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The Church and the World

The Voice of Sovereign Grace / Doug Agnew
The Truth Network Radio
February 13, 2022 6:00 pm

The Church and the World

The Voice of Sovereign Grace / Doug Agnew

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February 13, 2022 6:00 pm

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Turn with me this morning, if you would, to 1 Corinthians chapter 6 as we resume our journey through Paul's letter to this first century New Testament congregation. We're considering today the relationship between the church and the world, specifically as it relates to conflict resolution. As we walk through our text, which is 1 Corinthians chapter 6 verses 1 through 11, would you stand with me in honor of God's Word?

1 Corinthians 6, beginning at verse 1. When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more then matters pertaining to this life? So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother and that before unbelievers?

To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded, but you yourselves wrong and defraud even your own brothers? Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God, do not be deceived? Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

And such were some of you, 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. Let's pray. Holy Spirit, what we know not, teach us. What we have not, give us. What we are not, make us. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

You can be seated. Well, it's been a couple of months now since we were in the book of 1 Corinthians, so let me just jog our memory a little bit. Chapter 5, where we were last time, addressed the necessity of biblical church discipline. You'll remember that Christmas sermon on excommunication we enjoyed a few weeks ago. You know, you can't really think about the topic of church discipline without assuming a distinction between those who are in the church and those who are outside the church. A distinction of status between the regenerate and the unregenerate is a very obvious and a very necessary component of church discipline. Paul brings up this distinction by commanding certain people at Corinth to be put out of the church, to be, in Paul's words, delivered over to Satan. So there's a very clear in the group and out of the group division as Paul describes the process of church discipline. Now part of this putting out of a Christian from the church involves disassociating from the disciplined, unrepentant believer. But then Paul feels compelled to clarify that even though we are to disassociate ourselves from unrepentant Christians, we are not supposed to disassociate from unrepentant non-Christians.

In fact, Paul says that would be impossible because unrepentant non-Christians are everywhere, and to disassociate from them would require leaving the world. Well chapter 6 continues in this vein of assuming a fundamental difference between the regenerate and the unregenerate. But here in chapter 6, Paul addresses a scenario in which Christians are supposed to maintain their association with believers, but disassociate from unbelievers. So the situation's reversed here in chapter 6. But both chapters 5 and 6 tell us that there is a right way and a wrong way to associate with believers, and there is a right way and a wrong way to associate with unbelievers. And our interaction as Christians with these two categories of people then has the potential to honor or scandalize the name of Christ. Now at first this may seem that Paul is speaking out of both sides of his mouth. In 5 he tells us not to avoid unbelievers, in 6 he tells us to avoid unbelievers.

So which is it? Well I think we can look at it this way. Chapter 5 is about the church being in the world, and chapter 6 is about the church not being of the world. We are to be in the world, but not of the world.

We are salt and light to the world, but we are not friends with the world. And this is a tricky balance to maintain, isn't it? The theologians have been debating where the line is in this for centuries, but it is an essential balance to maintain if we are to bring glory to Christ in this life, because to err in either direction, to fail at being a present witness in the world, or to fail at being holy and distinct from the world, dishonors Christ and his redemptive work in us. So with this balancing act in mind, let's walk through chapter 6 and see how Paul applies this distinction specifically in the arena of conflict resolution. Paul is going to tell the church not to run to the world for help in resolving the internal conflicts that spring up between Christian brothers and sisters.

Again, assuming this fundamental difference between the regenerate and the unregenerate. Now if the church is supposed to be distinct from the world, what would possess us to run to the world for help? Paul mentions three reasons. First of all, we run to the world for help when we don't esteem the church highly enough. We run to the world for help when we fail to esteem the church highly enough. In verses 1 through 4, Paul describes a situation in which the Christians at Corinth had grievances against each other. Now we don't know what kind of grievances these were, they were just unresolved offenses of some sort that were festering between Christians. And so in an effort to resolve those grievances, Christians were taking other Christians to some sort of small claims court. Paul refers to them as trivial cases in verse 2. So brothers in Christ were suing each other in public court. And Paul rebukes them for this practice by essentially saying to them, do you not realize who you are? Verse 2, do you not know that the saints will judge the world? Verse 3, do you not know that the saints will judge angels?

And if the church is entrusted with rendering judgment over the entire human race and over angels, why would this glorious body of Christ followers that we call the church not be adequate, not be self-sufficient enough to render judgment in these trivial, petty conflicts that were driving Christians to run for help to those who had no standing in the church? You know, in a few hours, the two best football teams in the world are about to play for a championship. The coaches and players of these two teams, I would think, know a thing or two about football. Can you ever imagine the coach of one of these elite teams drawing up his game plan for the Super Bowl by consulting with the 10 and under flag football coach at the local YMCA? Of course not.

That would be absurd. He's a world-class coach who has everything he needs to succeed on the field without the help or advice of his inferiors. Christians who are to judge the world and the angels at the end of time are failing to recognize who they are when they run to unregenerate judges and pay unregenerate lawyers to plead their case against other Christians. They are the redeemed people of God, the spiritually elite who have been resurrected and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

They, of all people, ought to have the ability to decipher between right and wrong, to judge with equity, to resolve trivial disputes. But in Corinth, they were running to the world for help because their esteem for the church of Jesus Christ was so low. Simply put, Christian litigation exposes the gospel and the church to derision. When Christians who claim to have been radically changed by the gospel cannot resolve their conflicts with each other without the world's help, it conveys to the world an impotent gospel and an incompetent church. Now before we look at the second reason Paul gives, I do want to point out a potential ditch, an extreme that we need to not fall into here.

In fact, every commentary I read this past week, I think without exception, made reference to this ditch. To say that Christian litigation against other Christians demeans the church and makes a mockery of the gospel does not mean that there is not a right use of court systems outside of the church. Paul himself, the very man who wrote 1 Corinthians, appealed to Rome when his actions were being called into question by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. God has instituted human governments outside of the church as vehicles for pursuing justice in a society. Rewarding good, punishing evil. So there is a God-given channel for righting wrongs and punishing evil that does not involve the court of the church. If you are a lawyer or a judge or a law enforcement officer, you're a minister of God for the good of society. So fulfill that ministry righteously. Paul is not belittling that ministry.

Christians use those ministers in society as God intends you to. What Paul is condemning here, though, is a very specific sort of litigation. He's condemning Christians initiating lawsuits against other Christians before unbelieving judges and over trivial matters without ever attempting to resolve the matter in the spiritual court of the church. So we need to realize lawsuits aren't bad.

Bad lawsuits are bad. And lawsuits are bad when they are the result of Christians being more committed to their individual rights than to the reputation of the church or to the beauty of the gospel. We run to the world for help when we don't esteem the church and its God-given authority highly enough. But secondly, we run to the world for help when we don't possess the character to resolve conflicts. When we don't possess the character to resolve conflicts. It is true that the church will be called upon to judge the world and the angels on Judgment Day. And if that's who we are, we ought to be competent to render judgment in trivial matters, right?

But what if we're not? What if we lack the moral discernment, the selfless impartiality, the fair-mindedness to resolve disputes justly among our own? In other words, what if we not only fail to esteem the church highly enough, but also lack the character that God says ought to characterize those who have been regenerated and filled by the Holy Spirit?

That would be a whole new layer of shame, wouldn't it? Paul says in verse 5, I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle disputes between the brothers? There are times when we as the church, as Christians, run to the world for help because we lack wisdom to render a godly fair-minded judgment. And this, I think, highlights a very important paradox in the Christian life. It highlights the fact that there is often a discrepancy between what God says is positionally true of us spiritually because of our status in Christ and what is practically true of us experientially in time and space. God says, for example, that we are righteous in Christ, but I act unrighteous by sinning every day.

God says that not even the gates of hell will prevail against the church, but every day it seems that hell gets closer and closer to overwhelming and prevailing against the church. So there's often this apparent discrepancy between what God says we are from heaven's vantage point and what we actually are on Monday morning. We need to highly esteem the church because God highly esteems the church, but this doesn't mean we can't be honest with the fact that we have not yet arrived.

We are on our way to becoming what God says we are, but we're not there yet. And so while Corinth was destined one day to be judges on the last day, the fact of the matter was they had simply not progressed enough in their sanctification to be wise enough to judge trivial matters and alter their shame. The solution to this problem was not to merely think more highly of the church. It would also require that they grow in wisdom. If we're unable to biblically and sensibly resolve conflict in the church, we need to take active steps to know Scripture better, to know people better, to understand how to take Scripture and apply it faithfully and consistently to difficult situations within the body of Christ.

It's a skill that must be learned and fostered and practiced. But not only did the Corinthians lack wisdom to judge matters in the church, they also lacked love for one another. Verse 7, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you, Paul says. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded, but you yourselves wrong and defraud even your own brothers? The world is in many ways obsessed with justice. Whether the subject is the treatment of minorities or gender equality or socioeconomic discrepancies, immigration, tax system, labor unions, you name the topic, the world is quick to cry unfair whenever it perceives an injustice. I'm not saying they're achieving justice. I'm just saying they're obsessed with the pursuit of whatever it is they see as justice. Now, God is a God of justice, isn't He? He loves justice. He Himself is perfectly just. And as His children, we should love justice too. We don't condone oppression or tyranny or injustice of any kind because God hates those things. So is Paul suggesting here by saying that we ought to willingly suffer wrong and allow ourselves to be defrauded, is he saying that justice doesn't matter?

No. What he's saying is that there are things which take precedent over my rights. When it comes to the task of resolving personal conflicts that are internal to the church, protecting the witness of the church and the unity of the body of Christ are more important than winning the argument or getting one's way. Within the body of Christ, there is to be an economy of mercy and deference that the world simply cannot understand.

I think it was C.S. Lewis who said somewhere that the distinguishing characteristic of those in hell is a disproportionate love for law rather than for freedom. Now, I think we think of things opposite from that. We think of the world's ethic as being one of unbridled license to sin when often it is actually unbridled and unprincipled application of the law to everyone except me. Justice without mercy is perhaps the more typical guiding principle of the world, especially in their dealings with other people. But church, the Christian economy is to be different. We have a place for mercy, not the compromising of justice, but mercy triumphing over judgment through substitutionary atonement.

We, unlike the world, have a category for absorbing injustice. If that's not a pursuit we're after, then we understand neither the justice of God nor the divine grace that we've been shown when we litigate against our brothers and sisters in Christ over trivial matters to the point of tarnishing the witness of the church before a watching world. We're acting like the debtor in Christ's parable who owed a great sum of money.

You remember the story. He could not pay it back but his master wiped the debt clean and then this forgiven debtor turned around and promptly went out and demanded payment from someone who owed him a small trivial amount. Church, it dishonors Christ when Christians who have been shown infinite grace would rather inflict injury on others than absorb with patience and grace the wrongs done against them. And Paul says this lack of love and wisdom is one of the reasons regenerate people to their shame run to the unregenerate for help. There's a third and final reason we run to the world for help in resolving conflicts and it's when we don't realize the power of the gospel. When we don't realize the power of the gospel, when we hold the church in low esteem and when we lack the character to function as God has commissioned us to function, we are thinking and acting like people who have not been recreated by the power of the gospel. And so Paul emphasizes in verse 9 some of the visible characteristics that ought to distinguish the righteous from the unrighteous. Verse 9, or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who practice homosexuality nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor revilers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God and such were some of you. And that is a critical past tense verb.

This was characteristic of you but isn't anymore because something has radically changed in you. Verse 11 continues, 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. I love how these verses capture both sides of the coin. On the one hand, we're not distinct from the unsaved. We have the same sin tendencies, the same feelings, the same scandalous charges are brought against us so we can't say to the world I'm just morally superior to you because left to ourselves we aren't any better.

We have no right to blush at their sin because truth be known we've done the same things. But then verse 11 makes a huge claim, but you were washed, sanctified, justified in Christ by the Holy Spirit. So there is a fundamental difference between the regenerated person and the unregenerated person but that difference has nothing to do with some sort of internal superiority of one worm over another worm.

We are all worms deserving God's wrath. The difference has everything to do with the fact that someone quite outside of ourselves has done something for us. Jesus Christ through his death and resurrection has satisfied God's wrath toward our sin and because of this washing, this justifying act, we have been given the means of becoming holy, of ceasing to be enslaved to this list of sins and instead living lives of purity and godliness. Folks, the gospel really does change who we are.

And so this puts us in the unique position of being able to identify with unbelievers while simultaneously being fundamentally distinct from them. I can go to an adulterer, a homosexual, a thief, a drunkard and say I understand your enslavement to sin but God can free you from that. I think the message for us here is don't forget what God has saved you from but also don't forget what God has saved you too. Now applying this truth to the matter of conflict resolution when Christians who have been made new creations in Christ act like they are still enslaved to sin and run to those who are still enslaved to sin for help to resolve their trivial differences, it belittles the claims of the gospel. The gospel is supposed to have made us better judges of right and wrong than unregenerate people who don't know any better. Our moral sensibilities have been awakened by the Holy Spirit so that we ought to have a heightened ability to be honest about our own sin and about the sins of others. Also the gospel is supposed to have made us better absorbers of wrong. When an unregenerate person is more forbearing, more forgiving, more selfless than the child of God, it scandalizes the gospel. And so the solution is for us to take a long hard look at the claims of the gospel and evaluate our conduct and priorities and words and attitudes in light of those claims and then let those claims temper the way we deal with injustices committed against us and temper the injustices that we mete out to others.

Why? Because we have been fundamentally changed by the gospel. As we bring this to a close this morning, let's think a little bit about how to practically apply these principles and attitudes that Paul is calling us to in these verses. You know, as I was thinking about this issue last week, I was thankful that I really could not remember any situations in my years here at Grace Church in which one of our members brought a civil lawsuit against another member. I could think of one or two situations of that happening within churches within our presbytery and I can think of numerous cases of it happening within the broader visible church. Perhaps the most common occurrence of this in our day and age might be the litigation that takes place when Christian couples pursue divorce. So I'm grateful that this has not been a blatant recurring problem specifically at Grace Church, but I don't want us to ever think that we're exempt from any admonition that God has seen fit to include in His Word.

Nor do I want us to think that just because perhaps we've avoided a public display of certain sins that we're not guilty of privately harboring these sinful attitudes. We need to heed Paul's warning and so I want to mention three practical steps that we can take to help us avoid this particular Corinthian error. First of all, learn the process of proper biblical church discipline. Read Matthew 18.

Read the crucial parable that follows Matthew 18. Read our denominations articles and position papers on proper process and conflict resolution. If any denomination has thought through the principles and practice of church discipline, it's the Presbyterian Church.

Y'all, we have 20 chapters devoted to this topic in our book of church order. So we need never violate Paul's principles of conflict resolution for lack of information on how to do it. So study the topic, know how Scripture handles it, know how we ought to resolve these conflicts in the church. But having said that, if we walk away from this passage with merely a renewed zeal for the rules of church discipline, then I'm afraid we've missed the point of the text. So secondly, I would encourage you to learn to value corporate unity more than you value personal rights.

Now recognize that these two things are not always at odds with each other. I'm not trying to set up some sort of false dichotomy, but there are times when personal rights can only be defended at the cost of corporate unity in the church. And when that's the case, we need to be able to hold loosely to what we think we deserve for the sake of the peace and purity of the church. I can't help but think of what Paul said in Philippians 2. He said to the church with regard to their interaction with each other, do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility, count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. And then Paul exemplified this kind of selflessness when he said in Philippians 1, some Christians preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill.

The latter do it out of love, the former out of selfish ambition, intending to afflict me in my imprisonment. And then in response to this mistreatment, Paul said, what then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed and in that I rejoice. Paul was within his rights as an apostle to charge these pretentious Christian rivals with sin, but he chose to absorb it for the sake of the gospel. He put the unity of the body and the preaching of the gospel ahead of his need to be right. We should follow Paul's lead and learn to seek the peace of the church ahead of our seeking vindication or respect. That is difficult to do, but I can hardly think of a way that better demonstrates Christ's likeness than this sort of unselfish deference to one another.

I'll just mention one more practical application. This morning, as we've walked through this text, I've primarily applied the text to those who were being wronged. And I've tried to show the necessity and the beauty of absorbing those wrongs, but there's another side of that coin. We are sometimes the perpetrators of wrong. In other words, we are sometimes the ones who instigate and fuel the conflict. It's a lot more palatable, I think, for us to view ourselves as the ones being sent against, but sometimes we're the ones sending against others.

Sometimes we're the ones causing unnecessary conflict in the body by insisting on our own way, our opinions, our plans. Sometimes we overlook or undervalue the Holy Spirit's giftings in other believers, and we revile and we swindle our brothers and sisters through blindly pursuing personal interests above corporate interests. Church, my personal interests and goals are not the measure of what will edify the body of Christ. And there are times when I need to sit on my ideas and defer to whatever is for the corporate good of the church. Paul is, in fact, going to allude to this very topic next. So my final exhortation to you today is to not only learn how to properly exercise biblical discipline and to not only learn how to absorb wrongs against your own person for the sake of Christian unity and witness, but also to check your own actions and attitudes to ensure that you're not causing the very kinds of conflicts Paul is addressing. If contention and divisiveness is typical of your interaction with other believers, beloved, that is not supposed to be normal. Perhaps you need to search your heart and ask the Lord if you're lacking in deference, if you have a blind spot that's causing unnecessary division in the body of Christ. You know, Paul doesn't naively act as if there will never be any conflicts between Christians.

There will. He's not pretending that the church has no dirty laundry. I mean, chapter 5 has some pretty dirty laundry. Paul is simply exhorting the church to prize the honor of Christ above selfish gain. He's encouraging us to act like the washed, sanctified, justified people that we are in how we deal with each other and how we deal with an unregenerate world. So church, grow in your esteem for the body of Christ. Grow in wisdom and love for other Christians. Grow in godliness and personal holiness. And as we all grow in these ways, we will begin to attain the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of God that is so beautiful to the Lord. And the world will sit back and say, look at how much those Christians love each other.

Whatever they have is real. Let's pray. Lord, we fall so short of what we know to be right. Help us to change, but also help us to remember in this battle of mortifying our flesh that we have an advocate who obeyed every scriptural injunction perfectly. An advocate who then died in our place so that his perfection could be credited to us. Thank you, Jesus, for washing and sanctifying and justifying us. For the sake of your glory, enable us by your spirit to be more and more conformed to the very things that you say are true of us. We pray in your precious and powerful name, amen.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-06-05 10:09:23 / 2023-06-05 10:20:20 / 11

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