October 20, 2017

A Pointed Question: Why Not Rather Suffer Wrong?

Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace(The following post is a summary of a recent chapel message. I originally thought of the message after hearing C.J. Mahaney teach on the passage. My use in chapel and here is my own, but I acknowledge his excellent exposition and application as my starting point.)

I Corinthians 6:1 When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? 2 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? 3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! 4 So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 5 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, 6 but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? 7 To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? 8 But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!

Paul asks an insightful question: Why not choose to be wronged rather than mar the witness of Jesus Christ before unbelievers?

Why not choose to be wronged and abandon the quest to always be right? That’s a serious piece of application for any of us who minister to and around non-Christians.

Do we normally choose to be wronged and to suffer the consequences of being wronged? Is anyone reading this stocked with an entire arsenal of things to do when you are wronged? Anyone living their entire lives under the excuse “I’ve been wronged?”

Paul says to the Corinthians that it’s better to be wronged and be at peace than to constantly be wronged and “preach” by constant bitterness and resentment that Christ can reconcile us to himself, but not to one another.

I live in a community where unbelievers surround me every day. Every class. Every sermon. Many meals and activities. Almost every conversation. I can think of very few times that unbelievers are not everywhere. And they know what goes on at our school between staff members and in the lives of those of us who call ourselves Christians. They see us on good days and bad. They observe the day to day behaviors, and they know what we do when we feel slighted or mistreated.

They know if I choose to be wronged for the sake of Christ or if I live by the principle of always being right, no matter what it does to my witness. They know if counting Christ more valuable than my resentments and bitterness is a real thing or just empty rhetoric.

My choices regarding reconciliation to others speak much more loudly than my sermons on the love of God. A few years ago I had a major conflict with another OBI staff member. I believe I was right, because I sought for professional standards to be enforced and the staff member made accountable for serious unprofessional behavior toward a student and the larger community. That staff member denied the events, accused me of lying and sought to destroy my ministry and reputation. It was a very difficult time, to say the least. My supervisors and even friends were divided on what was really going on. I had been wronged and wanted to be vindicated.

It didn’t happen. I became submerged in bitterness, paranoia and anger. I had been wronged, but I was not willing to let God take it from there and to move on into forgiveness. I lived in my resentment and self-defense.

In the midst of this I found myself at a Ligonier Conference in Orlando. Sinclair Ferguson was preaching on forgiving our enemies. The message, as so many of Ferguson’s are, was easily applicable to the way I was living at the moment I heard the message. I needed to forgive this staff member, and I needed to do all I could to be reconciled to him.

I was miserable…for one reason: I believed then and now that I was deeply wronged. To hear the word from the Spirit that “It’s better to be wronged than to mar the witness of Christ on the campus” meant that I had to choose to embrace the truths of the cross rather than the truths of my situation. My bitterness and anger were useful; they made me feel secure and right. They allowed me to say all kinds of mean and spiteful things. “Being wronged” made it possible for me to instantly be “right” and I did not want to give that up. Repentance asked me to choose to be wronged that God could be vindicated; it asked me to accept God’s peace at the price of being wronged and surrendering it all to God.

This is how the text from I Corinthians 6 needs to be heard. It’s not just about taking a brother or sister to court, though that’s an important application. It’s about living missionally in relationships with one another. It’s about what I am willing to suffer for the sake of the Gospel. It’s about what is really important to me as I live in my family, church and ministry.

Paul asks something else important: Are there resources in the Christian community who can help bring about the resolution of differences? Especially, are there wise and compassionate Christians who can help us think, pray and move in the direction of reconciliation and forgiveness?

The church at Corinth was not a marvelous example of leadership, but even in that church Paul knows there are persons who can bring about reconciliation between brothers. The key, I believe, is not so much the talents of the mediators, but the attitude of those needing to be brought together.

Three words have come to my attention again and again as I minister in a Christian community: Teachable, humble and submissive. When we are teachable, humble and submissive, we will not need a miracle worker. The Holy Spirit can move soft hards without having someone to break down stone walls by force.

If we are not teachable, humble and submissive God will bring us to humility another way. We will arrive at humility, submission and teachability at some point, but there is no doubt that heeding God’s Word now is far preferable to seeing its wisdom later.

Look around you. Has God provided the resources to help you avoid the marring of a witness that Paul speaks of in this passage? Is it an elder or pastor? A Christian friend or couple? Are you humble enough to see what God has provided? Can you face the reasons you’ve not taken advantage of these resources?

It’s not particularly flattering to admit that we have become proud, unteachable and unsubmissive. The disciples would have been surprised to hear just how arrogant they sounded to say “Lord, we want you to do for us whatever WE want.” I often am deeply saddened by the spiritual condition of co-workers who have lost their spiritual focus and have no concern what their unbelieving family members and students hear and see in their lives.

Is it better to be wronged than to trade our witness for the feeling of being right?

After preaching this message, my friend Mark told me about a business relationship with some Christian men who owed him several hundred dollars and refused to pay. These were men with whom Mark had prayed, worshipped and fellowshipped. Now he had to decide if he preferred to be wronged- at the cost of several hundred dollars- or to take these men to court. He chose to be wronged, and to enjoy his joy in the Lord.

I told him God would pay him back many times over, including persecutions as a bonus. (Mark 10:29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.)

One last point from this message. When you think of I Corinthians 6, we usually think of the passage in vss 9-11.

I Cor 6:9 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, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 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.

This follows the section on not going to pagan courts, and precedes a section on fleeing sexual immorality. How do these passages relate to one another? Is there any logic to their arrangement? I believe the relationship has to do with the effect of bitterness on our lives as Christians.

When we live in bitterness and unforgiveness, the process of moving towards serious moral sin and compromise is accelerated.

The reasons we refuse to see reconciliation and value Jesus more than being right are the reasons that will move us toward adultery or other sexual sin. Our defensive, self-righteous, self-justifying attitude that it is better to be right than to be a loyal representative of Jesus will become the self-justifying attitude that says we need this sin more than we need Christ.

It is not a coincidence that divided churches and Christians plant and reap a harvest of various kinds of sin, right down to the most disgusting examples of immorality.

Can you agree with Paul that it is better to be wronged than to mar our witness? Do you agree that it is better to be wronged and to have fellowship with Christ than it is to be right- and self-righteous- and be far from the cross and the Gospel?

Comments

  1. How right you are. Unresolved conflict does more damage in the Body of Christ than so many other seemingly “big” sins.

    I will be quick to say that Peacemaker Ministries has been extrememly helpful to me and my wife and others in the healing process from a previous church implosion. I encourage each of you to look them up at http://www.peacemaker.net

  2. Very well said. I am preaching on the topic of relationship with others in January and I fully plan on stealing from you as you steal from Mahaney.

  3. How timely, as I just taught a class this past Sunday dealing with Conflict Management and Reconciliation. I briefly touched on the idea that not every issue is going to be reconciled, nor does it necessarily need to be. But we’re always after justice for perceived wrongs and most times refuse to step back and take a look at what a conflict may be doing to those around us.
    I’m thankful that I have 2 more Sundays where we will be able to simply discuss what we’ve been teaching for the past 8 weeks. This post is going to be a wonderful discussion point and one that needs some serious consideration.

    Thanks again Michael.
    Peace,
    Rong

  4. This is a really fantastic post. I’ve long thought that phrase to be one of the most challenging and all-too-often appropriate prescriptions that Scripture gives us. It’s a big chunk of what Christlikeness is all about.

    One minor quibble: you write, “When we live in bitterness and unforgiveness, the process of moving towards serious moral sin and compromise is accelerated.” The real problem is that we don’t recognize bitterness and unforgiveness as “serious moral sin and compromise” in and of themselves. Fleshly sins are often merely the outward manifestation of much, much deeper problems of the heart.

  5. Beyond Words says:

    I won’t go into the details of an experience I had in the church that wounded me. God used “The Challenge of Jesus,” by N.T. Wright to help me realize the way of Jesus means I sometimes have to give up my right to be right. It was excruciating to do that, but now I’m slowly healing and God is moving in surprising ways.

    Since it’s always good to be a Berean and test Scripture against Scripture, plese note that even the Psalmist practiced this principle–and it’s no coincidence this was the Morning Psalm for today’s Divine Office:

    Take Delight in the LORD
    Do not fret yourself because of evildoers;* do not be jealous of those who do wrong. For they shall soon wither like the grass,* and like the green grass fade away. Put your trust in the LORD and do good;* dwell in the land and feed on its riches. Take delight in the LORD,* and he shall give you your heart’s desire. Commit your way to the LORD and put your trust in him,* and he will bring it to pass. He will make your righteousness as clear as the light* and your just dealing as the noonday. Be still before the LORD* and wait patiently for him.
    Psalm 37:1-7

  6. Hey, saw the Volf book as your image and would love to hear any thoughts you have on it. I’m halfway through myself and really enjoying it.

  7. Sam Harris provides an enlightening look at Christianity. We want to be different from the rest of the world but in the rush to distinction we lose our unique identity as followers of Christ. We become caricatures of ourselves.

    I’m reminded of an insightful conversation I had recently. My friend and teacher mentioned that in John 21 Jesus didn’t ask if Peter knew how much Jesus loved him. He asked how much Peter loved Jesus. I fear that modern Christians are more interested in feeling loved than they are in loving Christ. If we have lost this essential focus I wonder how much more we have drifted from Christ’s intent.

  8. Sorry about that. I commented on the wrong post.

  9. Michael – I mentioned that I was going to use your post for a follow up discussion in my Sunday School class. I just wanted to let you know that it instigated some very fruitful discussions that will most likely be continuing for some time. I’ve already had one request for a link to your post.

    Thanks again,

    Rong