By Steve Zeisler
There is a lot of bad advice being offered people today. For example, to
say that "Ignorance is bliss" is just not in accordance with the
facts. Here is another piece of bad advice: "What you don't know won't
hurt you." Deliberately avoiding the truth is foolish, of course.
The church in Corinth was famous for allowing the appearance of things to
sway them and thus avoid reality. In his first letter to the church at in
that city, the apostle Paul has been at pains to say that the "secret
and hidden wisdom of God" is far more powerful than the wisdom of man
for all its flashy appearance. Paul has been castigating the Corinthians
for living like kings in proud self-estimation at the same time that the
apostles themselves were being reviled and misunderstood by the world. The
Corinthians loved the appearance, not the reality, of things.
In our study in chapter 6 of the letter this morning, we will encounter
the first three of six questions put in this section in which the apostle
repeatedly asks, "Do you not know?" "Are you not aware,"
he is asking the Corinthians, "of truths which you need to understand
in order to live life?" Paul is confronting these believers with truth
which up to now they have been avoiding.
What do you see every time you look into a mirror? Do you realize what it
means to be transformed by the Spirit of God so that you no longer are what
you once were? Do you know your destiny now that you are in Christ? These
are the questions which should come to mind when you stand before your mirror
in the morning. If you are a Christian, what you see growing before you
is a young Solomon. All of the ancient world came to Solomon in order to
hear the wisdom that comes from God; they came for understanding and for
judgment. But Christians are being prepared to judge the whole world, the
angels, and everything in the life to come. Knowing the mind of God, we
are to sit rendering judgment as magistrates, so intimate are we with the
mind and heart of our Creator. That is our destiny.
These are the issues which Paul has in mind as he addresses this series
of questions to his readers in this chapter of Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 6:1-8:
Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor,
dare to go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Are
do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is
judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts?
Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, matters of this
life? If then you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do
you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church?
I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise
man who will be able to decide between his brethren, but brother goes to
law with brother, and that before unbelievers? Actually, then, it is already
a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather
be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? On the contrary, you yourselves
wrong and defraud, and that your brethren.
Both of the "Do you not know?" questions which the apostle asks
in verses 2 and 3 make essentially the same point. "Do you not know,"
he asks his readers, "that your destiny is to serve your heavenly Father
in judging the world to come?" As a parent, when you judge a difference
of opinion between your three- and five-year-olds, as mundane as that process
may seem to you now, you should be aware that God is using that action to
prepare you to one day judge galaxies. For months, our political leaders
have been unable to agree on a man with the qualifications to serve as a
Supreme Court justice. Yet all around us here in this building are sitting
people whom God is developing into judges for the purpose of adjudicating
in eternity. That is why Paul must ask the Corinthians, and us, the question,
"Don't you know what you are being fitted for?"
Apparently the Corinthians were in the habit of hauling one another before
the Roman courts to achieve what they deemed to be their rights. The name
of Christ was thereby dishonored by their inability to solve their problems
among their own family. It is nothing short of a travesty that brothers
and sisters in Christ must resort to the laws of a pagan nation to resolve
There is another, far better way of doing things. Just last week I talked
with two Christian men, one of whom had bought a car from the other. I was
struck by the fact that each of them desired that the other benefit as much
as possible from the deal. They even spoke to the elders of this church
at one point to discern if PBC could benefit from the transaction. The entire
thing was done with a beauty and an honesty that was truly Christian--just
the way brothers should treat one another.
On the other hand, all too often I have witnessed occasions in which Christian
brothers fought and disputed over business deals. Their main concern seemed
to be their own rights; whether they were being cheated and what was in
it for them. To resolve their differences they at last resorted to the courts
of the land. On other occasions I have seen Christian offspring fight over
their inheritance from their parents. As far as the cause of Christ is concerned,
probably the saddest circumstances in recent years has been the recent and
ongoing squabble over the PTL ministry. There have been lawsuits and threats
of lawsuits, investigations by the IRS, charges and counter-charges as this
debacle has unfolded. This is what happens when Christians demand their
rights and neglect to arbitrate their differences in the context of their
If, as Paul says, Christians should not seek to resolve their differences
in the public arena, what should they do? The apostle makes the point in
verse 7 that Christians have already suffered defeat if they don't get along
with each other; the fact that they even have lawsuits is an indication
that they have already lost. They should be willing to forfeit their rights
rather than go to court and air their disputes in public. That is the attitude
that ought to prevail on every side so that nothing be allowed to come between
In 4:11, the apostle demonstrated that he himself practiced what he preached:
"To this present hour we [the apostles] are both hungry and thirsty,
and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we
toil, working with our own hands, when we are reviled, we bless; when we
are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate;
we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until
now." When the apostles were reviled, they tried to conciliate; when
they were slandered, they sought a way to make things right; when they were
taken advantage of in Christ's name, they endured. They had no interest
in getting what they perceived to be their due; rather they worked with
their hands, seeking ways to bless others.
The first problem which the Corinthians had was that they allowed themselves
to become involved in disputes. They would be better off if they had allowed
themselves to be defrauded. But if they insisted on competing among themselves
over matters involving property, investments or whatever, could they not
at least bring their disputes before a mature believer who would serve as
adjudicator for them? "Is it so, that there is not among you one wise
man who will be able to decide between his brethren,...?" asks the
apostle in this regard (Verse 5).
Thirdly, the apostle expressed his outrage at their arrogance. Verse 1:
"Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare
to go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?" Why
were they so willing to deny the presence of Christ among them and the training
they were getting for their future task of judging the world? We sense Paul's
outrage over this travesty.
I asked a Christian lawyer friend to think about this chapter, and he responded
by sharing some of his thoughts with me. California, he told me, is the
most litigious society in the world. Here in the city of Palo Alto, he said,
there is one lawyer for every ten people. He described to me how disillusionment
soon sets in in people who come to him for counsel. They arrive with eyes
flashing, teeth and claws bared, ready to defend to the last their viewpoint.
But they become disillusioned because the system just doesn't work the way
Our legal system is deliberately arranged so that adversaries have to compete
with one another under certain rules of the game. People hire the best gunslinger
available and proceed to fight to the end, with never a thought for their
adversary's position or well-being. Adversaries seek to defend their own
territories with all their might, with the hope that at some stage in the
process justice will prevail and they will get their due. Thus the process
is deliberately designed to be adversarial. For the unregenerate, that is
probably the best system. Following a fair fight, justice hopefully should
But how different would be the result if Christians involved in a dispute
would only take their problems to a wise brother. As the adversaries and
their Christian mediator sit down together, they would do so as brothers
in the same Lord. Very soon, a concern for justice for both sides would
become apparent, not just personal interest in what is due one or the other.
As the name of Christ is paramount, the mediator's sole concern will be
for what is true, honest, and God-honoring.
Christians whose only concern is for their own rights, however, want no
part of this kind of program. They would rather partake of a system that
allows them to fight and claw for their rights. Any thought of being gracious,
honest and loving toward their brother with whom they are in dispute never
enters their heads. To the immature, a fight, not a reconciliation, is a
much more acceptable thing. That, however, as we have seen, is not the biblical
way to resolve disputes among believers.
In summary, Paul is saying that Christians are better off being defrauded
than fighting for their rights. If, however, they must dispute over a certain
matter, then they should not go public with it in the courts of the land
and thereby bring the name of the Lord into disrepute. They would be much
better off taking their problem to a wise, godly and impartial believer
and seek his wisdom in solving the problem.
In verse 9 we discover what unchecked arrogance and insisting on one's rights
leads to. Verses 9-11:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the
kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolators,
nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous,
nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of
God. 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 Christ, and in the
Spirit of our God.
Here is the third of the "don't you know" questions which Paul
asks of the Corinthians. "Do you not know that the unrighteous shall
not inherit the kingdom of God?" In their insistence on having their
own rights realized they were in danger of becoming one or more of the people
on the list which the apostle sets out in verse 9: a fornicator, an idolator,
an adulterer, a drunkard, a reviler, a swindler, a homosexual, etc. People
who insisted on demanding their rights were in danger of becoming like those
who determined to leave God completely out of their lives. Such people were
declaring by their actions that they had never come to Christ in the first
But Paul does not merely say, "the unrighteous shall not inherit the
kingdom of God," and then stop. He recognizes that although people
may become all of these terrible things, it is equally true that they can
be rescued from such a fate. In the Corinthian church there were people
from all of the categories of sinners Paul mentions. "Such were some
of you before you were washed and sanctified and justified," says Paul.
In his asking the question, "Do you not know," the apostle is
saying, "Don't you know how terrible it is to let yourself become this,
without the touch of God in your life. Don't you realize further that when
you were saved, you gave up being that kind of person, becoming instead
one who is 'in Christ'? You are no longer, by definition, any of the things
on this list. You have been washed. You are no longer unclean. You have
been sanctified. Therefore you must no longer consider yourself useless.
And you have been justified. You are no longer guilty." If you have
ever felt dirty, useless or guilty, the word of Scripture here is that,
once you came to Christ, you are no longer what you once were. "Such
were some of you..."
In these verses the apostle focuses again (having spoken of incest in chapter
5) on matters dealing with sexuality. The Bible declares that our sexuality
is given to us as a good gift by our loving Creator. If we do not use it
in a godly fashion, however, it can take over our lives and wreak havoc
in our experience. Having said that, though, it is good to remember that
our sexuality was created by God, and that it is given to us as a gift.
It is in fact that extraordinary power by which husbands and wives are propelled
towards intimacy with each other. The barriers to real intimacy are so imposing
that, were it not for our sexuality (what Ray Stedman calls "the urge
to merge"), we might stay isolated forever. It propels us along. As
John White says, eroticism is a "pathway to the end of aloneness."
That's what sexuality is for. It is to be the servant of intimacy, of our
marriages, of our growth into one flesh at every level--spiritual, emotional,
While our sexuality may bring us there, it is designed to serve a greater
reality, and that is, oneness. I have often wondered why God made sexuality
so potent and so filled with potential for pain. People have always chosen
to build their towns and cities by great rivers. A source of fresh water
is necessary for growing crops. That is where mineral deposits are made,
etc. Growth and life are historically found by great rivers. But rivers
also have great potential for destruction. Floods and drowning accidents,
to name but a couple, are hazards of living by bodies of water.
Our sexuality can also be hazardous. We all live with temptation toward
sexual sin. The tempter has many different approaches to incline us toward
this kind of sin. Some sin by denial and frigidity (Paul will speak on this
in chapter 7), while others give free vent to their sexuality. If you encounter
a fellow-sinner whose temptation differs from yours, you need to recognize
that you have your own weaknesses. We all live by the same river and we
all must face both the advantages and disadvantages of that.
I want to comment briefly on one of the sexual sins, homosexuality, which
Paul makes mention of here in this list. When the subject of homosexuality
is debated among Christians, this reference in Corinthians is always brought
up. There are two words used in verse 9, one of which is translated in the
New American Standard version as "effeminate," while the other
is rendered as "homosexual." The Revised Standard Version, on
the other hand, uses the same word, "homosexual" to translate
the two words. One word is malakos, which means "soft"
("effeminate" is a good translation of this word). The other word
is arsenokoitas, which very simply means "intercourse with a
male." Some thinkers who want to apply the insights of modern science
to the Bible hold that Scripture does not really condemn as sin a relationship
of commitment between homosexuals. They hold that this reference in 1 Corinthians,
and other references in the Bible, speak only to homosexual prostitution.
They maintain that there really is the possibility for Christians to express
their homosexuality if it is done appropriately.
There is no way to sustain that viewpoint from the Bible if we take into
account everything that is said about our sexuality. In fact, I feel that
the notion that Paul is old-fashioned and unsophisticated is put to rest
by his using two different terms to refer to what perhaps is receptive and
aggressive homosexual experience. This suggests that Paul knew people who
did these things and that he talked with them about what they were doing.
He was a pastor who understood where they had come from. Rather than being
uptight, Paul was a fairly savvy thinker when it came to human sexuality.
Modern science has not made any discoveries about the causes or nature of
homosexuality. It is claimed that modern observers are more sophisticated
than the ancients were at interpreting human experience. I don't believe
it. The insistence on having our "rights," the freedom to do with
our bodies whatever we please, can lead to all kinds of degrading behavior.
There are answers to the problem of sexual temptation and sin. What we need
to do battle against is the arrogance that glories in sexual sin.
Whenever we meet people we also need to recognize that we are just like
everyone else. All of us have weak areas, places where the river can overflow
the banks. None of us is free from weakness, therefore rejection and viciousness
have no place in our dealings with others.
We would be wise to examine our sexuality, to be honest about the weak spots
in the river bank. Rather than saying, "Well, this is who I am and
this is what I feel like doing," rather than redefining terms so that
we are inclined more towards sexual sin, we should remember that the great
promise of Scripture is that "We have been washed. We have been sanctified.
We have been justified. That is not who I am anymore." It is possible
to harness our sexuality so that good, not evil, is the result in our lives;
so that once more sex is that valuable thing that propels us toward intimacy
Although it may take time, and there may be much brokenness to be recovered
from, it is possible to harness the river again so that it will not overflow
its banks and destroy everything in its path. It is good to examine what
we are doing and the choices we are making. If we find that we are saying
we want everything, that it is our right to express our sexuality in whatever
way we want, then we are headed in the wrong direction and face great danger.
"Do you not know," asks Paul several times in this chapter. Don't
you know where you are headed? There you are, gazing at yourself in a mirror.
Do you know who you are looking at? Do you see someone who is being fitted
with the mind of Christ, one who will rule with him in the world to come?
If you are a Christian, that is who you are looking at. Do you not know
that what has happened to you in the past? Although the unrighteous will
not inherit the kingdom of God, you are no longer in that category; you
are no longer what you once were.
"Such were some of you," says the apostle, but you have been changed.
There may still be years of struggle left and battles yet to be fought,
but our great hope is the work of God in us, in the rescuing, cleansing,
transforming power of God.
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 Christ,
and in the Spirit of our God.
Catalog No. 4065
1 Corinthians 6:1-11
November 8, 1987
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