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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 1–8
Verses 1–8

Here the apostle reproves them for going to law with one another before heathen judges for little matters; and therein blames all vexatious law-suits. In the previous chapter he had directed them to punish heinous sins among themselves by church-censures. Here he directs them to determine controversies with one another by church-counsel and advice, concerning which observe,

I. The fault he blames them for: it was going to law. Not but that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully. But, 1. Brother went to law with brother (1 Cor. 6:6), one member of the church with another. The near relation could not preserve peace and good understanding. The bonds of fraternal love were broken through. And a brother offended, as Solomon says, is harder to be won than a strong city; their contentions are like the bars of a castle, Prov. 18:19. Note, Christians should not contend with one another, for they are brethren. This, duly attended to, would prevent law-suits, and put an end to quarrels and litigations. 2. They brought the matter before the heathen magistrates: they went to law before the unjust, not before the saints (1 Cor. 6:1), brought the controversy before unbelievers (1 Cor. 6:6), and did not compose it among themselves, Christians and saints, at least in profession. This tended much to the reproach of Christianity. It published at once their folly and unpeaceableness; whereas they pretended to be the children of wisdom, and the followers of the Lamb, the meek and lowly Jesus, the prince of peace. And therefore, says the apostle, “Dare any of you, having a controversy with another, go to law, implead him, bring the matter to a hearing before the unjust?” Note, Christians should not dare to do any thing that tends to the reproach of their Christian name and profession. 3. Here is at least an intimation that they went to law for trivial matters, things of little value; for the apostle blames them that they did not suffer wrong rather than go to law (1 Cor. 6:7), which must be understood of matters not very important. In matters of great damage to ourselves or families, we may use lawful means to right ourselves. We are not bound to sit down and suffer the injury tamely, without stirring for our own relief; but, in matters of small consequence, it is better to put up with the wrong. Christians should be of a forgiving temper. And it is more for their ease and honour to suffer small injuries and inconveniences than seem to be contentious.

II. He lays before them the aggravations of their fault: Do you not know that the saints shall judge the world (1 Cor. 6:2), shall judge angels? 1 Cor. 6:3. And are they unworthy to judge the smallest matters, the things of this life? It was a dishonour to their Christian character, a forgetting of their real dignity, as saints, for them to carry little matters, about the things of life, before heathen magistrates. When they were to judge the world, nay, to judge, it is unaccountable that they could not determine little controversies among one another. By judging the world and angels, some think, is to be understood, their being assessors to Christ in the great judgment-day; it being said of our Saviour’s disciples that they should at that day sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel, Matt. 19:28. And elsewhere we read of our Lord’s coming with ten thousand of his saints to execute judgment on all, etc., Jude 1:14, 15. He will come to judgment with all his saints, 1 Thess. 3:13. They themselves are indeed to be judged (see Matt. 25:31-41), but they may first be acquitted, and then advanced to the bench, to approve and applaud the righteous judgment of Christ both on men and angels. In no other sense can they be judges. They are not partners in their Lord’s commission, but they have the honour to sit by, and see his proceeding against the wicked world, and approve it. Others understand this judging of the world to be meant when the empire should become Christian. But it does not appear that the Corinthians had knowledge of the empire’s becoming Christian; and, if they had, in what sense could Christian emperors be said to judge angels? Others understand it of their condemning the world by their faith and practice, and casting out evil angels by miraculous power, which was not confined to the first ages, nor to the apostles. The first sense seems to be most natural; and at the same time it gives the utmost force to the argument. “Shall Christians have the honour to sit with the sovereign Judge at the last day, whilst he passes judgment on sinful men and evil angels, and are they not worthy to judge of the trifles about which you contend before heathen magistrates? Cannot they make up your mutual differences? Why must you bring them before heathen judges? When you are to judge them, as it fit to appeal to their judicature? Must you, about the affairs of this life, set those to judge who are of no esteem in the church?” (so some read, and perhaps most properly, 1 Cor. 6:4), heathen magistrates, exouthenemenous, the things that are not, 1 Cor. 1:28. “Must those be called in to judge in your controversies of whom you ought to entertain so low an opinion? Isa. this not shameful?” 1 Cor. 6:5. Some who read it as our translators make it an ironical speech: “If you have such controversies depending, set those to judge who are of least esteem among yourselves. The meanest of your own members are able surely to determine these disputes. Refer the matters in variance to any, rather than go to law about them before heathen judges. They are trifles not worth contending about, and may easily be decided, if you have first conquered your own spirits, and brought them into a truly Christian temper. Bear and forbear, and the men of meanest skill among you may end your quarrels. I speak it to your shame,” 1 Cor. 6:5. Note, It is a shame that little quarrels should grow to such a head among Christians, that they cannot be determined by arbitration of the brethren.

III. He puts them on a method to remedy this fault. And this twofold:—1. By referring it to some to make it up: “Isa. it so that there is no wise man among you, no one able to judge between his brethren? 1 Cor. 6:5. You who value yourselves so much upon your wisdom and knowledge, who are so puffed up upon your extraordinary gifts and endowments, is there none among you fit for this office, none that has wisdom enough to judge in these differences? Must brethren quarrel, and the heathen magistrate judge, in a church so famous as yours for knowledge and wisdom? It is a reproach to you that quarrels should run so high, and none of your wise men interpose to prevent them.” Note, Christians should never engage in law-suits till all other remedies have been tried in vain. Prudent Christians should prevent, if possible, their disputes, and not courts of judicature decide them, especially in matters of no great importance. 2. By suffering wrong rather than taking this method to right themselves: It is utterly a fault among you to go to law in this matter: it is always a fault of one side to go to law, except in a case where the title is indeed dubious, and there is a friendly agreement of both parties to refer it to the judgment of those learned in the law to decide it. And this is referring it, rather than contending about it, which is the thing the apostle here seems chiefly to condemn: Should you not rather take wrong, rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? Note, A Christian should rather put up with a little injury than tease himself, and provoke others, by a litigious contest. The peace of his own mind, and the calm of his neighbourhood, are more worth than victory in such a contest, or reclaiming his own right, especially when the quarrel must be decided by those who are enemies to religion. But the apostle tells them they were so far from bearing injuries that they actually did wrong, and defrauded, and that their brethren. Note, It is utterly a fault to wrong and defraud any; but it is an aggravation of this fault to defraud our Christian brethren. The ties of mutual love ought to be stronger between them than between others. And love worketh no ill to his neighbour, Rom. 13:10. Those who love the brotherhood can never, under the influence of this principle, hurt or injure them.