1 CORINTHIANS CHAPTER
Going to Law with Brethren. 1 Cor. 6, 1—11.
The charge: V. 1. Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust and not before the saints? V. 2. Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? And if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? V. 3. Know ye not that we shall judge angels? How much more things that pertain to this life! V 4. If, then, ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church. The opening of this chapter is marked by an abrupt outburst of indignant feeling at the unworthy conduct manifested by some of the Corinthian Christians, probably such as were of Gentile origin: Does any one of you dare, when having a matter against another, bring suit before the unjust and not before the saints? Does any one have the heart to do that from which a just sense of Christian dignity should have restrained him? Does no one blush for his own audacity in bringing suit in this manner? The word used by the apostle refers to a civil suit, usually in matters of money and possessions. In the opinion of Paul it was simply unheard of that controversies among the Christians should be aired in the courts of the Gentiles. To him it was self-evident that all matters of difference should be adjusted in their own midst, by their own people. For it seemed a contradiction in itself that those who were termed unjust, unrighteous, by the Christians should be called upon to adjust quarrels within the congregation, to administer justice to the saints, whose moral dignity should have felt the absurdity of the position. "Paul does not here condemn those who from necessity have a cause before unbelieving judges, as when a person is summoned to court; but those who of their own accord bring their brethren into this situation, and harass them, as it were, by means of unbelievers, while it is in their power to employ another remedy." (Calvin.)
The apostle follows up his charge with a reference to their unparalleled prerogatives: Or do you not know, can it be that you are ignorant of the fact, that the saints will judge the world? This is the one passage of Scriptures which speaks of the participation of the believers in the judgment of the world. What was said of the apostles in particular, Matt. 19, 28, is here extended to all true followers of Christ. Cp. Dan. 7, 22; Rev. 2, 26. 27 ; 20, 4—6; 2 Thess. 1, 10; Jude 14. So intimate and perfect is the union of the members with Christ, their Head, that, when the Head appears in the glory of the Judgment, the members also will take part in this judicial function. And therefore Paul asks: If, then, among you, before you, the world is judged, are you unworthy of the smallest tribunals, are you incompetent to pass judgment upon comparative trifles? If they are to partake in that grand and glorious session of the Last Judgment, surely the earthly, the commonplace, the insignificant cannot be too difficult for them. How absurd for them to act that way!
To still greater heights the apostle rises: Do you not know that we shall judge angels, that it will be part of our functions to pass sentence upon the heavenly powers themselves ? The good angels are excluded as being already confirmed in their bliss and as forming part of Christ's retinue on the Day of Judgment. But upon the evil angels the believers will, on the last day, pronounce the sentence of condemnation. Satan himself, the god of this world, 2 Cor. 4, 4, and his angels, themselves world-rulers, Eph. 6, 12, will hear their doom spoken also by the believers whom they here tried to draw away from Christ. The final fate of angels their sentence will decide, truly to say nothing of secular matters, of things which concern this life only! Such matters the Christians will not consider beneath their dignity; rather will the assurance of their future elevated position render them all the more careful and conscientious in their judgment of the things of this life in case there should be a difference of opinion among them on any question.
The apostle now shows how widely their practice differed from the ideal state which he had in mind: If now your tribunals are held for the disposition of civil suits, if you hold them to straighten out your secular affairs, then those that are utterly despised in the Church, these you set up as judges. When court was held in Corinth, the parties were obliged to appear that had a civil suit to bring. For the purpose of adjudicating matters, the contending parties could then select a number of men from the list of the nobles whose names were entered in the rolls as possible judges; for according to Roman custom the contending parties were granted this right in order that they might place full confidence in the integrity of the men who were to act as judges. What an absurd contradiction! The Christians that were called to the hope of judging the world and even heavenly powers selected those as judges who, in spite of the respect which they enjoyed as citizens, were nevertheless regarded, from the standpoint of the believers, as devoid of all honor and respect. One can well imagine the self-sufficient, triumphant smile which appeared on the faces of the judges when quarreling Christians laid their case before them! What a disgrace to the Christian confession and to the name of Christ to be found haggling and wrangling before a Gentile court while confessing to be followers of the Prince of Peace!
The apostle's reproof: V. 5. I speak to your shame. Is it so that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? V. 6. But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. V. 7. Now, therefore, there is utterly a fault among you because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? Why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? V. 8. Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren. No wonder that Paul, under such circumstances, must call out shame upon them; their conduct is disgraceful and altogether unbecoming that of meek and charitable Christians. And he stresses this point still more: To this point have matters progressed that there is not one wise man among you who could make a decision between his brothers? Was there not a single man with enough experience to arbitrate a matter when a cause came up? He concludes that there is evidently no such man, since one brother is involved in litigation with another, and that before the unbelievers! If there were but one man in the congregation wise enough to settle such matters in private, surely they would have called him in to decide the disputes. And so they air their grievances against one another before the unbelieving magistrates. Was not that equivalent to a confession of bankruptcy?
Paul now lays bare the real root of the matter: It is indeed altogether a detriment to you, a bad thing all around, that you have lawsuits. From the very start it is a defeat for them, morally speaking, that it ever comes to that pass, that their differences ever rise to that pitch. Their case is lost before they have ever entered the court, and their action represents a sinking down from the high standard of pure Christian feeling. The cause of Christianity is bound to be harmed by such behavior, for the Gentiles will naturally judge the moral worth of the movement by the evidence of its power in the lives of the Christians. How the believers of all times should conduct themselves in cases which might develop into lawsuits according to the common experience of mankind, the apostle states in the more striking form of questions: Why do you not rather suffer injustice? Why do you not rather submit to fraud? Paul here reproduces the teaching of Jesus, Luke 6, 27—35. In following the example of Jesus and of Paul, the believers will be constrained at all times to suffer injustice rather than to afflict injustice. But the litigious members of the Corinthian congregation had not yet reached this stage of unselfish love: It is rather that you commit wrong and defraud, deprive your neighbor of that which is his, and that, literally, to your brethren! The spiritual relationship which obtains between believers should make them all the more willing to yield to their brother in love, but instead of that they provoke quarrels, they inflict wrong. "Paul here does not attack the court, but the fault of the heart that a brother summoned the other before the secular court, namely, before enemies of the faith. For to invoke justice and to seek the sustenance of life he does not prohibit, else a master would not be permitted to tear the lamb away from the wolf. They, however, sought their own vengeance; they tried to bring disgrace upon their brother. But this text means to teach us that not eagerness or desire for vengeance should be our motive for appealing to the judge for help, but rather justice and necessity." 37)
A warning to the immoral Christians: V. 9. Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom, of God? Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, v. 10. nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. V. 11. And such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. The apostle had just told the Corinthians that they were far from showing the mind of Christ, that they were rather doing wrong, that they were exhibiting a vindictive, unrighteous disposition in bringing suits against their brethren before the Gentile courts. He now enlarges upon this thought: Or do you not know that the wrong-doers will not inherit the kingdom of God, will not realize the consummation of all Christian hopes? Their conduct, even though it be due to ignorance, places them on a level with the heathen. And so Paul adds a warning: Be not deceived; do not let foolish ideas take possession of your minds. His readers were not to make the mistake that the liberty of the Gospel was equivalent to libertinism and license; free grace does not imply the right to sin. On the contrary, the sins which were so widely prevalent at Corinth and to which some of the church-members had been addicted, absolutely excluded the transgressor from the inheritance of the kingdom of God. To these flagrant violators of the holy will of God belonged the fornicators, those that sought the gratification of their lust outside of the marriage-bond; the idolaters, that worshiped strange gods; the adulterers, that broke the marriage-tie; — these three sins were openly practiced in Corinth in the cult of the heathen goddess; — the voluptuous, that were addicted to all forms of sensuality; the sodomites, that were guilty of the unnatural vices as practiced by the Greeks in such a shameless manner; the thieves, the covetous persons, the drunkards, the revilers, the plunderers or extortioners. Mark how the repetition of the negation emphasizes the fact of their absolute exclusion from the blessings which God has reserved for the believers.
And now the apostle, after his usual manner, reminds the Corinthian Christians of the glorious gifts of mercy which they have received, contrasting their present state with that before their conversion: And these things some of you were. Such stuff, such a set, such abominations they had been, that is, some of them; the majority of them had fortunately not been guilty of such extremes of vice. But these things are now a thing of the past, for they were washed clean in Baptism, the power of God in the Sacrament took away all their uncleanness, Titus 3, 5; Acts 22, 16; Col. 2, 11. 12; Eph. 5, 26. 27. They were sanctified; they were separated from the world and consecrated to God by that same sacred act, they were translated into fellowship with God. They were justified; they had entered into that state in which God looks upon them as just and righteous, in which He imputes to them the righteousness of Jesus Christ. And all this was done in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all gifts of grace have been made possible, and in the Spirit of our God, through whose power regeneration is effected. The believers are the sacred and living property of Christ, because the Spirit of God lives in them. Thus the entrance of the Christians into their state of grace is brought out in all its glorious contrast to the vile condition of the unregenerate, in order that the remembrance of these privileges may always incite them to a life that agrees with their heavenly calling.
The Necessity of Keeping the Body Undefiled. 1 Cor. 6, 12—20.
Christian expediency: V. 12. All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient; all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. V. 13. Meats for the belly and the belly for meats; but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. V. 14. And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by His own power. The apostle has repeatedly touched upon the fact that Christian liberty and license of the flesh are incompatible. The love of Christ is to regulate the use of Christian liberty according to the rule that all my deeds which I have the power to perform are to aid and benefit my neighbor; and on the other hand, Christian liberty will not suffer anything over which I have power to overpower me and to take me captive. The laxity of morals in the Corinthian congregation could not be excused by the motto: All things are in my power, chap. 3, 22. The fact itself stands, but it must be balanced by the principle of expediency and by the distinction between liberty and license. A Christian may have power to do all things, but he will find that all things are not advantageous, are not good for his own welfare. And again: Certain things may be in the Christian's power, but it would be foolish to use them to excess (temperance, continence), for in that event they are apt to get the mastery of him, and so by the abuse of his liberty he will forfeit the richest fruits of this liberty.
The apostle brings two examples to illustrate his meaning: foods for the stomach and the stomach for its foods. God has made the various kinds of foods for the purpose of being received and digested by the body in the stomach, and he has designed the stomach for the purpose of receiving the foods and taking part in their digestion. And God will finally abolish, destroy, both the stomach and the foods. So the process of eating is a thing morally indifferent in itself. But to become a slave of the stomach, to yield to intemperance, is obviously an abuse of the power given by God. The other case is more serious: The body not for fornication, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. One cannot argue that the procreative ability and venereal desire will at any time justify a transgression of God's holy rule about the sacredness of the marriage-tie. Fornication is a perversion of the legitimate uses of the body, which has relations more important, more vital, than those connected with this life on earth. The body belongs to the Lord, it is fashioned for the Lord's use; it should be found employed in His service. And the Lord will, in turn, live in the body, He will Himself be its true food and sustenance, John 6, 15. 33. 53. This fact is brought out all the more strongly, because the destination of the body is eternal life: But God has raised up both the Lord and will raise up us through His power. The raising of Christ out of the grave came first, but we, as His brethren and members, will follow our first-fruits in His resurrection, and our bodies will be fashioned like unto His immortal body. But these things being so, how can any Christian still yield his body as an instrument of immorality?
An earnest warning against immorality: V. 15. Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I, then, take the members of Christ and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid! V. 16. What? Know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? For two, saith He, shall be one flesh. V. 17. But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. V. 18. Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. V. 19. What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? V. 20. For ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's. The apostle speaks in holy zeal, with righteous indignation, without reservation, bringing the truth in its hideous nakedness. His aim is to bring to the distinct consciousness of his readers the abominable character of the vice which flaunted its banners so shamelessly in their city; he unfolds it in all its repulsiveness, by vivid concrete presentment: Do you not know that our bodies are members of Christ? Should I, then, take away the members of Christ and make them a harlot's members? By no means. Christ is the Head of the Church, and every believer by faith becomes a member of this one Head; he is one of the organs of that great body and is intended to function only in the interest of the Lord. Should, then, any one so far forget the dignity which is due to Christ and to His service as to make his body a harlot's member and thus become unfaithful to his calling and unfaithful to his Lord? The very suggestion fills the apostle with horror; for how could one choose a harlot in preference to Christ? How could one alienate his affections from their proper owner and center them in such an unhallowed connection ?
For fear that the Corinthians may not yet have understood him or might deliberately misconstrue his words, St. Paul amplifies still more: Or do you not know that he who joins himself to the harlot is one body with her? For, says God, the two will be one flesh, Gen. 2, 24. This blessing of God was intended to sanctify the legitimate intercourse of marriage. But he that breaks the ordinance of God and seeks the gratification of mere lust outside of the marriage-bond, becomes one body with one that is not his wife. But the word of the Lord stands: Carnal intercourse means unity of the bodies. Sexual union constitutes a permanent bond between the guilty parties, for the word of the Lord holds of every such union, whether lawful or unlawful, honorably true or shamefully. No presentation could portray the sin of fornication more exactly in its hideous repulsiveness than that which is here used by the apostle.
Once more he emphasizes the contrast: But he that cleaves to the Lord is one spirit with Him. A wonderful, real, lasting, and blessed union is that which the believer enters into in and by regeneration. For the act of faith establishes a bond of intimate communion with Christ, it makes the believer one in spirit with his Savior in love, not only on account of the gracious imputation of His righteousness, but also by the indwelling of His Spirit in the heart, John 14, 20; 15, 4; 17, 23; Eph. 3, 17. No wonder this fact urges the apostle to repeat his urgent admonition: Flee fornication. In the case of this sin it would be foolish to stand and attempt to give battle, for here "the strongest oath is straw against the fire in the blood." As in the case of Joseph, courageous flight is the only solution of the difficulty, Prov. 6, 28. And let no one deceive himself with the excuse that he is harming no one by his indulgence in this sin: Every sin which a person commits is outside of the body, but he that commits fornication sins against his own body. The sins against all the other commandments of the Decalog have their aim outside of the body; if they involve the organs of the body, as in the case of intemperance, they affect and injure only the transient, perishable organs of the body, and require for their commission some means that are taken from without and are in themselves foreign to the body. But the sins against the Sixth Commandment involve violation of self, of the inmost mental desires and physical abilities; the entire body is contaminated and dishonored, not only in one sex, but in both, for the Christian religion knows no double standard.
To make the Corinthian Christians feel the weight of his argument, the apostle refers them to the well-known dignity which the bodies of the believers as such possess: Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Ghost in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own, your own masters? "What are all the other gifts altogether," says Luther, "besides this gift, that the Spirit of God Himself, the eternal God, comes down into our hearts, yea, into our bodies, and lives in us, governs, leads, and conducts us!" Although Paul is addressing the entire congregation, he yet speaks of the body in the singular, in order to bring out once more the fact that they are all one in Christ Jesus. Each one for himself and all of them together are the temple of the Holy Ghost, who has deigned to make them His abode, to take up His dwelling-place in their hearts and in their bodies. And therefore they are no longer masters of their own bodies, to perform their own lusts and desires. According to the heathen idea, prostitution was a consecration of the body; according to the Christian idea, it is the filthiest desecration of the body. The Christians may no longer use their bodies for the gratification of their sinful passions, but are bound to employ them in doing the holy will of God. And to this end St. Paul concludes with a powerful appeal: For bought you were at a price; then glorify God in your body! We Christians were bought, delivered, redeemed, from the power of sin and the devil, not with corruptible things, as silver and gold. The price of our redemption rather was of a nature to make us stand in adoring astonishment and praise in all eternity: with the precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot, 1 Pet. 1, 18. 19. Through this redemption we have become Christ's very own and are to serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. That is the inference of the apostle: Glorify God in your body; let all the acts of all your organs and members be undertaken with the object of increasing His honor and glory, let your body be a temple wherein each man serves as a priest to the most high God in all chastity and decency.
Summary. The apostle rebukes the Corinthian Christians for going to law with their brethren before the Gentile courts; he warns them against various sins, but especially against fornication, since their bodies are the temple of the Holy Ghost.