Paul asked the brethren at Corinth, “Are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?” (I Cor. 6:2). There is much to learn from this simple question.
Some matters of wrong are small compared to others. Paul plainly said so. Jesus showed this difference when He talked about the “mote” (a small chip or twig of wood which represents a relatively minor or small fault in a person) and the “beam” (a beam of wood which represents a fault that is comparatively huge). It is true that wrong is wrong, but not all wrongs are on the same level of seriousness. Jesus said Judas committed a worse sin than Pilate committed (John 19:11).
People tend to make small matters into huge ones and big matters into little ones. When a person gets things out of proportion in one of these ways, he will likely do the same in the other. The Corinthians are a perfect example. They took the least little disputes between themselves and turned them into very serious issues by taking each other to court over them. They blew things out of proportion. At the same time, they ignored a huge matter that needed correcting. A brother in the congregation was living in fornication, and they were doing nothing about it!
People are prone to think a matter is serious when it affects them personally, even if it is a small thing. Having a fornicating brother in their midst did not bother these Corinthians (I Cor. 5:2). They did not think he was hurting them, so they ignored the problem. Of course, their neglect was harming them spiritually, but they did not think so. They stood back and let the man continue in sin without dealing with him even though his sin was serious. But these same people would not let the smallest disputes go without making a huge deal out of them. Why? Because these matters, though small, affected them personally, directly, and materially. A brother living in sin was no threat, but a brother who owed them money, no matter how little, should be sued! These disputes were so small they were not worth the trouble and the reproach of a lawsuit, but these Christians pursued them to the end! They were so worried about proving themselves right that they were blind to harm they were doing to the church.
This passage is about a Christian suing another Christian over the smallest matters; it does not apply to matters of serious wrongdoing between two Christians in which legal action is pursued. Suppose that a man has beaten and severely injured his wife and that both are members of the church. Can she invoke the law and have a restraining order taken out on him? Of course she can. We have a right to defend ourselves (Luke 22:36). Suppose a man leaves his wife and their children and moves in with another woman. Both the husband and the wife are Christians. Can she sue him for divorce? Of course she can (Matt. 19:9). Suppose a man, who is a member of the same church his wife is, sexually molests and physically abuses their children. Does she have the right to call the authorities and prosecute him in order to protect the children? Of course she does. These are extreme cases, but they show that Paul’s teaching in I Corinthians 6:1-8 is qualified.
-Kerry Duke, Vice President of Tennessee Bible College