What Kind of Church? – A Forgiven Church (1 Corinthians 6: 1-11)

Introduction – “See you in court”

Imagine two Christians falling out maybe over something petty – and taking it to court.  We would be shocked.That’s the sense of what is happening here (v 1). The sense is “How dare you?” The correct response is disgust, disgrace, shame. This is the second time that Paul has said the Corinthians should be ashamed. The first time in chapter 5 because they had failed to take action against something serious. Now, ironically, they are taking action over trivial matters and for selfish reasons.

The dispute is heard by a secular court” Literally Paul says that the cases are heard by t”he  unrighteous” instead of “the saints”

“The Unrighteous” here could provide A simple contrast between unbelievers and believers (saints).  Jews distinguished themselves as the righteous v Gentiles as the unrighteous.  However, there is also recognition that the courts tended to be corrupt and rely on character assassination. Court cases were often not about justice but about progress in society -recognising status – if you were from a lower class you were unlikely to win against those of higher status

They should not do this because forgiven Christians have a new status and that should transform our relationship to each other, the Church and the World (society).


  1. Do you fully appreciate your new status in Christ?

I want to highlight three reasons or motivations that the Corinthians had for not taking out lawsuits against each other. You may recognise them, they are recurring themes

Future Grace (v 2-6)

Paul tells them that one day they  will judge the World (v 2). Not only that but they will even judge angels (v3. The Biblical big picture is that when Christ returns we will reign with him, exalted above the angels (Hebrews 2:6-8), reigning and judging (Daniel 7:22, Jude 14-15,  Revelation 2:26-27).

So if we are going to judge the big things surely we can sort out the little things

Note that v 4 could be a question along the lines of “Why go to those despised by the church.” If this is the case, then Paul is not so much belittling courts (cf Romans 13) as being clear that they do not have the necessary status or standing in Christ to interfere and arbitrate in family matters.

Alternatively, it could be read as  a command: “Let those who are despised/ of little regard judge” -The point then is that even the least among you can sort these things out – this is  a witness to grace.

Notice the irony and frustration even of verse 5. “Surely someone is wise enough to sort these little matters out.”

Present Grace (v 7-8)

Paul then tells them that they’ve already lost because they are tearing each other apart and bringing dishonour to God’s church. We keep insisting that how we believe will affect how we live. So if a non-Christian sees us acting in a certain way, then they are excused for thinking that we don’t really believe what we claim about new life, belonging to God’s family etc.

They should have been willing and ready to suffer loss because as we have seen in previous studies, God’s present grace includes the call to suffer and to serve for him. God uses suffering to discipline us and to grow us (Romans 5).

Past Grace (v 9-11)

Finally, by using the courts to get one over each other, they were associating with and acting like those who still are opposed to God, the Gospel and His Kingdom. These verses captures the full sense of sin -sexual immorality, greed, deception, violence that mark out human rebellion against God.

However, note that this list is not about identifying certain sins that are unforgivable. It’s not about categories of people that can never belong.  You see, within their own number were people who could say “Yes I was like that” but they had been forgiven. They no longer belong to the world and its ways.

Some of them had been enslaved and entrapped by the worst aspects of Corinthian depravity But even the worst of sinners among them were cleansed, sanctified, made holy -transformed by the Gospel.

“the vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives”[1]

  1. Does our new identity result in changed relationships?

What does it mean for us not to take our brother or sister to the secular courtys.

Note some things that it does not mean

–          If you bump cars with another church member that you can’t make an insurance claim against them

–          That criminal and abusive behaviour should go unreported (cf Romans 13)

–          That you can never make use of appropriate legal processes.  E.g. where there has been adultery leading to church discipline – the result may be sadly the break down of a marriage and with that the need to sort out things like access to children etc.  I think that a decision by the church to discipline the offending party is vital in this case because it makes it clear to all that the victim is free to seek appropriate restitution

–          That you can treat another Christian badly, exploit them, rip them off, slander them, cause them material harm and then tell them that they can’t do anything about it -this  isn’t a loophole for the church bully

But then, given those exceptions, we are probably unlikely to literally take another church member to court. So how does this apply to us?

If it’s about living differently and treating others differently, then I think there is a wider application -we should not subject over Christians and the church to The World’s standards of treatment.

After all what we are really seeing here is the Corinthian church members pursuing worldly objectives of status and success but using the church to do it

Let me give a few examples of what this might mean for us.

–          Church leaders – especially pastors – don’t treat the church as a vehicle for your personal agenda. This might include the  career path where you spend  3 years at a little church before moving on to a better/bigger/more prestigious ministry. Sarah and I chose to make our life here in Smethwick. First and foremost we are part of the church family before I am a leader.

–          It means that we should not see the church as being there to simply serve our own  dreams and ambitions. God gives us our gifts to bless his people and to glorify his name not for our own sense of fulfilment.

–          It means we don’t see hierarchy of roles so that we look for promotion within the church

–          It means saying no to Consumerism. If I see the local church as being there to serve my needs for a period of time until something better comes along I am falling into this trap

–          It means avoiding gossip and slander.  If I gossip and grumble with other church members about another church member then this is likely to spill over into my conversations with colleagues, neighbours and family.  I allow my brother or sister to be judged and critiqued by my non-Christian friends

–          Linked to gossip and slander includes resorting to trial by social media -facebook, twitter etc.

–          It means not seeing participating in church, tithing, exercising faith, building connections etc as a means to gain wealth, health etc.

–          It means that I must not judge and condemn someone by treating their sin/failing as unforgivable. When I do this, I  forget God’s power to forgive and that He has forgiven me. This also means that I should not subject myself to the world’s judgement either.  Do I really believe that God has forgiven me completely in Christ?


I want to come back to v11. Paul follows up the list of sins with the comment “Some of you were once like that.”  This is really the quiet understatement!  The last few verses bring it home. We were all under condemnation but we have been forgiven, set free.

Do you believe that?

Are you living it?

[1] From the hymn “To God be the Glory”