1 Corinthians 6:1-8
Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?…
The Greeks were not only quarrelsome, but derived an excitement pleasant to their frivolous nature in going to law. The Christians seemed not to have discarded this taste. St. Paul has been telling them they have nothing to do with judging the heathen; he now proceeds to remind them that they ought not to be judged by them. How could he preach the superiority of Christianity if Christians had so little common sense, so little esprit de corps, that they must call in a heathen to settle their disputes for them? St. Paul's reasons are important.
I. THE SAINTS ARE DESTINED TO JUDGE THE WORLD AND ANGELS. Shall they not then be considered fit to judge little worldly matters of L s. d.?
1. St. Paul meant that ultimately holy men will be at the head of affairs, acknowledged as the fittest to discern between right and wrong. We shrink from such a thought; not, indeed, that we are slow to pronounce judgment upon our fellow-men, but to do so officially, with definite results, seems too heavy a responsibility. But why? If we submit ourselves now to those who have knowledge of law we may well be content to be judged by the perfectly holy by and by.
2. If holiness shall eventually be supreme, it ought now to be regarded as competent to settle the petty disputes which arise among us (ver. 3). The future kingdom of God can only be perfect as its subjects carry into it characters tending towards perfection. The future is not to make us, but we the future. Earth is not heaven only because men decline to make it so. And as all possible differences in heaven will be adjusted by an all-reconciling authority, there ought to be among the heirs of heaven no going to law now.
3. A vast proportion of legal business is created by changes from which the future life is exempt: death, marriage, disasters, &c. It is often in the power of a lawyer to give a man advice which will save his conscience and bring comfort into a family instead of heart-burning and penury. If the legal mind deals with the reality of things, and tries to see what equity requires, and seeks to forward the well-being of men, then surely there is no profession with such opportunities of earning the beatitude of the peacemakers, none in which men may better be prepared for the higher requirements of a heavenly society in which some are made rulers over ten cities.
II. IS THERE NOT A WISE MAN AMONG YOURSELVES? "A wise man" was the technical term for a judge in the Hebrew courts.
1. Among the Jews there was no distinction between Church and State. In the synagogue and by the eldership offenders were both tried and punished. The rabbis said, "He who brings lawsuits of Israel before a heathen tribunal profanes the Name, and does homage to idolatry; for when our enemies are judges (Deuteronomy 32:31) it is a testimony to the superiority of their religion." This idea passed over from Judaism to Christianity. And even a century after Paul's time the rule of the Church was, "Let not those who have disputes go to law before the civil powers, but let them by all means be reconciled by the elders of the Church, and let them readily yield to their decision." And as late as our own day we find an Arab sheikh complaining that Christian Copts come to him, a Mohammedan, to settle their disputes, and "won't go and be settled by the priest out of the Gospels."
2. Did Paul, then, mean that such legal cases as are now tried in our civil courts should be settled by non-professional men? Did he foresee none of the great evils that have arisen wherever Church or State has not respected the province of the other? No one can suppose that this was his meaning. He taught men to submit themselves to the powers that then were, and he himself appealed to Caesar. He had no notion of subverting civil courts, but he would fain have deprived them of much of their practice. He thought it might be expected that Christians would never be so rancorous or covetous but that their disputes might be settled by private and friendly advice. Courts of law are necessary evils, which will be less and less patronised in proportion as Christian feeling and principle prevail.
3. This rebuke is applicable even to a community like our own, in which the courts of law are Christian. It is felt even by nations that if a dispute can be settled by arbitration this is the better way of getting justice done. Christian people may need legal advice; but when two Christians go to law in a spirit of rancour this only proves that their worldliness is stronger than their Christianity
4. But some one will say, "All this is romance." Just as if the world could be regenerated by anything that is not apparently romantic! If a greater good is to be reached, it must be by some way that men have not tried before. And if any one says, "But if there is to be no going to law, we must continually be losers," the reply of a Kincardineshire lawyer might suffice, "Don't go to law if yielding does not cost you more than forty shillings in the pound." And from a different point of view St. Paul replies, "Well, and what though you be losers? The kingdom you belong to is not meat and drink, but righteousness." If a man says, "We must have some redress, when a man takes a coat we must summon him, or he will take our cloak next," St. Paul replies, "It is quite probable that if you act as your Master did, you will be as ill off in this world as He was. But is that any reason why you should at once call Him your Master and refuse to obey His precepts and follow His example?" St. Paul then shows no hesitation about pushing his doctrine to its consequences. He sees that the real cure of wrangling, of fraud, and of war is not litigation, but meekness and unselfishness. The world's remedies have utterly failed. Law is necessary for restraining the expressions of a vicious nature, but is insufficient to remove the possibility of these expressions by healing the nature. This can only be done by the diffusion of unworldliness and unselfishness. And it is Christians who are responsible for diffusing this unworldly spirit.Conclusion.
1. Those laws which are to be our sole rule when we are perfect cannot always be immediately applied now; but there must be a striving towards the perfect state in which there shall be no going to law.
2. Paul knows that the Christian conscience is with him when he declares that men should rather suffer wrong than bring reproach on the Christian name (ver. 9). And yet how little do men seem to take to heart the great fact that they are travelling forward to a state in which nothing uncongenial to the Spirit of Christ can possibly find place!
(M. Dods, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?