Week of March 24

Look for Family Bonds to Bridge Deep Divides

Read; Joshua 9-11; 1 Corinthians 6
“When one of you has a grievance against another,
does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?”
1 Corinthians 6:1, ESV


J. Vernon McGee once said, “There is a brotherhood within the body of believers, and the Lord Jesus Christ is the common denominator. Friendship and fellowship are the legal tender among believers.” Sadly, this type of fellowship is not always the case as our focal passage shows us today. “Deep and wide, deep and wide” are words from an old camp chorus that reminded young people of God’s fountain of life. Sadly, the words today may often be applied to personal, ecclesial, and denominational divisions! The metaphorical “deep and wide” includes politics, unresolved sexual abuse cases, and even divide over worship styles. Thankfully, there is a way to bridge Christian differences, and Paul shares it with us today.

The Meaning of the Text

Church Family: the link that clarifies the context
There is no grammatical link at the beginning of this section to link it with what precedes this passage. The subject of “judgment” is front and center in the last two verses in chapter five, and we will see some overlap when Paul resumes the theme in the latter part of this chapter (cf. 5:10-11 with 6:9-10; cf. Handbook). Verse one focuses on a new issue, despite the background tie between the two sections. The underlying principle that Paul uses to build the foundation of his argument is the uniqueness of the family of God. Families lives together best when they are bound by the bonds of love and trust.
A serious breach of moral trust in the family of God
This new section contains a serious moral concern that has surfaced in Corinth. The word for “grievance” may at first seem to indicate a dispute (perhaps a business transaction), but the context requires the meaning of a lawsuit (cf. EBC). If you are like me, you may wonder how this might apply to your life today, since you have never been sued, nor have you considered suing a fellow church member. Nevertheless, stay with me a bit longer.
The ethical responsibility is embedded in the “family of God” because Paul addresses the other person in the situation as a “brother” (i.e., Christian). We often say blood is thicker than water, meaning family sticks together. Well, as a Christian, the maxim is “shed blood” is thicker than water, as in the shed blood of Christ. Paul expresses shock when he writes, “How dare you . . .” (6:1a). He was saying that the adversary in this noncriminal legal dispute had no moral right to initiate a lawsuit (cf. Matthew 5:39). Of course, there were times when Paul made good use of the Roman courts (Acts 22:25-29; 23:27; 24:10-21; 25: 4-12; and 16: 37-39; EBC). He was simply reminding the church of their prerogative in settling such cases themselves. If such cases are really that serious, then the believers should seek someone wise enough to handle it, rather than pursue secular litigation. This warrants our own careful reflection before we escalate a church disagreement based upon some moral right, meaning a privilege not based upon a law. So, what will defuse such a fellowship breakdown?
You are a saint, so behave like one
Paul lays heavy emphasis on one word, “saints,” in this passage. He seems to shed light on the various nuances in meaning and then gathers all together to make a unified whole. At first, he uses the word in the ethnic aspect of Christians as “God’s people” (6:1). I hope I do not oversimplify this point, but I see this as a larger circle. The whole number of us who follow Christ fit into this circle.

Secondly, he moves into the ethical realm when he uses the word “saints” to mean “holy.” Both folks in the legal dispute are Christians, but this also means that they have ethical obligations toward God and each other (6:7-10; e.g., “love your neighbor”)!

Thirdly, Paul uses the word saint in a theological sense (6:11). He says we are a part of a new people and dwell in a community of the same. We have been sanctified—“holy-fied” in Ashlock speak—and this means we reject attitudes of worldliness that are hurtful and destructive to our church family relationships (6:7-8; Handbook; EBC). Wow! Paul has written some deeply meaningful truth, but it begs the question. What has this to do with us?
The point for our lives
Paul has reached a climax with the case study of church members who are suing one another. He draws deeply upon the core value that human life is precious, and we are to respect its worth in all our dealings, especially with fellow believers. With Christ’s sacrifice as a backdrop, he then calls for the Corinthians to sacrifice themselves rather than to “harm and cheat their fellow Christians” (6:8, “suffer wrong”; EBC). Stop here for a moment and let Paul’s Christology come to mind. Jesus held no malice toward us even while were we sinners (Romans 5:8). We must resolve this heart issue or verses 9-10 will cause us to create an unnecessary divide in our relationships.

The Message for Your Heart

I flew to Kenya following the genocide that took place in Rwanda in the mid-1990s. My assignment was to help the missionaries to process their grief. I honestly was a bit surprised when they used the fellowship time to air individual grievances with one another, rather than share their mutual grief over the great loss they had encountered. I wondered what to do, but one wise missionary reminded me that they were a family. They all knew that if they did not stick together in that foreign context, then they would be torn apart. The sacrificial love of Christ was the glue that bound their hearts together! The point in our passage goes beyond political and social bonds that we establish. Our unity is grounded in our Christian family DNA. We are children of the Heavenly Father, and we are to bear His likeness and character in all our dealings with one another.

For Thought and Action

1. There have been times in my life where I made a proverbial “mountain out of a mole hill.” Not every issue in church life is a mountain too tall to scale! Here is another metaphor. Our passage teaches us today to take the dirt that we use to build barriers between our lives and our brothers and sisters in Christ and use it to plant and cultivate the seeds of fellowship. With whom do you hold a grievance in the Christian family? Plant seeds that lead to peace.
2. For Families: Help your children love each other more deeply, and engage in fewer disputes, with a little exercise in self-examination.
Ask them to come to the kitchen table for a treat and provide them with paper and a pencil. As they eat their snack, ask them to list the top ten things they like to do together as a family, or that makes them feel special (e.g., going for a picnic, or on vacation, or playing ball in the backyard, or making a favorite supper or dessert with Mom).

Post these lists on the inside pantry door and let everyone know that they are there for the whole family to see and study. As your children learn not to argue and fight and disagree and make rude comments, they can also learn what to do that will bless each other. Make it an intentional part of every day to accomplish something on the lists that will delight your children’s hearts. As they see you studying and listening, and making ways for sweet unity and fellowship in your home, they will follow suit. May our children learn to care deeply for each other as unto the Lord.

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock