The Problem of Lawsuits Page 5 of 12 (series: Lessons on 1 Cor.)
by John Lowe
“Who are least esteemed” means “Who are of no account,” “those of the lowest circumstances of life,” and “those with the least abilities.” Paul is saying that these sort of people are NOT to judge disputes within the assembly, and this in confirmed in the next verse where he requires a wise man for such business; but rather they are to appoint private persons, laymen, who were not in any office and without authority in the church, as opposed to pastors, elders, and rulers, that were in office, and held in high esteem, whom the apostle would not have troubled with cases of this nature. But instead, they should choose from among the laymen, men with the best judgment and who are not likely to be influenced by any interested party, to be umpires and arbitrators in such worldly matters. The Jews, as Dr. Lightfoot observes, had two sorts of courts (called “benches”—see below), who judged less significant matters; one was called "the bench of authorized persons", experienced men, that were trusted, and had their authority from the Sanhedrim; and the other was called "the bench of idiots", "the bench of those who were not authorized", or did not get their authority, from the higher courts. They were honest men, chosen by the people to arbitrate disputes between them; and these are the men the apostle means here.
Paul has made it clear that they are not to go outside the assembly of believers to obtain a verdict from those who are unbelievers; those who preside over Gentile courts; those who are of the world and do not even belong to the assembly. That is, they are of no value to the Church because they are not spiritual, and the natural man cannot understand or receive the things of the Spirit of God. Such men are in line to be judged by the lord Jesus Christ in that great judgment day and therefore are in no position to decide difficult matters that have arisen between born again people.
The heathen magistrates were in general very corrupt. Many of them were men of bad character, men who lived degenerate lives, men who were easily bribed, and men, therefore, in whose judgment Christians could place little confidence. If Christians are being prepared right now for such a glorious destiny, why do the Corinthian Christians allow those least esteemed by the church (that is, the secular judges) to decide disputes among Christians?
There were five Jewish benches, according to Dr. Lightfoot.
1. The great Sanhedrin, consisting of seventy-two elders, which presided in Jerusalem.
2. The little Sanhedrin of twenty-five, in large cities, outside of Jerusalem.
3. The Bench of Three in every synagogue.
4. The Authorized, or Authentic Bench.
5. The Bench not authorized. This latter bench was so called because it did not receive its authority immediately from the Sanhedrin, but was chosen by the parties involved in the controversy. The apostle certainly does not mean persons of no standing, but men who could serve as arbitrators, who were chosen for the purpose of settling private differences, and preventing them from going before the regular magistrates. The following verse makes it pretty evident that the apostle refers to this lower kind of tribunal.
5 I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?
I speak to your shame.
Paul shames the believers for acting as they did. He is asking, “Has it come to this? Have you become so carnal that a wise man cannot be found in the entire assembly?” Compare this verse to 1 Corinthians 4.14, which says, “I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.” His purpose may not have been to
shame them, but now he speaks seriously. The sharpness of Paul's biting sarcasm in the previous three verses was no doubt keenly felt in Corinth; and by this expression Paul means, "I meant for it to hurt." It is a shame that little quarrels would grow to such a head among Christians, that they cannot be settled by arbitration of the brethren. Now we see his purpose for including this portion of the epistle—To shame you out of your present unworthy course of litigation before the heathen, I have said, "Set the least esteemed in the Church to judge (1Co 6.4)." Even this is better than your present course.
Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you?
In this clause, Paul dropped the sarcasm for a moment, asking, "Why don't you appoint one of the wiser members to settle such disputes?" Therefore it appears that Paul could not have meant in 1 Cor. 6:4 that church members who were of "no account" should be entrusted with such an assignment. The apostles themselves when appointing brethren for such a purpose demanded that the ones appointed should be men "full of the Spirit and wisdom"—“Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business” (Acts 6:3; KJV).
The Corinthian Christians were proud of what they thought was their "wisdom" (See 1 Corinthians 1:18-31). How can it be then, that in a Christian church, one that is as refined and enlightened as the Corinthian Church, that there is not a single member wise enough, intelligent enough, and prudent enough, that his brethren have confidence in him, and refer their trivial matters to him? Can this be the case in a church that boasts so much about the wisdom of its members, and prides itself so much in the number of its intelligent members and their impressive qualifications? Why do they think it necessary to air their differences before unconverted persons?
Of course, not every Christian is a capable judge, but Paul is saying, “I speak to your shame, isn’t there a wise man among you?” When you go to a secular court, you are saying that none of the saints are capable of judging. Well, I know some dear brethren in the Lord with whom I would be willing to risk my life. I am confident they would render a just verdict.
No, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?
Was there at least one person in the assembly who was spiritually minded enough to arbitrate between one believer and another? Paul intended this to be a very humiliating question. It should have humbled the proud Corinthians who had been advertising their great wisdom and who were conceited—both in their daily experiences in life, and in the church.
Although the “benches” mentioned in the preceding verse consisted of three persons, yet the contending parties might choose one man to be an arbitrator and judge between them. The rule with the Jews was this: pecuniary judgments are by three, but if he is authorized or approved by the majority, “he may judge alone".
The apostle hoped that this question would shame them into changing the way they resolve differences between the brethren: “Are there none that has wisdom enough to judge in these differences? Must brethren quarrel, and the heathen magistrate judge, in a church as famous as yours for knowledge and wisdom? It is a disgrace for you to have so many quarrels, and you should be ashamed of yourselves since none of your wise men step in to prevent them." Note, Christians should never engage in law-suits until all other remedies have been tried and failed. Prudent Christians should resolve their disputes within the assembly, especially in matters of no great importance.