Living As Who We Are

Living As Who We Are

This past week as Ron and I were visiting with some friends, we shared with them something that one of our seminary professors said in class one day, namely, that the church is a microcosm of the world—by which he meant that there is no sin or immoral behavior that can be found in society that can’t also be found in our congregations. What a humbling and important reminder this is that the only difference that exists between those who are Christians and those who are not is that at some point Christians have seen their sin and need for Christ, believed that Jesus Christ has taken their sins upon himself by dying and rising to deal with their sins, and has subsequently sealed us with his Holy Spirit who now indwells us and enables us to know our heavenly Father’s both love now and forever. Christians aren’t any better than other people; we’ve merely—and profoundly—been saved from our errant and harmful desires and ways.

In our study of the opening five chapters of I Corinthians we’ve already had ample opportunity to confirm the church-as-microcosm-of-the-world understanding observed by this professor. So far we’ve noted how this church in Corinth has been riddled with division, boasting, sexual immorality, greed, idolatry, slandering, drunkenness, and swindling. Again these practices weren’t taking place outside of the church but among those who professed to know, love, and follow Jesus Christ. And, unfortunately, this list wasn’t the sum of their problems and hypocrisy.

As chapter 6 opens, we see Paul addressing and seeking to correct yet another issue for these believers have been taking one another to court instead of dealing with their problems within and among the family of Christ. And, according to Paul, they are doing so over “trivial cases.” Now I’ve been actively involved with various church families over the past 30 plus years of my life, but though I’ve experienced tensions and challenges to unity among the body of Christ at various times, I’ve never seen the kinds of challenges Paul is up against. And I suspect that at least part of the reason is that the churches I’ve known had existed long enough to have been shaped by the proclamation of and subsequent desire to conform to God’s Word. But perhaps a better parallel to what Paul is dealing with is that of the mission field or some place that previously had never known the Gospel or even heard of Christ. If that’s the case, then what Paul is having to do is to break these new believers away from the values held dear by their culture and teach them, from ground zero, what it means to be a follower of Christ. So, for instance, as I indicated the first week I covered this letter, at this time “to Corinthianize” came to mean “to practice sexual immorality.”[1] And it certainly is the case that loose sexual mores continue to arise among the beliefs and behaviors Paul is having to correct. So he has a steep hill to overcome in teaching these Christians what it means to be holy as Christ is holy.

At issue is that these believers have yet to learn that those who claim the name and identity of Jesus Christ are to live by different standards than those found in society at large. And this different lifestyle is possible because after Jesus Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven, he sent his Holy Spirit to indwell and unite us, enabling us to be one family who together serve as children of our Father in heaven and therefore as brothers and sisters to one another. So Christ’s sacrifice and provision should have enormous implications in the way in which Christians live even when—perhaps especially when—we disagree.

So Paul begins this chapter by challenging the behavior of the Corinthian church in asking: “If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people?” Now we don’t know the exact nature of this dispute. Some have suggested it has to do with property or money since the word translated as “cheated” in verse 7 might also be translated as “defrauded.”[2] Whatever the case, we know that Paul thinks the Corinthians have mishandled this matter. Rather than seeking to resolve this dispute amongst the body of Christ, these believers have chosen to go outside of the church—to the ungodly or the unrighteous—to solve their problem and Paul is appalled. And part of the reason he’s appalled is because he’s aware of Scriptural teaching about the responsibility God has given believers to one day judge the world together with him. So in verse 2 he asks, “…[D]o you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases?”[3] We take his point. If believers have been entrusted with one day judging the world, surely they should be able to judge trivial cases taking place within the body of believers.

Paul’s exasperation builds in verse 3 as he further adds, “Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!” Again, Paul’s point is clear. If God has entrusted believers with one day judging the world and even angels,[4] then these Corinthian Christians shouldn’t deal with these trivial matters by taking one another to secular courts and authorities. Again, in Paul’s own words, verse 4, “… [I]f you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church?” Paul simply cannot believe what is taking place—Christians are choosing to allow those with secular and perhaps even ungodly values determine the outcome of minor disputes between believers.

And Paul makes it clear, verses 5 and 6, that he is trying to shame them into doing what is right: “I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers!” Paul is trying to awaken the God-given mechanism he has placed in us of feeling shame over ungodly behavior—of feeling shame when we sin. As we also saw last week, Paul isn’t just having to teach believers what godly behavior is, he’s also having to teach them how believers should feel about and respond to ungodly behavior—namely, with shame, a painful feeling of humiliation or distress due to their wrong behavior. They should be mourning and grieving, not boasting over their sin.

Though we’ve only covered six verses, let us sum up what Paul has been saying so far:

First, brothers and sisters for whose oneness Christ died should seek to solve disputes within the fellowship of Christ rather than taking one another to court. Because they have been entrusted by God with the responsibility to one day judge not only the world but even angels, surely they should be able to handle these trivial disputes within the body of Christ.

Second, in going to secular courts, they are choosing to live according to the world’s values rather than God’s values for the secular authorities before whom they’re bringing these cases are ungodly.

And last, these believers have forgotten that the world is ever watching the behavior of God’s people so their witness—their testimony—about their oneness in Christ and subsequent love for God and each other is being hurt. Those who don’t know Christ can see their hypocrisy by means of these trivial legal cases. When those who don’t yet know Christ see believers acting no differently than they might act, why bother following Christ in the first place?

So, again, Paul is in a position of teaching these believers from afar what they ought to do in light of disputes. He states in verse 7, “The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already.” And then he adds, “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” In reading Paul’s words here, you can’t help but wonder if he has Jesus’ own teaching in the back of his mind. In part of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus states,

38 You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.”[5] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Part of what we as believers in and followers of Jesus Christ need to learn and act upon is that our lives and beliefs ought to reflect the radically different standards our Creator and Redeemer has called us to. Though some among us—including myself—come from church families that were terribly legalistic in their understanding and implementation of God’s Word, what we see in Scripture time and again is that genuine love for God and neighbor—genuine fulfillment of God’s law—is generous and exuberant. Though we sometimes use the comparison between the “letter” of the law and the “spirit” of the law,[6] too often we do so by pushing the moral envelope in the wrong direction. We should push to do more than the law requires in our service to one another, not try to get away with wrongful behavior by viewing the law as inconsequential. So in addition to refusing to cheat others, especially brothers and sisters in Christ (verse 8)—the letter of the law; we should be willing to be cheated—the spirit of the law (verse 7); in addition to re refusing to wrong others, especially brothers and sisters in Christ (verse 8)—the letter of the law; we should be willing to be wronged by them. Again, Paul is addressing trivial matters over which these believers are taking one another to court. In these trivial instances, why not be cheated? Why not be wronged for the sake keeping peace within the body of Christ? And I’m emphasizing trivial on purpose because if a Christian commits a crime against another believer—a genuinely evil or shameful action—and refuses to own it or make restitution for it, then going to court may very well be the most prudent course of action.

But in matters that are trivial—in matters that are of little value and importance—it is far better to be wronged than to take one another to court. Since part of our DNA as heirs of the western Enlightenment is that we value our autonomy, our independence, our freedom as individuals, it can be especially difficult for us to understand that there are times in which our concern for our community, for the family of Christ in which God has placed us, should be valued above and take precedence over our own personal hurt. Since the world is watching how we conduct ourselves, it may be better—again in trivial matters—for us to bear a minor injustice than to bring disgrace upon the Christian community by publicly exposing misdeeds in the civil courts. In his letter to the Galatians—another body of believers that didn’t understand that their freedom in Christ was for the sake of serving others rather than themselves—Paul similarly said to them, “13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”[7] We’re to use our freedom to fulfill the sum of God’s teaching in the Old Testament law and prophets, namely: Love the Lord, our God, with all of our heart, soul, minds and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. True freedom, freedom understood biblically, is freedom to do what God commands. For what God commands is always for our good. And we need his and one another’s help in order to live as he calls us to live.

In verse 9 of I Corinthians 6 Paul warns these brothers and sisters: “…[D]o you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived.” And as he did when addressing incest last week, Paul again goes from a particular ungodly behavior that is dividing and destroying these believers—taking brothers and sisters to court over trivial matters—and uses it as an opportunity to again address a variety of morally destructive behaviors that God’s image-bearers, especially those who have been redeemed by Christ and are indwelled by his Spirit, ought not to participate in. The list of behaviors that will not be found in God’s kingdom—and therefore should not be found in Christ’s church—include: sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, homosexual behavior, thievery, greediness, drunkenness, slandering, and swindling. Those who participate in behaviors that are clearly forbidden in Scripture will not inherit God’s kingdom. Again, this list is representative and clearly wide-ranging as it includes everything from sexual immorality to greediness. So at this point, some may be echoing the disciples’ reaction when Jesus told them that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, namely, “Who then can be saved?”![8]

Brothers and sisters, if we’re honest, we should all be wondering, “Who then can be saved?” for there isn’t a person present this morning—myself included—who hasn’t knowingly sinned; there isn’t a person present this morning who hasn’t knowingly gone against what God requires of those who are his. But our focus—and Paul’s point—isn’t that anyone who has ever sinned won’t be permitted into God’s Kingdom. Rather the point is that those who knowingly choose to continue living according to worldly ways, without struggling with their choices, without displaying a concern for God’s Word and his teaching, without indicating concern for the effect that their behavior has upon those around them—these are the ones who won’t inherit God’s Kingdom for, by their conduct, they are indicating that they have never committed their lives to God in Christ in the first place. So the issue isn’t that those who have sinned won’t inherit God’s kingdom for if that were the case, Jesus alone would inherit it. No, the point is that those who knowingly and unrepentantly teach and live against what God in Christ has disclosed to us in his Word won’t inherit God’s kingdom for such behavior indicates they have no regard for God but only regard their own desires. As Jesus stated about false vs. true prophets, “17 …every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”[9] So let us bear the fruit of Christ, our vine, remembering that apart from him, we can do nothing.[10]

And we mustn’t miss what Paul says in the beginning of verse 11. After providing a representative list of the sins that are disqualifiers for the kingdom of God, he says: “And that is what some of you were.” That is, prior to coming to a saving faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ, some in this church were deceived because they believed and engaged in sexually immoral ways—or in idolatry—or in adultery—or engaged in same sex behavior—or in thievery—or in greediness—or in drunkenness—or in slandering—or in swindling. They were these things. But they no longer are these things, the second half of verse 11: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Again, we need to hear—and embrace—what Paul is saying, namely that all who have come to a saving faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ have been washed by him, have been washed by his blood so that when God looks upon us, he no longer sees our sin, but Christ’s holiness. So, too, all who have come to a saving faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ have been sanctified by him, have been set aside for his purposes and have been removed from indulging in evil purposes that ultimately will harm them and others. God in Christ has set us aside to be holy as he is holy. And lastly, all who have come to a saving faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ have been justified by him. Regardless of how we once lived our lives, we have been declared “not guilty” by God because Christ Jesus—our Savior, Christ Jesus our Lord knowingly and willingly has taken our place—our guilt—our punishment that we might be reconciled to God and never be separated from him and his love again. And as was true in the opening chapter of this letter, these are all divine passives. As Paul notes it is the Spirit of our God who has washed us—we didn’t wash ourselves; it is the Spirit of our God who has sanctified us—we didn’t sanctify ourselves; it is the Spirit of our God who has justified us in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to whom we belong individually and corporately—we didn’t justify ourselves. Because we live in the name of our Lord and King, Jesus Christ, we have been enabled by his Spirit to live in his Kingdom, to be inheritors of his Kingdom, to the glory of our loving and heavenly Father.

Brothers and sisters, let us live as we are, not as we were.

Let us live as those who would rather be wronged than wrong others;

Let us live as those who would rather be cheated than cheat others;

Let us lovingly resolve any trivial disputes or differences we might have between us;

Let us remember that the world is watching our witness and so lift up Christ and the unity—the family—he has given us by his Spirit qualifying us to be children of our heavenly Father and brother and sister with each other;

Let us not focus on who we were prior to coming to Christ, but instead: Let us live as those who have been washed by Christ;

Let us live as those who have been sanctified by Christ;

Let us live by those who have been justified by Christ;

To the glory of God, our Father. Let us pray.

[1] Zondervan NIV study Bible Introduction, “Its Immorality,” p. 1774.

[2] Crossway ESV Study Bible.

[3] Matthew 19:28: Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Luke 22:29–30: 29 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 2 Timothy 2:12a: if we endure, we will also reign with him. Revelation 3:21: To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Revelation 20:4: I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.

[4] 2 Peter 2:4: For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment; Jude 6: And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.

[5] This is the lex talionis, the law of retaliation whereby the punishment of an offense is to fit—not exceed—the crime. E.g., Exodus 21:22–24: 22 If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

Leviticus 24:17–20: 17 “‘Anyone who takes the life of a human being is to be put to death. 18 Anyone who takes the life of someone’s animal must make restitution—life for life. 19 Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury. Deuteronomy 19:16–21: 16 If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse someone of a crime, 17 the two people involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. 18 The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against a fellow Israelite, 19 then do to the false witness as that witness intended to do to the other party. You must purge the evil from among you. 20 The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. 21 Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

[6] 2 Corinthians 3:6: He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

[7] Galatians 5. In what follows, Paul again lists and comments about the connection between sins of the flesh and the Kingdom of God: 19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

[8] Matthew 19:24–25. The broader context is the account of the rich young ruler who couldn’t find it in himself to sell his possessions in exchange for gaining treasure in heaven.

[9] Matthew 7:18–20.

[10] John 15:5–8: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

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