The Apostle Paul has already addressed a number of important concerns within the first five chapters of the book of 1 Corinthians. Those subjects included divisions within the church, spiritual immaturity, pride, and sexual immorality, among others. Here now in chapter six, Paul will go on to address another issue within the Corinthian church: lawsuits brought by members of the congregation against other members of the congregation.
Paul’s response to this distressing reality will provide us with a great deal of insight into the proper way in which to handle disagreements, problems, and difficulties with others within the church, especially in regard to things like money, property, material possessions, and other civil matters…
“Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?” (1 Corinthians 6:1).
One expression of the spiritual immaturity that characterized the Corinthian believers was reflected in the fact that they had been suing one another within the civil courts of Corinth. Unfortunately, this represented another example of the way in which the attitudes, beliefs, and practices of those outside the church at Corinth had worked their way inside the church.
In Paul’s day, the city of Corinth was under the jurisdiction of the Roman Empire and one source describes the general legal environment that of that time…
“Of all ancient peoples the Romans were the most prone to litigation. Any man could make himself a prosecutor in a Roman court. Each party to a litigation deposited with the magistrate a sum of money (called sacramentum), which was forfeited by the losing party to the state religion. The defendant also had to give bail (vadimonium) as security for his subsequent appearances. The magistrate then turned over the dispute to a person qualified to act as a judge. If the defendant lost, his property—sometimes his person—could be seized by the plaintiff until the judgment was satisfied.
Problems of ownership, obligation, exchange, contract, and debt took up by far the largest part of Roman law. Material possession was the very life of the Roman empire, and its provinces. This would be especially true in cosmopolitan and commercial Corinth. Ownership of property came by inheritance or acquisition… Obviously, there would be many ‘grievances’ which might arise between Christian brethren engaged in the multiple vocations and businesses which would be present in the huge, sophisticated metropolis called Corinth.” (1)
When such issues arise between Christians today, the counsel found within 1 Corinthians chapter six will prove valuable in helping to address such disputes in a God-honoring manner.
(1) Paul T. Butler, Studies In First Corinthians, Chapter Six The Problem of Baseness and Brotherhood (6:1-20) [pg. 98] College Press, Joplin, Missouri Copyright © College Press 1963 https://archive.org/stream/FirstCorinthians/131Corinthians-Butler_djvu.txt
“When one of you has something against someone else in your group, why do you go to the judges in the law courts? The way they think and live is wrong. So why do you let them decide who is right? Why don’t you let God’s holy people decide who is right?” (1 Corinthians 6:1 ERV).
It seems that the members of the Corinthian church were quick to litigate their internal disputes and disagreements with little or no concern for the manner in which such lawsuits might be perceived by those outside the church. However, the Apostle Paul contended that such disputes among the members of God’s family should be handled among the members of God’s family.
Before we continue our look at this passage, we should stop to consider something else that Paul said in the letter that we know today as the New Testament book of Romans. In Romans 12:18, Paul wrote the following under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
The word “peace” implies a general sense of contentment, well being, and freedom from external conflicts (like fighting or arguing with others) or internal conflicts (like anxiety and insecurity). These were qualities that were apparently lacking among the members of the Corinthian church.
One possible explanation for this is that those who were engaged in these legal actions held a misplaced sense of priorities. You see, people may sometimes believe that the accumulation of financial wealth and/or material possessions offers the best road to lasting peace. Unfortunately, such people may also find that money and possessions can quickly disappear, thus destroying the peace they thought they had.
The reason these things cannot provide lasting peace is found in the fact that the source of all true peace is God Himself. The peace that God offers us is available through Jesus’ death on the cross for as Jesus Himself said, “I am leaving you with a gift– peace of mind and heart! And the peace I give isn’t fragile like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid” (John 14:27 TLB).
The fact that the members of the Corinthian church were prosecuting one another suggests that they may have been more concerned with securing “their rights” than in doing what was right. We’ll go on to explore the kind of mindset that will help enable us to live at peace with others as we move through this chapter.
“When one of you has a complaint against another, do you take your complaint to a court of sinners? Or do you take it to God’s people?” (1 Corinthians 6:1 CEV).
Jesus provided us with some insight that can help enable us to maintain peace with others in world where many are willing to lie, steal and/or act selfishly…
“There is a saying, ‘Love your friends and hate your enemies.’ But I say: Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way you will be acting as true sons of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust too.
If you love only those who love you, what good is that? Even scoundrels do that much. If you are friendly only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else?” (Matthew 5:43-47 TLB).
In light of this, consider the Apostle Paul’s response to the news that the Corinthian believers were suing one another: “…how dare you take each other to court! When you think you have been wronged, does it make any sense to go before a court that knows nothing of God’s ways instead of a family of Christians?” (MSG).
Now before we move forward, its important to differentiate between the kind of grievance mentioned here and the type of criminal case that might be appropriate for a civil court. We should remember that governments have a legitimate, God-given role in maintaining societal order (a role that Paul discusses more fully in Romans 13:1-6). As such, it is appropriate to refer cases involving various types of criminal activity to a secular court.
However, the Corinthians apparently chose to disregard Jesus’ instruction concerning the proper way to settle internal disputes…
“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses.
If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17 NLT).
As one commentator observes, “In Paul’s day the Romans allowed the Jews to apply their own law in such matters, and since the Romans did not yet consider Christians as a separate class from the Jews, Christians no doubt had the same rights.” (1)
(1) Barker, Kenneth L. Zondervan NIV Study Bible (Fully Revised): 1 Corinthians. 1782. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, © 1985, 1995, 2002.
“Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life?” (1 Corinthians 6:2-3).
It may be surprising to see just how often the literary device of irony (sometimes even bordering on sarcasm) can be found within the Scriptures. For instance, Jesus employed this device in regard to the religious and political leadership of His day and the Old Testament prophets utilized it on more than one occasion as well. The Apostle Paul also made use of this approach in his New Testament letter to Philippian church and we find another example quoted here within 1 Corinthians chapter six: “Don’t you know…” (CEV).
Now this should not be taken to suggest that we ought to adopt a sarcastic approach in speaking to others, but it does mean that this device may sometimes be used as an effective communication tool when employed in the proper manner.
Let’s take the experience of the Corinthian church as an example, For a group of individuals who apparently prided themselves upon their deep reservoir of spiritual knowledge and their ability to judge the superiority of various teachers, a statement such as “Don’t you know…” was certain to be humbling and deflating to those who were “puffed up” within the church. (1) In light of this, it may not come as a surprise to find that Paul will go on to ask this same question of the Corinthians five additional times within this chapter.
Paul’s apparent consternation with the members of the Corinthian fellowship was driven by his belief that the members of that congregation should have already known about the things that he was now writing to them. As one source has pointed out…
“This behavior was a contradiction of everything Paul believed and had taught them. Why would believers go into a pagan court and appear before a judge who is a natural man, an unspiritual man, and say to him, ‘We are spiritual men, but we have a problem and we don’t have the wisdom to solve it. Even though we have the Holy Spirit and you don’t, we need the wisdom you have that we do not have?’ Paul had this problem in mind when he wrote in chapter two, ‘He who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is judged by no man.'” (2)
(2) Dick Woodward, Mini Bible College International Booklet Eighteen Verse By Verse Study Of First Corinthians (Part 1) Chapter 13 “Disputes of Disciples” (I Corinthians 6:1–8) [pg 22]
“Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you not competent to settle trivial suits? Do you not know that we will judge angels? Why not ordinary matters!” (1 Corinthians 6:2-3 NET).
The future judicial responsibilities referenced within these verses may help explain why the Apostle Paul spent so much time on the subject of judgment within the preceding chapters of this letter. The idea is that since God’s people will be appointed to such responsibilities in the future, the relatively insignificant issues associated with things like money and property should be easy to arbitrate without the need to engage a civil court.
One scholar provides us with some additional insight regarding this passage in answering the question, “How will the saints judge the world and angels?“…
“The Bible asserts that God is the judge of the world (Ps. 96:13; Acts 17:31; Rev. 20:11–15), including evil angels (2 Peter 2:4; Rev. 12:9). Why, then, does Paul affirm that Christians will be the judges of the world and angels?
SOLUTION: Obviously, God is the judge of wicked humans and angels in a different sense in which Christians will be. Whatever judgment we have will be as God’s delegates or representatives, not by any right we have inherent in ourselves. We are simply the instruments through which God executes His judgment. We do not make the ultimate decisions.
It is not clear exactly what Paul envisioned in this passage, but we do know from other Scriptures that there are some legitimate senses in which it can be said that Christians will judge the world. First, during Christ’s reign, the apostles “will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28). Second, those who were faithful to Christ during the tribulation “reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (Rev. 20:4). John said, “I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them (Rev. 20:4)…” (1)
Another commentary makes a helpful observation in this regard: “We know from Jude v. 6 and 2Pe_2:4, 2Pe_2:9 that angels will be judged. We also know that Christ will be the Judge (Joh_5:22). It is because of our union with Him that we can be spoken of as judging angels in a coming day. If we are considered qualified to judge angels, we should be able to handle the everyday problems that arise in this life.” (2)
(1) Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. (1992). When Critics Ask : A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (p. 454). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
(2) William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary 1 Corinthians 6 (6:3) [pg. 1762]
“If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge?” (1 Corinthians 6:4).
When it comes to conflicts and disagreements among those who claim to follow Christ, who would be best suited to arbitrate such internal disputes- a group of fellow Christians who possess the ability to provide God-honoring counsel from the Scriptures or those who base their decision-making priorities upon something else?
This is essentially the question that the Apostle Paul placed before the members of the church at Corinth: “If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people?” (NIV).
We might also view this question as an ironic observation on the Apostle’s part: even the most insignificant Christian who knows God’s Word is capable of providing better counsel in such matters than a secular judge who knows little or nothing of God. Nevertheless, it appears that some members of the Corinthian church still preferred to settle their disagreements within a civil court instead of presenting their grievances to the other members of their fellowship.
But why would the members of this congregation choose to act in such a manner? Well, one possible explanation might be found in looking at the process of jury selection within a democratic judicial system. For instance, prosecutors and defense attorneys in an American system of justice typically attempt to secure jurors who are thought to be sympathetic to their case before a trial begins. In doing so, each side seeks to create a judicial environment that will help secure a favorable judgment.
In like manner, it’s possible that some members of the Corinthian church felt that a “change of venue” to a secular court might have represented the best means of achieving their desired result. If this was the case, then we can say that these individuals may have been more concerned with doing whatever served their interests than in doing what reflected best upon God and His people.
A far more disturbing explanation might be found in the possibility that some felt that they had a better chance of obtaining justice through the civil court system than in presenting their cases to the other members of the church. In either scenario, this did not speak well of those within the Corinthian congregation- and this will lead Paul to offer a stinging rebuke followed by another (and equally painful) question next.
The fact that the members of the Christian community at Corinth were engaged in civil lawsuits over internal matters displayed a general lack of wisdom, perception, and discernment on their part. This unfortunate reality led the Apostle Paul to express a strongly worded reprimand followed by another question that the Corinthians would surely find difficult to answer…
“I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?” (1 Corinthians 6:5).
Paul spoke of two areas that brought shame upon the church at Corinth within the book of 1 Corinthians. The first area related to the lawsuits that members of the church had initiated against each other as seen here in 1 Corinthians chapter six. The second area can be found within 1 Corinthians 15:34 where Paul counsels his readers, “Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.”
Taken together, these verses remind us that a person who does not possess a knowledge of God lacks an essential element that is necessary for making wise decisions and avoiding shameful ones. In the Corinthian church, this knowledge gap was expressed through the decision by some within the church to force other members of the church to stand trial before judges who knew little or nothing about the God they claimed to serve.
As one commentator has observed, “Paul asks them to face the conclusion that if the courts of fallen humanity are able to better deal with legal conflicts than those in the church, it creates a larger problem than the legal wrongs that have been committed. This situation reveals the depths of the immaturity of this church.” (1)
This represents one example- there were surely others that were reflected in the choices and decisions of their daily lives. Because of this, the importance of obtaining a knowledge of God through familiarity with His Word cannot be overstated. As we’re told in the Old Testament book of Proverbs…
“Only the Lord gives wisdom; he gives knowledge and understanding. He stores up wisdom for those who are honest. Like a shield he protects the innocent. He makes sure that justice is done, and he protects those who are loyal to him. Then you will understand what is honest and fair and what is the good and right thing to do. Wisdom will come into your mind, and knowledge will be pleasing to you. Good sense will protect you; understanding will guard you” (Proverbs 2:6-11 NCV).
(1) Bob Caldwell, 1 Corinthians 6 Do Not Sue the Brethren (v.5)
“But now one believer goes to court against another, and you let people who are not believers judge their case! The lawsuits that you have against each other show that you are already defeated. It would be better for you to let someone wrong you. It would be better to let someone cheat you” (1 Corinthians 6:6-7 ERV).
Within this passage, the Apostle Paul presented a third option to those who were facing the choice to litigate or arbitrate their internal disputes- accept the loss (whether real or perceived) and move on.
What Paul essentially told these believers was that it would be far more honoring to God to simply accept whatever damages may have been incurred and quietly move on. In a larger sense, this counsel implies that we may sometimes have to overlook faults, ignore slights (intentional or unintentional), and/or accept a personal loss in order to coexist peacefully with the other members of God’s household.
Paul’s letter to the church at Rome also provides us with another element to consider in this regard. In Romans 12:19, Paul imparted the following piece of God-inspired wisdom: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (NIV).
This passage reminds us that if justice really needs to be served, we may rest assured that God will ultimately serve it. This verse also implies that if we have been treated unjustly, God will defend us if we are willing to allow Him to do so in His own time and way.
Of course, the challenge involved in taking this approach is that it often requires us to exercise (or develop) the qualities of patience, humility, and perseverance, three God-honoring characteristics that Paul will go on to discuss at greater length in 1 Corinthians chapter thirteen. This reality might help to explain why God may sometimes choose to allow such circumstances to enter our lives to begin with.
It’s been said that it takes two to keep the peace but a man or woman of God must not be responsible for breaking it. For those who may be experiencing difficulties with others who have acted unjustly, it might be advisable to simply “…put up with injustice” (HCSB) as we’re told here in 1 Corinthians 6:7.
In doing so, we may have an opportunity to employ another good piece of advice from the book of Romans: “Never let evil get the best of you; instead, overpower evil with the good” (Romans 12:21 Voice).
“Instead, one believer goes to court against another believer, and this happens in front of unbelievers. You are already totally defeated because you have lawsuits against each other. Why don’t you accept the fact that you have been wronged? Why don’t you accept that you have been cheated?” (1 Corinthians 6:6-7 GW).
One source offers an important observation in commenting upon the ramifications associated with the passage quoted above: “…these Corinthian Christians are declaring to the world that the wisdom Christians are supposed to have is not as good as that of heathen judges; they cannot seem to find one of their own brethren wise enough to settle disputes between themselves.” (1)
The message that these lawsuits communicated to the outside world is important to remember, for as mentioned earlier in Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” This is often more difficult than it may appear, for doing so may require us to show mercy towards those who have not been merciful towards us. It may obligate us to seek reconciliation and forgiveness when others have done wrong. And as we’re told with in this passage, living in peace with others may sometimes mean that we have to take a loss in order to keep the peace.
To illustrate the importance of these realities, let’s first consider the Apostle Paul’s sharp rebuke towards those within the Corinthian church who did not grasp this concept: “Why not just accept mistreatment and leave it at that? It would be far more honoring to the Lord to let yourselves be cheated” (TLB).
We might then ask, “How much dishonor has been brought upon the name of Christ because His followers were not mature enough to settle their differences in a manner that honored Him?” In light of this, the best response may sometimes involve giving up “our rights” in order to maintain peace with others.
A person who has suffered wrong at the hand of another may often respond in one of two ways. He or she can make an effort to strike back at the person who is deemed to be responsible for causing their injury, or accept the fact that he or she has been wronged and prayerfully move on.
In other words, we can choose to forgive or we can choose to pursue some other course. We can choose to imitate God’s mercy towards us in Christ, or we can seek to enforce our rights without regard for the way in which that choice might reflect upon Jesus and His church.
(1) Paul T. Butler, Studies In First Corinthians, Chapter Six The Problem of Baseness and Brotherhood (6:1-20) [pg. 100] College Press, Joplin, Missouri Copyright Â© College Press 1963 https://archive.org/stream/FirstCorinthians/131Corinthians-Butler_djvu.txt
“…must one brother resort to law against another and that before those who have no faith in Christ! It is surely obvious that something must be seriously wrong in your church for you to be having lawsuits at all. Why not let yourself be wronged or cheated?” (1 Corinthians 6:6-7 Phillips).
The Apostle Paul’s sharp rebuke of those who had entered into lawsuits against one another within the Corinthian church brings to mind Jesus’ parable from Matthew 18:23-35…
“Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.
But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.
But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.
His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.
When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.
That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart” (NLT).
It appears that the Corinthian Christians had somehow overlooked this aspect of Jesus’ teaching in their relationships with others within the church. As Jesus also taught us in Matthew 5:7-9, “Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.”
“But, instead, one Christian sues another and accuses his Christian brother in front of unbelievers. To have such lawsuits at all is a real defeat for you as Christians. Why not just accept mistreatment and leave it at that? It would be far more honoring to the Lord to let yourselves be cheated” (1 Corinthians 6:6-7 TLB).
The lawsuits brought by some within the Corinthian congregation against other members of the church revealed an issue that ran far deeper than these individual acts of litigation- they revealed an inability to perceive the potential consequences associated with such decisions and how they might negatively reflect upon Jesus and His church.
Here is how one commentator frames this issue…
“By hauling one another into court the Corinthians were intent on winning damages for themselves… Paul reminded them that they had already lost before the judge gave his verdict. The shame of people who professed to love one another and put the welfare of others before their own suing each other was a defeat in itself. This defeat was far more serious than any damages they may have had to pay. It would be better to suffer the wrong or the cheating than to fight back in such an unchristian way (Mat_5:39-40; 1Pe_2:19-24).” (1)
So the act of engaging in these lawsuits served to demonstrate to others that the members of the Christian community were not very different from anyone else, at least in this respect. Unfortunately, this sad example can be expanded to encompass a wide variety of business relationships today, especially with those outside the church.
For instance, a church, ministry, or individual who fails to honor a valid contractual agreement, neglects to pay service providers in a timely fashion, or disregards other legitimate obligations communicates something important to those who are not Christians. Much like the Christian community at Corinth, these actions tell others that those who claim to follow Christ are not very different from anyone else. Thus, they serve to misrepresent the God of the Scriptures and provide those outside the church with an easy excuse to dismiss or reject Him.
In those instances where financial challenges make it difficult to meet a legitimate obligation, it is important to demonstrate good faith and make a genuine attempt to manage such responsibilities in a manner to serves to honor Jesus, especially when interacting with those who do not know Him. The example of the Corinthian church in this regard serves to remind us that others judge Christ by those who claim to follow Him for better or worse.
(1) Dr. Thomas L. Constable Notes on 1 Corinthians 2016 Edition [6:7] http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/htm/NT/1%20Corinthians/1Corinthians.htm
“But instead, does a brother or sister have a lawsuit against another brother or sister, and do they do this in front of unbelievers? The fact that you have lawsuits against each other means that you’ve already lost your case. Why not be wronged instead? Why not be cheated?” (1 Corinthians 6:6-7 CEB).
Virtually everyone can look back upon an occasion when God responded with far more mercy than our actions deserved. (1) For those (like the members of the Corinthian church) who may be unwilling to forgive an offense committed by another member of the church, Jesus’ message from Matthew 5:7 bears repeating: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
Jesus’ teaching from Matthew 25:34-46 provides us with some additional insight in this regard as well…
“Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
“Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ “
Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
(1) See Ezra 9:13
“No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren!” (1 Corinthians 6:8).
There was a certain irony associated with the legal challenges mounted by the members of the Corinthian church against one another. You see, those who chose to pursue such grievances in court were guilty of the very same type of misconduct that they were suing to rectify. As the Apostle Paul himself pointed out: “Instead, you act unjustly and cheat–and you do this to believers!” (HCSB). (1)
So what did these Corinthian Christians hope to achieve in bringing such disagreements to civil court? Well, perhaps they were seeking financial restitution of some sort. They may have been seeking public vindication, or the assessment of punitive damages as an act of revenge. Or perhaps they had simply adopted a mindset that was summed up in a quote attributed to the late American football coach Vince Lombardi: “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”
In considering these possibilities, we might do well to reflect upon a question that the members of the Corinthian church apparently failed to ask: “What was the cost associated with prevailing in such a dispute?” For example, was financial compensation, public vindication, or the personal satisfaction of winning really worth the potential damage to Jesus’ church? Was it proper to pursue a brother or sister in such a manner? Were such lawsuits in keeping with Jesus’ teaching from Luke 6:27-30…
“But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.”
The point is that we may sometimes have to be satisfied in knowing that we are in the right, even if no one else shares that knowledge other than ourselves and God. As one source has observed. “if the Corinthians understood the serious implications of all the improprieties in their church, and if they appreciated the qualities that should characterize believers (cf. 13:4–7), they would much sooner bear injustice than bring disgrace upon the Christian community by publicly exposing their conflicts in the civil courts.” (2)
(1) MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (1 Co 6:8). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
(2) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2023). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
“But you are the ones doing wrong and cheating. And you do this to your own brothers and sisters in Christ!” (1 Corinthians 6:8 ERV).
This passage from 1 Corinthians chapter six illustrates the importance of considering the variables that might be involved in a dispute with another Christian. For instance, while we may be within our rights to bring a legal case against someone else within the church, it is incumbent upon us to first consider whether it is right to exercise that right.
When used within this context, the word “right” refers to an act that conforms to justice, law, or morality. For example, whenever someone claims a right to pursue a course of action or engage in certain behaviors, he or she means that the act or behavior in question is permissible because it is just, lawful, or moral.
However, Christians have an additional responsibility to consider before they seek to exercise a right in this regard. You see, the right to do something doesn’t always mean that it is proper to do so. Paul the Apostle will go on to develop this idea further within 1 Corinthians chapter six, but for now we can say that there are two important considerations that come into play whenever we seek to evaluate our right to exercise a right…
- Will this action honorably represent God?
- How will others be affected if I pursue this course of action?
In addition, we can find an important Biblical principle in the New Testament book of Romans that can assist us in thinking about these questions. That principle is found in Romans 12:10 and serves to prompt us to consider how others might be affected by our choices.
Here is how that verse is rendered in various translations…
- “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves” (NIV)
- “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another” (NKJ)
- “Love each other with brotherly affection and take delight in honoring each other” (TLB)
- “Love each other devotedly and with brotherly love; and set examples for each other in showing respect” (JNT)
- “In love of the brethren be tenderly affectioned one to another; in honor preferring one another” (ASV)
- “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor” (NAS)
This Biblical principle tells us that we should not only think about our own personal interests but what may be best for others as well. We’ll consider this question from another perspective next.
“On the contrary, it is you who wrong and defraud, and you do this even to your brothers and sisters” (1 Corinthians 6:8 AMP).
While there may be instances where it is appropriate to bear the costs associated with an injustice that has been committed against us, this does not necessarily mean that it is appropriate to do so in every situation.
For instance, we can look to the experience of the Apostle Paul in the New Testament book of Acts as he sought to exercise his right as a Roman citizen to protect himself against an injustice that was about to be inflicted upon him…
“The Roman commander ordered Paul to be taken into the fortress and beaten with a whip. He did this to find out why the people were screaming at Paul. While the soldiers were tying Paul up to be beaten, he asked the officer standing there, ‘Is it legal to beat a Roman citizen before he has been tried in court?’
When the officer heard this, he went to the commander and said, ‘What are you doing? This man is a Roman citizen!’ The commander went to Paul and asked, ‘Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?’ ‘Yes,’ Paul answered. The commander then said, ‘I paid a lot of money to become a Roman citizen.’ But Paul replied, ‘I was born a Roman citizen.’
The men who were about to beat and question Paul quickly backed off. And the commander himself was frightened when he realized that he had put a Roman citizen in chains” (Acts 22:24-29 CEV).
The book of Acts also provides us with two additional instances where Paul invoked his legal rights as well (see Acts 16:37-38, and Acts 25:10-12). In each of these examples, Paul exercised the legal protections that were available to him to defend against an injustice or address a legitimate grievance against the governing authorities.
So when it comes to the decision to arbitrate, litigate, or accept the financial cost associated with an offense committed against us, one commentator provides us with a good general principle that we can prayerfully employ to help make good decisions in this area…
“Where a course of lawless crime has to be arrested in the interests of the weak and defenseless, it is necessary to call in the law and police to vindicate and protect; but when our private, personal and individual interests alone are concerned, we should be wise to submit our case to arbitration or suffer patiently.” (1)
(1) F. B. Meyer, B.A., Through the Bible Day by Day [1 Corinthians 6:1-11]
As we enter the next portion of 1 Corinthians chapter six, the Apostle Paul will go on to provide us with a lengthy list of inappropriate behaviors, including a few that some might find more egregious than others. While we may have a tendency to focus exclusively upon the individual actions that are listed within the following verses, it is important to remember the backdrop that forms the basis for this catalog of sinful behaviors- the litigious attitude that Paul discussed within the previous verses.
In reading through the list that follows, we should note that Paul tied this section together with the actions and behaviors of those who were described within the preceding verses. In other words, the actions we are about to read of were characteristic of a similarly unrighteous attitude held by those within the Corinthian church who were suing one another in court…
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
One commentator makes an important observation regarding this passage: “This man who had wronged his brother is putting himself in bad company – in with fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, sodomites, thieves, covetous, revilers, and extortioners. And none of those who live characterized by these sins will inherit the kingdom of God.(1)
To some degree, this passage mirrors a similar list found earlier in 1 Corinthians 5:9-11. And just as Jesus provided us with a list of characteristics that are associated with those who will enter the kingdom of heaven (see Matthew 5:3, Matthew 5:10, and Mark 10:13-15), Paul provided us with a list of characteristics associated with those who will not within these verses. (2)
But first, Paul issued a frank warning against self-deception: “Do not be deceived…” In other words, a person who persistently engages in one or more of the behaviors cataloged within these verses provides evidence that any profession of faith really has no basis in reality. Because of this, such individuals should not expect to find a place within the kingdom of God.
Much like the people of ancient Israel who were under the impression that their relationship to the Old Testament patriarch Abraham was sufficient to make them acceptable to God (Luke 3:7-9), Paul sought to communicate the fact that a simple profession of belief without the corresponding evidence of a repentant and God-honoring lifestyle was inconsistent with genuine Christianity.
(1) David Guzik, 1 Corinthians 6 – Lawsuits and Loose Living [4. (8-11)] https://enduringword.com/commentary/1-corinthians-6/
(2) Dr. Thomas L. Constable Notes on 1 Corinthians 2016 Edition [6:9-10] http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/htm/NT/1%20Corinthians/1Corinthians.htm
“Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NIV).
Before we continue our look at 1 Corinthians chapter six, let’s first take a moment to examine the list of characteristics found in verses nine and ten more closely. As we consider the behavioral characteristics that are found within these verses, one source reminds us of the importance of taking this information seriously: “Tragically, Christians sometimes deceive themselves into thinking that God does not require them to live righteously. Paul emphasizes that the kinds of people listed in these verses will not inherit or possess the kingdom of God.” (1)
First among these behaviors is one that Paul has previously addressed: the sexually immoral. As mentioned earlier, the phrase “sexual immorality” is translated from the Greek word porneia, the word from which we derive our modern-day concept of “pornography.”The Biblical use of this word serves to identify various forms of inappropriate sexual conduct including adulterous relationships, sexual relationships between unmarried couples, and homosexual relationships, among others. Jesus also expanded this definition to include internal expressions of sexual immorality in Matthew 5:27-28 as well.
As a general rule, “sexual immorality” encompasses any type of sexual activity that goes beyond God’s original design for marital relationships. In one sense, we can view such physical expressions as just another form of idolatry. Remember that humanity’s Creator sets the appropriate behavioral parameters for His creation- and a person who routinely engages in a physical relationship that falls outside those parameters is someone who may accurately fit the description provided for us next…
Idolaters. An “idolater” can be described as someone who places his or her wants, needs, desires, or anything else before God. Unlike the Old Testament example of a person who placed his or her faith in an object crafted by a human being, an “idol” doesn’t have to be something made of wood, stone, or metal.
In reality, an idol can represent anything that someone loves, fears, respects, or depends on more than God. It can also refer to anything that takes the rightful place of God in someone’s life. Once someone or something becomes more important than God in someone’s life, that thing (whatever it is) effectively becomes his or her “idol.”
(1) NKJV Study Bible, [6:9,10] pg. 1835
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NET).
Adulterers. Adultery refers to the act of engaging in a sexual relationship with a married person who is someone other than a lawful marriage partner. This prohibition against adultery finds its origin in God’s directive from the Old Testament look of Leviticus: “If there is a man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, one who commits adultery with his friend’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death” (Leviticus 20:10).
The penalty associated with the act of adultery as found within the book of Leviticus brings up an important question. Since those who engage in adulterous encounters are not generally put to death today, we may ask if such a commandment still applies in modern-day society. This is an excellent question and one that we might address with a simple change of perspective: even though God may no longer call human beings to participate in executing His statutes as He did in days of the Old Testament, this does not necessarily mean that God’s attitude towards these types of activities has changed.
You see, an adulterous person has not escaped the penalty associated with his or her behavior, nor has any other human being for that matter. (1) The execution of that sentence is only a question of where, when, and by what method. For instance, this death sentence might be carried out in any number of ways including (but not limited to) illness, accident, old age, and warfare, among others.
In the Old Testament, God sometimes elected to use human beings to enforce such statutes but beginning in the New Testament period and continuing today, Jesus provided us with the following instructions: “Love your enemies! Do good to them! Lend to them! And don’t be concerned about the fact that they won’t repay. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as sons of God: for he is kind to the unthankful and to those who are very wicked (Luke 6:35 TLB).
This does not mean that God changed His mind or changed His standards- and just because God no longer involves human beings in this process doesn’t mean that the penalty no longer applies. The good news is that even though we cannot avoid the death penalty, we can avoid a permanent death sentence.
“Don’t you know that wicked people won’t inherit the kingdom of God? Stop deceiving yourselves! People who continue to commit sexual sins, who worship false gods, those who commit adultery, homosexuals, or thieves, those who are greedy or drunk, who use abusive language, or who rob people will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 GW).
Homosexuals. Homosexuality refers to sexual activity with a person of the same gender. Much like the prohibition against adultery, the admonition against this type of sexual activity finds its origin in the Old Testament book of Leviticus: “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads” (20:13 NIV).
Later on, the New Testament book of Romans speaks of women who exchanged a physical relationship with men for “…what is against nature” and “Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful…” (Romans 1:26-27).
As it is in many cultures today, homosexual relationships were common within the Roman society of Paul the Apostle’s day. In fact, many sources have noted that fourteen of the first fifteen Roman Emperors were involved in homosexual or bisexual relationships, including Nero, most notably.
In light of this, we can say that Paul’s letter to the Corinthians did not emerge from within a society that was hostile to same-sex relationships. On the contrary, this counsel would have been rejected by many within the culture of that time, just as it is also rejected among many today.
We should also note that homosexuality is not singled out for special recognition among the list of behaviors found here within 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. As one commentator observes, “…it is described right along with other sins, many of which those who so strongly denounce homosexuals are themselves guilty of. Can fornicators or adulterers or the covetous or drunkards rightly condemn homosexuals? Of course not. Christians err when they excuse homosexuality, and deny that it is sin. But they also err just as badly when they single it out as a sin God is uniquely angry with.” (1)
As another commentator has written, “Human sexuality is a much larger concept than sexual behaviour. It’s focus falls more on what people are than on what they do.” (2) In the case of same-sex relationships, the external expression of this preference represents an internal mindset that misses the mark of God’s will for His creation.
(1) David Guzik, 1 Corinthians 6 – Lawsuits and Loose Living [4. (8-11)] https://enduringword.com/commentary/1-corinthians-6/
(2) D.H Field, New Dictionary of Theology
“Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or anyone practicing homosexuality, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 HCSB).
Thieves refers to those who engage in the wrongful taking of another person’s property. This concept is easy to visualize for the word used within the original language of this passage forms the basis for our modern-day word “kleptomania.”
“Thievery” doesn’t only refer to the person who robs a bank, or someone who steals merchandise from a shopping center, or a business executive who misappropriates corporate funds for his or her own personal use. This word literally means, “a stealer” (1) and it encompasses virtually anything that might be unlawfully taken from another.
This might include such commodities as time, workplace productivity, or small-item pilferage, among others. The important thing to remember is that theft may involve more than money or goods- and just because we take something that doesn’t belong to us in small or inconsequential amounts doesn’t necessarily mean that we aren’t guilty of stealing.
Greedy people (or the covetous as we read in some translations) refers to those who carry an intense desire to possess something (or someone) that belongs to someone else. As mentioned earlier, this word can be used to identify one who is eager to have more, especially what belongs to others. (2) It also implies an attitude of jealousy towards those who seemingly possess something more or better than that which we already own.
The New Testament book of Hebrews cautions us against developing an attitude of covetousness when it says, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you'” (Hebrews 13:5). This admonition is closely aligned with both the Second and Tenth Commandments for as Paul the Apostle reminded the church at Ephesus, “For this you know, that no . . . covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5).
Finally Jesus Himself provided us with a specific warning regarding covetousness, a warning that revealed the misguided philosophy associated with those who are driven to accumulate wealth and/or possessions: “And He said to them, ‘Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses'” (Luke 12:15).
(1) G2812 kleptes Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries
(2) G4123 pleonektes Thayer’s Greek Definitions
“Don’t you know that unrighteous people will have no share in the Kingdom of God? Don’t delude yourselves — people who engage in sex before marriage, who worship idols, who engage in sex after marriage with someone other than their spouse, who engage in active or passive homosexuality, who steal, who are greedy, who get drunk, who assail people with contemptuous language, who rob — none of them will share in the Kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 CJB).
To illustrate the characteristics of those who have no share in the kingdom of God, the Apostle Paul offered a short list of corresponding behaviors here in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. Numbered among those characteristics is alcohol abuse.
In his New Testament letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul offered the following guidance regarding alcohol: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). Debauchery is a word that carries the general idea of moral corruption- and alcohol’s potential to serve as a contributing factor in this regard is well-known among those who have experience with it’s effects.
Today, medical professionals recognize alcohol’s role as a depressant. As such, alcohol serves to depress one’s capacity for self-control, good judgment, and wise decision-making. One Biblical example of this reality can be found in the regrettable experience of Noah, a God-honoring man who nevertheless once got so drunk that he passed out naked in view of others (Genesis 9:18-22).
In light of this, is should not be surprising to read the following Scriptural admonitions against alcohol abuse…
“Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine. Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper.
Your eyes will see strange sights and your mind imagine confusing things. You will be like one sleeping on the high seas, lying on top of the rigging. ‘They hit me,’ you will say, ‘but I’m not hurt! They beat me, but I don’t feel it! When will I wake up so I can find another drink?'” (Proverbs 23:29-35 NIV).
“Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine. They have harps and lyres at their banquets, tambourines and flutes and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the LORD, no respect for the work of his hands” (Isaiah 5:11-12 NIV).
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 ESV).
Television pundits. YouTube commentators. “Drive-time” radio personalities. One characteristic common to many of these speakers is the verbal abuse they often direct towards celebrities, athletes, people in the news, or those within their audience. To some degree, these examples serve to illustrate the idea of a “reviler” as found here within 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.
A reviler is someone who is verbally malicious towards others. As mentioned earlier in 1 Corinthians chapter five, the word “revile” can be associated with those who “…assail with contemptuous or opprobrious language; (or to) address or speak of abusively.” (1) In contrast, Paul the Apostle’s New Testament letter to an early church leader named Titus offers the following counsel for God’s people: “…speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men” (Titus 3:2).
The characteristics mentioned in Titus 3:2 should serve to differentiate those who follow Christ from those who do not. As one commentator has observed, this directive effectively prohibits God’s people from engaging in various forms of ridicule, slander, insult, or verbal abuse. (2) When others choose to interact with us in such a manner, we should prayerfully look to Jesus as our example for “…when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23).
We then have a reference to swindlers (or extortioners as this word is found in some translations). This term is closely associated with the idea of a person who takes something that belongs to another in a deceptive, unethical, or deceitful manner. While the concept of extortion is often related to use of blackmail or an abuse of authority, we might also associate this idea with those who engage in embezzlement, monetary fraud, underhanded business practices, or anyone who acts in a similarly unjust manner.
In reflecting on this passage, one source offers the following assessment: “Significantly, Paul classed thieves and extortioners as equally criminal, the latter referring to organized, “white-collar” crime, and thievery to common pilferage.” (3) In light of this, such practices should not be found among those who seek to inherit the kingdom of God.
(1) revile. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved July 19, 2016 from Dictionary.com website http://www.dictionary.com/browse/revile
(2) Believer’s Bible Commentary William MacDonald Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers Nashville pg. 2143
(3) Coffman, James Burton. “Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament” [v.9] “www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/1-corinthians-6.html“. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
“And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).
Most people are probably familiar with the idea of an inheritance, or an asset that is distributed to one’s heirs upon his or her death. In one sense, God has also distributed a number of His assets to those who come to Him through Jesus’ sacrificial death. One such inherited asset is the God-given ability to recognize and break free of sinful behaviors such as those that were cataloged earlier within 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.
The passage quoted above draws our attention to this aspect of our inheritance in Christ in saying, “…such were some of you.” We should notice that this verse identifies the greedy, the sexually immoral, and other such individuals in the past tense: “Some of you used to be like that” (CEV, emphasis added). This indicates that it is possible to transition from a life that is characterized by sinful, inappropriate, and unhealthy behaviors to a life that truly honors God.
When presented with an opportunity to enter a relationship with God through Christ, some may resist by citing an inability to change. Yet this passage does not allow for such a response for as 2 Corinthians 5:17 also goes on to tell us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” We should also remember Jesus’ message from Mark 10:27 in considering this verse: “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God” (NIV).
In remarking on this passage (as well as the preceding verses), one source offers a number of important observations…
“Paul is describing characteristics of unbelievers. He doesn’t mean that all those who have indulged in sexual sin or who have been idol worshipers, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexuals, thieves, greedy people, drunkards, abusers, and swindlers are automatically and irrevocably excluded from heaven.
Christians come out of all kinds of different backgrounds, including these. They may still struggle with evil desires, but they should not continue in these practices. In 1Co_6:11, Paul clearly states that even those who sin in these ways can have their lives changed by Christ. However, those who say that they are Christians but persist in these practices with no sign of remorse will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Such people need to reevaluate their lives to see if they truly believe in Christ.” (1)
(1) 1 Corinthians: A Life Application Bible Study edited by Michael R. Marcey [6:9-11] pg.13
“And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).
In contrast to the behaviors that are characteristic of an ungodly lifestyle, 1 Corinthians 6:11 provides us with three descriptive elements that serve to identify those who are in Christ: washed, sanctified, and justified. Each of these qualities represent important spiritual realities that should impact our choices and decisions on a daily basis.
For instance, the term “washed” is a reference to the spiritual cleansing that serves to purify those who accepted Jesus as Savior. We can associate this idea with the regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit that purifies a person from their past sins (see Titus 3:5) (1)
“Sanctified” is the word we use to describe one’s separation from sin and dedication to God. As mentioned earlier, sanctification refers to “the act or process by which people or things are cleansed and dedicated to God…” (2) The end result of sanctification is holiness, or God-like character.
Finally, we have the word “justified,” a word that describes sinful human beings who have been made acceptable to a holy God through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. As used in the original language, this word can be defined as follows: “to declare, pronounce, one to be just, righteous, or such as he ought to be.” (3)
These new realities stood in stark contrast to the old sinful attitudes and practices listed within the preceding verses- and now that the members of the Corinthian church had been transformed into men and women of God who were washed, sanctified, and justified, it was important to ensure that these truths were reflected in their daily conduct. For the Christian community at Corinth, this meant abandoning those attitudes that led to strife and division (chapter three), condoned sexual immortality (chapter five), and compelled them to enter into civil lawsuits against one other (chapter six).
For a modern-day believer who is seeking to overcome the attitudes and behaviors that are reflective of a pre-Christian life, there can be no more valuable advice than to set aside a portion of each day to prayerfully read and apply God’s Word. As we’re told in both the Old and New Testaments…
“Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11).
“Let Christ’s teaching live in your hearts, making you rich in the true wisdom” (Colossians 3:16a Phillips).
(1) Bob Caldwell, 1 Corinthians 6 Do Not Sue the Brethren (v.11)
(2) New Dictionary of Theology, [Leicester/ Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity, 1988) pg. 613
(3) G1344 dikaioo Thayer’s Greek Definitions
“For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).
As mentioned previously, a “sign” generally refers to something that points to (or designates) something else- and much like the signpost that points the way to a particular destination, the spiritual leadership of Paul’s day sought to authenticate Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah by way of a miraculous symbol or supernatural attribute.
Unfortunately, a sign will do little to point the way for those who choose to reject it. Such was Jesus’ experience with the religious leaders of His era. Consider the following exchange between Jesus and a first-century group of spiritual leaders known as the Pharisees…
“…(Jesus) immediately got into the boat with His disciples, and came to the region of Dalmanutha. Then the Pharisees came out and began to dispute with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, testing Him” (Mark 8:10-11).
So the Pharisees sought to coerce Jesus into validating His ministry on their terms by way of “…a miraculous sign from heaven” (NLT). However, God had already fulfilled this request for a celestial sign at the time of Jesus’ birth…
“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.’
…(When Herod) had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel’” (Matthew 2:1-2, 4-6).
So these earlier leaders had the right information about God’s Savior- they even quoted directly from an Old Testament prophecy concerning Him. But even though they had the right information, they had little apparent interest in validating the heavenly sign they had already received concerning the Messiah.
A sign will do little good to those who are unwilling to follow it- and we should be careful in seeking to oblige God to validate His work on our terms lest we willfully ignore the signs that He has already provided (John 2:18-22).
“All things are lawful for me; but not all things are expedient. All things are lawful for me; but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Corinthians 6:12 RV).
Allen Du Mont was an engineer and inventor whose pioneering work in the field of radio and television technology is largely overlooked today. For instance, Du Mont was responsible for a number of important technical advancements that improved the quality of radio and television reception. He also produced the first commercially available fully-electronic television receiver and developed the first television network within the United States.
Despite these accomplishments, Allen Du Mont expressed a sense of regret concerning the manner in which these technologies had been employed by others. In a 1961 speech to the Institute of Electrical Engineers, Du Mont remarked upon the distressing quality of available television programming when he said, “…My reaction has been that of the creator of Frankenstein.”
One historian who has chronicled Du Mont’s work continues by saying, “In a coda to this indictment of television, and his role in bringing the medium to life, Du Mont shared a melancholy thought with the electrical engineers who were honoring him. For Allen Du Mont, an inventor was ultimately powerless because he could not determine how his inventions would be used. ‘In our society, an engineer can create-he can develop but he cannot control the ultimate utilization…'” (1)
As we look at Paul the Apostle’s interaction with the Corinthian church, it’s possible to conclude that he may have felt much the same way. While Paul accurately communicated God’s Word, he had little control over what others ultimately did with his teaching. We saw one such example earlier in 1 Corinthians 5:9-10 where Paul sought to correct an erroneous application of his teaching in regard to personal relationships.
Another example was cited by the Apostle Peter who said, “…our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16).
The expression “All things are lawful for me…” may provide a further illustration. While Paul supported this concept in regard to spiritual observances or dietary restrictions, the Corinthians had apparently interpreted this message as a license to justify any number of questionable choices. This reminds us that while we are responsible to clearly and accurately communicate the truth of God’s Word, we cannot always be responsible for the manner in which others choose to act upon it.
(1) Weinstein, David The Forgotten Network [pg. 189] Temple University Press
“Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power” (1 Corinthians 6:13-14).
Much like the expression “All things are lawful…” (v. 12), the phrase, “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food” (ESV) appears to be a defense that some among the Corinthian church employed in seeking to justify their conduct. The idea was that since eating represented a necessary biological function with no spiritual significance, it was perfectly reasonable to do so whenever the body signaled a need to eat.
In a spiritual sense, this is a valid concept when viewed within it’s proper context. For example, Jesus once shared the following insight with His disciples…
“‘…nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him ‘unclean’? For it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body.’ (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods ‘clean.’)
He went on: ‘What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean'” (Mark 7:17-23 NIV).
However, a problem develops if we attempt to push this idea beyond it’s contextual parameters in order to rationalize our indulgences. For instance, a person who is driven by a psychological impulse to eat may be prone to gluttony, thus turning the pleasurable and necessary act of eating into something unhealthy and wrong. As the Apostle Paul also mentioned within the previous verse, “‘Everything is permissible for me,’ but I will not be brought under the control of anything” (HCSB).
A similar argument could be made in the area of sexual expression. Much like the act of eating, it is possible to view sexual interaction as a purely biological function, thus making it perfectly reasonable to engage in a physical relationship whenever the body signals a desire to do so. Therefore (in the view of such people), it is entirely permissible to pursue casual sexual encounters, engage the services of prostitutes, or maintain relationships with “friends with benefits” to meet such needs.
Before we consider Paul’s God-inspired response to this way of thinking, we’ll pause to consider what these verses imply regarding the future of those who are in Christ next.
“You say, ‘Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.’ The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also” (1 Corinthians 6:13-14 NIV).
Paul the Apostle’s reference to the future destruction of both stomachs and foods may lead to questions concerning the afterlife and how these verses impact the manner in which God “…will raise us also.” Here is how one scholar approaches these questions…
“If God is going to destroy the body, then how can it be resurrected? …Paul said, ‘Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods; but God will destroy both it and them’ (1 Cor. 6:13). On this basis, some argue that the resurrection body will not have the anatomy or physiology of the pre-resurrection body. On the other hand, Paul inferred that we would recognize our loved ones in heaven (1 Thes. 4:13–18).
SOLUTION: The body that goes into the grave is the same body, made immortal, that comes out of it. This is proven by the fact that Jesus’ tomb was empty, He had the crucifixion scars in His body (John 20:27), that His body was “flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39), that people could and did touch it (Matt. 28:9), and that He could and did eat physical food (Luke 24:40–42).
As for 1 Corinthians 6:13, a careful study of the context here reveals that, when Paul says God will destroy both food and the stomach, he is referring to the process of death, not to the nature of the resurrection body. For he refers to the process of death by which “God will destroy both it and them” (v. 13).
Further, while the resurrection body may not have the need to eat, it does, however, have the ability to eat. Eating in heaven will be a joy without being a need. So, the body that death “destroys” (decays), is the same one that resurrection restores. To argue that there will be no resurrection body because the stomach will be “destroyed” is tantamount to claiming that the rest of the body—head, arms, legs, and torso—will not be resurrected because death will also turn them into dust.” (1)
So there will come a day when God will eliminate hunger by eliminating our dependence upon both stomachs and food. But as we’re told in the Old Testament book of the prophet Daniel, that reality does not affect the future resurrection of those “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth (who) will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2 NIV).
(1) Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. (1992). When Critics Ask : A Popular Handbook On Bible Difficulties (p. 456). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For ‘the two,’ He says, ‘shall become one flesh.'” (1 Corinthians 6:15-16).
If a member of the first-century Corinthian church had been involved in an illicit sexual affair, he or she might have dismissed any questions regarding the propriety of such a relationship with a shrug and the following response: “Food was made for the stomach, and the stomach for food” (1 Corinthians 6:13 NLT). This analogy drew upon an assumed parallel between the physical urge to eat and the physical urge to engage in a sexual relationship.
However, there were two issues with that rationale…
“The Corinthians’ reasoning had two faults: (1) The stomach and the digestive process are in a sense no more than earthly and without function in eternity. But the body, through the resurrection power of Christ, is eternal. It has been sanctified by God to bring Him glory (v. 20).
(2) While the stomach’s purpose is to digest food, it is not the purpose of the body to commit immorality.” (1)
So Paul the Apostle responded to this erroneous way of thinking with a series of questions that would help enable the Corinthians to grasp the truth: “Do you not know that your bodies are a part of Christ Himself? Am I to take a part of Christ and make it a part of a woman who sells the use of her body? …Do you not know that a man who joins himself to a woman who sells the use of her body becomes a part of her?” (NLV). And just in case his readers missed the point, Paul made certain to follow up with the answer as well: “Let not such a thing take place” (Wuest).
As touched upon earlier, those who live to gratify their appetites in this manner are actually engaged in a form of idolatry. That is, they allow such desires to guide their course of life instead of subjecting them to God’s standards for His creation and seeking His empowerment to make choices that are consistent with His will. Much as Paul told the church at Rome…
“…if your life is just about satisfying the impulses of your sinful nature, then prepare to die. But if you have invited the Spirit to destroy these selfish desires, you will experience life” (Romans 8:13 Voice).
(1) Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary (1 Co 6:13–14). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
“But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:18-19).
As mentioned earlier, the city of Corinth was home to the pagan temple of Aphrodite, along with the one thousand priestesses who served within it. These “priestesses” were actually temple prostitutes who offered their services under the guise of religious observance. The fact that Corinth was a center for such activity made Paul the Apostle’s message regarding sexual immorality especially important.
However, this counsel is just as applicable today as it was in the days of the first century for as one source comments, “Paul rejects the notion, held by sophisticated pagans in his day and ours, that what one does with one’s body is one’s own business. On the contrary, he reminds his readers that their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.” (1)
The “one flesh” relationship between husband and wife referenced here within 1 Corinthians 6:16 serves to illustrate the type of intimate relationship that God seeks to enjoy with His people on a spiritual level: “…the one who is united and joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him” (AMP). This aspect of our relationship with God is something that Paul reiterated in his Biblical letter to the church at Ephesus…
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery-but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32 NIV).
This helps explain why the Scriptures reserve the physical aspect of a male-female relationship exclusively for those who have made a lawful and permanent commitment to one another. This commitment is expressed by the formal act of marriage where the couple unites together as one and publicly vows to forsake all others. While other types of sexual encounters may create a union, they don’t create a marriage. (2)
Those who engage in sexual expressions that fall outside these Biblical parameters may enjoy the benefits of marriage without the obligations and responsibilities that go along with such relationships, but as one commentator has aptly observed, “Sex outside of marriage is like a man robbing a bank: he gets something, but it is not his and he will one day pay for it.” (3)
(1) Asbury Bible Commentary, Eugene E. Carpenter, D. Immorality: Prostitution (6:12â€“20) https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/asbury-bible-commentary/Immorality-Prostitution
(2) Charles C Ryrie, Ryrie Study Notes [1 Cor. 6:16]
(3) Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, Consider The Lord (6:9-20) [pg. 470] quoted in Dr. Constable’s Expository Notes Copyright Â© 2016 Thomas L. Constable [6:15] http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/htm/NT/1 Corinthians/1Corinthians.htm#_edn230
“Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18 NIV).
One of the best examples to illustrate the Biblical admonition to “Flee sexual immorality” (NKJV) can be found in the experience of Joseph, a well-known Biblical personality who served to exemplify this principle within his own life…
“Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And it came to pass after these things that his master’s wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, ‘Lie with me.’
But he refused and said to his master’s wife, ‘Look, my master does not know what is with me in the house, and he has committed all that he has to my hand. There is no one greater in this house than I, nor has he kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’
So it was, as she spoke to Joseph day by day, that he did not heed her, to lie with her or to be with her” (Genesis 39:6-10).
So Joseph refused to take advantage of the trust that his master had invested in him. But more importantly, Joseph recognized that it would have been a sin against God to take something which did not belong to him (namely, a physical relationship with his master’s wife). In light of this, Joseph made certain to implement some common sense precautions to help ensure that he would never be placed in a position where his body might begin to do his thinking for him.
However, there came a time where Joseph had to employ the principle found here in 1 Corinthians 6:18 in a very literal sense…
“But it happened about this time, when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside, that she caught him by his garment, saying, ‘Lie with me.‘ But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside” (Genesis 39:11-12).
Just as in other areas of life, physical desire is a good thing that can become something wrong when expressed in an inappropriate manner. To help ensure that we use this gift in the way that God intended, Joseph’s example reminds us to set definite physical limits in our non-marital relationships. Doing so can help us “Avoid immorality” (GNB) and escape those situations where we might be tempted to do something inappropriate.
“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
Earlier within this letter to the Corinthian church, Paul the Apostle provided his audience with both a reminder and a warning: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 NIV).
Here now in chapter six, Paul builds upon this idea in an individual sense as well: “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?” (NLT). The implication is clear; to misuse our bodies in a sexually immoral manner is likened to an act of desecration.
The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel provides us with a graphic description of this concept…
“Therefore as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because you have defiled my sanctuary with all your vile images and detestable practices, I myself will withdraw my favor; I will not look on you with pity or spare you” (Ezekiel 3:11).
In Ezekiel’s day, God’s sanctuary was located at a particular place- the temple at Jerusalem. (1) Today, 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 and 6:19-20 tell us that God’s sanctuary is located within and among His people. Therefore, we would do well to consider a sobering possibility: to desecrate God’s sanctuary with the modern-day equivalents of “…vile images and detestable practices” is to invite Him to respond in a similar manner.
If confronted with our involvement in such things, we might be tempted to fall back upon the human tendency to rationalize or excuse our choices. But a far more appropriate response can be found within 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” As Paul will later go on to remind the Corinthians, “…if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment” (1 Corinthians 11:31).
In the words of one commentator, “…the individual who partakes of the nature of God’s temple belongs not to himself but to God; and thus he is not free to indulge his lusts and appetites but is obligated to conform his activities to those things which will honor and glorify the Lord whose property the Christian is.” (2)
(1) That is, until the temple and the city of Jerusalem were destroyed by the invading Babylonians in 586 B.C.
(2) Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on 1 Corinthians 6:4”. “Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament”. “www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/1-corinthians-6.html”. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.