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1 Corinthians 6:4–6

“If you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?”

Understanding the background of 1 Corinthians 6 is crucial for rightly applying Paul’s words. Some believers read this text as if there is never an appropriate time to pursue public justice in a dispute with a professing believer. That misses Paul’s intent, for he does not counsel against every use of the legal system but only for “trivial cases” and “matters pertaining to this life” (vv. 1–3). He is not talking about criminal matters or the severe defrauding of another Christian. He refers to minor issues between believers that can be solved outside a public court hearing. Because of this, there are times when it can be correct to bring another professing believer to court. This is particularly the case in criminal matters where the church has not been authorized to deal with legal violations. If a believer has committed an actual crime—murder, child abuse, livelihood-destroying slander, and so forth—the proper remedy is the government’s justice system (Rom. 13:1–7). As John Calvin comments, “Public trials are beyond our province, and ought not to be transferred to our disposal; but as to private matters it is allowable to determine without the cognizance of the magistrate.”

As Paul continues to argue in today’s passage against believers’ bringing the civil magistrate in to settle their private affairs, the Apostle pours on a bit of shame to get the Corinthians to wake up and see the error of their ways. We see this particularly in 1 Corinthians 6:5–6, where he asks them if there truly is no one wise enough to settle their minor disputes. Remember that the Corinthians prided themselves on their man-centered wisdom, and Paul corrected them by pointing to the wisdom of God as seen in Christ crucified (1:18–3:23). By asking if there is truly no one able to settle almost insignificant disputes, Paul shows them yet again that they are not as wise as they think they are. True wisdom, if they possessed it, would lead them to arbitrate matters themselves, and Paul calls them to embrace such wisdom and keep minor issues in the church and not lay them before outsiders.

Paul’s concern, of course, is with the public witness of the church. The Apostle does not want believers to bring their relatively insignificant, easily solved disagreements before unbelievers. That is because if believers cannot settle minor matters among themselves, that encourages the world to question the ability of the gospel to settle larger issues such as man’s reconciliation to God.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Matthew Henry comments: “Christians should never engage in lawsuits till all other remedies have been tried in vain. Prudent Christians should prevent, if possible, their disputes, and not have courts of judicature decide them, especially in matters of no great importance.” Christians must endeavor to settle minor disputes among themselves and bring in outside resources only when absolutely necessary.

For Further Study
  • Proverbs 25:8–10
  • Romans 12:18
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:9–11
  • 1 Peter 4:8

Judging Angels

Defrauding Our Brothers

Keep Reading The Christian Ethic

From the March 2021 Issue
Mar 2021 Issue