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“Why not rather be defrauded?” Paul’s question in 1 Corinthians 6:7 could hardly have been more countercultural and more counterintuitive to a Corinthian. Corinth was infused with the passion for status, success, and personal honor. The ability to achieve these aspirations through ambition, positioning, and image was considered wisdom. The Christians in Corinth remained deeply influenced—we might say infected—by this cultural wisdom, and their allurement by it had resulted in leadership division, toleration of scandalous immorality, and now the litigation of grievances before the tribunals of unbelievers. Their spiritual father was so shocked by this conduct (and the underlying heart condition it disclosed) that, though he had been previously unwilling to shame them over their misbehavior (1 Cor. 4:14), he now put them to shame (6:5) with eight searching questions in just seven verses (vv. 1–7). The Apostle found the reality of Christians’ taking other Christians to the civil court to settle personal differences shocking and shameful.

He was scandalized for two reasons. One, the Corinthians’ conduct betrayed their witness to what Christ, in inaugurating His kingdom in His church, has done (vv. 2–3), and two, it contradicted the wisdom Christ is giving and has given to His church (v. 5). Their immaturity and incompetence, evidenced in the fact of civil suits between believers, dishonored the One whom they claimed to know as wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption from God (1:30).

Paul’s remedy for this scandal was to apply the gospel wisdom of Christ’s cross to their grievances. The Apostle modeled this for them by coming to them not in the manner of the culture’s great men but in cross-shaped weakness (1:17). His embrace of the foolishness of the cross had rendered him willing to be despised and to suffer slander with entreaty and humility (4:9–13), and as he will subsequently tell them, he even gave up his rights among them for the sake of the gospel (9:3–18). In all this “foolishness,” the Apostle was simply imitating the pattern of the Christ whom he preached to them (1:18–25). So his searching question to those who claimed to believe his message of the cross and to be saved by it and yet were litigating for personal vindication and victory with one another was “Why not take up the cross?” “Why not rather suffer wrong?” (6:7).

It is not that Paul was preventing Christians from pursuing resolution of the (all too present) real grievances Christians might have with one another. But they ought to be able to use the wisdom God has given in and to the church to do it (v. 5). Christ Himself gave believers a process of appealing to one another in the hope of “gaining” the other when offense has occurred. That process involves the help of other believers and may even, in cases of hard-hearted recalcitrance, involve the judicial action of the courts of the church (Matt. 18:15–20). Nor is Paul prohibiting appeal to God-ordained civil authority (Rom. 13:1–7) in cases of criminal activity (indeed, ignorance and negligence in such cases cause much harm to victims of the crime and to the name of Christ). But when Christians have reached the point at which we are seeking punishment for personal grievances before unbelievers, something has gone deeply and dreadfully wrong with our hearts and with our church.

The Corinthian Christians needed a cross-shaped correction to their hearts’ orientation in their grievances with one another in their day. Perhaps we might also in ours. Paul’s pointed questions in 1 Corinthians 6 prod us back to the imitation of our Savior—an imitation that manifests not the self-preserving wisdom of this age but the self-giving wisdom of the One who gave Himself for our sins and who, by His Spirit, now lives in us to form us into His likeness (Gal. 2:20).

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From the March 2022 Issue
Mar 2022 Issue