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Message # 21 | 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 | August 21, 2016


John Wesley declared that the world would be Christian were it not for the Christians![1]

Purpose Statement: Believers should not take each other to court; it underestimates the transforming work of Christ in their lives.

Message Outline

The Criticism (6:1)

Does he dare! “How dare you!” This is the sentiment that Paul is expressing in this verse. Not only is he outraged and shocked that two Christians would be found fighting their case out in a secular court instead of having the church arbitrate their disagreement, he is appalled that they would even let their disagreement go so far as to need arbitration (vs 7). Chrysostom reflects this sentiment when he wrote, “How can it be otherwise than absurd that one who is at variance (μικροφοχῦντα) with his friend should take his enemy to be a reconciler between them? And how can you avoid feeling shame and blushing when a Greek sits to judge a Christian?”[2]

Does he dare to go to law before the unrighteous. The issue was not that these secular judges were unfair, although they may have been.  The issue is that the church should have been competent to take care of the matter. Referring to these judges as “unrighteous” is not necessarily an indictment on their ability as judges but instead an acknowledgment of their spiritual state.  They were unbelievers.

Lightfoot (1895: 210) contends that Paul chose it “because of the alliteration” (adkikon / hagion) and because “it enhances the incongruity of the whole action of seeking justice at the hands of the unjust.”  Paul could have continued with the word “outsiders” from 5:12-13, but by choosing to call these judges “the unjust” he does more than identify them as non-Christians. In the context, which refers to these persons serving as the judges in a dispute, this term would seem to offer a moral appraisal of them. [3]

If this is the case, Paul has issue with the fact that believers are taking their case not only to someone outside the church, but that the person to whom they are taking it is spiritually unfit to render a biblical judgment.  Why would two believers want to have an unbeliever solve their disagreement? This is the puzzling question that Paul is confronting them with.

It is as well possible that Paul does have a fairly negative view of the justice system.  After all, it did keep him for two years in a jail cell in Caesarea as Felix hoped for a bribe and Jewish favor (Acts 24:26-27).[4]  Paul had also experienced the injustice of local authorities.  We read in 2 Corinthians 11:25, “Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned.” Paul had good reason to question whether or not the court system was just.  He knew it wasn’t.

The normalcy of taking people to court in Ancient Corinth. While at the time of this writing Corinth would have been under Roman rule, we see evidence in scripture that the Romans allowed a lot of latitude to local authorities as long as they kept relative peace.  Therefore, some form of the traditional model for court in Greece would have likely been in place during the time of 1 Corinthians.

The legal system in ancient Greece involved a great percentage of the population. Jury’s were made up of a minimum of 201 jurors but were usually more along the lines of 501 up to one or two thousand. The jury was made up of only men over the age of 30.  The accuser and accused would present their cases to the jury and the jury would vote for one or the other by placing one of two ballot disks in a container.  The votes would be counted and the majority vote would win.  At that time the accuser and accused would offer what they thought to be a fair punishment.  Once again the jury would vote and the majority vote would win and the punishment would be enacted. There were no appeals.  The verdict was final and was enacted.

The trial began in the morning with the reading of the formal charges against Socrates by a herald.  Few, if any, formal rules of evidence existed.  The prosecution presented its case first.  Meletus, Anytus, and Lycon had three hours, measured by a waterclock, to make their argument for a finding of guilt.  Each accuser spoke from an elevated stage.  No record of the prosecution’s argument against Socrates survives.

Following the prosecution’s case, Socrates had three hours to answer the charges.  Although many written versions of the defense–or apology–of Socrates at one time circulated, only two have survived: one by Plato and another by Xenophon.

Following the arguments, the herald of the court called on the jurors to consider their decision.  In Athens, jurors did not retire to a juryroom to deliberate–they made their decisions without discussion among themselves, based in large part on their own interpretations of the law.  The 500 jurors voted on his guilt or innocence by dropping bronze ballot disks of the sort pictured above into marked urns.  Only a majority vote was necessary for conviction.  Four jurors were assigned the task of counting votes.  In the case of Socrates, the jury found Socrates guilty on a relatively close vote of 280 to 220.

If a defendant is convicted, the trial enters a second phase to set punishment.  The prosecution and the defendant each propose a punishment and the jury chooses between the two punishment options presented to it.  The range of possible punishments included death, imprisonment, loss of civil rights (i.e., the right to vote, the right to serve as a juror, the right to speak in the Assembly), exile, and fines.  In the trial of Socrates, the principal accusers proposed the punishment of death.  Socrates, if Plato’s account is to be believed, proposed first the punishment–or, rather, the non-punishment–of free meals in the center of the city, then later the extremely modest fine of one mina of silver.  Apparently finding Socrates’ proposed punishment insultingly light, the jury voted for the prosecution’s proposal of death by a larger margin than for conviction, 360 to 140.

The execution of Socrates was accomplished through the drinking of a cup of poison hemlock.[5]

This is the context in which Paul writes this admonition to the Corinthian believers. John Macarthur says in his commentary, “The Corinthian believers had been so used to arguing, disputing, and taking one another to court before they were saved that they carried those selfish attitudes and habits over into their new lives as Christians. That course not only was spiritually wrong but practically unnecessary.”[6]

Jews didn’t go to law in a public court. Potentially some of Paul’s shock towards this case being taken to the secular court was rooted in Jewish tradition.  In most cities, where at least eleven Jewish men resided, there was a synagogue.  It was the custom of the Jews to use their own synagogue to deal with any disputes among fellow Jews. This practice reflects the modern idiom, “don’t air your dirty laundry.” The Jews would make solve problems “in house” and never take them into the world. In so doing they were publicly displaying unity and love. They also believed that God’s Word was a sufficient source for their faith and practice and that any of their problems could find an appropriate solution in God’s Word. Moshe ben Maimon, a preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher who became one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars and physicians of the Middle Ages, wrote a commentary on the Mishna.  In it he wrote the following.

When any person has a judgment adjudicated by gentile judges and their courts, he is considered a wicked person. It is as if he disgraced, blasphemed, and lifted up his hand against the Torah of Moses our teacher. This applies even if their laws are the same as the laws of the Jewish people. This is indicated by Exodus 21:1: “These are the judgments that you shall place before them.” “Before them” and not before gentiles; “before them” and not before ordinary people.[7]

Jews believed that they possessed the law of God.  Why would they go to someone else to help them deal with legal issues? In so doing, they displayed a belief that God and his law were not sufficient.  This was blasphemous.

The subject of the lawsuit is not offered. This is significant.  It doesn’t matter what the law suit was about only that it was occurring.  Believers have often justified going to court against one another because they believed their case was extreme or outrageous enough to warrant such a need. This passage doesn’t seem to allow for any case among believers to be taken to court.

The Reasons (6:2-8)

The church should be competent to judge disputes among believers (6:2-3). Paul asks them if they are “incompetent to try trivial cases in verse two. Future judges of the world and angels should be able to deal with the “trivial” issues of the present. Paul uses the word for trivial in this passage, not because the case had no merit or warrant, but because in light of eternity and the judgment believers would one day dispense, this case was pretty insignificant.

Believers will judge the world.  Let’s take a moment to address this concept of “judge the world” and “judge angels.” Paul writes to the Corinthians in a manner that would indicate that they should have known this reality – that they were going to judge angels. Where would they have been taught this truth? It likely was oral teaching passed down from Paul, but it as well finds its origin in Daniel and is mentioned as well in Jude and Revelation.

Daniel 7:27 (ESV) And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.’

Jude 14–15 (ESV) 14 . . . “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, 15 to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”

Revelation 2:26–27 (ESV) 26 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 27 and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father.

Believers are going to reign with Christ.  It is probably to this reign that is tied the judgment of the world by believers spoken of here in 1 Corinthians.

Believers are going to judge angels. The passage is not clear to what angels this judgment is referring, but it is most likely those angels that are imprisoned awaiting their final punishment.

Isaiah 24:21–22 (ESV) 21 On that day the Lord will punish the host of heaven, in heaven, and the kings of the earth, on the earth. 22 They will be gathered together as prisoners in a pit; they will be shut up in a prison, and after many days they will be punished.

2 Peter 2:4 (ESV) 4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment;

Jude 6 (ESV) 6 And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—

Therefore, since believers will one-day rule over the world and that rule will involve making judgments, there is no dispute that could come up between believers of which the church is not capable of solving. Just because the church has the competence to solve the dispute does not necessarily mean that the believers involved will like the solution or submit to the solution.  This passage simply states that the church is competent to offer a biblically acceptable solution.

Public hostility shames the cause of Christ (6:4-6). The meaning of “appoint the despised to judge” is challenging. This reality is displayed in the numerous translations of this verse.

1 Corinthians 6:4 (NAU) . . . no ‍account in the church?

1 Corinthians 6:4 (NET) . . . ‍those who have no standing in the church?

1 Corinthians 6:4 (KJV) ‍. . . ‍who ‍are least esteemed in the church‍.

1 Corinthians 6:4 (NLT) ‍. . . who ‍are not respected by the church?

The ESV translation of “have no standing” comes from a word with a bit more bite to it.  The root word refers to someone who is despised. A question for us to consider is to whom does this concept of despised refer? Is Paul referring to the secular judges as despised or is he referring to the most despised in the church.  (1) Some have taken this to refer to the despised secular judges and this is a possible meaning.  (2) Others have taken this to refer to the most despised in the church.  The exhortation would be to have the most despised in the church deal with these cases, and in so doing display a counter cultural love and unity to the world around them. It is unlikely that Paul is using this word in either of these ways.  Paul never encourages us to despise the people of the world.  This would clearly hinder our ability to reach them in love. Paul most certainly never considers people within the church as more despised as others – weaker maybe, but not despised. As well, we are never encouraged to find counsel from the least capable if there are others that are more capable present. Therefore, a third option should be considered. (3) These ‘despised’ people are the people of the church.  The world looks at the church and despises them. We find this same concept in chapter one.

1 Corinthians 1:28 (ESV) God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,

It’s a shame you have no one capable. In a rather sarcastic tone, Paul calls them out on the fact that they don’t seem to have anyone in their midst that could handle this dispute ‘in house.’ Blomberg writes that this statement “drips with irony, since the Corinthians had been claiming to be so wise (4:10).”[8]

This hostility brings shame on the cause of Christ.  With a bit of indignation, Paul asked them how they could do this before unbelievers! Why would that matter? Why would it matter that unbelievers see the dysfunction and disunity and division of a group of believers? Because we claim to be unified in Christ.  We claim to love one another like Christ loved us and sacrificed himself for us.  This dysfunction and disunity poorly reflects on the unity and love we claim to embrace and strive to practice.

Public hostility results in everyone losing (6:7-8). It’s better to be wronged and defrauded. Division within the church is a failure in and of itself. Looking for a solution outside of the church only magnifies the problem.  We shouldn’t have division within the church – but believers are as well fallen creatures and the reality is that we will have division. We will hurt one another. We will take advantage of one another at times. Problems will arise that may need to be resolved.  Paul’s primary solution is that we allow ourselves to be wronged and defrauded without retaliation. If someone within the church wrongs you, Paul would suggest that you suffer the wrong.

You defraud and wrong your brothers when you take them to court. When we look for justice or resolution outside of the church, we go from having been wronged and defrauded to being the perpetrator of wronging and defrauding our brother. In other words, Paul asks these believers, “do you think the solution to being wronged is to wrong someone else?” Of course not.

Christ didn’t retaliate when he was wronged and defrauded. And if we struggle embracing this kind of dynamic we need only look to Christ for a model.

1 Peter 2:23–24 (ESV) 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

Public hostility conflicts with the reality of our spiritual transformation (9-11). A lot could be pulled from these three verses, but it’s primary connection to this context is that this kind of behavior (wronging and defrauding one another in the public court) is not to be part of kingdom living. Paul acknowledges that taking a brother to court is just as inappropriate as homosexual behavior, idolatry, drunkenness, and greed. This used to characterize our lives. These things – including taking a brother to court – should no longer be characteristic of us. These are not ways that we should be identified. These are not practices that should define us. This doesn’t mean that we won’t ever struggle in any of these areas, but it does mean that these areas don’t characterize the habits and lifestyle of a believer. Why? Because we’ve been changed. In coming to Christ we were changed. This change results in dramatic anti-cultural behavior.


I would like to draw a few practical implications or “non-conclusions.”  In other words, what does this mean and what does this not mean? (1) This isn’t invalidating the court system. (2) This isn’t addressing how to deal with an unbeliever, even though there are principles in this passage that would need to be applied. (3) This isn’t demanding that we not participate in the justice system or jury duty.

What might this look like? Believers should use the church to deal with irresolvable conflict within the church. If there is a legal issue with another brother within the church, the church should be able to arbitrate the issue.  The church should be and can be used in a way that many of us would probably never have thought practical. This would require that  we submit ourselves to those decisions, and while that could be extremely challenging it would be the right thing.



[1] G. Curtis Jones, 1000 Illustrations for Preaching and Teaching (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1986), 189.

[2] John Chrysostom, “Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the First Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians,” in Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Hubert Kestell Cornish, John Medley, and Talbot B. Chambers, vol. 12, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), 91.

[3] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 195-196.

[4] Acts 24:26–27 (ESV) 26 At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him. 27 When two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison.

[5] Douglas Linder. The Trial of Socrates. Accessed August 19, 2016.

[6] John F. MacArthur Jr., 1 Corinthians, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984), 136.

[7] Rambam, Mishneh Torah 26:7.  Accessed August 19, 2016.

[8] Blomberg, 1  Corinthians: The NIV Application Commentary, 118.

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