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6. Lawsuits Among Believers

1Dare any of you, having a matter against his neighbor, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? 2Or know ye not that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world is judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? 3Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more, things that pertain to this life? 4If then ye have to judge things pertaining to this life, do ye set them to judge who are of no account in the church? 5I say this to move you to shame. What, cannot there be found among you one wise man who shall be able to decide between his brethren, 6but brother goeth to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? 7Nay, already it is altogether a defect in you, that ye have lawsuits one with another. Why not rather take wrong? why not rather be defrauded? 8Nay, but ye yourselves do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren. 9Or know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with men, 10nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 11And such were some of you: but ye were washed, but ye were sanctified, but ye were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God. 12All things are lawful for me; but not all things are expedient. All things are lawful for me; but I will not be brought under the power of any. 13Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall bring to nought both it and them. But the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body: 14and God both raised the Lord, and will raise up as through his power. 15Know ye not that your bodies are members of Christ? shall I then take away the members of Christ, and make them members of a harlot? God forbid. 16Or know ye not that he that is joined to a harlot is one body? for, The twain, saith he, shall become one flesh. 17But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. 18Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. 19Or know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have from God? and ye are not your own; 20for ye were bought with a price: glorify God therefore in your body.

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Here, he begins to reprove another fault among the Corinthians — an excessive fondness for litigation, which took its rise from avarice. Now, this reproof consists of two parts. The first is, that by bringing their disputes before the tribunals of the wicked, they by this means made the gospel contemptible, and exposed it to derision. The second is, that while Christians ought to endure injuries with patience, they inflicted injury on others, rather than allow themselves to be subjected to any inconvenience. Thus, the first part is particular: the other is general.

1. Dare any of you This is the first statement — that, if any one has a controversy with a brother, it ought to be decided before godly judges, and that it ought not to be before those that are ungodly. If the reason is asked, I have already said, that it is because disgrace is brought upon the gospel, and the name of Christ is held up as it were to the scoffings of the ungodly. For the ungodly, at the instigation of Satan, are always eagerly on the watch 316316     “Espient incessamment et d’vne affection ardente;” — “Watch incessantly and with eager desire.” for opportunities of finding occasion of calumny against the doctrine of godliness. Now believers, when they make them parties in their disputes, seem as though they did on set purpose furnish them with a handle for reviling. A second reason may be added — that we treat our brethren disdainfully, when we of our own accord subject them to the decisions of unbelievers.

But here it may be objected: “As it belongs to the office of the magistrate, and as it is peculiarly his province to administer justice to all, and to decide upon matters in dispute, why should not even unbelievers, who are in the office of magistrate, have this authority, and, if they have it, why are we prevented from maintaining our rights before their tribunals?” I answer, that Paul does not here condemn those who from necessity have a cause before unbelieving judges, 317317     “Qui sont necessairement contraints de maintenir et plaider leurs causes sous iuges infideles;” — “Who are from necessity shut up to maintain and defend their law-suits before unbelieving judges.” as when a person is summoned to a court; but those who, of their own accord, bring their brethren into this situation, and harass them, as it were, through means of unbelievers, while it is in their power to employ another remedy. It is wrong, therefore, to institute of one’s own accord a law-suit against brethren before unbelieving judges. If, on the other hand, you are summoned to a court, there is no harm in appearing there and maintaining your cause.

2. Know ye not that the saints. Here we have an argument from the less to the greater; for Paul, being desirous to show that injury is done to the Church of God when judgments on matters of dispute connected with earthly things are carried before unbelievers, as if there were no one in the society of the godly that was qualified to judge, reasons in this strain: “Since God has reckoned the saints worthy of such honor, as to have appointed them to be judges of the whole world, it is unreasonable that they should be shut out from judging as to small matters, as persons not qualified for it.” Hence it follows, that the Corinthians inflict injury upon themselves, in resigning into the hands of unbelievers the honor 318318     “L’honneur et la prerogatiue;” — “The honor and the prerogative.” that has been conferred upon them by God.

What is said here as to judging the world ought to be viewed as referring to that declaration of Christ:

When the Son of Man shall come, ye shall sit, etc.
(Matthew 19:28.)

For all power of judgment has been committed to the Son,
(John 5:22,)

in such a manner that he will receive his saints into a participation with him in this honor, as assessors. Apart from this, they will judge the world, as indeed they begin already to do, because their piety, faith, fear of the Lord, good conscience, and integrity of life, will make unbelievers altogether inexcusable, as it is said of Noah, that by his faith he condemned all the men of his age. (Hebrews 11:7.) But the former signification accords better with the Apostle’s design, for unless you take the judging here spoken of in its proper acceptation, the reasoning will not hold.

But even in this sense 319319     “Mais, dira quelqu’vn, encore a le prendre ainsi;” — “But, some one will say, even taking it in this way.” it may seem not to have much weight, for it is as if one should say’ “The saints are endowed with heavenly wisdom, which immeasurably transcends all human doctrines: therefore they can judge better as to the stars than astrologers.” Now this no one will allow, and the ground of objection is obvious — because piety and spiritual doctrine do not confer a knowledge of human arts. My answer here is this, that between expertness in judging and other arts there is this difference, that while the latter are acquired by acuteness of intellect and by study, and are learned from masters, 320320     “Sous precepteurs et maistres;” — “Under preceptors and masters.” the former depends rather on equity and conscientiousness.

But 321321     “Mais, dira quelqu’vn:” — “But, some one will say.” “lawyers will judge better and more confidently than an illiterate Christian: otherwise the knowledge of law is of no advantage.” I answer, that their advice is not here excluded, for if the determination of any obscure question is to be sought from a knowledge of the laws, the Apostle does not hinder Christians from applying to lawyers. 322322     “Ne defend point aux Chrestiens d’aller demander conseil aux Legistes;” — “Does not hinder Christians from going to ask the advice of lawyers.” What he finds fault with in the Corinthians is simply this, that they carry their disputes before unbelieving judges, as if they had none in the Church that were qualified to pass judgment, and farther, he shows how much superior is the judgment that God has assigned to his believing people.

The words rendered in you mean here, in my opinion, among you. For whenever believers meet in one place, under the auspices of Christ, 323323     “Au nom de Christ;” — “In the name of Christ.” there is already in their assembly a sort of image of the future judgment, which will be perfectly brought to light on the last day. Accordingly Paul says, that the world is judged in the Church, because there Christ’s tribunal is erected, from which he exercises his authority. 324324     “Auquel estant comme assis, il exerce sa iurisdiction;” — “On which being as it were seated, he exercises his authority.”

3. Know ye not that we shall judge angels? This passage is taken in different ways. Chrysostom states that some understood it as referring to priests, 325325     “Des prestres et ministres;” — “Of priests and ministers.” but this is exceedingly far-fetched. Others understand it of the angels in heaven, in this sense — that the angels are subject to the judgment of God’s word, and may be judged by us, if need be, by means of that word, as it is said in the Epistle to the Galatians —

If an angel from heaven bring any other gospel, let him be accursed.
(Galatians 1:8.)

Nor does this exposition appear at first view unsuitable to the thread of Paul’s discourse; for if all whom God has enlightened by his word are endowed with such authority, that through means of that word they judge not only men but angels too, how much more will they be prepared to judge of small and trivial matters? As, however, Paul speaks here in the future tense, as referring to the last day, and as his words convey the idea of an actual judgment, (as the common expression is,) it were preferable, in my opinion, to understand him as speaking of apostate 326326     “Apostats et rebelles;” — “Apostate and rebellious.” angels. For the argument will be not less conclusive in this way: “Devils, who sprang from so illustrious an origin, and even now, when they have fallen from their high estate, are immortal creatures, and superior to this corruptible world, shall be judged by us. What then? Shall those things that are subservient to the belly be exempted from our judgment?

4. If you have judgments then as to things pertaining to this life We must always keep in view what causes he is treating of; for public trials are beyond our province, and ought not to be transferred to our disposal; but as to private matters it is allowable to determine without the cognizance of the magistrate. As, then, we do not detract in any degree from the authority of the magistrate by having recourse to arbitration, it is not without good reason that the Apostle enjoins it upon Christians to refrain from resorting to profane, that is, unbelieving judges. And lest they should allege that they were deprived of a better remedy, he directs them to choose out of the Church arbiters, who may settle causes agreeably and equitably. Farther, lest they should allege that they have not a sufficient number of qualified persons, he says that the meanest is competent to discharge this office. There is, therefore, no detracting here from the dignity of the office of magistrates, when he gives orders that their office be committed to contemptible persons, for this (as I have already said) is stated by anticipation, as though he had said: “Even the lowest and meanest among you will discharge this office better than those unbelieving judges to whom you have recourse. So far are you from necessity in this way.”

Chrysostom comes near this interpretation, though he appends to it something additional; for he is of opinion, that the Apostle meant to say, that, even though the Corinthians should find no one among themselves who had sufficient wisdom for judging, they must nevertheless make choice of some, of whatever stamp they were. Ambrose touches neither heaven nor earth. 327327     “Sainct Ambrose ne touche ne ciel ne terre (cornroe on dit) en l’exposition de ces mots;” — “St. Ambrose touches neither heaven nor earth (as the expression is) in the exposition of these words.” — Our Author’s meaning seems to be that Ambrose hangs in suspense, or gives no decided opinion. — Ed. I think I have faithfully brought out the Apostle’s intention — that the lowest among believers was preferred by him to unbelievers, as to capacity of judging. There are some that strike out a quite different meaning, for they understand the word καθιζετε to be in the present tense — You set them to judge, and by those that are least esteemed in the Church they understand profane persons. 328328     “Les gens profanes et infideles;” — “Profane and unbelieving persons.” This, however, is more ingenious than solid, for that were a poor designation of unbelievers. 329329     “Car ce seroit vne facon de parler bien maigre et de peu de grace, d’appeler ainsi les infideles;” — “For it were a very meager and awkward way of speaking, to describe unbelievers in this manner.” Besides, the form of expression, if you have, would not suit so well with a reproof, for the expression would have required rather to be while you have, for that condition takes away from the force of it. Hence I am the more inclined to think, that a remedy for the evil is here prescribed.

That this statement, however, was taken up wrong by the ancients, appears from a certain passage in Augustine. For in his book — “On the Work of Monks,” where he makes mention of his employments, he declares that among his numerous engagements, the most disagreeable of all was, that he was under the necessity of devoting a part of the day to secular affairs, but that he at the same time endured it patiently, because the Apostle 330330     “Sainct Paul;” — “Saint Paul.” had imposed upon him this necessity. From this passage, and from a certain epistle, it appears that the bishops were accustomed to sit at certain hours to settle disputes, as if the Apostle had been referring to them here. As, however, matters always become worse, there sprang from this error, in process of time, that jurisdiction which the officials of the bishops assume to themselves in money matters. In that ancient custom there are two things that are deserving of reproof — that the bishops were involved in matters that were foreign to their office; and that they wronged God in making his authority and command a pretext for turning aside from their proper calling. The evil, however, was in some degree excusable, but as for the profane custom, which has come to prevail in the Papacy, it were the height of baseness to excuse or defend it.

5. I speak to your shame The meaning is — “If other considerations do not influence you, let it at least be considered by you, how disgraceful it is to you that there is not so much as one among you who is qualified to settle an affair amicably among brethren — an honor which you assign to unbelievers Now this passage is not inconsistent with the declaration which we met with above, when he stated that he did not make mention of their faults with the view of shaming them, (1 Corinthians 4:14,) for instead of this, by putting them to shame in this manner, he calls them back from disgrace, 331331     “Il les garde de tomber en reproche;” — “He guards them against falling into reproach.” and shows that he is desirous to promote their honor. He does not wish them, then, to form so unfavorable an opinion of their society, as to take away from all their brethren an honor which they allow to unbelievers