The apostle Paul has now tackled the main issues plaguing the Corinthian church. He has condemned the error of the party strife that led to schism and animosity between members. He has exposed the folly of those who questioned the offices of apostle, minister of the gospel, and elder in the church. When such offices were ignored, rejected, or even despised, it became a cause for division among the saints. God’s people must learn to bow before the authority of Christ by bowing humbly and submissively before the rule of the officebearers. With careful reasoning, Paul explained the truth regarding all these matters. Not only was this for the good of the Corinthian church, it is also for the good of the church of Jesus Christ today. The church and her members today can use a good dose of the Word of God in these first few chapters of I Corinthians. They are the end of strife in the church.
But there were many more issues in the church of Corinth in which God’s people needed instruction. Most of these questions involved holy living. There are three sins in particular that Paul deals with in I Corinthians 6. We are going to consider the first of these three. We read of this sin in verses 7 and 8: “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? Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren.”
Members in the church were dealing with their fellow saints in a dishonest way. So much so, that they defrauded others, that is, they were cheating others, perhaps in business or even in their personal dealings. As a result, they were suing one another in the civil courts. Brother was going to law against brother. This may seem like a matter far-removed, since we do not find today, very often anyway, members of the church suing one another. But we will find that the instruction of God’s Word goes beyond this matter. It speaks of the sin of gossip and backbiting in the church. And it refers to the sin of retaliation against such sin in the church. That, of course, is indeed relevant for the church today.
I. The Sin of Defrauding
In verse 6 of I Corinthians 6, Paul describes a common sin in the congregation of Corinth: “But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers.” This was common in Greek society just as it is in our world today. In order to settle a petty dispute, citizens had the right to go to a common court to receive judgment on a matter. Perhaps someone owed another a small amount of money or perhaps a neighbor damaged another’s property and refused to pay reparations for it. Maybe a renter was delinquent in his rent. Or perhaps, even more broadly, a person’s name was publicly defamed. This type of common court, known as a petty claims court, is set up to give judgment on minor disputes.
This is what Paul refers to in this chapter. This is evident when he, Paul, uses the term “judgments” in verse 4. The term “judgments” here refers to common courts that deal with things pertaining to life. That is a petty claims court. The sin to which Paul refers in this chapter, then, does not refer to major crimes against the law in which a member of the church may find himself liable. What Paul was referring to was the fact that members of the church were going to the secular courts of the land to settle disputes. Two men who were known in the city as Christian brothers were standing against each other in a court and spitting out anger and bitterness against each other before a civil magistrate, an unbelieving judge.
Evidently, this was happening in a number of different cases. Since there was division and strife in the church, brothers or sisters in the church were venting their anger towards each other in petty claims court. They were indeed leaving a lousy witness to the very thing they claimed to be: brothers together in the body of Jesus Christ—brothers who were, or at least were supposed to be, different from unbelievers. In the Word of God we are considering today, Paul gives the spiritual antidote to the minor disputes that were taking place among brothers and sisters in the Lord. He points out that there were two wrongs committed by the members of the church in this regard.
The first wrong is that members of the church were defrauding others. They were dealing with their brothers and sisters in the Lord in a fraudulent manner. This was one sin, the worst of the two. The other sin we find in verse 7 with the questions Paul asks: “Why do not those of you who are being defrauded allow yourselves to be defrauded and to suffer wrong?” Some were defrauding, which was a sin, but others were retaliating by immediately taking them to court. Both sides, Paul insists, are wrong. The second of these two wrongs is interesting, to say the least. We will take some time to consider this too a little later.
But we turn, first of all, to the worst of these two sins of which Paul writes in verse 8: the sin of defrauding. To defraud someone means to deprive him of something by means of deception or the lie. Fraud is to say or do something that seems perfectly innocent and fair, but in the end is meant to take something from another. It is to cheat someone out of something by what may appear to be perfectly legitimate but is underhanded and wrong. Fraud can be a serious crime, of course. People have been sent to prison for a lifetime for some major fraud. But that is not what Paul was referring to when he speaks of members of the Corinthian church defrauding others. He speaks here of the petty disputes to which we referred earlier. Just exactly what were those petty disputes, we are not told. But obviously the disputes were of such a nature that the church itself could have handled them. They were just that, petty. The elders of the church could solve such problems between two brothers or sisters in the Lord. In fact, Paul says in verse 4 that the matters were so small and insignificant that they who are the least esteemed in the church, that is, the lowliest of God’s people in the church, could judge these matters.
Paul condemns such defrauding as sin. Your defrauding of a brother or sister in the church is wrong, Paul writes. The term wrong literally means wicked. You take from them money, or position, or name. That is wicked—unrighteous. It hurts them. It hurts them spiritually by offending them. You who claim to have been made righteous in the blood of Jesus Christ, who have through salvation been cleansed from such wickedness, are now doing wickedly. And by doing so you have given occasion for hurt, bitterness, hatred, and a desire for revenge in the heart of those whom you have offended. That sin in others is, therefore, upon your shoulders because you have done wickedly.
And that gets to the heart of the matter. There is a principle of Christian conduct implied in all of this. Defrauding is simply one way that we can wrong the neighbor. It is simply one way to do wickedly to the hurt of the neighbor. The principle this violates is that of the second table of God’s law: love your neighbor. Do not say or do anything that will cause harm or create hurt. When we gossip, backbite, or slander our brother or sister in the Lord, we in principle are committing the same sin as defrauding them. We do them wrong. We are taking something from them under the guise—I say, under the guise—of good. Gossip, backbiting, and even slander often come clothed in righteousness. But it is at its very core deceptiveness and wickedness, or wrong. What it takes from our neighbor is his or her good name. It is aimed at hurting the neighbor—defaming him. It is true that such sin most often is not taken to the civil courts of the land, although slander has been a matter tried in civil courts. But basically the sin is the same. Added to this, of course, is that members of the church at times can do each other wrong in what they do. I have had to deal with this in my own ministry: a falling out of business partners; a wrong committed by spouses or relatives of families. At times members of the church will take advantage of other members, perhaps borrowing money and not paying it back. Any number of situations have risen in the church, where members simply sin against other members. We say sin, because these matters are wrongs, that is, wickedness that ought not to characterize believers in the church.
Such is not only contrary to God’s law and loving the neighbor but is also aimed against fellow believers who as members of the body of Christ trust their fellow saints. It betrays their trust. This is why Paul writes: “there is utterly a fault among you.” It revealed itself in going to law with a brother. But the underlying sin was that, through these disputes, brothers in the Lord had lost their Christian fellowship and love. The term “fault” literally means “defeat or loss.” Wrongs against the brother, defrauding the brother or sister in the Lord, ought not even to exist in the church. It defeats the very purpose of Christ in the salvation of the church. It results in a loss of honor as the bride of Christ. Long before the stage that a brother in anger goes to law to settle a personal issue in the church, the matter ought to have been settled quietly. If not, the church only suffers loss. So Paul writes: “There is utterly a fault, a great loss among you.” What a sad state of affairs when the church is filled with this kind of activity!
II. Suffering Wrong
What we learn in verse 7, however, can be baffling. We read there, “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?” The one remedy of going to law with brother is to put a stop to defrauding the brother. Defrauding is wrong. If there were no defrauding, there would be no need at all to sue in minor courts. But the other remedy to going to the secular, unbelieving courts of the land God now gives His church. Instead of retaliating by taking the one who wronged you to court, you must rather suffer yourself to be defrauded! You must take the wrong! What kind of instruction is this? Let someone defraud us? Just simply roll over and let someone walk all over the top of us? Yes! That is exactly what God tells us here. Why do you not allow yourselves to be defrauded? Paul asks. Now, that does not mean that God’s people must open themselves up for being defrauded. It means they must, rather than retaliating by going to court against brother, let themselves be defrauded.
This did not excuse those who were wronging them, of course. This sin must cease in the church, first of all. The church may even need to discipline those members who defraud their fellow saints. But to keep this sin from going to the civil courts to be tried by unbelievers, those being defrauded must not pursue the wrong that had been done to them. The reason for this is simple: the Christian witness to this city. The congregation in Corinth was large. It had become well-known in the city. People knew what this church stood for. The witness of salvation from the sins that pervaded Greek society had been strong. Now what was becoming of that witness? The name of the church, but worse, the name of Jesus Christ whom this church represented, was being slurred. The way of solving the sin of defrauding was not to retaliate against it by going to the unbelievers themselves to judge it. If anything, these saints who had been wronged by a fellow member of the church ought to take the matter to the church itself to be judged. That was their recourse—rather than leaving a poor witness of the church and her members in their unbelieving society. But Paul takes it one step farther in our text: instead of taking it even to the church, let it drop! Suffer yourselves to be defrauded. In fact, there is a deeper principle implied. Paul expresses this in the first of the questions he asks in verse 7: “Why do you not rather take wrong?” When a fellow saint does you wrong in any way, be willing to take it! Be willing to suffer it!
God’s Word sharply teaches us here that loving the neighbor requires of us the willingness to let a wrong committed against us go without any kind of retaliation. This is not some new rule of Scripture that Paul imposes on the church. Our Savior teaches it to us in Matthew 5:38-40: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.” The Christian life consists in a willingness to forgive and forget. How often we ignore this principle. When an imagined or real wrong has been done to us, we think we should demand compensation or requite. We are convinced that the one whom we think has wronged us or who actually has wronged us must set things right. This Word of God to us goes against the grain of our flesh. It just does not seem right or fair. It is the hardest thing to have someone get the better of us and we just roll over. We retaliate. It is almost automatic, is it not?
Here were fellow members of the church that were actually defrauding other members and now God says: suffer yourselves to be defrauded. To suffer injustice or injury as a part of the Christian life does not often occur to us. We are so influenced by our society that always seeks to find blame for everything. It may have been a simple accident, but people must find out who was to blame for it and hold that person responsible for retribution. To forgive the wrong that has been done and to let it go as if it had not been done is not in the nature of man—not even the most advanced of believers, it seems. When a brother or sister in the Lord has been wronged by another member, or perceives they have been wronged (and perceptions are deceiving and often times wrong) then what must be their reaction? Turn the other cheek! Take wrong. If something must be said, a quiet answer turns away wrath. Certainly, to rise up in indignation and retaliate in words or deeds is not the virtue of a believer.
Believers have been delivered from the mindset of this world. By means of salvation we have been set free from the bondage of sin and Satan. Christ has worked in us a new life, a life that is from above, the very life of Jesus Christ Himself. That makes the believer substantially different from the unbeliever. We are a different people. We are a people who think like Christ. When Christ hung on the cross and was reviled by wicked men, He did not retaliate by arguing with them. He suffered their wrong. He did not come down from the cross and prove that He was the Son of God by striking the whole lot of mockers dead on the ground.
He was the suffering servant of Jehovah who had come to do God’s will. Let that mind of Christ be in you that is in Christ Jesus. Ah, the sinful flesh in us is somewhat taken back by what Paul here instructs in our text. It seems so unfair that those who were being defrauded had to let the matter drop. But those who are in Christ Jesus need to learn to suffer wrong.
III. Blessed Peacemakers
What now ought to be our attitude toward our fellow believers in the church? It must be the way of peace. Let us be known in the church as peacemakers. This takes humility and meekness. We must be ready to esteem everyone in the church more highly than ourselves. Such humility and meekness were missing in the church of Corinth. Look where it was getting this church. Look at her witness to the world around her. What type of witness are we leaving as a church of Jesus Christ? What kind of a witness do we leave in the church where we are members? Others are watching. We can be sure of that. What witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ and the life of Christ in us are we presenting to the world around us? We may not say that it does not matter. Obviously, this Word of God teaches us that it does matter. It is true that the truth must prevail in the church. But the church itself must determine the truth in a decent and orderly way. While this is done, peace must exist between brothers and sisters in the Lord. Peacemakers. God’s people must be known as peacemakers. Neither may we forget what Jesus teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”
Are we peacemakers? Do we seek the peace of the church? Are we ready in humility and meekness to take the wrong, to suffer those who act in wickedness against us? Then God in His grace will bless us as His children. May that blessing of God rest on you and me today.