Lesson Five – Disputes Between Believers

Disputes Between Believers


Faithful Christians are slaves to God’s righteousness (I Cor. 7:22; Rom. 6:19-21).  Doing God’s righteousness is our practice (I John 3:7-10).  We may not be able to be just in every situation but our practice is righteousness.  We desire to be just.  It is how we are obedient to our faith.  This is also the basis for God counting us righteous, “just as He is righteous.”  I John 3:7.

The level of our faith will determine our love and zeal for what is in our hearts (II Cor. 8:8; John 2:16, 17).  The level of zeal in our hearts for a particular issue will determine the amount of discipline we have over our “will to act.”  Learning to do God’s will with our bodies is behavioral learning (II Cor. 13:7, 8; Matt. 7:24; Jas. 2:12, 13).  The behavior performed with our bodies also reinforces our identification with the attitude required to do God’s will in a given situation.  In other words, we reinforce our emotional attitude of mercy by being merciful to others (Matt. 5:7).  The “in Christ” realm has been developed by God through Jesus Christ to “give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”  I Cor. 15:58.  Please see Eph. 2:10 and II Cor. 5:10.


The text for this lesson is I Corinthians 6:1-11.  Several of the members of the church at Corinth had lost their faith in the scriptures.  Consequently, sinful behavior had developed.  They were using the ungodly human courts to settle their differences about physical issues rather than applying the wisdom of God.

Since the church of God only functions properly when we function according to the analogy of a physical body, we can understand the seriousness of willful sin in one or more members.  Paul used the human body as an analogy to help us understand the function of a church of God (I Cor. 12:12-30; Rom. 12:3-8).  Like a human body, the healthiness of the body depends on the proper function and support of each member to the whole.   “From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Eph. 4:16.

We understood from our study in the previous lesson, how the acceptance in fellowship of just one willful sinner will cause ungodliness to permeate the whole body of believers, like a little yeast spreads through bread dough (I Cor. 5:6).  In this lesson we will investigate another situation that will affect the “interdependent stage of growth” within the members who make up the “temple of God” on earth.  When members in any type body oppose one another, this creates a ruinous condition.  Action needs to be taken; however, the action must be made according to the “wisdom of God” principles (Jas. 3:17, 18).  When we have a crisis in our physical bodies we look for a doctor who understands the principles for healing diseases.  When people in the world realm cannot agree about material possessions and other issues, they may go to the secular courts for settlement.  When Christians have a dispute we do not go to the “ungodly for judgment.”  Instead we place the issue “before the saints.”  I Cor. 6:1.

When Christians are the persons involved, we first attempt to settle the issue with the other member or members; secondly, if the first attempt fails, we seek the help of some men in the church to amicably settle the matter.   If the church has matured to the point of being shepherded by ordained elders, they would be the persons who are best qualified to assist in bringing the matter to
a peaceable conclusion.  “Grace and peace” was the third item in Paul’s letter form (I Cor. 1:3: II Cor. 1:2).  If this fails we forgive the brother or sister we believe sinned against us and move on with our Christian sanctification by our fellowship with the Holy Spirit (II Cor. 13:14; Rom. 8:5-9).  If the church decides the party we forgave is a swindler, they have the obligation to discipline the member by withdrawing fellowship (I Cor. 5:11).  This is the responsibility of the church – not “the preacher” or the member he or she sinned against.

But what if the disagreement cannot be settled in our favor?  We are the member who lost something.   Suppose the church decides the other party is not a swindler?  The opposing party believes they are right in their judgment and we are wrong.  What should be our next step?   If the matter is not settled does it matter whether the other party is a swindler or just mistaken in their judgment?  In either case we forgive them and move on with our lives.

Some members of the Corinthian church may have added a fourth step according to the “wisdom of man.”  They took their brothers before unbelievers – the secular courts.  Paul stated our Lord’s view of this kind of behavior in His body:

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.  I Cor. 6:7, 8

In what sense have we failed if we go to the ungodly judges for justice?  Why should we be wronged?  Don’t we have a right to protect our dignity and property?  These are the questions we will need to answer for ourselves.  Paul thought the church members already possessed the correct answers even though they were not doing right.  He did not give them answers.  He asked rhetorical questions.  We have to think about the questions he posed.  A specific law of life was not presented in our text for a “fourth step.”   We will need to make our own hypothesis based upon what we know from our studies of the scriptures along with what may be suggested in this text.  We have the same questions to answer the Corinthian church had been given.  Let us think and meditate and then hypothesize.

Jesus taught principles we can apply to all types of disagreements.  He taught these principles before He built the first church for God:

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.  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.  If he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a tax collector. Matt. 18:15-17

Jesus was specifically speaking to a situation where “your brother sins against you.”  He or she has sinned against you in some way.  Brother is a generic term for a male or female member of the church.  Perhaps he slandered you.  What should you do?  The first step in Jesus’ scenario is to go to your brother and name his sin.  This is specific.  There can be no specific repentance on his or her part unless the sin can be named.  If there is no specific sin named and no specific repentance, there cannot be real forgiveness.  Jesus was not talking about “cheap forgiveness.” It does not exist in the wisdom of God context.

Sometimes members of the church are heard to ask God in public prayers to “forgive us all our sins,” yet, no specific sins are named – no repentance that produces fruit in line with the sin is manifested (Luke 3:8).  The people who make these kinds of prayers may be looking for what could be called “cheap forgiveness.”  Jesus was talking about specifics.  Paul was speaking to a specific situation that had, and perhaps was happening at the time he wrote.  Please note how Jesus’ general instruction in the foregoing scripture and the sequence of steps offered by Paul are the same.

The first step is to “go and show him his fault.”  In the Corinthian case, it might be said, “go state the case as you see it.”  The second step, which is hopefully not necessary, is to go to your brother with some other brothers.  The third step, if necessary, is to take the matter to the church.  Let us remember this is the church Jesus purchased for God with His blood (Acts 20:18).  This is God’s temple where He dwells by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in each faithful member (I Cor. 3:16).  This is the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22, 23).  It is the church of the firstborn, the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb. 12:22).  This is not
a denomination cobbled together by the “wisdom of man” where people divide around human beings such as Paul and Apollos (I Cor. 1:11, 12; 3:5-7).

The third step was the last step in both scenarios.  This is where some Christians balk; that is, if the third step also fails to bring forth repentance, what then?  They want a fourth step but neither Jesus nor Paul offered one in the context in which they were speaking.  In the Corinthian case, the members wanted something back they had once had in their own possession.  It may have been a piece of property.  This is where Paul asked the rhetorical question; “Why not suffer loss?”  In what way had they already lost?  What had they lost?  Our hypothesis should be controlled by the context in which these questions were asked; therefore, we will want to consider everything Paul said in relation to this matter.

Paul released information in our text that might be a “news bulletins” to some of us (I Cor. 6:2, 3).  Are we aware members of the church who are rewarded our inheritance on Judgment Day may find ourselves in the position of judging the world; yes, and even angels.  The Corinthians evidently knew this because both of these, possibly “news bulletins” to us, were put in rhetorical questions to the church.

What can we make of these declarations in relation to our list of questions?  They might suggest that Christians are the best informed people in the world about why we are here and how God put us together in relation to why we are here.  We know about the law of life.  Judgments are made by persons who understand the law pertaining to the issue.  Scientists make judgment calls about the natural laws God set in order for the universe.  A court judge most assuredly needs to understand the laws established by a State for its citizens.   Who should best understand the laws of the new covenant, other than Deity?  Correct; it would be Christians.  Why then should Christians take other saints to court when we are best informed to judge situations that involve the laws of life in the kingdom of God (I Cor. 4:20)?  We are best qualified; therefore, we must settle our own disputes.

We have access to the “secret wisdom of God.”  We have a covenant from God unlike any covenant God had released before the Christ came from and went back to heaven.  See Part II, Lesson One.  How could any court on earth match our ability to make “judgment calls?”  Paul thought the less qualified in the church would be better equipped than the local secular judge.  What does the local judge’s qualification have to do with the law of life?  When members of the church take our own spiritual family to court we deny we have access to the “wisdom of God.”  This says to the world, Satan’s people are wiser than Jesus’ people.  This indeed is a serious loss.  It is a much bigger loss than whatever we might gain by contesting in court.

The Corinthians were encouraged to boast, but only in the Lord (I Cor. 1:31).  We will agree with this after we develop faith in the fact that we have all spiritual blessings available to mankind “In Christ.”  We understand faith in these blessings produces our spiritual healthy mental environment in the Lord.  The well-being of the body of Christ must play a strong role in forming our hypothesis about the questions that have been posed.   Paul wrote, “When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.”  I Cor. 8:12.  There is no organization on earth organized by mankind that functions on the high level of life as a healthy church.  The body concept has its roots in faith and love.  Christians, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit.”  Eph. 4:3, 4.  When members take members of the “body of Christ” to court the unity of the body is what is lost.  The will of God is lost.  The will of God was the only mission of Jesus; therefore, the request of His last prayer is lost (John 17:20, 21).  How much can be lost and still be the church Jesus built for God?

One point Paul often made is the importance of the soul of each person in the world as well as in Christ.  He showed a deep concern for the spirit of the man who had his father’s wife (I Cor. 5:5).  Many people in the world in Corinth might have been lost because the members showed less concern for the well being of each other’s soul than they did about the issues causing their disputes.

In case the third step does not bring about the settlement of a dispute in the church, members sometime become enemies.  In this case both parties need to understand the “ball is back in their court.”  We may be the one who lost something because we were not able to settle the dispute.  Even though we took other brothers with us in step two, the dispute remained.  Next it was the church’s turn to work to dissolve our dispute with another member.  If they fail and our brother does not yield, now the ball is in our court.

We must make a decision on our own.  Indeed he or she may have become our enemy.  Since neither Jesus nor Paul offered a fourth step for a settlement in the context they presented the first three steps, we have a personal decision to make.  We can try to live with our enemy in the church.  This will surely require much time and energy.  This will weaken our power to move.  Our power to move is based on the strength of our character.  So now we are dealing with the power of our own character.  “What should we do?”

We could approach him or her and tell them I believe you sinned against me.  We might want to say, “I have asked you to repent.  You have decided against that move, so I forgive you.”  See Matt. 5:43; 6:14, 15.  Then in love we would say, “You owe me nothing; May God bless you by helping you think through this matter.  If your conscience tells you, you should repent, please do.”  When we approach issues of disagreement in this manner, our potential enemy does not any longer control a part of our lives.  We will not need to give time and energy to this situation.  We can apply this time and energy to other pressing issues in our lives.  Free at last!  This will require us to love what could have been our enemy (I Cor. 13:4-8).  It will also require an experimental faith in God’s principles of life.  See my book, “Sermon on the Mount,” Part III, Lesson Five.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Please think about the mental environment you live in daily.  List some things that are influencing it for good or bad.
  2. Why did God through Jesus Christ establish the healthy mental environment “in Christ?”
  3. Why might we conclude that many of the Corinthian Christians had lost their faith in regard to the Divine Persons, other saints, the promise of a faithful Christian’s inheritance and the grace doctrines based on the cross?
  4. Explain the difference in the problem of sexual immorality in the previous lesson and the problem in this lesson.
  5. Explain how the church of God functions according to the wisdom of God.
  6. When disagreements arise in social groups of people that fail to be solved by the group, what is the standard rule for selecting help by people in the world?
  7. Based on your answer to the foregoing question, why would Christians avoid a secular court in order to settle a dispute among themselves?
  8. What is the order of the three steps for problem solving Jesus and Paul taught that has been presented in this lesson?
  9. Instead of presenting a divine principle in the text for this lesson to solve the Corinthian church’s problem, Paul asked a rhetorical question.  What did this suggest he knew about the members?
  10. How specific do Christians need to be about sin in the case where we are seeking legitimate forgiveness?
  11. List the two rhetorical questions about Christians’ activity after Judgment that is often passed over in our Bible study because we do not know what the recipients knew.
  12. Christians are best equipped to settle their own disputes in the church.  Why?
  13. What is lost when Christians take our brothers and sisters before ungodly judges?
  14. Explain a Christian’s next exercise, should all three of the steps Jesus taught fail to settle the dispute.

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