Wednesday, 7 June 2017

To what extent should Christians allow themselves to be wronged?

     “Indeed, therefore, it is already a failure for you altogether, that you have lawsuits among one another. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be deprived?” (1 Cor. 6:7).1 What is Paul admonishing his readers to do? To what extent should a Christian allow him/herself to be wronged?
     The church in mid-first-century Corinth was inconsistent in the extreme. In the case of an immoral brother in their midst, they should have made a reasoned judgment and implemented church discipline but took no action at all (1 Cor. 5:1-2). In cases of petty disputes, they should have judged among themselves but took too much action and went to pagan courts (6:1-9). In both cases, they neglected their God-given responsibility to make their own judgments and settle matters among themselves (cf. 5:11-12). In the latter case, they were airing the church’s dirty laundry in public and bringing reproach upon the church.
     In the opening verses of chap. 6, Paul is not addressing criminal or sinful behavior but petty disputes that left the church susceptible to unnecessary ridicule from outsiders. While the verb aposteréō is rendered “cheat” or “defraud” in many English translations, in the very next chapter it is used in the sense of “deprive” (7:5). Paul is addressing the selfish and arrogant attitudes of those demanding their perceived “rights” at the expense of fellow believers (cf. 4:6, 18, 19; 5:2; 8:1; etc.). This is in stark contrast to the noble conduct of the apostles (4:12-13), the opposite of selfless concern for others (8:13; 10:24), and contrary to Christian love (13:5). God’s design for the church is not a utopian environment void of conflict but a place where inevitable disputes are resolved through love (cf. 8:1; 16:14).
     The key is what’s in the best interest of others. Paul affirms that it would be better to suffer personal wrong than to damage the reputation of the church (1 Cor. 6:7-8; 10:24). This does not suggest, however, that anyone should simply allow him/herself to be victimized, which would ultimately benefit neither the victim nor the offender (cf. Phil. 2:4). Nor does it suggest it is inappropriate to avail oneself of basic human rights (cf. Acts 25:10-12).
     If, for example, a brother in Christ embezzles funds from my bank account, to say and do nothing would be contrary to Christian principles. Sin cannot be tolerated in the church (1 Cor. 5:7; 15:33), it would hamper my God-given responsibility to give to the Lord’s work and provide for my family (1 Cor. 16:2; 1 Tim. 5:8), and the brother’s soul is jeopardized (Gal. 6:1; Jas. 5:19-20). If, however, my brother merely says something in anger that hurts my feelings, then hiring a lawyer and suing for defamation and psychological distress is not a Christ-like response. Between these extremes are plethoric scenarios that may require the collective wisdom of the church to help discern what is necessary for appropriate resolution (cf. 1 Cor. 2:15; 5:3, 12; 1 Tim. 5:20).
     Followers of Jesus have been “sanctified,” i.e., set apart from the sinful world in their thinking and behavior.2 Christians are expected to refrain from retaliation (Matt. 5:38-48; Rom. 12:17-21; 1 Thess. 5:15) and be peacemakers (Matt. 5:9; Rom. 12:18). The point of 1 Cor. 6:1-11, which is an extension of chap. 5, is that discord in the church is to be addressed from within (cf. Matt. 18:15-20; 2 Thess. 3:6-15).
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 Note “saints” [hagioi] (1 Cor. 1:2; 6:1, 2; 14:33; 16:1, 15) = “sanctified ones” or “holy ones” (cf. 1:2; 3:17; 6:11).

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