When Winning is Still Losing

You know, we as Christians claim some pretty remarkable things about ourselves. We claim that we have been “born again”.  That we have been radically changed from the inside out.  That the very presence of God himself dwells within us.  Those are words that an unbelieving world hears with a great deal of skepticism. They question whether or not that’s really true.  And for them to be convinced that our message is true, there has to be some evidence in the way we live that would cause them to say, “I think maybe that’s right”.

            Bryan Clark talks about going to India. There’s a real challenge in the proclamation of the gospel in a Hindu culture where they embrace thousands and thousands of gods.  As the gospel of Jesus Christ is presented, it isn’t unusual for a Hindu to simply add Jesus to their list of gods.  And so, they can accept that Jesus is God, but he’s just one of thousands of gods. But for them to move beyond that to understand, “No that’s not what we’re saying; Jesus is the God, and he is the only way of salvation.” That’s quite a challenge!

            And so, Bryan talked with some people in India who were raised as Hindus but were later converted to Christianity.  He asked them what it was that helped them to make that change.  The answer in almost every case was that they began to watch the lives of those who were Christians, and they saw in them something that was different. They had a sense of joy. They had a sense of peace. There was something about them that was different, and that caused them to seriously consider the claims of the gospel.

            It’s not so different in our own country where there are many different religions — supposedly many different ways to God.  How is an unbeliever supposed to sort all that out and determine what’s really true?  In large part, it begins with watching the lives of those who claim to be followers of Christ and saying, “I think there’s something different about that person.  I think that person has something that I don’t have.”

            Jesus said that this world would know his followers by their love for one another. He said it would be our unity as the people of God that would be a light to this world.  And I think that’s one of the reasons why Paul was so concerned when he wrote to the Corinthians.  Because rather than the Corinthians loving one another and being defined by unity, they were in conflict with one another and they were defined by division.  As we saw all the way back in chapter 1, Paul said, “it has been reported to me…that there is quarreling among you.” (I Corinthians 1:11).

            Now, we’re going to see some evidence of that quarreling in chapter 6, but before we get into that chapter, I want to go back and review a few things that we’ve looked at so far.  In chapter 1, Paul began by addressing this letter “to the church of God which is at Corinth.”  Now remember, the word “church”, ekklesia. means those who are “called out”. The moment you become a Christian, the moment you become a part of God’s church, you have been called out of the world and their way of doing things and into Christ and his way of doing things.

            And one of the first things the world should notice about our behavior is that we don’t act like them.  There’s something different about us.

            In verse 2, Paul goes on to say, “To those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints…”  Paul tells us that we have been set apart by the grace of God, taken out of this world and put into Christ.  And so, we’re in the world but we’re not of the world.  We’re different.  We’ve been sanctified.  And the way we’ve been sanctified is that God’s Spirit has come to live in our hearts and in our lives.

            At the end of chapter 6, Paul will say, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own.” (I Corinthians 6:19).  We are sanctified, we are set apart by the fact that God’s Holy Spirit has come to live in us. God lives in us.  And his goal is to help us to be and to do what God himself would do if he were in this body.

            Because this is now God’s body, we no longer have the right to do whatever we want to do.  Paul says in verse 20, “You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”  To glorify God means to make sure that all the recognition goes to God.  It means making sure that everything you do points to him and not to you.  Let your body be a vessel through which God can work so that all the glory will come back to him. That’s the kind of people that we’re supposed to be.

            Now, if you’re not a Christian, everything you do is centered on what pleases you or somehow benefits you.  But when Christ comes to live in you and he sets you apart, that’s no longer your goal; that’s no longer your purpose. Your only purpose now is to bring glory to God.  You’ve been called out of the ways of this world.  You’ve been called into Jesus Christ.  And, as a result, we have no right to act like the people of this world.

            Now I’m emphasizing all this because when we get into chapter 6, you’re going to want to argue with me.  You’re going to want to argue with the apostle Paul.  You’re going to say, “That just doesn’t make any sense!”  But if you will put what Paul says into perspective, it makes all the sense in the world.  And what may not be reasonable to the people of this world, once you have surrendered yourself to Jesus Christ, it becomes very reasonable.  Because you begin to see that God’s way is not the way of this world.  We have no right to act like the people of this world.

            So, with all that in mind, let’s jump into chapter 6.  Verse 1, “When one of you has a dispute with another believer, how dare you file a lawsuit and ask a secular court to decide the matter instead of taking it to other believers.” (I Corinthians 6:1, NLT)

            Paul says if a Christian has a dispute (or a grievance or a disagreement) with another Christian, why would you go to a civil court and let a bunch of heathens decide what’s right and what’s wrong instead of turning to your brothers and sisters in Christ?

            Let me tell you what the legal system was like in those days. Litigation was a part of everybody’s everyday life.  It had become sort of a challenge, even entertainment.   I heard someone put it this way, “They were into Judge Judy before there ever was a Judge Judy.”  One ancient writer wrote the words, “Every Athenian is a lawyer of some kind.”

            Let me tell you why he said that. In the city of Athens, whenever a problem arose between two parties that they couldn’t settle themselves, the first step was private arbitration. Both parties were sent to a neutral third party who would attempt to resolve the problem.  

            But when a judgment was made in the matter, it wasn’t final.  If the two parties weren’t satisfied, they could demand that the case be taken before a court.  In an Athenian court, the case would be tried in front of a group of jurors, like we do today.  But there was one very big difference.  Our juries consist of 12 people.  In Athens, there were typically somewhere between 200 and 400 jurors who heard the case.  If it was a criminal case, that number could go as high as 1000 or 1500 jurors. 

            What that meant is there were a lot of people in Athens who served on juries.  And it means that most citizens were regularly involved in legal proceedings of one sort or another. That was just part of their everyday life in Athens.  And Corinth, which was only a short distance away, was probably pretty much the same.

            The Corinthians grew up arguing and disputing, suing one another for anything they could think of, but then, when they became Christians, they drug that lifestyle right into the church.  And so now, we’ve got a Christian who has a dispute with another member of the church.  And he does what he’s always done all of his life.  He takes this person to the courts to resolve the issue.

            But Paul raises the question, how should Christians handle their disagreements with one another?  Should we be like the world and do things the way they do them, or has God given us a better way? That’s what chapter 6 is all about.  Remember, we are a sanctified people, and that means that we don’t do things the way the world does them.

            So, Paul says, “how dare you file a lawsuit and ask a secular court to decide the matter.” How dare you!  This is not like, “I dare you to jump off that cliff.” It’s not like that kind of dare. It’s somebody who has the audacity, somebody who dares do something that’s absolutely inappropriate.  Do you mean to tell me that you have the audacity to handle things this way?

            The New Living Translation uses the phrase “secular court”, but literally the word means “unrighteous”.  How dare you file a lawsuit and ask someone who is unrighteous to decide the matter for you?  And we know that in the world of Corinth that’s pretty much the way it was.  Anybody they went before, whether it was arbitrator or judge or juror, was not going to be a Christian.  They’re unrighteous people. They don’t know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  They don’t have the mind of Christ.  

            Why would you go to unrighteous people to determine what’s right and what’s wrong and not take it to the saints?”  Whatever problem you may have with another Christian, why would you take it to non-Christians and “air our dirty laundry” in front of them instead of resolving it amongst yourselves?

            In verse 2, Paul says, “Don’t you realize that someday we believers will judge the world? And since you are going to judge the world, can’t you decide even these little things among yourselves?” (I Corinthians 6:2, NLT)

            The Christians in Corinth were probably saying, “Well, you’re going to court because there’s nobody in the church who qualified.  Nobody has any training in law. The court system is more qualified to help us.”  And Paul says, “Wait a minute!  Don’t you realize that someday you’re going to judge the world?”  He’s talking about our future rule and reign with Jesus Christ.  His argument is, if you’re going to judge the world with Christ one day, don’t you think you can handle the simple problems that come between you in the church?  

            By the way, I don’t think Paul is saying that if you go to the pagan authorities, you won’t get a fair judgment.  That’s not the issue.  You may often get a fair judgment in the courts. That’s not Paul’s issue. His issue is, “You don’t seem to want to handle this the way God has set up for you to handle it. You don’t seem to want to use the church and allow things to be done within the church, thereby protecting the unity of believers.  You would rather go outside the church to settle your differences.”

            Paul says, “You’re going to judge the world someday.  Can’t you handle a few minor disputes?”  Then he takes it one step further.  In verse 3, he says, “Don’t you realize that we will judge angels? So you should surely be able to resolve ordinary disputes in this life.” (I Corinthians 6:3).  Not only will you judge the world.  You’re going to judge the angels.  We don’t know exactly how that’s going to happen.  Maybe we participate somehow in the judgment over the fallen angels.

            But Paul’s point is that someday you’re going to rule over nations and you’re going to rule over angels, and you can’t even solve your own petty problems within the church. 

            Verse 4, “If you have legal disputes about such matters, why go to outside judges who are not respected by the church?  I am saying this to shame you.  Isn’t there anyone in all the church who is wise enough to decide these issues?  But instead, one believer sues another — right in front of unbelievers!” (I Corinthians 6:4-6, NLT).

            Paul says, “You ought to be embarrassed by this. You should be ashamed of yourselves. This behavior is so outside of what we’re called to be as Christians”.  Then Paul gets a little bit sarcastic when he says, “Isn’t there even one person wise enough among you that can somehow step in and resolve these issues?”  But you want to take your arguments out there in front of people who aren’t Christians and let them see all your ugliness.

            I heard recently about a church down in Florida where something happened between a preacher and some money in the church.  He did something a certain way, whether he thought it was right or wrong.  Some people in the church got upset and sued him.  He turned around and counter-sued the church.  It made the newspapers down there, outside Orlando.  It cost the church over $70,000 in legal fees and completely destroyed their influence in the area.

            Now you can drive by that church building on a Sunday morning and there may be four cars in the parking lot because Christians chose to go the pagan route to solve their problems. They may well have gotten a fair judgment in the courts, but in so doing, they did irreparable damage to the influence of that church.

            I want you to understand that Paul is not saying is that it’s always wrong to go to civil court.  I don’t think he’s saying that at all.  There may be certain situations where certain things have to be done according to the legal system.

            But the issue is this — what is ultimately most important is the reputation of the gospel.  Even if it’s necessary for two Christians to find themselves in a civil court, for the sake of the gospel, it is absolutely critical that both of them conduct themselves in a way that is respectful and does not paint a bad picture of God’s people.  And yes, that can be done.

            But what Paul is saying here is that anytime there is a dispute between Christians, rather than immediately filing a suit and taking it to civil court and compromising the integrity of the gospel, wouldn’t it be better to find someone within the Christian community who can help work it out in a way that is agreeable to both parties?

            There have been many times where this has been done and done very successfully, where within the body of Christ there is a person or a group of people who become mediators and arbitrators.  They hear the case and they make some sort of a decision, and it doesn’t get before the unbelieving world.  It doesn’t do any harm to the gospel.

            I think most of you would say, “You know, that seems to make perfect sense. We, as Christians, probably shouldn’t be airing our dirty laundry in front of the unbelievers in the legal system.  But I don’t plan to sue anybody, so this passage doesn’t really apply to me.”  But, the truth of the matter is, this passage applies very much to every single one of us, because the principle here is more than just the legal system; that just happens to be the particular issue that Paul was dealing with.

            But the bigger issue is that we should recognize that what should define us, as the people of God, is our love for one another. What should define us as the people of God is our unity together.  And so, whenever there is conflict among Christians, it is essential that we figure out a way to quietly resolve it in such a way that it does not compromise the message of the gospel.

            Any time two Christians have a disagreement, for the sake of the gospel, we need to do everything we can to resolve it in a quiet way that does no damage to the cause of Christ, because the things of eternity are far more important than the trivial matters of this world.

            In verse 7, Paul says, “Even to have such lawsuits with one another is a defeat for you.” (I Corinthians 6:7, NLT)

            In other words, if you take your brother to court, even if you win, you’ve lost.  Because when you carry your grievance with another Christian in front of an unbeliever, there are no winners in the kingdom of God. Everybody loses, because for the sake of something trivial, you have compromised the message of eternity.  So, Paul says, “Even when you win, you lose — nobody wins”.  So, what are we supposed to do?

            Verse 7, “Why not just accept the injustice and leave it at that? Why not let yourselves be cheated?” (I Corinthians 6:7)

            In other words, Paul says, if your disagreement with another Christian is going to compromise your influence as a child of God, it would be better for you to just give it up, to allow yourself to be cheated, allow yourself to be defrauded, allow yourself to be mistreated for the sake of the gospel.

            Now I warned that before we were done this morning, you were going to want to argue with the apostle Paul.  You say, “But I’ve got rights.”  No, you don’t.  You may have rights as a citizen of this country, but when you became a Christian, you gave up all your rights for the sake of Jesus Christ.

            You say, “Well, that doesn’t sound very fair”.   And you’re right, it’s NOT fair.  Nothing about our faith is fair.  It’s not fair that Jesus died on the cross in your place.  It’s not fair that Jesus offers you everything you need and blesses your life, even though we’re sometimes not very good at living our faith. You’re right—it’s not fair. There’s nothing fair about that.

            And what Jesus is saying is, “Because I’ve done that for you, I’m asking you to do this so that others might know my salvation and my grace.”  Rather than engage in a fight that does damage to the reputation of Jesus, it would be better to just let it go and walk away and move on.

            Then we see in verse 8, that the problem was even worse in Corinth: “Instead, you yourselves are the ones who do wrong and cheat even your fellow believers.” (I Corinthians 6:8)

            It would appear that those Christians who were taking things to court were the very ones doing the cheating!  They were the ones doing the defrauding!  They were the ones ripping people off! And of course, Paul is outraged by this behavior.

            Apparently, these Christians had a habit of such behavior before they came to Christ, and then they brought that behavior into the church. And the church says, “Hey, you can’t do this! It’s not right!  This isn’t acceptable!” And their solution is, “Okay, let’s take it to court. Let’s take it before the judges. Let’s see what they say.”

            In verse 9, “Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people — none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.  

            “Some of you were once like that.  But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (I Corinthians 6:9-11)

            Paul says, I understand that’s what you used to be like.  I understand that’s how people in the world behave.   But that’s not who you are any more.  When you became a Christian, things changed.  All those behaviors are now inappropriate because they are totally inconsistent with who we are in Jesus Christ.  That’s no longer who I am; my life is different.  Those things that defined us before we became a Christian can no longer define us as a person because we have been cleansed, sanctified, and justified by the grace of God.

            I want to share with you a story that I heard from a preacher by the name of Wayne Barber.  He said that years ago, his mother got a job as the head housekeeper for a certain motel chain. She was always very pleasant, loved everybody, loved life.  But her philosophy was, if you’re getting paid for eight hours work, then you ought to work for eight hours. So, she wouldn’t let any of the maids who worked for her watch any of the soap operas as they cleaned the rooms.  And she’d go behind them with a white-gloved inspection and if she found any dust, they had to re-clean that room.

            The maids didn’t like his mother because she made them work, so they decided they were going to form a union. The executives said, “No. We don’t want a union. What would it take for us to make you happy and not form a union?”  The first thing on their list was to get rid of Mrs. Barber.

            So, she came to work one day and the manager said, “Mrs. Barber, you’re fired.”  She worked harder than anybody in that whole place trying to make it something that would be worthy of her calling as a Christian, and she was fired for it.

            She went home, and it just broke her. For two weeks she didn’t eat anything.  Pneumonia set in. She spent most of the next two years in the hospital.

            One day, Wayne was in her room with her. She was so weak she could hardly eat.   The phone rang and a man said, “Mrs. Barber, I represent a law firm. We heard what happened to you. We know the details and want you to know that you have the right to sue these people. We’re talking about several millions of dollars because of the way they did this.”

            And here was Wayne, the preacher, sitting at her side saying, “Yes! Go get them!”  He was so angry at what they did to his mother.  The man said, “All you have to do is tell us over the phone, we have a recorder running, that you agree with this and give us your testimony. We know you can’t get out of bed. We’ll handle it from this point on.”

            She said, “No. I’m sorry. You don’t have all the story.” They said, “Well, you can tell us that.” She said, “No, you don’t know me. I’m a Christian.  I’ve been a Christian for years.  For nine years I’ve been witnessing to these precious people. I want you to know I would never sue them because I don’t want my testimony that I have spent all these years building in any way to be stopped. I want Jesus to be glorified. He will take care of me.”  Wayne says he remembers thinking, “They’ve got her on medication. She’s not thinking right.”  But she refused to change her mind.

            A short while later, she died and Wayne got to preach her funeral.  He was surprised to see that all those people who had treated her poorly were there.  He preached that day on what you have when you have Jesus.  He said, “All of you are here because you love my mom, but I want you to know something. She would never stand up and take any of your praise. She would want me to point you to the one who made her into the person she was and that’s the Lord Jesus Christ.”  And then he went on to talk about what a person has when they have Christ.

            To just about anyone in the world, Mrs. Barber made a terrible mistake.  Even many of us who are Christians are inclined to think that she made a mistake.  But she demonstrated so clearly what I’ve said since the outset of this lesson – when we live our lives for Jesus Christ, we don’t do the sorts of things that everyone else in the world does.  Because the gospel of Jesus Christ is of any greater value than any of the material things in this life.

            Paul tells us here in I Corinthians chapter 6 that it is important for us as Christians to live in unity with one another. There are bound to be conflicts from time to time, but those conflicts should never be carried to unbelievers. Rather, we should do everything possible to bring a reconciliation, to try to work through whatever it is, and to restore the relationship.

            There may be times when other Christians are determined to fight, no matter what.  And in those cases, for the sake of the gospel, you may need to just roll over.  You allow yourself to be cheated.  You allow yourself to be defrauded.  You agree to “take one for the team” because it would be better to do that over trivial matters than to do eternal damage to the cause of Christ.

            There are behaviors and attitudes we had that were normal before we knew Jesus. It’s just simply who we were. But that’s not who we are anymore.  We’ve been radically changed; and because of that, we need to live consistent with who we are now in Christ, so that the message of the gospel may have integrity to a lost and a dying world.

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