The Cost of Christians in the Court

Among the litany of important and under-treated subjects that the Apostle Paul touches upon in his first letter to the Corinthians, John Calvin reflected on those concerning one believer taking another believer to court over personal or public injuries (1 Cor. 6:1-8). Calvin explained that Paul was responding to a situation in the church in which members "harassed one another with law-suits."1 After defending the God-appointed role of the civil magistrate--and the fact that it is certainly not unlawful for a believer to appear in court if summoned by the magistrate--Calvin spelled out the rationale for God prohibiting believers from taking one another to civil court. He wrote, 

"The reason why Paul condemns law-suits is, that we ought to suffer injuries with patience...Let us therefore bear in mind, that Paul does not condemn law-suits on the ground of its being a wrong thing in itself to maintain a good cause by having recourse to a magistrate, but because it is almost invariably accompanied with corrupt dispositions; as, for example, violence, desire of revenge, enmities, obstinacy, and the like."2

Calvin saw in the prohibition of the Apostle Paul a safeguarding against the promotion of the internal sinful disposition with which believers often attack one another. He understood that when one believer has been on the receiving end of injustices at the hand of another believer, he or she may easily seek revenge at the hand of the civil magistrates. While it is not per se wrong for a believer to appeal to the civil magistrate for the prosecution of his or her rights, there is an ever present danger that he or she does so with a malicious spirit. Calvin again wrote, 

"A Christian man is altogether prohibited from revenge, so that he must not exercise it, either by himself, or by means of the magistrate, nor even desire it. If, therefore, a Christian man wishes to prosecute his rights at law, so as not to offend God, he must, above all things, take heed that he does not bring into court any desire of revenge, any corrupt affection of the mind, or anger, or, in fine, any other poison. In this matter love will be the best regulator."3

In 1 Corinthians 6:7 the Apostle asked the members of the church, "Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?" This has to be one of the most counter-intuitive teachings in the history of humanity. Who among us naturally wishes to absorb injustice against our person? Who instinctively allows himself or herself to be defrauded? The answer is, of course, no one. Only one who has been redeemed and who knows that he or she will be vindicated on judgment day. A true believer labors to learn how to endure injustices patiently, no matter how painful they may be in this life--especially, when they come from the hand of professed brothers or sisters in Christ.

If this were all that the Apostle said, one might justly respond by saying, "Then nothing happens to those in the church who deal harshly and unjustly with their brethren?" Nothing could be further from the truth! Paul moved on to warn the members of the church against self-deception--reminding them that the unrighteous (especially those who have defraud the brethren) will not inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-11). Calvin brought his comments on this section to a close by drawing out the comparison made in this chapter: 

"There is, then, an amplification here, founded on a comparison: for if it is wrong not to bear injuries patiently, how much worse is it to inflict them? And that to your brethren. Here is another aggravation of the evil; for if those are doubly culpable who defraud strangers, it is monstrous for brother to be cheated or despoiled by brother."4

2. Ibid.
3. Ibid., p. 206
4. Ibid., p. 207