Sometimes Winning is Losing (1 Corinthians 6:1-11)

ABC’s Wide World of Sports aired on Saturdays from April 29, 1961 to January 3, 1998. The host for the entire 37-year run of the show was Jim McKay (no relation). 😊

The opening monologue is now iconic. Watch it here.

Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport… the thrill of victory… and the agony of defeat… the human drama of athletic competition… This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports!

Most of us assume that winning is winning and losing is losing. We either experience a thrill or the agony.

But sometimes winning is losing, especially when the win causes you to lose your star player upon whom you would rely to win future games. It is possible to achieve a short-term win that results in a long-term loss.

You can win the argument with your spouse and yet the relationship loses because of the verbal injury inflicted.

It is possible to achieve a short-term win that results in a long-term loss.

This is what the apostle Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 6:1-11.

 

VERSE 1

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!

Is Paul saying that there should never be any conflict among believers?

No, but he is saying that there are better ways to deal with conflict than lawsuits. It is not whether conflict will take place, but how we deal with it.

There is the easier, relationally detached option of filing a suit (where the goal is to win), or there is the harder, personal path of pursuing reconciliation (where the goal is to love by seeking understanding, justice, and peace).

David Prior states in his commentary on 1 Corinthians, “The Greeks were naturally and characteristically a litigious people. The law-courts were, in fact, one of their chief amusements and entertainments… In a Greek city, every man was more or less a lawyer and spent a very great part of his time either deciding or listening to law cases. The Greeks were… notorious for their love of going to law. Not unnaturally, certain of the Greeks had brought their litigious tendencies into the Christian church; and Paul was shocked.’ In other words, the habit of the Christians in Corinth over litigation was in essence no different from their assimilation to Corinthian sexual laxity: the world was once again invading the church.”[1]

Total of the top ten U.S. jury awards twenty years ago (1997-99):[2]

  • 1997: $750 million
  • 1998: $2.8 billion
  • 1999: $8.9 billion

And the rocket was launched.

 

VERSES 2-3

Don’t you know that the saints will judge the world [at the final judgment]? And if the world is to be judged by you, can’t you decide these small matters yourselves?

Richard Pratt comments here, saying: “Though lawsuits may not seem trivial when they involve [large] sums of money, all such disputes are trivial when compared to the weightiness of the final eternal judgment in which Christians will exercise authority.”[3]

Do you not know that we are to judge angels? [Meaning, the fallen angels – 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6] How much more, then, should you be able to resolve ordinary disputes in this life! [An argument from the greater to the lesser.]

 

What pushback or objection is Paul addressing here?

That ordinary believers do not have the competence to serve in the place of secular judges. This isn’t the role of the church but professional litigators, right?

Do you think that sometimes objections are actually excuses?

  • For not trusting the Spirit’s power to provide wisdom through leadership.
  • For greed.
  • For demanding my rights, even if it brings disrepute to the church and the name of Jesus.

David Prior claims that “The combination of asserting my rights and passing judgment on everyone else is one of the most insidious tendencies in the church of God.”[4]

Richard Pratt takes this even further, saying, “Appealing to public courts demonstrates a lack of respect for God’s holy institution, the church.”[5]

 

VERSES 4-6

4 So if you have such matters, why do you appoint as your judges those who have no standing in the church? 5 I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is not one wise person among you who is able to arbitrate between fellow believers? 6 Instead, brother goes to court against brother, and that before unbelievers!

What do you think of a family that turns on each other and sues each other?

Emotions probably range from pity to contempt.

What would you say is most important to them? The love of family or the love of money?

What chief concern does Paul address in verse 6?

David Lowry hits the nail on the head when he says, “Paul’s chagrin about this issue was great, not only because it further divided the church, but also because it hindered the work of God among the non-Christians in Corinth (cf. 10:32). Those related by faith needed to settle their disputes like brothers, not adversaries (cf. Gen. 13:7–9).[6]

Craig Blomberg agrees, saying, “Their litigation incenses him even more than their factiousness, because it so fundamentally compromises their witness before a watching world quick to ridicule and reject the church on such occasions.”[7]

This is why Paul would write in Romans 12:17-21,

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. 18 If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, “Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 But if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. 21 Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.

 

VERSE 7-8

As it is, to have legal disputes against one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves do wrong and cheat—and you do this to brothers and sisters!

Paul is saying, “Sometimes, winning is losing and losing is winning.”

But doesn’t this sound idealistic and unrealistic? How does this strike you at the emotional level?

Anger – that I would be asked to give up my rights.

Blomberg shows us how the ancient setting is much like our own when he writes, “The whole concept of relinquishing one’s rights seems anathema to a culture immersed in asserting them.”[8]

That is not just true of first century Greece. It is true of the 21st century western culture in which we live. We demand rights and love to sue.

Shame – because of what that says about my heart.

  • That I would rather increase my wealth to the detriment of Jesus’ reputation in the world.
  • Or that I would rather be seen as right and tarnish the testimony of the gospel.
  • Or that my flesh (sin nature) thinks law before it thinks mercy; it thinks me before it thinks others. It thinks vengeance before it thinks love.

 

VERSES 9-10

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither those who indulge in sexual sin, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, people who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor abusers, nor cheats will inherit the kingdom of God.

Is Paul saying that people are saved by moral righteousness?

Absolutely not.

Along with a multitude of passages, see Ephesians 2: “You are saved by grace through faith—not by works.”

Blomberg makes a helpful clarification:

“By using nouns that become labels for individuals only after persistent sin in particular areas… Paul is not talking about isolated acts of unrighteousness, but about a whole way of life pursued persistently by those who thus indicate that they would be aliens in the kingdom of truth and light”6 (cf. 1 John 3:4–10) [9]…. Temporary lapses or ongoing struggles with sin do not cause an individual to forfeit salvation.” [10]

What is the purpose of this vice list? Or we could ask it this way: “What is the purpose of the law?”

Romans 3:19-23,

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are subject to the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For no one will be justified in his sight by the works of the law, because the knowledge of sin comes through the law.

Galatians 3:24,

Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.

Paul is trying to break their hard hearts and show them their need for the cross of Christ, where we exchange our unrighteousness for his righteousness.

How are Christians who are suing each other revealing how their lives are like the other sins in the vice list?

The common denominator between them all are ways humans pursue self-gratification and indulgence without regard for God’s design and wisdom—wisdom that is revealed in the moral law. [11]

It is a law that is intended to lead us to Jesus for our justification.

 

VERSE 11

11 Some of you were once like that. 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.

How does Paul form his argument concerning why their lives should look different than the surrounding culture?

“[Paul] appeals… to his favorite, ‘Become what you really are’ logic.”[14]

Premise 1 – This was true. “Some of you were…”

Premise 2 – But now… “washed… sanctified… justified…”

Three grace words that are saying: you could have been left to God’s judgment, but instead, Jesus was judged for you.

In other words, Jesus lost so that you could win.

ConclusionSo then

How are we going to respond to such grace.

 

You Wash My Feet, I’ll Wash Yours

In 1477 the town of Tubingen, Germany, expelled all of its Jewish residents. With such a history it is no wonder that by WWII, it was a hotbed of anti-Jewish sentiment.

Today, however, a small Jewish community has returned to the town and there also exists a church that meets in a tent built on top of the same railroad tracks that once deported Jews from Tubingen to concentration camps throughout Germany and Poland.

In 2007, the Tubingen church organized a March of Life to coincide with Holocaust Remembrance Day. Their march followed the 200-mile route many Jews walked from Bisingen to Dachau in early 1945.

The night before the march began, the church held a special meeting. Four members stood before the assembly and told stories of their own family’s participation in the Nazi regime. One woman had recently discovered that her grandfather was an SS guard who beat Jews and other prisoners. She and three others then and followed the example of Jesus by humbly washing the feet of several Jewish guests, including some who were Holocaust survivors. The Jewish guests then symbolized their forgiveness by washing the feet of their German hosts.

A man from Syria witnessed the event and observed that if Germans and Jews could be reconciled, maybe the same thing could happen between Arabs and Jews.[15]

Or between a husband and a wife. Or estranged siblings. Or members in a church. Black and white; Republican or Democrat.

This is how we win. Not by winning the argument or the case, but by washing. By forgiving.  By showing the world what mercy looks like.

Of course, this was most perfectly displayed for the world by Jesus, who didn’t just wash out feet with water. He washed our souls with this blood.

Jesus could have demanded his rights. He could have sued for our condemnation. Instead, he gave up his rights by giving up his life on a cross, praying for his crucifiers, “Father, forgiven them.”

As a result, we are not who we were. This is why we shouldn’t live as we did.

Not in order to be saved, but because we have been saved.

If you have not experienced this salvation from condemnation and want to be washed, sanctified, and justified. Don’t look to yourself; look to Jesus and believe. Confessing your sin and embracing his mercy—the mercy of the Risen Savior who lost so that we could win.

 


 

[1] David Prior, The Message of 1 Corinthians: Life in the Local Church, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 106.

[2] Lawyer’s Weekly USA; source: World (1-22-00), p.14. Robert Pambianco, of the Washington Legal Foundation, says, “It’s just further evidence that suing someone has become the preferred means of solving disputes.”

[3] Richard L. Pratt Jr, I & II Corinthians, vol. 7, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 86.

[4] David Prior, The Message of 1 Corinthians: Life in the Local Church, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 107.

[5] Richard L. Pratt Jr, I & II Corinthians, vol. 7, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 87.

[6] David K. Lowery, “1 Corinthians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 515.

[7] Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 117–118.

[8] Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 122.

6 Prior, 1 Corinthians, 89.

[9] Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 118.

[10] Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 118.

[11] Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 118.

10 As demonstrated by James B. De Young, “The Source and New Testament Meaning of ΑΡΣΕΝΟΚΟΙΤΑΙ, with Implications for Christian Ethics and Ministry,” Master’s Seminary Journal 3 (1992): 191–215.

[12] Blomberg, 121.

[13] David K. Lowery, “1 Corinthians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 515.

[14] Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 121.

[15] Eugene Maddox, Palatka, Florida; source: Will King, “For Zion’s sake,” http://www.jpost.com (5-30-07)

 


 

A Brief Addendum

By Craig Blomberg, PhD

As in Romans 1:24–27, homo-and heterosexual sins are paired in a way that suggests that neither is any better or any worse than the other. One can scarcely use these verses to claim that no one can simultaneously be a Christian and engage in homosexual actions unless one is prepared to say the same thing of one who commits adultery or exhibits greed! But in each of these instances, true Christians should acknowledge their behavior as sinful…[1]

What genetic component may contribute to homosexual predispositions remains to be determined but, like inherent predispositions to alcoholism, violence, or various diseases, such a component, if demonstrated, would be an offshoot of the Fall, not of creation.[2]

Equally crucially, genetic predispositions never exempt humans from biblical standards and accountability before God for moral or immoral behavior. Those predisposed to alcoholism may have to impose more severe restrictions on themselves, such as teetotaling than others might. But that does not mean that drunkenness for them becomes morally acceptable. Those predisposed to homosexual practices may have to monitor themselves more carefully too, but that scarcely turns sin into a divinely ordained lifestyle.[3]

Since the vast majority of homosexuals do not procreate, the simple laws of mathematics lead to the inexorable conclusion that homosexuality would have substantially died out over the centuries if there was a purely or even predominantly genetic component.[4]

None of this is to deny that [Bible believing] Christians have often treated homosexuals far more abusively than they have other sinners. There is real discrimination against the gay community that must be fought.[5]

What is more, it is important to stress that actions rather than orientations predominate throughout this list. While it is false to claim that the ancient world knew nothing of apparent homosexual orientation but only actions,10 it is true that one’s predisposition need not lead to actual sin. Celibacy remains the biblically mandated alternative to heterosexual marriage for people of any orientation unable to find a permanent partner of the opposite sex.[6]

 


 

[1] Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 121.

[2] Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 123.

[3] Ibid., 123.

[4] Ibid., 123.

[5] Ibid., 123.

10 As demonstrated by James B. De Young, “The Source and New Testament Meaning of ΑΡΣΕΝΟΚΟΙΤΑΙ, with Implications for Christian Ethics and Ministry,” Master’s Seminary Journal 3 (1992): 191–215.

[6] Blomberg, 121.

 

 

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