************ Sermon on 1 Corinthians 6:3 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 13, 2019
1 Corinthians 6:1-8
1 Corinthians 6:3
"We will Judge Angels"
Difficult Passages #22
We will judge angels. And, we will judge the world.
We need to look at the context to understand the meaning. The context is lawsuits among believers. The Christians of Corinth were busy suing each other. They were taking each other to court.
I Civil Courts in the Roman World
A What's wrong with taking a fellow believer to court? Verse 6 answers that question for us:
(1 Cor 6:6) But instead, one brother goes to law against another--and this in front of unbelievers!What's wrong is that believers ask unbelievers to settle disputes and differences in the church. What's wrong is that Christians ask non-Christians to play referee or umpire.
Did you know the Jews did not ordinarily go to a public law court? They wasn't something they did. Instead, they went to the synagogue. Whenever there were problems between Jewish believers they went to the synagogue and the synagogue would function as a kind of court. Thus they never aired their problems in the pagan world. They settled their own problems using the Scriptures. They believed that the Word of God, the laws of God, the revelation of God, had all the answers to the problems of life: whether it was family problems, financial problems, morality problems, property disputes. They saw no need to go to a pagan court. In fact, to go to a pagan court is to say, "God doesn't have an answer to this problem." To say that, of course, was blasphemy.
The Greek and Roman world was more than willing to accommodate the Jews in this area. They allowed the Jews to decide their own cases -- except the right to execute. Which is why Jesus was first tried in a Jewish court (cf Jn 18:31) before being led to Pilate for the death penalty. There was no reason for a Jew to go to a civil court because the civil court accepted the decisions made by the synagogues.
Now get this: because the Greeks and the Romans saw Christianity as a form of Judaism, they allowed Christians the right to also decide their own cases. On account of this, there was no reason for Christians to end up in a pagan court. Christians had no reason to go there because the civil courts accepted the decisions made by the Christian community.
Yet, the Christians of Corinth took each other to court anyway. Do you know why? They couldn't get the judgment they wanted from the church, they couldn't get the leaders of the church to agree with them, so they went to the pagan courts. Was their goal justice? Nothing of the sort. Their motive was greed. Look at verse 8: they went to the pagan court so they could cheat and wrong their brothers and sisters in the faith.
B What are the civil courts used by the Christians of Corinth? What I am about to say comes from the court system of Athens, a city about 60 miles away from Corinth.
In Athens, people first tried to settle cases by arbitration: a private arbitrator was appointed; if that didn't work, a public arbitrator was appointed. When a citizen turned 60 he became a public arbitrator for one year. If arbitration didn't work, a jury of 201 people would hear a small case and a jury of 1001 to even 6001 would hear a big case.
When a Christian took another Christian to court, do you see what he was doing? He went from private arbitrator, to public arbitrator, to a jury involving 201 or more people. In other words, the whole unbelieving community was involved when there was a dispute between Christians. Christians were making a spectacle of themselves in Corinth. They were providing entertainment and lots of opportunity for talk and gossip. Worst of all, they were putting disrepute upon Christ. And there was absolutely no reason for this at all.
Paul hears about this and he lays down a principle in our Bible reading, namely: It is a sin for a Christian to sue another Christian.
II Bring Disputes Before the Saints
A Now, listen to the strong language used by Paul in the first verse of our Bible reading:
(1 Cor 6:1) If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints?
Let me define some terms here. First, the word "dispute." This is a technical term for a lawsuit.
Second, the word "another." If one of you has a dispute with "another." Another what? Paul is not talking about neighbors. Paul is not talking about the guy down the street or across the street. Paul is talking about another Christian. He is talking about Christian suing Christian. "I can't believe that any of you would dare to do this." This shocked Paul. This shocked Paul because he was a Jew and the Jews never did this. It shocked him because he was also a Christian and he couldn't imagine a Christian brother suing a Christian brother.
Third, the word "ungodly." How dare you take your disputes before the "ungodly" for judgment? That term "ungodly" is not describing the moral character of the private or public arbitrators; it does not describe the moral character of the 201 or 6001 members of the jury. We all know that some non-Christians can live more moral lives than some Christians. And, we all know that some non-Christian judges can be as good as or even better than Christian judges. Paul is not saying that the ungodly are unable to give justice -- though Jesus certainly was not treated justly by the civil courts. None of this is the issue. Paul is simply saying they are unsaved, unjustified, they don't know the Lord Jesus, they don't know God's Word.
Fourth, the word "saint." I remember the time I went to the Getty Museum and I was looking at all those old paintings by the Dutch Masters. After a couple of hours I couldn't handle it anymore. Why? Because there was painting after painting of people with halos around the head. If you are Roman Catholic, that is what a saint is -- someone with a halo. Someone dead who has been canonized by the Pope and the church as being especially holy and miracles are done in their name.
What is a saint? A saint is someone who knows Jesus. A saint is someone who is saved. A saint is someone who has been justified by grace through faith. A saint is someone who has the Holy Spirit. A saint is someone who knows the Word of God, the Law of God, the will of God.
Paul is reminding us that there are only two kinds of people in the world: the ungodly and the saints, the unbelieving and the believing, the unsaved and the saved, those without the Word and Spirit and those with the Word and Spirit.
So here is the argument of verse 1: Why would you take disputes before unsaved people rather than the saints? Why would you go to the ungodly who don't know Christ instead of to the saints who know God? How dare you do this?! That's what Paul is saying. The point is, no Christian is ever to take another Christian to a pagan court. That is sin and a terrible testimony to the world.
B In verses 2 & 3 Paul asks a series of rhetorical questions. He is not expecting an answer because everyone already knows the answer. Here is the first question:
(1 Cor 6:2) Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases?"Do you not know?" Of course they know.
The saints will judge the world. Wow. The word translated as "judge" covers a wide range of judicial meanings: act as a judge, make a legal decision, arrive at a verdict, try a case, condemn. This is amazing to think about -- that the saints will judge the world (cf Ps 149:5-9).
How is this even possible that we will judge the world? It is possible because of Christ. Because the church will reign with Christ, it will judge the world. Or, consider the words of Jesus to His disciples:
(Mt 19:28) Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Cf Lk 22:30)Who will judge? Those who have followed Jesus. Again, it is because of Christ that this judging is even possible.
How does this judging happen? The nation of Israel executed this judgment by the sword, but the church executes this judgment through the Gospel. Through the Gospel we announce that everyone who doesn't repent and believe is judged. People are judged by only one criteria: the Gospel. Have they accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord or have they rejected Jesus as Savior and Lord?
Because of their relationship to Christ, Christians are judges in the Kingdom of God.
Now, says Paul, if we can handle that, if we can do a supreme thing like judge the world, don't you think we can handle "trivial cases" like disputes between church members?
I have sat with our elders as they have judged disputes between church members. They have handled these disputes as men of the Word. They have handled them with wisdom. They have handled them as men who know the will of God and the Law of God. And, I have noticed something else. Whenever the judgment of the elders has been followed, the result has been blessing for everyone involved. And, whenever the judgment of the elders has been ignored, the result has been a mess.
Sometimes, because the law of the land requires it, we have no choice but to go to court. One example is divorce. But even then the elders have advice to give, Biblical advice and counsel to give. They start with the Word of God in which God says He hates divorce (Mal 2:16). They counsel marriage partners to repent, to forgive, to be reconciled. If there is no repentance, or if life is in danger, then they don't object to court.
C In verse 3, our difficult text for this evening, Paul asks another rhetorical question:
(1 Cor 6:3) Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!"Do you not know?" Of course they know we will judge angels. This, too, is an amazing thought. We will judge angels.
What kind of angels? Who are these angels? There are good angels and there are bad angels. The bad angels are the evil spirits who help the Devil. We know these bad angels are going to be judged (2 Pet 2:4; Jude 1:6). What about good angels? Medieval Angelology identifies nine levels or orders of good angels: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels, and Angels.
"We will judge angels." We will judge angels the same way we judge the world: on the basis of the Gospel, either submitting to King Jesus or resisting King Jesus.
Now, if we can handle that, if we can do a supreme thing like judge the world and judge angels, don't you think we can handle "the things of this life"? That's what Paul is saying.
D Paul drives home this point in the language of verse 4:
(1 Cor 6:4) Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church!
Instead of going to court it is better to have the dispute handled by the least esteemed Christian. The least esteemed Christian is better able to handle a matter from a Christian point-of-view than the most competent pagan judge. In Christ, we are above the world. In Christ, we are above the angels. In Christ, even the least of us is better able to handle disputes. So, therefore, keep it out of the courts and go to the consistory room instead.
E Paul uses sarcasm in verse 5: "I say this to shame you." "Shame on you. Shame. Shame. Shame."
(1 Cor 6:5) Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?Is it possible? This question doesn't need an answer. No, it is not possible! This is the church we are talking about. The church has the Word of God, the Spirit of God, the Law of God, the will of God. Of course the church is able to make godly judgments, Biblical judgments.
We end with the strongly-worded charge of verse 7:
(1 Cor 6:7) The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?"If you go to court, you have been defeated!
What is to be characteristic of Christian brothers? We are to love each other. We are to forgive each other. Don't forget, a little bit further in this letter Paul writes about love as being the greatest -- greater than faith, greater than hope, greater than gifts. Without love, we are nothing but a bunch of noise (1 Cor 13).
So what is Paul saying? Christians who sue have already lost because they aren't showing love and they aren't showing forgiveness. It is better to suffer wrong -- out of love -- than to sue a Christian. It is better to suffer loss -- out of love -- than to sue a Christian.
A Christian has the love of Jesus in his or her heart. A Christian would rather suffer insult, injury, loss, damage, than take revenge on a Christian brother through the courts. A Christian is never motivated by revenge. Never. Instead, he acts on the basis of love and forgiveness.
We who judge the world, we who judge angels, don't go to court. Rather, we go to the consistory room. That's what Paul says to us this evening.
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