When any of you has a grievance against another, do you dare to take it to court before the unrighteous, instead of taking it before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels—to say nothing of ordinary matters? If you have ordinary cases, then, do you appoint as judges those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to decide between one believer and another, but a believer goes to court against a believer —and before unbelievers at that? In fact, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—and believers at that.
“Love keeps no record of being wronged”, Paul will tell the Corinthian church in 13:5. The Church is the creation of the Holy Spirit, whose work is to transform it into a Jesus-shaped community. Love is the hallmark of that transformation – not fluffy feelings, but radical, cost-bearing relationships, that put forgiveness above winning, and continued fellowship above even the quest for personal justice. That is why Paul tells the Corinthians that going to law against one another is evidence that they’ve already lost (6:7).
This is a huge challenge for churches and members in our current culture of blame and litigation. “Reputation Management” is a church industry under Charities Commission legislation. It means protecting the Church against exposure, liability and financial penalty. Protecting the institution is, in Paul’s terms, massively dangerous. It’s what gives rise to the numerous legal horror stories of people being sacrificed for the sake of maintaining the reputation of the Church, at the cost of justice.
The “good name of the Church” lies precisely in the Jesus-shaped relationships Paul is advocating, which are the unmistakable signs of the Spirit’s reality and work. This is what will draw people to the Church, for all its failings.
Paul assumes that a Jesus-shaped, loving Church will be a safe place where justice is done, better and more transparently than in any court! Love is always on the lookout for the good of the other. I can be free enough from resentment to waive my own need to win (as he suggests) because everyone else in the fellowship will have my back. Then everyone wins, because love, justice, compassion and forgiveness are all in play to heal the rifts and resentments that smash relationships. That’s when the Church looks most like the Kingdom of God – and wins big!
Flood my heart with divine love, Holy Spirit! Free me from my captivity to the hurts of yesterday. I do not ask you to change the hearts of my enemies; instead, I ask you to change my heart, so that I can be a channel of your love, justice, compassion and reconciliation. Amen.
Lawrence Moore, Mission & Discipleship consultant, Worsley Road URC