1 Corinthians 6:1-11
Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?…
The chapter opens abruptly. "Dare any of you" - a strong expression of disapproval - "having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust?" Judaism had taught the Jews not to go before Gentile judges with a lawsuit against their brethren; the Romans had accorded to the Jews the right to settle their disputes among themselves, and Christians at that time might avail themselves of this rule (Lunge). But St. Paul, true to his ruling method, views the matter from Christian ground and treats it solely on the principles of the gospel. The argument in the preceding chapter concerned social relations, the present argument applies to civil relations, and yet they are sympathetic in his mind. Emotion is an associative force, and often establishes or rather discloses connections of ideas not perceptible in the "dry light" of intellect. In both these arguments the underlying sentiment is the same, viz. the dignity of Christian character and the supremacy of its obligations over interest, custom, usage, and every form of self not compatible with the generous spirit of sacrifice "for Christ's sake." Bear in mind, then, in reading St. Paul's Epistles, that if at times you lose the compactness of logic and its tenacious unity, you are always sure to find that more interior tie which binds thought to sentiment and displaces order for the gain of a higher method. Method, rather than order, marks the thinker whose vocation is to instruct the mass of mankind. Saints, as saints exist in the ideal of Christianity, "shall judge the world." They are to rule with Christ, to share his glory, and be acknowledged by the universe as participants in the final triumph of his mediatorial authority. If so, the mediatorial honour in future prospect has a certain scope of present activity, since it could not be then unless it were now. Of the character of these functions and the circumstances incident to their display, what know we? They fall under that law of reserve which the Lord Jesus spoke of when he said, "Of the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power," we are kept ignorant, and are the better for the ignorance. Details of great facts may intensify the intellect of sense, and work damage to the higher mind. If Christ was the Son of man, and as such filled the sphere of humanity, while admitting as such the limitation of his knowledge in one direction, viz. "of that day and hour knoweth no man," surely we need not perplex ourselves as to specific theories bearing on this subject. Christianity lays the stress on intelligence rather than on information, and, in fact, assures us that restraint is essential in our condition to equable development. St. Paul argues from the future to the present; thus, "shall judge the world,... shall judge angels;" and the conclusion is emphasized, - "how much more things that pertain to this life!" On this ground of the spiritual superiority of the saints in Christ, he claims that the judgment of believers may now be most advantageously exercised. It is a training in the school of Christ, and the discipline, while varied, is adapted to the highest good. Does St. Paul mean to put earthly tribunals under the ban? By no means. Again and again he sought their protection against Jews and Gentiles, and, if Roman law had not befriended him, his apostleship as men reason would have had a speedy termination. Who was more explicit and earnest than he in urging the doctrine that human government was a Divine ordinance, and as such to be obeyed and honoured? And who among statesmen and philosophers ever saw as deeply into the nature and functions of sovereignty as an essential element of the idea of man in the scheme of the universe? In law, in its administration of justice, in its protection of persons and property, in its power to verify and conserve the multitudinous interests of society, he recognized the right arm of Providence. The sense of providence must be social no less than individual, must transcend geographical bounds, and embrace the human family as a family of "one blood," or it failed of its office. So, then, he has no issue with law and its adjudications as such. But the uses of the law by Christians; the common and facile resort to it in order to gratify covetousness, pride, ambition, revenge, and any and every form of selfishness; - that is the grave matter before his mind. "There is utterly a fault among you," a weakness, a repudiation of noble sentiment, a departure from the idea of the true self in Christ, "because ye go to law one with another" before unbelievers; brother arrayed against brother; and this exposure of a mutilated unity, with its accompanying evils, made in the presence of men whose criticisms would be only too eager to detect and magnify your imperfections. This is one aspect of the matter. But you gain your rights. Ay, and rights may be purchased too dearly. Go to law and get your rights; and then, as you retire from the seat of judgment, think of what you leave behind you - what losses of sentiment, trust in others, hope of humanity, brotherliness of heart, perchance even integrity and honour. Right and rights, how often they part company, and the one is the burlesque, the shame, the bitter contempt of the other! "Rather take wrong;" it is altogether a manlier thing, if done for Christ's sake. Lord Erskine, when at the bar, once said to Dr. Parr, "Accommodate the difference amicably.... I can scarcely figure to myself a situation in which a lawsuit is not, if possible, to be avoided." This is another aspect of the matter. Alas! there is an aspect yet sadder. Law is used as a means to inflict a wrong. "Ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren." What gigantic wrongs have been perpetrated under the name of law, we all know; but who can tell how far this spirit, which uses justice to accomplish injustice, has gone forth into all the relationships of men, and vitiated life among the sacred retreats of home and the Church? The depravity of man's lower nature is fearful, not because it is cruel and brutal, but because it is continually reinforced and invigorated by the depravity of his higher nature. What is true of the individual in this respect is true also of society. History and our own observation warrant the statement that the grossest perverters of law and justice have been found among those who were wealthy, or in high office, or otherwise influential. Their example, in very many instances, has worked downward, just as certain poisonous gases, too heavy to ascend, have infected the air on a level with us. Then follows a question containing its own answer: "Know ye not that the unjust shall not inherit the kingdom of God?" His impassioned formula, "Be not deceived," introduces a catalogue of immoralities that shut out men from God's kingdom, in which we have a startling revelation, common with St. Paul, of bodily sins. Such were some of you. But how different now! - washed, sanctified, justified, in the Name of Christ, and by the Spirit. Would they fall back into their heathenish practices? Within the compass of a few verses, St. Paul gives us principles that permeate civil society no less than religious. If carried out, we should have much less law and much more equity, and both law and equity would be immense gainers by the change. The tendency of the argument is the thing to notice. That tendency is to give men a true spiritual conception of themselves, and to develop their thought of self in accordance with God's thought of them. The sense of public justice may compel us to resort to law, but this will not conflict with St. Paul's idea. 'On the other hand, any abuse of an institution, whether governmental or domestic, whether ecclesiastical or earthly, is an abuse of manhood, and on this truth he expends the force of his reasoning. In these verses, as in the previous chapters, arguing, denouncing, exhorting, pleading, - it is the voice of a grand doctrine and a lofty trust and a sublime hope that we hear. And we hear it in the midst of strife and turbulence, out of the depths of a heart most sorrowful and yet "always rejoicing," and able to command itself and its faculties and resources whenever and wherever needed. - L.
Parallel VersesKJV: Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?