1 Corinthians 6:1-8 – Lawsuits in the Church

There appear to have been problems with Christians within the church suing each other in a court of law rather than dealing with the matter “within the family” (6:1-8). We are not told what the content of the lawsuits might be, but it is possible that these are lawsuits the results of perceived insults by members of the “parties” within the church. Perhaps a member of the Paul group insulted a member of the Peter group, who responded as any good Roman would by making a lawsuit against the offender. Imagine a typical argument in a classroom which spills over into Facebook insults which then results in a lawsuit, a counter lawsuit, and a major clash in a court of law.

Frivolous LawsuitAs strange as it sounds, this is the sort of thing which happened in the Roman world. Dio Chrysostom reports that the Roman word of the late first century was filled with “lawyers innumerable, twisting judgments.” (Cited by Winter, After Paul Left Corinth, 62). These lawsuits were politically motivated, between members of the rich and elite class (or want-to-be elite.) These lawsuits were opportunity for young orators to show off their rhetorical talents before the elite citizens (the judge, magistrate, jurors, etc.)

Paul’s solution to the problem is to “shame” them for suing their brothers. Shame is an important factor in first century personal politics. Paul says twice in this letter that he desires to put the church to shame over some behaviors (here and drunkenness in chapter 11.) If the lawsuits were motivated by a perceived loss of honor in the first place, Paul turns a popular expectation upside down by saying that it is a loss of honor for a Christian to take his brother to court.

This therefore is the “shame”: they are suing family members. Paul frequently refers to his readers as “brothers” to emphasize that the Church is a new family rather than a social club. A person is not suing some stranger who has insulted them, they are suing brothers. The Romans did not approve of intra-family lawsuits, therefore Paul is emphasizing brotherhood of the believers.

Paul does not recommend going through a private arbitrator to solve disputes, as was the right of citizens. He says that they church ought to be able to deal with such disputes within the family. There are people within the congregation, presumably, that are styling themselves as orators, and all of the citizens would be familiar with the process of arbitration. Paul is saying that the church ought to function like a family, brothers dealing with one another with “strife and discord.”

How do we “bridge the gap” and apply this sort of teaching in a modern, local church context? At the very least, the church needs to return to the truth than all members of the Body of Christ are brothers and that it is a loss of honor to treat a family member like a stranger. This alone would have a positive effect on the local church.

8 thoughts on “1 Corinthians 6:1-8 – Lawsuits in the Church

  1. In this day and age, the idea that we are all brothers or family is a very hard concept to grasp. Family seems to be used very loosely in today’s culture, or at least it is not described and portrayed as what family is really meant to be. I think because the idea of family is to flawed, that is why the modern church seems so distant relationally and why so many conflicts arise. I agree with you when you said that it is a loss of honor to treat a family member like a stranger and that realizing that alone would have a positive effect on the church. When we treat our family as strangers, conflicts are going to arise and the way we handle those conflicts will be nothing but a problem. In regards to suing our brothers and how we should go about things like that, Polhill wrote, “In the Jewish theocracy, there was no separation between sacred and secular courts, and Paul implied that the same should pertain in the Christian community” (Pollhill 240). In other words, we need to figure out our conflicts as a family of Christ. If something goes wrong between people, they should not all of the sudden disregard them as their brother, they should resolve it in a way that resembles what Christ may have done and what is best for those involved. Jesus Christ was/is a Man of forgiveness and He calls us to do the same. In order to bridge that gap, we need to consider and practice these things.

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  2. It seems to me that the modern believer should have no trouble pulling application from this passage. Although lawsuits may be fairly rare in our churches, arguments certainly are not. We are inherently selfish individuals, and as such we are bound to have disagreements. We can, however, look to this passage for insight on how social interaction between believers should look. Paul tells the Corinthians that if their disputes require legal action to resolve then they have already lost (1 Cor 6:7a). Petty disagreements among believers that are left unresolved can damage both the unity of the Church and the respectability of Christianity in the eyes of unbelievers. Our natural tendency may be to defend our own position, but we have to ask ourselves what we are willing to sacrifice in order to be right. Even if the other Christian is clearly in the wrong is it not better to be taken advantage of than to damage the cause of Christ? Paul seems to think so (1 Cor 6:7b). We are called to be imitators of Christ who “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Phil 2:3).

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  3. In today’s world there are lots of people that only look out for themselves and no one else. Whatever is better for them is a great way, even if it is to short someone out. If someone has a close knit family, then they will sometimes look out for them as well, but not always just watch Judge Judy and you’ll see. Paul even warns us in 2 Timothy 3:2-4 “For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” and it has come true. But for a church to be qualified as family is something a lot of people struggle with. We will pray for them, and make sure that they are safe and if they are in need to help them, but every once and a while if someone sees an opening to help themselves or to make something better for themselves they are going to go for it, even if it does hurt one of their church family. Paul tells us he doesn’t want us to be like that. He tells us later on in 1 Corinthians 10:24 “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” It is so hard for us in today’s world to be a close knit family in a household family, let alone in a church family.

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  4. The practical application of this passage is not necessarily the fact that we should not sue our brothers in Christ. It is more on the fact that we need to treat all people in the Body of Christ as brothers and sisters in Christ. This is a hard concept to think about in our modern culture. Many people do not have the same concept of family as they did in Paul’s time. This idea worked for them, it made them think about the way they were treating other believers. However, in our culture, the view on families is very flawed and therefore we do not treat each other like we are one family. We need to get back to this in the modern church. Like you said, it would make a world of difference in our local churches. We would be slower to anger and disagreements within the church and people would feel welcomed and loved. Mark 12:32 says to “love your neighbor as yourself”. If we apply both this commandment and the idea that we are brothers and sisters with fellow believers in Christ, than our churches will benefit greatly from this.

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  5. This is a hard concept for my brain to wrap itself around. During the time period one did not drag a family member to court but took care of it in the family, while i come from a back ground of family members who have sued each other over small things and the only “solve it in the family” usually ended with someone being arrested for assault Yet Jesus himself said in Matthew 5 “if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well”. In this behavior we hear the gospel message’s echo, the wrong party is guilty and the right party cares and gives more then what is asked and expected. Paul’s words ring out in an American culture that is still sue crazy. More than that Paul is trying to show that things and honor mean nothing in comparison to the glory that is God’s, and our glory is only going to fade only what is done for God will truly last. Paul not just addresses lawsuits he brings back the biggest heart issue known to man, its not about us its about God.

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  6. Growing up in the eastern side of the world and now living in Grand Rapids I can see how different cultures produce different churches. For instance, in Congo I knew everyone in my church, granted, our church was made up of only a few hundred. It was very community based with most church members treating one another like family. Of course there were flaws in the system. For example, some modern American churches are able to reach thousands of people as opposed to hundreds simply because of more resources and capabilities to do so. However, we have then lost the closeness of treating fellow church members like family and we resume our love of individualism that is so prevalent within the culture. As P.Long states above, “Paul frequently refers to his readers as ‘brothers’ to emphasize that the church is a new family rather than a social club.” This is something that we need to regain in the modern world today. As we begin to think of others as family members it seems that the church will greatly benefit as we begin to view each other as Christ views us; priceless and loved.

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  7. A key application from this is that the Body of Christ does make us all a family, and although law suits among church members are not as common in the modern church as they were in the Greco-Roman society, it is common to hear about churches splitting up and dividing over arguments and disagreements. Just as “orators” emerged and lead arguments against others, it seems that when members of a church are in disagreement, there is a “lead” person for each side. It is not uncommon to hear about large amounts of people leaving a church over these types of disagreements. I wonder what Paul would have said about this. I think he would have said something to the same effect; as the body of Christ, we are all family. To treat others with little regard, or as strangers or enemies shames the name of Christ who unites all of us.

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  8. The concept of the church being a family is something that can be lost sometimes and seems not impotent. But with the issue of lawsuits in Corinth, it was a huge issue that Paul deals with and with him saying that they are not to sue your brothers and treating them as strangers, focuses on how close the Body of Christ should be. in today’s time, I don’t think that we struggle a lot with the congregation suing each other but there is a lot of problems in the church that loses the concept of this brotherhood that Paul is getting at. there are a lot of disagreements in the church that happen that split churches. if Paul was looking at it, I think that he would take about this brotherhood concept. with all these divisions that happen looks like we are not a family. we are not to be strangers to each other and come back together. With this, we could do a whole lot more in the Body of Christ to benefit the Kingdom of God.

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