Study Notes for I Corinthians 6:1-11 (click here for Study Sheet)
Since the beginning of I Corinthians, Paul has been reprimanding and instructing the Corinthian church in an effort to help them redirect their focus to Jesus and become mature believers. Now he broaches the subject of their frequent lawsuits with each other.
To the Greeks, going to court had become a science. The Jews, on the other hand, did not believe in suing each other in public courts. Their tradition taught that disputes should be settled almost as a family matter. The Corinthians had been nurtured in the Greek tradition, and suing over disputes felt natural to them. It didn't occur to them that suing a brother in Christ in a secular court didn't make sense.
Paul rebukes them for taking their disputes before the "ungodly" instead of before "the saints". Even as he chastises them, however, he reminds them who they are in Christ. "Saints," he calls them. "Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?" Even though they are suing and boasting, they are still saints. Once people become Christ-followers, they are part of the kingdom of God. They may be immature and somewhat uninformed, but they are still part of Christ's body. Christ-followers need to remember that they're no longer part of the world; they're new creations. They are saints, and as saints they have the authority of the Lord Jesus.
The Corinthians' status as saints was not artificial, nor was it the result of reformed behavior. Their sainthood was entirely the result of being covered by Christ's blood and righteousness. In God' eyes they were perfect, forgiven and spotless because of Jesus alone.
Paul chides the Corinthians for taking their disagreements to public courts and reminds them that, as saints, they "will judge the world". Jesus had told his disciples, in fact, that they would sit on twelve thrones with him and judge "the twelve tribes of Israel". And now, Paul asks, if "the saints" will judge the world, are they "not competent to judge trivial cases?"
But Paul doesn't stop with saints judging the world. "Do you not know we will judge angels?" he asks.
Jude 6 says, "And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home-these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day."
II Peter 2:4 says, "For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment"
Paul asserts that the saints will judge angels. They will participate in passing judgment on Satan and his demons.
Many of us learned that there will be a "pre-advent judgment" during which the saved will help to reveal the character of God to the universe. God, this tradition teaches, will be open to the scrutiny of the watching universe. All created beings will judge for themselves whether or not God has been fair. The saved, this teaching says, will be "exhibit A", demonstrating by their loyalty that God is worthy of trust. Satan, many of us learned, will try to deceive the watchers into believing that God has been unfair in his dealing with sinners and Satan. But because of the loyalty of the saved and the openness of God, creation will judge God to be worthy.
How different from that teaching is Paul's statement! We shall judge angels, not God. How clever the deception is. Satan, knowing he is a defeated enemy of God, has succeeded in promulgating a flattering theory that the creatures will actually vindicate the Creator! The opposite is true; Jesus the Savior will, with his saints, judge angels. The saints will not sit in judgment on the Judge.
Paul is pointing out that as Christ-followers who "have the mind of Christ," (I Cor. 2:16) church members are more qualified to judge between the disagreements of brothers than is any non-believer. Their qualification is not a result of their being "on the inside" and understanding the workings of the church. Rather, the saints' qualification to judge between brothers is the wisdom of Christ which is now theirs. Because the Holy Spirit indwells them, Christ-followers have the insight of God available to them. The Holy Spirit shows the wisdom of the world to be foolish, and the world mistakes the wisdom of God for foolishness. A worldly judge would not be able to judge with the discernment of a Christ-follower.
Brothers taking brothers to worldly judges, however, is not the heart of the problem Paul addresses. "The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already," he declares. In fact, he states plainly, "I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother goes to law against another-and this in front of unbelievers!"
He further asks them why they would not rather be wronged and cheated than to sue each other. In fact, not only are they suing each other, but they are actively cheating and wronging each other.
Christ-followers cannot act in unity if they are at odds with each other. The Corinthians are dividing the body of Christ by taking each other to court instead of quietly settling their disputes. The church loses its power against darkness and deception when it drains away its energy by members fighting members. The church is the temple of the Holy Spirit, but when the members are fighting, they are not listening to or acting on the Holy Spirit's promptings. They lose their discernment and their ability to stand against evil.
When the body walks in unity with the Spirit, the church is the love and the power of Jesus in the world. When the church tunes out the Spirit, it also forfeits its power in the ongoing battle of spiritual warfare.
Guard Against Deception
Paul reminds the Corinthians that "the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God," and then he warns them not to be deceived. "Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." He drives home his point by declaring, "That is what some of you were."
We all tend to rationalize. From the inside, our particular sins don't look like sins to us. They seem like rational choices in difficult situations. We can usually agree that our "sins" grow out of complex circumstances. We usually can't admit that we've rationalized our way into sin by calling it something else.
We all experience financial difficulty or unhealthy relationships or extreme need or high stress or lack of appreciation or manipulation or despair. Our problems escalate, though, when we use these difficulties to justify greed or swindling or gossiping or adultery or drunkenness. We deceive ourselves when we rationalize our sins instead of seeing them for what they are.
When we excuse worldly behavior in ourselves, we are forgetting who we are in Christ. One of Satan's most effective deceptions is to have us believe that our character flaws define us. "I am an alcoholic," we might say, or "I am a homosexual," or "I am a gambler." We spend the rest of our lives in despair or in "recovery" from our weaknesses.
In Jesus, however, we are saints. "I am a saint, a child of God," we can say. And if I am a saint, I cannot also be an alcoholic or a homosexual or a gambler. While it's true that our sinful flesh has those weaknesses, they no longer define or rule us. The Holy Spirit who seals our identity as a saint, a born-again child of God, literally resurrects our dead souls, and we become new. We no longer have to fear our fatal flaws. In Jesus we are loved, saved, empowered with His healing. When we awaken to our new identities, our old ones begin to fade away.
Our recovery is not up to us. Paul says in Philippians1:6, "being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." As Christ-followers we can depend on the Holy Spirit to complete our new identities. Our job is to stay connected to Jesus, to continually submit our decisions and plans and desires to him. As we're connected, the Holy Spirit continues to reveal hidden places in our hearts and minds that need to be cleaned and healed. Our responsibility is to face the truth as God shows it to us, not denying or running from it. To the extent to which we are willing to face our flaws, to that extent God can heal and change us.
Our new identities in Christ admit us to the life of faith and rescue us from the natural life of works. Our new identities free us from shame and a need to rationalize. Our new identities open to us a new life of freedom, victory, and peace.
In Christ we are saints.
"Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him all creatures here below;
Praise Him above ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
All contents copyright (c) 1999-2000 Graphics
Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised April 23, 2000.