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1 Corinthians 6:1–3

“Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases?” (v. 2).

The first-century Corinthian church, we have seen, was a church troubled by factionalism, a lack of confidence in the gospel, uncertainty about the Apostleship of Paul, and a failure to exercise church discipline (1 Cor. 1–5). Other problems existed in the church as well, and in today’s passage, Paul begins to address the wrong way that the Corinthians were settling legal disputes.

First Corinthians 6:1–3 indicates that the believers were taking “trivial cases” to the Roman law courts, and Paul will argue in verses 4–8 that the Christians should have been settling such matters themselves. The text does not identify the grievances (v. 1) that were occurring, but clearly they were minor issues, matters that the believers should have been able to solve themselves. The phrase “matters pertaining to this life” in verse 3 refers to everyday matters, grievances that one did not need special legal training to sort through. The Apostle does not have in view here criminal matters or other serious cases. John Calvin comments that “Paul does not here condemn those who from necessity have a cause before unbelieving judges, as when a person is summoned to a court; but those who, of their own accord, bring their brethren into this situation, and harass them, as it were, through means of unbelievers, while it is in their power to employ another remedy.”

Paul’s anger is understandable in light of his Jewish background. First-century Jews insisted on managing their own affairs, for they did not trust pagans to settle disputes justly, especially religious matters. The Roman government gave Jews great leeway to deal with legal problems in their community, though it reserved for itself the right to impose capital punishment. Exodus 18, where select Israelites were appointed to decide small matters, likely factors into Paul’s thinking as well. As new covenant Israel, the church should be competent to deal with minor issues as old covenant Israel was.

The Apostle’s consternation finds theological roots also in the fact that since believers will judge angels, they should be able to decide lesser, ordinary matters (1 Cor. 6:3). Although Scripture does not give us every detail concerning the final judgment, it does indicate that believers will play a role in judging and reigning over creation (Matt. 19:28; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 20:4). If at the last day we will be able to judge angels, surely we can settle minor issues among ourselves today instead of bringing them before an unbelieving world.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

John Chrysostom comments on today’s passage and believers’ roles in judgment: “It is a disgrace for Christians to be judged by outsiders over trivial matters, when we shall judge them in far more important things.” It is astonishing that we will judge the world (1 Cor. 6:2). That should make us more eager to settle minor things ourselves and not allow matters to escalate such that we seek legal redress when other solutions are possible.

For Further Study
  • Isaiah 14:1–2
  • Daniel 7:19–22
  • Matthew 25:41
  • Luke 22:24–30
The Bible in a Year
  • Numbers 26–28
  • Mark 9:30–50

The Church in the Digital Age

Settling Disputes Among Believers

Keep Reading The Christian Ethic

From the March 2021 Issue
Mar 2021 Issue