The Church's Spiritual Authority
Does this sound familiar: “"If you're in a dispute with another party and you can't seem to work things out, don't take the law into your own hands; you take 'em to court,"
This was the tagline stated by the host of the courtroom reality show in the 80-90’s called the People’s Court. Some of you will remember that famous intro…bum, um, bum, bum, um, bum, bum. Starting in 1981, Monty Hall the producer of Let’s Make a Deal produced this hit court room arbitration show that initially ran for 12 seasons from 81-93 before being cancelled.
This show was the beginning of the movement of court room dramas that only grown in popularity over the last 40 years on television. The list of these type of court room dramas is too long to mention but they grasped attention to the inner conflicts of individuals and it emphasized the need for those conflicts to be settled in the court system. Now the People’s court was not a real court, but instead, it convinced these conflicting parties to drop their real small claims cases and to settle them on the big screen with the People’s Court serving as arbitrators between the two parties.
What the show represents is a growing sensation for people in conflict, is not to overlook offenses, but instead seek financial and emotional restitution in legal means. Its not hard to believe that such a sensation was a challenge for the church. What the world poses as entertainment, the church and God’s word spoke against.
Paul deals with another issue in the Corinthian church where believers are taking one another to court over disputes. In our passage today, the church is challenged to remember the spiritual authority which has been given to her to seek peace among conflicts in the church. Paul teaches us in verse 1-8 with two main ideas about the church’s spiritual authority and how we must return to being judges over disputes among believers for the glory of Christ.
1. The world was not appointed to judge
1. The world was not appointed to judge
The practical nature of this letter for the church cannot be overemphasized. Paul does a remarkable job of addressing issues in the Corinthian church that are so helpful for developing our ecclesiology and the way we do church throughout the ages. In chapters 1 through four we looked at division among the believers in Corinth because of their arrogant allegiances to leader ship. in chapter 5, Paul deals with the churches negligence in handling issues of sin that had made its bed in the church body. Now in chapter 6, Paul handles another issue of sin among the people of the Corinthian church. This issue is the Christian response to conflict among brothers and sisters in Christ.
Paul clearly addresses the Corinthian church in verses one and verse four Stating the churches failure to handle conflict properly. It is important to note that the conflict being addressed is not with the world, believer against unbeliever. Instead, it appears that Paul is focusing on how believers should settle disputes with each other. The overall theme is that conflicts among spiritual people requires spiritual authority from the church to be involved. That does not mean just church leadership, as we have clearly addressed in our previous passages. We all admonish one another with Christ as our head and therefore we all have spiritual authority to speak truth with love towards one another.
CorinthIans in the church were not submitting such disputes to spiritual authority, but to pagans and worldly authority. Paul’s points this out in v1 and v4.
Notice in v 1 how appalled Paul is when he states, “do you dare go…” which emphaises Paul disgust with how these believers have taken these disputes to ungodly authorities for the sake of judgment. He makes the comparison for emphasis… you take your conflicts before the unrighteous instead of holy ones. He labels them unrighteous for two reasons. One because in comparing them to holy ones, he is labeling those hearing and judging the disputes as unbelievers. They are lost and their worldview is anti-God, anti-gospel, anti-Jesus. Secondly, as the lost judges of these disputes, they will not be capable to deal with such spiritual issues with spiritual wisdom from God. They may possess morality, but this morality is always biased and polluted by sin in some way.
Paul uses language to imply that these disputes had risen to the legal courts. Instead of dealing with sin of the immoral man, the church ignored it. Instead of biblically dealing with the conflicts between brothers and sisters in the church, these matt were taken to the courts.
Parents imagine for a moment with me. Imagine the next argument your children get into, one of those knock down screaming matches, where toys are flying across the room, hair is being pulled, etc. Now imagine that during the mele, you call a therapist to handle it. Not a family member, like dad, or grandparent. instead, you shun own parental responsibilities and you call a shrink. If this was a true story, I would hope that medical doctor would laugh out loud and tell you to parent your own kids. But sadly, I wouldn’t be surprised that this happens today.
Paul is disgusted that believers are not settling these disputes where God’s word is central, where is Spirit is leading, where his people are praying and humble before his guidance. Why would the human courts of the land,….or the advice of an unbelieving friend be any benefit to you in spiritual matters when the church is available to be a true help to you. It will not.
Civil courts can make rulings on legal and property issues, but they have no jurisdiction or ability to address sin or other matters of the heart described in James 4:1–3 and Matthew 15:19 (see the discussion below on possible concurrent jurisdiction). Therefore, civil courts are completely powerless to resolve the root causes of a lawsuit or to help people break free from the sin that is fueling their dispute. Only the church can authoritatively carry out the ministry that is needed to thoroughly resolve a lawsuit between believers.
Sande, Ken. The Peacemaker (p. 258). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
When Human Courts are the only option
Paul is not speaking about human courts as failing all believers. We trust in a sovereign God who rules all judges, all attorneys, all legal cases. There might be a case where regardless of how sinful it is, a believer in Christ takes you to court over a dispute. While the Lord instructs them to settle this in the courts, it doesn’t always happen in such a way.
Practically, this is when churches should do better in leaving disputes among believers within the church and even working together to resolve conflicts. If one Christian business owner commits unfair practices towards another believer, then the Christians should step in, even the pastors of these two parties to help resolve such a situation instead of taking it to the courts. How glorious would it be to see two churches working towards reconciliation with feuding believers.
Similarly, there may be times that the church has to settle affairs with unbelievers in courts, although such a situation should be avoided if possible. The spiritual wisdom of the church has no value to a unbeliever and therefore in certain cases, the church has to take legal action against unbelievers. One such case was the violation of religious freedom that was imposed on Grace Community Church where John Macarthur pastors. After initially following COVID guidelines at the outset of the outbreak, GCC soon reinstated in person worship services. The LA County health department began fining them weekly and removing access to church resources that the county previously allowed them to use. Eventually, the church was sued by the county and the courts decided in favor of GCC, repaying over 800,000 back to the church.
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.
Judges of This earth are appointed by the Lord and he can use them for his good purposes. While we find rest in this if believers in Christ ever do have to go to court, the command of the Lord is to seek reconciliation among our church family, within our church family. But if unbelievers take us to court, then we can trust that the Lord who reigns if a air and righteous judge
Romans 13 also instructs us in such a way to respect those authorities over us because they have been appointed by God. Therefore the church should defer to handle its cases within the body of Christ, not out of dishonor to the courts, but as acknowledgment to the higher courts of our lives. The Lord is supreme judge and therefore our disputes will receive his attention first and foremost where his Spirit dwells, in his church. Do this while showing honor and respect to those earthly legal laws and authorities that align with and do not impede believers from faithfulness. When laws and authorities stand opposed to God, then stand opposed to them with respect.
Transition: Now that Paul has again told the church what not to do, he turns to instruct them theologically, instructing their mind and heart, so that will lead to instructing their will, which leads to obedience.
2. The Church Has Been Appointed to Judge Rightly!
2. The Church Has Been Appointed to Judge Rightly!
2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life?
Paul turns to instruct the church as to why, logically and theologically that they should handle such conflict internally within the body. He must first inform the heart and mind before the acts will change. So his instruction is simple: God’s people will judge the world and angels and therefore, why would they refrain from judging matters in the church.
Judging the world and angels
The interesting statement from Paul here is an eschatological one. The Bible speaks firstly that angels will face the judgment of God just like mankind. Satan of course is the angel of light and he is included in that category.
6 And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day,
Also the world will be judged for their acts of rebellion of sin against God.
12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.
We have these two well known truths about the judgment of the wicked, both angels and men, but how does the church play a part in the judgment of the wicked. Paul states here very clearly that we are involved in the judgment. This is the basis for his argument as to why we can judge disputes between brothers and sisters in Christ.
Let’s consider a couple helpful passage that build on this idea:
Christ has been given all authority to judge the wicked
27 “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.
We will reign with Christ and judge the nations in our eternal union
29 and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you 30 that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
26 ‘He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations;
We will be perfected in all wisdom for eternity
6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
(Therefore) our current union with Christ and judgment of church matters is an already not yet practice of what is to come more fully.
This is the line of thinking of the apostle Paul as he states that the holy ones are capable now of handling disputes now instead of going to the courts of the land. Now we have been given the word of God that is sufficient for all life and godliness. Now we have been given discernment by the Spirit to listen and assess situations, filtering the scenario through the word of God so that we might judge or give clear pathways to reconciliation.
Let me go backwards then to the call for admonishment, which a few weeks ago I stated that all of the church are called to counsel one another. This is where Paul’s line of thinking in this passage leads us. God has called to participate in the spiritual growth of one another. **I know i sound like a broken record but as one of your elders, I want to hammer home such a needed application for our church…that we counsel one another for the glory of Christ. We must be listening ears and yet so much more. We must not leave it at listening but we must move to leading people to Christ.
This often comes in the form of mediation, which Paul mentions here. Before we looked at church discipline, about reconciliation between two people. But there are times, when disagreements are not resolved between two people and others in the church must become involved.
In Ken Sande’s book which i quoted from earlier, the Peacemaker, Ken identifies two terms that are helpful. The first is mediation. Mediation as he defines it is:
“If two people cannot reach an agreement in private, they should ask one or more objective outside people to meet with them to help them communicate more effectively and explore possible solutions.”
Sande, Ken. The Peacemaker (p. 26). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
But this intervention with a brother or sister who steps in to help resolve situations is at the point of mediation only giving advice and wisdom to aid in reconciliation. This would be the point that Scripture is appealed to and prayer is initiated so the church family finds peace and Christ is glorified.
But there will not always be sucess in church mediation and so biblical arbitration is needed. Arbitration is not the word used by Paul but it describes the most neglected peacemaking step in church conflict. Arbitration is the step in which an unresolved conflict among two church members comes to be judged and decided upon by the helpful church family member. That arbitrator could be a pastor or just a partner in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Either way, Paul makes this case in his use of the word “judge” in these passages.
4 So if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? 5 I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, 6 but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers?
Verse 4is interpreted differently in various translations because the wording is difficult to understand. Since there were no punctuations in GK, then the question mark was only applied by translators. That is why some of your translations reading as a question, while some do not. If you interpret 4 as a question, then Paul is focusing on unbelievers being unfit for judging church matters. This makes sense of the text and undergirds Paul’s argument from above. If its just a statement, like the NIV reads, then its meaning is slightly different. the NIV states
4 Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church!
If this is the proper interpretation, then Paul is referrign back to previous statements about the perceived people belonging to Christ who are of no account in the eyes of society. In his argument, even those nobodies in the church can judge disputes biblically in comparison to those who are unrighteous. This oddly also fits well with the passage. I personally prefer the later translation because I think Paul has already made the move from one side of the comparison to the other. He is now talking of the church’s role in settling disputes, so going backward to the unrighteous being ill-equipped doesn’t fit.
Instead, this ambiguous statement actually appears to make Paul’s case that anyone in the church who loves Christ and serves him obediently, can be this Biblical counselor/ arbitrator. His rhetorical question in v 5-6 actually further supports this view.
5 I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, 6 but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers?
Paul knows that the church has qualified people to step in and do what needs to be done towards a biblical reconciliation instead of taking these items to the courts. Paul is helping them see this in his instruction to them. Again this points to God’s plan for the church that Jesus Christ died and was raised for, to be equipped by his Spirit to lead others toward biblical reconciliation and be at peace. The Spirit and the word is at your disposal to make such peace happen for the glory of Christ.
What we as the church must do is remove the anchor of worldliness that we are dragging so that the church can return to practicing holiness and obedience in our ecclesiology. What this means for us is that when these conflicts arise, we don’t hide it from our brothers and sisters. There must be honesty and humility. There must be a commitment to getting the church involved in our reconciliation and a faithfulness to allow them to judge on matters that have yet to be resolved. The end goal is peace and we are peacemakers when we strive for such a goal.
The Church has been called to live righteously as you judge Rightly
The Church has been called to live righteously as you judge Rightly
7 Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? 8 On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud. You do this even to your brethren.
Paul concludes this section with a rebuke towards the sin of the church in Corinth for they have once again failed to judge these matters and disputes. Paul uses the term “failure” or “defeat” for the church in the way they handled it. Perhaps he is thinking legally of a court case being lost to the other side. In their case, they were defeated by their own sin, the sin of seeking counsel in the world instead of the church. Paul even seems to imply that those individuals who were pursuing this court case settlement were doing so with wrong motives, to harm your fellow brother in christ and perhaps even steal from him.
This is the basis of conflicts in many cases, personal retribution and seeking to get rich. This is how the world thinks about offenses against them but the child of God who is offended is called to live righteously.
But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.
Paul seems to discern that intention of their hearts and so the church has played part in such offense by allowing disputes to go to the courts instead of dealing with the heart matters within those who are disputing. This is where the church steps in a deals with the dispute on a spiritual level, on a heart level, praying that grace and reptentance would lead to peace between the two parties. If there is not, then Paul is commanding the church to step in a be the one who judges rightly over these cases.
Paul makes another great point about conflicts in the church that we should all heed. In the end, Christ has called us to turn the other cheek when we are offended. In doing so, we are called to live righteously before an unholy world even if it means that we refrain from rights that are owed to us. Paul is teaching the church that not offenses will be paid back in this life. If we are defrauded, we may not receive restitution in this life. If we are hurt emotionally, we may not receive an apology from our offenders. He asks the questions in relation to our own sin, “why not rather be defrauded or wronged?”
Jesus taught us this as he instructed his disciples. We will be mistreated, scorned, shamed, beaten, and even killed for following Christ. The apostles died as martyrs and there was never a legal case that justified their killings. They have not received justice yet for their murders. Their family was not given financial settlements. But the Lord Jesus, the great judge of all, will avenge their deaths. He will repay those who commit such offenses against his people with his hot wrath of judgment. Christ will bring about full justice in the life to come and until then, let us be satisfied in Christ even when we are wronged in this life.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.
In the end, we may not receive justice in this life but we hope in a Savior who brings forth full retribution of offenses against himself in his own time and his own purposes. In that we rejoice in the great judge of all.
Finally, we also look to Jesus, not only as our great judge, but also our great mediator. Scripture teaches that Jesus goes before the Father on our behalf, bringing us in reconciliation between God and man. He rectified the separation from sin that occured with our first parents. He calls us to the ministry of reconciliation as He applied reconciliation to us in his work on the cross.
Therefore, we live as Christ has called us to live and who empowers us when we come to serve as a mediator and arbitrator between conflicts in the church. We reflect the peace-keeping nature of our Savior when we put on peace and engage conflicts with the hope of reconciliation. Be peace-makers in the church and in the world for Jesus our Lord was the Peace maker.