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Nov 20, 2011

Choosing Defeat...or Victory?

Passage: 1 Corinthians 6:1-11

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Life Together--First Corinthians

Category: Christian Walk

Keywords: conflict, freedom, bitterness, offend, hurt, forgiveness


This message looks at the role of conflict to either defeat or grow the believer in Christ. It challenges people to learn to deal with offenses in a spiritual manner and remain free of the debilitating effects of offendedness, hurt and bitterness.


Choosing Defeat…or Victory?

I Corinthians 6:1-11

November 19, 2011

STORY:  How my family came to faith in Jesus Christ—through a church split of a church about 4 blocks from here.  Most of the people in the church and probably the pastors themselves didn’t even know Christ personally. My parents had been in this denomination for over 40 years and had never, ever, in their recollection, been told the biblical truth of needing to accept Christ personally.  The denomination was becoming more and more political.  Had the political drift been in the direction of my parents politics, they may never have questioned anything to this day.  But along with hundreds of other members of that church, they knew that something was wrong and it needed changing.  

      When it finally came to a vote of the congregation, their side lost the vote.  So my parents helped start a new church.  Its first Sunday there were over 300 people!  The problem was, now they had to figure out what they DID believe in rather than what the DIDN’T. J  That search led them to hear the Gospel clearly for the first time and to the salvation of 6 of the 7 members of my family in the space of 4 months. 

      So here they were, brand new believers, in charge of leading and teaching other people spiritual truths and realities.  Many of the new founding members of that church were not themselves submitted to Jesus Christ yet.  You can imagine what kind of church that would eventually produce. 

      It wasn’t terribly long before they found some pastor from somewhere who was willing to lead this new, eager, but naïve and pretty worldly minded bunch of upstanding Spokane citizens. Before we knew it, there was fighting within the congregation, charges of misappropriation of funds against the pastor and a lawsuit filed against the church and pastor by none other than my own father.  As it turned out, it was one of the few cases he lost in his legal career.  But it was one that taught him the importance early on of listening to God by listening to God’s Word. 

Had my father known his Bible better and had he grown enough to know that you should never do what the Bible says not to do, he may have saved himself a lot of time, expense, unnecessary frustration and embarrassment.  This morning’s passage would have been all he needed to learn to walk by faith in his Savior rather than walking by faith in his own wisdom and the ways of the world.  But worldly thinking dies hard…especially for lawyers used to winning. J

Several weeks ago we left off our series in I Corinthians at chapter 5.  In that chapter Paul was tackling some of the sexual sin in the church.  He ended chapter 5 by clarifying that we’re not to try and be judges of the world’s immoral sexual behavior.  5:13 clearly states, “God will judge those outside [the church].” 

      BUT we are to not only judge sexual immorality IN the church (along with other sins among us that will destroy the church).  We are to even “expel the wicked man from among” us.  God is not as apathetic about ongoing sin in his Bride, the church, as we usually are. 

So having talked about the need for the church to step up to the judgment plate of church discipline, he now moves into chapter 6 and the whole question of how to judge one of THE MOST DIFFICULT problems in any church:  disagreements between people in the family of God. 

Anyone here such a new Christian that you haven’t yet seen two or more self-proclaimed followers of Jesus in the church get crossways with each other and really have a sad or heated falling out?  (Just got saved yesterday, right?) 

      While Paul is going to talk about what is wrong with Christians going to court against each other, the truth of the matter is that Christians suing each other in court is really the end of the conveyer belt of unresolved conflict between believers.  The enemy of our souls knows that if he can instigate and foment hurt, disappointment, disagreement, arguments, conflict and anger between God’s people, he will have defeated the conflicted parties themselves and debilitated the witness and strength of the entire church. 

So let’s see what God has to say through Paul to every church that has ever had to contend with contentious people. 

READ I Corinthians 6:1-11. 

1 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? 2 Or do 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 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! 4 Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? 5 I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6 But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers!

 7 The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 8 Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters. 9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. 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.

In the human experience of relational problems, litigation is just another step along the slippery slope of conflict.  There is not a culture, society or community known to man that has never had to develop some sort of system of dealing with interpersonal conflict.  The solving of disagreements and disputes between people has consumed inordinate amounts of time, money, energy and even life.  And when it comes to the life of God’s people, the effects of unresolved conflict and unforgiven offenses have paralyzed and deadened the work of the Spirit in more Christians than any other single issue that I can think of as a pastor. 

So this morning I would like to briefly examine this issue of lawsuits between believers presented here in I Cor. 6.  Then I would like us to back that train up a bit to the issues and attitudes that every one of us must wrestle with that sometimes lead to that tragic escalation to litigation. 

Take away the chapter break you have at the beginning of chapter 6 and it is much easier to see that Paul is simply moving from talking about judgment that needs to happen IN the church to judgment that should happen in the church rather than in the culture. 

Vs. 1—Paul is talking about a dispute between two believers, two self-proclaimed followers of Jesus Christ.  He uses a rather strong Greek word for our English word “dare”.  Some translators have rendered it, “How dare he have the audacity to…” take your disagreements to the “unjustified” or unsaved for judgment instead of before the saints. 

Greece prided itself on its legal system.  So does America.  That’s probably what is going to go down in history as destroying both of us!  J  In our country where there are almost 1.2 million lawyers, there is no shortage of highly educated people willing to take your money so that you can keep fighting for your “rights,” your “wrongs” and your perceived injustices.

God is not forbidding all lawsuits here.  What he is forbidding is lawsuits against fellow members of the body of Christ.  Rather than drag our dirty laundry into the secular legal arena where everyone will be run through a meat grinder, God says His church needs to set up a system whereby what would normally end up before a judge ends up before God’s people. 

Vs. 2 calls legal issues…stuff that you would normally go to court with someone about…“trivial cases.”  It may not seem “trivial” to you when you are trying to recover your stolen business…or get back $5,000 or $50,000 of loaned money from a relative…or arrive at child support in a divorce, etc., etc.

Vss. 2 & 3 lets us in on a frightening fact when it says, “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?  And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases?  3.) Do you not know that we will judge angels?  How much more the things of this life!”

      The way we handle conflict and conflicted issues in this life is meant to prepare us for making good and godly, sound judgments about some things that we will need to do in the next life.  If I were the angels, I’d be really, really nervous about judgment day!  J  I can imagine them commiserating, “These guys can’t even get the little stuff straight in this world!  How will they ever going to hand down decisions in the millennium? Even the simple stuff of money and offenses in this age are totally bushwhacking them.”  The text doesn’t tell us how or in what way we will judge angels, but I’m very glad I’m not an angel when I just look at what I tend to do with offenses and conflict!

Vs. 4 gives the solution for conflict between believers in Jesus that rises to the level of what would normally be a matter to handle in civil court. 

“Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters [legal matters], appoint as judges even men of little account in the church!”  These words really could be stated as a question: “How can you entrust jurisdiction to outsiders, men who count for nothing in our community?” 

      When Christians drag their conflict with other Christians into the secular legal arena, they are taking themselves out from under wise judges who care about their souls, care about what the conflict is doing to their spirits, and understand that everyone involved, including the “judges” must one day stand before God and give account of their deeds and thoughts.  Instead they are inviting godless people who may have no fear of God and no respect for His Word to exercise binding authority over their lives. 

The flat-out absurdity of that choice was very evident to the early church.  But the fact that so many American Christians today find Paul’s words absurd reveals just how off the mark our thinking has gotten.  We would rather entrust our lives, our children, our fortunes and our honor into the hands of a system we know is frequently not just nor equitable nor impartial than put our faith in the Living God and submit our disputes to godly, wise spiritual leaders. 

Paul’s admonition here is really just a further explanation of Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 18:15-17.  There Jesus gives a very clear, 4-step process every one of us is to walk whenever we feel we have been wronged. 

1.)     “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”   Jesus didn’t say, “Go and tell your spouse or best friend about how they did you dirt.”  He didn’t say, “Go get the pastor and ask for his help in resolving the problem.”  He said, “Go and show him his fault just between the two of you.”  90% of the problems between Christians would be solved at this level, in private, IF we would just follow Jesus’ command, no questions asked.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been sucked into other people’s disputes by simply failing to demand that they do this first step before I even try and get involved. 

2.)    But if you do that and you’re still in the 10% of conflict that doesn’t get solved by direct, person-to-person talking and listening, then and only then does stage 2 kick in.  Vs. 16“But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’  This is where mediation is to come into play.  Sometimes the people involved in conflict don’t have the resources in or between themselves to come to humble resolution.  Sometimes the conflict has already become bitter, deep and entrenched.  So find someone you both trust…or a couple of godly, wise people you both respect…and lay it out before them, truly seeking to find resolution and reconciliation.  I’d say that second step can usually resolve another 5-7% of the remaining conflict IF the parties involved are more concerned about God’s will and work in their lives than they are about “winning the fight” or being proven “right” and the other person “wrong.”  But IF that doesn’t resolve it, then Step 3 kicks in.  This is the step Paul is addressing in I Cor. 6.

3.)    “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church….” (Vs. 17).  I honestly think Jesus is talking about the leadership of the church as representatives of the entire people of God.  Whether that is the pastors or elders or spiritual shepherds by another name, it is the body of leadership that has responsibility for shepherding the souls and lives of the people involved. 

You may be thinking, “Yah, but what authority do they have over legal issues?”  Only as much authority as both parties are willing to recognizeHebrews 13:17 states it this way: Obey your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” 

      For better or for worse, church leaders are ordained by God…just as civil leaders are placed there by God…to be used by Him to give us direction when our compass is confused.  They are there to be spiritual parents when we are acting like spiritual toddlers or even teenagers.  Failing to submit to them and their counsel when life is conflicted with another believer is tantamount to telling God you’re not interested in his leadership in your life. 

And when we act like that and live like that, Jesus says the next and final step is for the entire church to treat us as if we were not even saved.  The reason for that is because we are acting like we are not under the authority of Christ.  The Word of God caries no weight with us.  The leaders God has placed over us carry no weight.  And the people of God carry no weight.  That’s a description of a person who does not recognize the lordship and authority of Christ in their life.  That’s the description of an unbeliever. 

Notice:  we’re not to judge whether they are or aren’t a believer.  We’re just to treat them as one because they are acting just like one. 

You may be thinking, “Yes, but the other party might not even be in the same church.”  Well, they might not be in the same little local church you go to.  But that doesn’t matter to God.  This letter of I Corinthians was written to “THE church of God in Corinth…” (1:2).  In God’s eyes there is only one church in any city and it consists of ALL his children, regardless of denomination or theological differences or name. 

      I’ve been part of mediation attempts where leaders from different churches where the conflicted parties fellowship got together to help resolve the conflict.  It can and does work when everyone involved is willing to let God work on their hearts and do what He indicates through their leaders. 

      But you know what I’ve found more often than not?  Even when the parties say they will submit to whatever decision the leaders hand down, if one or both of the conflicted people think they didn’t get enough of what they were after in that binding arbitration, they kiss you goodbye and take the matter right back into court.

Which leads us to the very HEART of the matter, which Paul addresses in I Cor. 6:7 & 8. 

“The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already.  Why not rather be wronged?  Why not rather be cheated?  Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers.” 

Here is the real issue.  Ongoing conflict between two children of God, whether in a marriage or in a church or in a friendship or in a family, is evidence that one or both parties involved have already been “completely defeated.”  They may not have lost the argument yet, but they have lost God’s heart.  They have lost the ability to hear God’s voice.  They have lost their peace and joy and faith in the Lord Jesus. 

      Paul is saying, it is better to be wronged than to end up defeated.  It is better to be cheated than to end up winning and cheating yourself of victory in Christ.  It’s all about what really matters to us: winning our personal battle with some other imperfect human being or winning the heart and life of Christ in our experience.  If “fairness” and “justice” and “our rights” and “what is rightly due me” is more important than being close to the heart of Christ, then we have already lost the battle.  

We live in a culture that thinks it has a right to be offended.  It thinks others should never hurt or disappoint or offend.  Unfortunately, that’s not reality in a fallen world.  So we end up with people who find being hurt or offended or disappointed by others is the unforgivable sin.  Oh, we wouldn’t call it that out and out.  But we live like it.  When someone offends or hurts me, I walk away from them.  I build walls of resentment to protect myself from further hurt. I stop loving them, stop giving to them, stop trying to relate to them.  And we replace the love God calls us to exercise towards our fellow believer or spouse or friend with blame.  We blame our parents, our spouse, our pastor, our kids, our boss…the list is endless.  We even blame God.  After all, He could have prevented this from happening. 

      And therein lies one of the most important truths to stopping ourselves from “being completely defeated.”  Yes, he could have…and He didn’t.  So since He is a good God who never hands out evil for good, why do you suppose he allows these offensive people and things to happen to us?  Could it be that there is a deeper work God wants to do in our souls?  Could it be that there is more of Christ He wants us to grow up into?  Could it be that we really are not as mature in Jesus as we thought we were and this injustice done to us is simply bringing that immaturity to the surface? 

The road to being “completely defeated” is littered with Christians who feel they are justified in their woundedness.  It’s littered with Christians who are seeking to correct a real or perceived wrong done to them.  It’s littered with followers of Jesus who claim they have forgiven others yet who carry unnecessary hurt, can’t get free of unresolved offense and seem unable to really let go of injustices done them.

Listen to Jesus’ command in Mark 11:25“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” 

“Anything against anyone….”  That’s a pretty broad net, isn’t it?  When our souls are hanging onto hurts, we won’t be able to embrace healing.  When our mouths are often found rehearsing or even joking about people who have wounded us, there won’t be room in our mouths for the love of God that covers a multitude of sins. 

Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “Forgive them if the situation is really big.”  He said “anything”, big, medium, small or tiny.

      He doesn’t say, “Forgive them when they finally recognize they have wronged you.”  Forgiveness is a choice we can make before someone may even know they’ve harmed us.

      Jesus doesn’t say, “Forgive them when the hurt has healed.”  In fact, He says that the Father won’t be able to release us from the weight of our own sins until we begin to practice forgiveness towards those who have wounded us. 

Isn’t that what the Lord’s Prayer says too? 

Mt. 6:12, 14-15--“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”  Do we really want to ask God to keep treating us as we are treating (or ignoring) those who have produced wounds in us? 

“Yes,” you may say, “But I just don’t seem to be able to be free of the hurt.  I just don’t seem to be able to let go of the pain.  I just can’t seem to stop feeling resentment or anger or condemnation of this person.” 

      That is why forgiveness is a work of God.  That is why we must cry out for God’s mercy.  That is why we need a Savior, because we can’t even save ourselves from our woundedness.

The first step in being free of the wounds and offenses of others is to recognize that WE are the greater offender, the greater debtor, the greater sinner before God than another human being will ever be before us. 

That is the driving truth of the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21ff.  Peter had come to Jesus asking, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother?”  Then he supplied what he thought would put him way over the top in generosity to his fellow man.  “Up to seven times?” 

Vs. 22—“Jesus Answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”  In other words, don’t keep count.  Never stop forgiving.  There is never to be a limit to the forgiveness I extend to others.  And then Jesus told him a parable.

      “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.  As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him.”

      A talent in biblical times was equal to about 75 pounds.  It was the largest unit of measure.  10,000 talents would be about 750,000 pounds or 375 tons.  Assuming the measure here was gold, the amount of money this servant owed the master would have been over $20 BILLION!  There is no way a servant is ever going to be able to pay back that debt. 

      And so it is with us.  There is no way we can even begin to chip away at the debt we owe God for our sin.  So God did the only thing possible to reconcile us to himself:  he forgave our debt…every last penny of it. 

      That experience is meant to produce servants of God who know how to forgive debts.  Offenses and sins done against us are like debts we can choose to forgive…or choose to hold on to.  But the rest of that parable tells us what will happen to us if we chose not to forgive.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

   29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’

   30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.

   32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

   35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

So HOW do we get free of the wounds, the wrongs, the sins and the hurts of others against us?  How do we really become people who “forgive our brothers from our hearts”???

First, we need to be honest about who we think has wronged us.  If I asked you to write down the names of people who have wronged you in life, who comes to mind?  That’s a good place to start.  Trying to deny that you’ve been hurt only buries the real problem and keeps us from calling out to God for his help in being free of those hurts.  Who comes to mind when you ask yourself, “Who has hurt me in this life?”

Secondly, pray for and about them.  In Matthew 5:44 we have the command of Jesus to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  Prayer must be a HUGE part of the healing we need from the wounds of people. 

  • Prayer begins by asking God to help us identify who we still feel wounded by.
  • Then it moves to actually releasing that injustice to God and letting Him take charge of any score-settling or account-reconciling that needs to be done.  Romans 12:17 tells us that we must “not repay anyone evil for evil.”  Vs. 19 goes on to say, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.”  We must turn over any account-settling to God.  We must “hand over the record books” to the only one who is fit to judge whether the wrongs done us on the human plane need any kind of restitution or righting.  In just a moment, I’m going to suggest a way you can do that visibly and physically today. 
  • Finally PRAYER must involve spending some time asking God to actually bless and rebuild the life of the one who wounded us.  It’s not enough just to forget about the person who wounded us.  We must allow God to change our hearts towards that person by praying however long it takes for God to heal, restore, revive, renew and bless the one who has hurt us. 

This is what I Peter 4:8 calls “loving each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” 

This is actually DOING what God tells us to do in Romans 12: 20-21, doing something good for those who have done something evil to us.

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
   if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

 Prayer for someone that seeks God’s blessing over them is certainly one of the greatest “good things” we can do for someone in this life. 

And I would add one additional suggestion while you are praying for them:  Ask God if he wants you to go and confess your own sin of anger or bitterness or judgment towards the one who has offended you, asking their forgiveness for harboring that in your heart. 

ILL:  Think of life and your relationships with people as an elevator.  Every relationship is like an elevator built for 3 people.  There is just enough room for you, another person, and either the attitude/heart of Christ or the heart of woundedness and offendedness.  As long as the forgiving, loving heart of Christ is with us, the relationship keeps ascending higher and higher to new floors of loving relationship and friendship. 

      But whenever woundedness or offendedness moves in to that elevator, someone must step out…and it will always be Jesus, the consummate Gentleman.  When the heart of Christ steps out, the spirit of anger, bitterness, woundedness, offendedness and all their buddies step in.  And that elevator of relationship, of love, of friendship begins to drop into the darkness of the underground floors.  We stop hearing the voice of God.  We start to develop spiritual calluses that bind the power of God from continuing that work of transformation and renewal in Christ. 

      When that happens…which it will over and over again in our lives unless we truly wear the forgiving heart of Christ in every relationship in this world…we must find our way back to the ground floor where the cross of Christ calls us back to realizing how much God has forgiven us so that we can release others from what little they have done to us. 

CLOSE:  Communion before the cross.  Take communion and take a slip of paper back to your seat.  Write down the names of people God brings to mind who you need to release from settling accounts and instead pray for their blessing and God’s ongoing work in their lives.  (Invite them to take a balloon at the end of the service, tie their paper with those names on it to the string, and release it outside after the service.)