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Author:Pastor Dirk Boersma
  Free Reformed Churches of South Africa
Preached At:Emmanuel American Reformed Church
 Denver, Colorado
Title:Lawsuits: the wrong 'cloths' for Christians
Text:1 Corinthians 6:1-11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Call to worship Ps 66, 8.9.20
Song of praise Ps 66, 1.4
Reading of the law / Confession of sin
Declaration of mercy Ps 34, 3-9
Song of response Ps 119,5.6
Reading from Scripture 1Cor6,1-11
Song before the sermon Ps 143, 4-6
Sermon text 1Cor6, 1-11
Song after the sermon Ps 37, 4.5
Song after the offering Ps 65, 2.3.6

Suggestions for prayer * ask God to enable us to relate to each other in the way he just taught us: with humility, keeping his kingdom in mind, making Jesus and his glory #1 in our lives
* ask God for help to control our temper, not to feel threatened by others but find safety and identity in Christ
* thank God that he transferred us from the kingdom of darkness and death into the kingdom of his Son; we are safe now!
* ask that salvation will penetrate into all areas of life: thinking, emotions, feeling of security; ask that he takes away our egotism and self-interest and turns our hearts towards Christ and fellow-men
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Dirk Boersma, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Brothers and sisters in the Lord,

are you afraid to get sued?

If you have a business and provide services to people, you'd better have a good liability insurance.

How about this claim from a woman in Las Vegas who said she found a finger in her chili while eating at Wendy’s.
The police are now investigating her because she appears to have a history of suing companies and settling the case before trial. In the meantime it was determined that the finger could not have been in the chili because it had not been cooked.

Whether it was true or not, all the same that branch of Wendy’s has been losing $1 million a day.
This is an extreme but lawsuits like this one may happen anywhere.
It brings to light our culture of suing. You need to protect yourself against this liability, even if you have done nothing wrong.

I take it that the last place you expect to be sued is in church. Among church members you don’t expect such behavior, not even when people have a well founded complaint or a substantial disagreement.

But what if it happened? Could you say why this is wrong? What if the person who sues another person has a good reason?

In this chapter, Paul addresses a situation in the church of Corinth, where one member sued another member and dragged him to court. Could Paul have foreseen our culture with all its lawsuits and lawyers? Do his words still apply, or do we need to update them and maybe change them?

And what if we don’t have any lawsuits among each other? Can we ignore his words, skip them in our reading of the Bible because we are not in a similar situation?

Let’s listen to the gospel as we find it in this chapter of God’s word.

Lawsuits: the wrong 'cloths' for Christians

Heracles and Apollos had been members for about a year now. They had both joined the church after this preacher came into town and shook them up. They had discovered how empty their lives were. They heard the preaching of the resurrection of Christ and were impressed. If this Jesus could do such a thing, what else could they expect?

They hadn’t picked up on this thing about the cross, though. That didn’t really appeal to them and they did not understand it. Why would anyone be willing to die? But they were drawn into the new religion. Jesus must be a powerful person if he had risen from the dead. Nobody else had ever done that!

On Sundays they went to church and listened to the preaching which they found new. They were always interested in new ideas, they were Corinthians after all. During the week they had their work and their business to attend to.

Heracles and Apollos lived in the same street, in fact, their properties were connected. They always had disagreements about the tree that was just on the boundary of their properties. Heracles thought it took away the sun from his patio and wanted to chop it down, while Apollos liked the fruits. The children just loved all the figs that dropped on the ground when they were ripe. Whenever his neighbor suggested to fell the tree he pointed out how beautiful it was and told him loud and clear that this was not going to happen.

They had been having this disagreement for quite some time now, even before they went to church. Since then Heracles thought that Apollos would give in. ‘Didn’t the church preach that you should love your neighbor?’ ‘Well, I’m his neighbor’, he thought, ‘and this tree is bugging me. That should mean something to him. He should be sensitive to what I want!’

Some of his former friends were mentioning it more and more often and pointed out that he should not be so weak. So he began feeling more strongly that he was right. After many attempts to convince his neighbor, he finally decided that he was not going to take it any longer. He was going to the magistrate and get what he wanted.

He considered asking some people in the church what they thought about it, but he was afraid that they would talk him out of it. No, he’d better settle this in court. And by the way, he knew the magistrate from some business transactions. He could pull a few strings, so he was confident he could win.

If you have had an ongoing disagreement with one of your neighbors you may be able to identify with Heracles. Doesn’t it sound reasonable? If you can’t get what you want and you think you have a right to it, you sue the other person. That’s the way to get what you want. And even if we did not agree with him we might not think it was such a big deal.

What is Paul’s reaction when he hears about this?

Clearly, he does not think it is a minor matter. He addresses it in his letter, so he finds it worthy to correct this kind of behavior. He uses it as an opportunity to teach them how you deal with conflict in the church.

His first words are quite expressive. Instead of the introductory clause that you find in your NIV, he tells them: ‘How dare you take your disagreements to an ungodly court!’ He doesn’t say ‘well, this is quite an unfortunate event. It would have been nicer if you had done it differently.’ No, he is filled with indignation and finds this worthy of rebuke and correction. It has been preserved for us in the Bible with the motivation he gave, so that we can learn from this.

So what’s wrong?

Let’s see. He uses the word ‘ungodly’ judges. Could it be that Paul wants Christians to stay as far away as possible from the world and all its dangers? Did he think that those judges could not be trusted? Or, even more far-reaching, does he tell us that we should always avoid worldly courts? Are Christians exempt from that, should they try to have as little to do with the world around them as possible?

This view would not fit his respect for the government, even the corrupt Roman government with its false worship of the emperor, that he expressed in Romans 13. He calls us to respect and obey the government. And just in the previous chapter he wrote that if you were to avoid all contact with sinners you would have to leave the world.

No, Paul is not preaching any shunning of world. He does not call us to go to a monastery and lock the door behind us.

We should realize the limits of this example. Paul is not talking about all lawsuits and does not give a general ban on going to court. Neither does he show or teach contempt for the judicial system. When you or your company are sued by someone else you should defend yourself in court.

The specific case he is talking about is when two church members, two Christians, have a disagreement and one drags the other to court. That is wrong.

OK, that is clear from the text. But what about his motivation?

Verses 2 and 3 are quite difficult. Christians will judge the world, and the angels, Paul writes.
He refers to something they must have heard as part of the preaching: "Don’t you know that you will judge the world?"

The Bible does not mention this very often.

For one, it seems that everybody, included all believers, has to appear before God’s judgment seat. How can you judge and be judged at the same time?

It had been part of the Jewish tradition to think of the saints, the believers, as being involved in the final judgment. Dan 7,22 gives the promise that God will give the judgment to the saints and that they will receive the kingdom. Mt19,28 speaks about the judgment of the twelve tribes of Israel , but this is exercised by the 12 disciples who will sit on twelve thrones.

We are talking about an eschatological reality here, something that will happen at the end of time. Much of this can only be described in images, we cannot fathom the reality yet. Will all the believers personally sit in judgment over unbelievers? Or is this the idea: that we are included in Christ, so that when he judges, we are somehow involved, just like we share in his death and resurrection?

Or will it be when the believers are vindicated in God’s judgment, when it is shown that their case was really God’s case, that they were serving his kingdom, that at the same time this means that all God’s enemies are judged? Then the good works and the faith of believers could be regarded as a judgment for unbelievers.

One thing we know: all believers will reign with Christ. How judgment is included in this reign will be revealed to us when the time comes.

According to Paul, this judgment will include even the angels. The fallen angels who have followed Satan in his revolution will be judged and punished.

When we read closely, however, the focus is not so much on how we will judge. Paul uses this reference in a different way. "If you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases?" and "Don’t you know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!"

How we will judge is not so clear. But that it will happen is a fact. And it is the basis for the point Paul is making: compared to what we will deal with later, in the eschaton, in the end of times, this is peanuts. Those things you disagree on now are petty cases. They are dwarfed by the enormous proportions of the things God deals with when he will give a verdict on world history, on every act of rebellion against him, on genocides, world wars, murders, splitting his church, trying to stop his kingdom from coming. Imagine the extent of that judgment, and it proportions: everything that ever happened in world history will be seen in the right light: the decisive thing is whether people have acknowledged and obeyed God’s sovereignty over the world he created. And this judgment will be ultimate and final.

This comparison is Paul’s motivation: Christians should not run to worldly judges with their disagreements amongst each other, since they will be judging much greater matters in the future.

Paul’s question in v. 4 is not very clear in our NIV translation. We should read instead: If you have disputes about such matters, why have them judged by people who have nothing to say in the church? If we are living in the final stage of history, and this is determined by the reality of the coming kingdom, we should not let outsiders judge things in the church.

To make his point, Paul continues with irony: "or don’t you have people wise enough to judge those things?"

Remember that the Corinthians thought quite highly of themselves. They were the wise and smart people, and Paul was not sophisticated enough for their metropolitan tastes. Now Paul returns the compliment: 'if you think you are so wise, who don’t you judge your disagreements in the church? You should have enough wise people available...!'

He gives a clear solution: it is a shame for the church if we cannot solve the disagreements and conflicts among each other. Those things are not such a big deal to begin with, compared to the realities we will face in the future at the time of the final judgment.

Christians should be able to request and provide arbitration in the church when they have disagreements amongst each other.
But instead, what happens is that one brother drags another to court . What a disgrace for God’s people to fight about their disagreements and to fight out their conflicts in front of unbelievers!

This introduces a new motive. How does the outside world perceive the church if we roll over the floor fighting with each other in court? What kind of impression do we give of the church? I don’t mean the church as an institute that has a reputation to uphold. Rather in this sense: how do we present the case of Christ, his kingdom, in this world? What signal do we send out if we ask unbelievers to judge such trivial matters as money we think we are entitled to, other material things, or our reputation?

If you take someone to court over such things, you are publicly announcing that this is very important to you. But how do these things compare to the truth and the right of the kingdom of God in our lives and in the whole world? Shouldn’t we rather be concerned about that and spend our energy on Christ’s reign over our lives?

Let’s say you just sued one of your brothers or sisters in court and the next day you are telling an unbeliever that Christ is everything to you and that his kingdom supersedes everything in your life as it should in his. He must submit to Jesus, the king of the universe. You are telling others that they need to give up their selfishness, their reliance on their property and own powers, and submit their lives to Christ, whose kingdom is much more important and which will bring the lives to their full potential. How could you? You just showed them the opposite by showing that your property or your reputation are more important than pursuing peace with a fellow believer. You put God’s kingdom between brackets to pursue your own interests at the cost of a brother.

They have been defeated already by the fact that they have lawsuits amongst each other. This shows their selfish and world-centered spirit. They are not concerned about God’s kingdom and the reign of Christ who will set them free from their own petty concerns, but they continue in their old mindset: ME first.

Whatever the conflict is about, they should rather be wronged and be cheated by someone else than taking a fellow believer to court in order to get what they feel they are entitled to.

Paul takes it a step further. It seems that he finally reaches the heart of his argument. He has been building up to this. He shows them and all of us that the ultimate and final reality we are expecting, the kingdom of God , is something we can miss out on if we don’t have the right spirit. What we do now, the choices we make that show what priorities dominate our hearts, determine whether we will enter the kingdom at all.

Wicked people will not enter. The sins Paul mentions we may be familiar with: they are mentioned more often in the Bible. Those who live a sexually immoral life and don’t repent and change will not enter God’s kingdom.

(Not just between the lines but in plain words we also read here a condemnation of the homosexual lifestyle, something that should make many people think again when they try to make it acceptable in society and even in the church. Those who have been born with an attraction to the same sex cannot help this inner attraction, but it is against God’s will to practice it.)

The striking thing about Paul’s words here is that in the same breath with the sins that everyone would recognize as a lifestyle not compatible with God’s kingdom, he mentions thieves, the greedy, drunkards, slanderers, and swindlers. These things have some relation with property and reputation, which are often the reasons for lawsuits. If we by our litigation against brothers, show that we are in fact greedy, or slanderers, or we cheat them out of money we owe them, we place ourselves in the same category with the other sinners whose lifestyle excludes them from the kingdom if they don’t repent.

We need to realize not only what is at stake - the kingdom - but the reality in which we live. Paul mentions these sins in vs. 9 and 10, but immediately continues:

"And that is what some of you were. 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."

That is the past. Christ has the power to take away those sins, their guilt and their domination in your life, and he has done that to every believer. This is the reality they were living in, and the same reality we live in. Christ has dealt with the past and changed you by his awesome, sin-removing power. His Holy Spirit lives in you. You are part of his kingdom.

From this reality comes the call and obligation to live a different life. Since that past is no longer in control and when you know that those sins are incompatible with the kingdom of Christ , why would you return to them? How could you let possessions and reputation take control over your heart instead of Christ and his kingdom? Let it go. Rather be cheated out of something you think you are entitled you. Be humble instead of demanding. Don’t always think you are right and begin with that assumption. Don’t demand that your rights be upheld and your interests be number one. Whose kingdom are you living in? If you are ruled by these things you show yourself a citizen of a different kingdom. But Jesus has pulled you out of it. It doesn’t have any future because it is a kingdom of rebellion against him.

We should not think we are out of range of these rebukes and corrections as long as we don’t drag others to court.

You are not the kind of person who sues others. And the kind of conflicts or disagreements you have with other members is not the kind you settle in court anyway.

But what spirit shows in your responses to others? When you feel criticized, how natural is it for us to think ‘but I don’t deserve this! I deserve better! Who are they to say something about me?! Let them look at themselves!’ Then you need to realize that not Jesus but your own self-interest is on the throne.

We live in fast times. Everything needs to happen immediately. The things we want we need yesterday. With these fast-paced times come shorter fuses. We can explode and lose our temper when someone makes a negative remark. It may not even be meant that way, but the fact that we perceive it that way is enough. Are you willing to be patient with the other person and let them explain what they meant? Or are you ready with the accusing finger? What is more important: your reputation or the fact that Christ is glorified in his church by the way we solve our differences?

Prov16,32 says:
"Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city."

You may defend yourself against criticism, but you need to be humble and open for correction. Watch out that you are not so keen on defending your own reputation that you destroy someone else. Don’t defend your own interests, because the kingdom and the judgment of Christ in the end are way more important than what you have to suffer now.

Once you understand this principle you will find more areas in your life to apply it to. How can the glory of Christ be central in your life? How do you show in your responses that you are not concerned about your own reputation but are serving Christ and surrendering your entire life to him?

This does not only show in the things you say or not say. You may internalize your anger and vent it in another way. Still, this anger shows that your own ego determines your life. Control your anger, watch your short fuse and pray to the Lord to send his Spirit to sanctify your thought life and your emotions, and to help you surrender it to Him.

A man who controls his temper is better than one who takes a city. And the reward will be so much greater: you will enter the kingdom of Christ .


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Dirk Boersma, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2005, Pastor Dirk Boersma

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