The Problem of Lawsuits [Page 3 of 12 (series: Lessons on 1 Cor.)
by John Lowe
The object of this verse is evidently to show that Christians were qualified to determine controversies which might arise among themselves. The apostle shows this by reminding them that they shall be engaged in determining matters of much more importance than those which could arise among the members of a church on earth; and that if qualified for that, they must be regarded as qualified to express a judgment on the questions which might arise among their brethren in the churches. However, a great variety of interpretations has been given to this passage.
1. Grotius thinks it means that they will be judged first by Christ, and then act as assistants to him in the judgment, or join with him in condemning the wicked; and he points to Matthew 19:28, where Christ says that they which have followed him would "sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel."—“And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel”
2. Whitby reasons that it means that Christians are to judge or condemn the world by their example, or that there will be Christian magistrates, according to the prophecy of Daniel 7.18—“But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever.”
3. Rosenmuller presumes that it means that Christians are to judge the mistakes and sins of men pertaining to religion, as in 1 Corinthians 2:13, 16—“Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual…For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ”; and that they ought to be able, therefore, to judge the smaller matters pertaining to this life.
4. Bloomfield, and the Greek Fathers, and commentators, conclude that this means, that the saints will furnish ground to condemn the world; that is, by their lives and example they will be the cause for the greater condemnation of the world. But to this there are obvious objections.
5. Greene states that during the Millennium the actual authority to judge will be given to those faithful believers who have taken the cross and followed Jesus, confessing Him and suffering with Him, and they will receive this grand and glorious privilege—“If we suffer, we shall also reign with him…” (2 Tim 2:12; KJV); “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years” (Rev 20:4; KJV).
The saints themselves are to appear before the judgment seat of Christ, and shall be judged by him, after which they will reign with him; but it is never clearly and unmistakably said in Scripture that they will judge with him. However, as we reign with Jesus Christ, we will (in some sense or another) judge the world, and even judge angels. Saints are said to sit in judgment on that great day for two reasons;
First, because Christ, who is to be the judge, is the head and representative of his people, and they will reign and judge with him by virtue of them being “in Christ.” The exaltation and dominion of Christ are their exaltation and dominion. This is what Scripture constantly says—“And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6; KJV). In Hebrews 2:5–9, the declaration that all things are subject to man
is said to be fulfilled in all things being made subject to Christ—“For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak…But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him?...Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands…Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him…But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.”
Secondly, because his people are to be associated with Christ in his dominion. They are joint heirs with him—“And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together” (Romans 8:17; KJV). “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him…” (2 Tim 2:12;KJV). In Daniel 7:22 it was predicted that judgment (the right and power to judge) would be given to the saints of the Most High—“Until the Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom” (Dan 7:22; KJV).
and if the world shall be judged by you,
What Paul is saying is that men just like you, the saints of God, will be influential in the world, fill up all the civil offices in it, even the highest ones; will sit upon the benches of judges, and on the thrones of kings, and govern the whole world; and be abundantly capable when they do it.
It would be absurd to theorize that thrones would be erected for the purpose of saints sitting on them to give their consent to the condemnation of the wicked; of what use can such an endorsement be? Would it add anything to the validity of Christ's decision? I agree with the thinking of Dr. Lightfoot, that these words of the apostle refer to the prediction of Daniel—“But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever… And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him” (Dan 7:18, 27; KJV; and similar prophecies, where the kingdoms of the earth are promised to the saints of the Most High; that is, that a time is coming when Christianity will become so prevalent and dominant that all the civil governments of the world will be administered by Christians, which, at that time was administered by heathens. And this is the state of affairs today in all those parts of the earth which may be considered of the greatest political significance, and where there is freedom and prosperity, happiness and safety. They profess Christianity, and the kings and other governors are Christians in the general sense of the term.
are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?
Now, if this is the case, that you and other Christians will comprise the Supreme Court of the world, don’t you feel qualified to sit on some tiny local court? Don’t you think you are able to judge trivial things, issues of little or no importance, things relating to the common affairs of life? It was a dishonor to their Christian character and their dignity, as saints, for them to take little matters, about the things of life, before heathen magistrates.