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Dealing With Disputes

1 Corinthians 6:1-6
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? 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? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! 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? 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! (NIVUK)

Where there are sinners, disputes will always occur somewhere, even in the church. In the Old Testament, Moses acted as God's judge (Exodus 18:13); and He provided a succession of judge/deliverers of which Samuel was the last (1 Samuel 7:15), before David and Solomon (2 Chronicles 1:11). They were all given God's Spirit so that they could decide who was right and what was wrong. After all, God's children were all in one family and His honour was more important than that of any individual.
The church in Corinth had not understood that. They were each insisting on their own rights and pursued each other through the civil courts to establish their claims. Paul realised that they were shaming the Lord Himself: by failing to act as brothers and sisters they had become legal enemies. It was all wrong, he said. How could a pagan lawyer have more wisdom than the Spirit of God? If the children of God will reign with Him one day, should they not be able to decide about relatively trivial matters?
Was nobody really able to assist in these family disputes? Was the civil court the only option? No. The church had leaders but they had been unwilling to take hard decisions. They were tolerant of what was wrong and afraid to declare what was right. They enjoyed the position of leadership but did not want to handle its responsibility and resolve disputes in a godly way between family members. Neither did they delegate the responsibility to others in the fellowship; so disputes escalated until the civil law was imposed.
The alternative to discipline and order in the church is anarchy; in which everybody does what they think is right – irrespective of the cost and hurt to other family members. It was a typical problem in the periods between the Old Testament judges (Judges 17:6; 21:25). But Jeremiah 31:34 looked forward to the day when God's Spirit would teach each Child of God what was right. Disputes within the family of God need to be sorted in the family and not taken outside. In order for that to happen, loving leadership needs to be willing to understand all the issues involved and seek God's wisdom about the way forward (Ephesians 4:3). Power politics needs to give way to praying partnership.

Judge of all. Thank You for Your amazing knowledge about everything and everybody, their actions and motives. Forgive me when I demand my rights rather than first seeking Your honour. Please give courage to the leaders of Your church so that they may rightly lead their people into godly ways. Help me to play my part in assisting my brothers and sisters to find Your way forward. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams