(1 Corinthians 6:1-8)
Because we are not perfect and because we all make many mistakes there will be disputes amongst the brethren in the church from time to time. The Lord knows that we are all works in progress and as such we will say and do things that are not appropriate for people bearing the name of Christians.
God extends His grace to His people to cover the many faults and issues that occur from time to time until His work is complete in us and the Holy Spirit transforms us into the image of Jesus Christ, which is perfection.
And we need to learn to similarly extend grace to each other when we are wronged or suffer wrong and Moreno when we have offended or done wrong to another. That is part of our call as Christians. We are learning how to live in the grace of God and this life begins in how we learn to live together as the family of God now.
Here in this scripture Paul upbraids the Corinthian church who not only failed to live in grace with each other but took their grievances to the unholy human courts.
Parable of the Debtors
Jesus spoke about the extending of grace to one another as God extended grace to us in the parable of the two debtors in Matthew 18:23-35.
A king was settling the debts of his servants and the first one who came owed the king ten thousand talents. Now this talent was equivalent to twenty years wages of a laborer, so this sum was huge as it represented 200,000 years of a laborer's salary!
In spite of this insurmountable mountain of debt, the king in his kindness extended grace to the debtor and forgave the man his debt, knowing full well there was no way he would be able to repay it. This correlates to God forgiving us and showing His grace for there is no way we could ever repay Him the debt we owe Him for the sin we all had in our lives.
But there is a catch to this grace. The catch is that as we have been forgiven the wrongs we accumulated over many years, so too we are called to forgive the wrongs done to us by others.
We see as the parable continues that the man who was forgiven went out from the king and met a fellow servant who owed him a relatively paltry sum of one hundred denarii. The man seized the servant and began choking him demanding payment of the small debt. But unlike the king who forgave the man that huge debt that was owed, this man showed no mercy on his fellow servant and had him thrown into the debtors prison until the debt was paid.
The first man received mercy and the grace of the king for his HUGE debt but did not show the same mercy to his fellow servant who by comparison owed very little. The fellow servants in that place when they saw the inequity of what was done went and told the king. The king summoned the man and rebuked him for not being merciful to his fellow servant after all that the king had forgiven the man, and then threw the man into prison.
And so with us. When we have disputes amongst ourselves we must offer grace, forgiveness, compassion and mercy to those who wrong us because we received these things in bulk from God.
Let us look to Jesus for the greatest example of how we are to live.
Jesus suffered and was railed against by the people of this world, in particular the hypocrites of the religion in His time and ended up suffering death, even though He had done no wrong.
Did He fight back? Did he rant and rave against them? Did He seek ill towards them or take them to court for the wrongs done against Him?
No. In all things Jesus sought to teach and do what was right. He showed in the example of His life how we who follow Him are to live.
We should not seek ill of anyone, even those who seek ill towards us. We have been called to righteousness, which means in its most literal sense, to do what is right. And what is right is to show compassion, love, mercy, forgiveness and encouragement towards others, especially our brothers and sisters in the Lord.
Look at some of the things that happened to Jesus. Recall that He chose and called the twelve, including Judas Iscariot who ultimately betrayed Him. Judas was also a thief and as he held the money box for the disciples, he often stole from it for his own purposes, as we see in John 12:4-6.
Do you think Jesus did not know this? Of course he did. But he did not take Judas to task over it and certainly never outed him as a thief or take him off to the courts. Whether he spoke to Judas on the quiet about his behaviours we do not know, but Jesus certainly did not take him to task or kick Judas out of his inner circle.
In the same way Paul teaches the Corinthians in this section not to take one another to court over matters between the brethren. These things need to be sorted out amongst the brethren rather than the harshness of the courts.
Paul makes the valid point that the courts of the land are often presided over by people who are not of the faith and whose decisions are not based upon love of the brethren but judgment and recompense. You may well win your case in court, but you will lose your brother in the Lord and that would be worse.
Instead Paul tells the church to resolve the matters within the church and to seek the counsel of those who are wise in the church. We have the advantage of being able to take matters to the Lord in prayer and to be led by the Holy Spirit to find a solution, especially where the matters are not black and white.
The wisdom of the Lord is what must guide us in matters between brothers and sister sin the Lord. None of us has achieved perfection and so issues will arise. But when we seek a solution through love, not wishing to harm another or to gain advantage but rather to be reconciled, then we are walking according to Christ's way.
A Resolution Process
And the Lord did not leave us without a process for resolving issues amongst the brethren.
First we see Paul's recommendation to take disputes to those who are wise in the church to seek a resolution. These people would typically be the elders of the church and would hopefully have the advantages of wisdom learned through life, extensive life skills and also a deep understanding of the word of God that can guide their thinking and deliberations.
Also where a sin may be involved or where someone has wronged another brother or sister in the Lord, Jesus gave an explicit process for dealing with such matters, all of which were designed to come to a solution that would hopefully keep the brethren together and without ongoing issues. He discusses this process in the following scripture.
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. – (Matthew 18:15-17)
There are three phase to this approach recommended by the Lord. First, go to the one who has wronged you between you and them alone and discuss the matter. Who knows, they may not realize they have upset you or wronged you or you may have misunderstood them. Either way, if it can be sorted out between you both then you have overcome an issue and kept peace amongst you. Also this need not be discussed with others for that can cause gossip which is not appropriate in the church.
The second phase though, if the person will not listen or disagrees, is to take along a witness and discuss the matter. The witness is an impartial observer who can ask questions and seek the truth of the matter. This would need to be someone like the person Paul mentions above who has wisdom and skills in life and the Lord to assist.
If the person still does not listen then the matter needs to be raised with the church, especially if it is a significant issue and/or is of a sinful nature. It should be taken to the eldership of the church to decide, as we saw Paul do when there was a dissension about circumcision in the church in Acts 15. This is the final step and if the person does not listen to the church but chooses to ignore them, then it is time to take drastic action. That person cannot remain in the church where their ways might taint the rest of the church and lead astray the younger and less stable members. They should be asked to leave the church and seek their own way elsewhere.
It is the responsibility of the eldership of the church to maintain sound doctrine in the church. They cannot allow the teachings to become polluted or diluted through allowing people to remain who choose to live sinfully.
However, if the person subsequently sees the error of their ways and repents, then they may be welcomed back. The aim of Christianity is not division and exclusion, but to bring people together to seek the truth and to find Jesus. We all make mistakes and we are all offered the grace of God to uphold us while He works on our human natures. Thus we must also be prepared to offer grace to those who have fallen and then repented of their ways to return to God.
Finally if the matter is not sinful and is not as severe as mentioned above, then we should consider Paul's point to the Corinthians. Why not rather be defrauded? Why not rather suffer wrong against yourself? It is better to do that than to go down the path of retribution through the courts or seeking vengeance.
Forgive them, not for their sake but for your own sake so no root of bitterness can take hold, and then move on. If the matter is not that serious, forget it and get on with your life. Don't allow yourself to fall into the trap again, but don't seek revenge or retribution. If the person has done something against you deserving of judgment, leave it to the Lord who will deal with it in His time and in His way.
Seek peace and harmony at all times with the brothers and sisters in the Lord. Remember also that we are being trained now on how to live as family in God in His eternal kingdom, so seek for what makes peace.
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