delights in the path you take. He makes your steps firm.

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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