Grace and Grievances

Bible Book: 1 Corinthians  5 : 1-11
Subject: Conflict Solution; Grievances; Peace with Others

This week I did some “google research” about silly lawsuits. I found a ton of examples—but to make sure none of you sue me for preaching too long—-I’ll just share three. The first concerns a city in Turkey called Batman. It’s located beside the Batman River in the Batman Province.

You probably don’t know about that city or its river or its province—I didn’t before I consulted google—but you certainly DO know that Batman is a comic book legend—and the hero of the Dark Knight trilogy, directed by Christopher Nolan. Well, in 2008, the city of Batman sued Christopher Nolan and Warner Bros—for using their town’s name without getting permission first. In defense of the lawsuit, the mayor of Batman, Huseyin Kalkan, who either has the best sense of humor or a complete lack of one, stated, “There is only one Batman in the world.”

Mayor Kalkan claims that not only should his city receive royalties for the use of the Batman name, but they should also be compensated for the “psychological impact” on the residents—as well as an inexplicably high suicide rate among females in Batman—all apparently caused by the Dark Knight films. Now—I don’t know what Nolan says about all this but I know exactly what ROBIN would say, “Holy LAWSUITS, Batman! We better contact our ‘Bat-lawyer!’

Here’s a second silly lawsuit I discovered. These two girls, Lindsey Zellitti and Taylor Ostergaard, wanted to do something nice for their neighbors. So one night they went around their neighborhood, knocking on doors and leaving a small package of cookies in front of every door. When they got to the home of forty-nine-year-old Wanita Young, the sound of the girls knocking on the door apparently gave her an anxiety attack—causing her to call the police who eventually took Wanita to the hospital. Well, the girls apologized and even offered to pay Wanita’s hospital bills, but she still decided to take them to court and sue the little cookie-makers for $900—and she actually won the case. I guess that’s the way the cookie crumbles!

Here’s one more—and this one should be familiar to you: In 2005, Judge Roy L. Pearson brought a pair of pants to a Washington, D.C., dry cleaner named Custom Cleaners. The cleaners happened to misplace the pants—and in response Judge Pearson smacked them with a lawsuit so ridiculous it should have been thrown out immediately. Instead, it took three months and two further appeals before it was finally laid to rest. Pearson originally asked for $67 million, then dropped his claim to a more reasonable $54 million—that’s $1,000 for the pants, and $53,999,000 for court fees and mental distress. And apparently it was indeed very distressing—for, on the first day of court, Pearson broke down in tears as he described how frustrated he was on the day his pants went missing. Of course, the court ruled in favor of the dry cleaners, but Pearson came back just weeks later, asking the court to reexamine the case. They refused, and the appropriately embarrassed D.C. court also decided to terminate Pearson’s contract with them (remember, he was a federal judge). So Pearson did the only thing that made sense to him: he sued Washington, D.C. And the worst part of it all? The dry cleaners apparently found his pants two days after they lost them, but Pearson had refused to take them back. He claimed to be “crusading for the people.” I am not sure—but I think this is where we get the phrase, “suing the pants off someone.”

We chuckle but—the sad fact is I could go on and on citing silly suits like these. You see, every day tens of thousands lawsuits are filed in our nation—adding up to 200,000 civil suits in Federal Courts—and an additional TWELVE MILLION suits in state courts every year. So—if you ever wonder why it takes so long for an actual crime to come to trial—this is why. And to show you how much silly lawsuits have increased, here’s some more stats. In 1997 the total jury awards for lawsuits were $750 million. In 1998 the total jumped to $2.9 BILLION. In 1999 it tripled again to a total of $8.9 billion. I’m afraid to ask what the total is today but this led Robert Pambianco, of the Washington Legal Foundation to say, “It’s just further evidence that suing someone has become the preferred means of solving disputes.” And he’s right. This week my “google research” revealed the sad fact that one out of every two Americans will sue somebody at some point in their lives. In fact, I also googled that phrase, “How to Sue Someone” and found 72,000 websites.

But you don’t really need a computer to see how popular lawsuits are in America because they have become entertainment in our culture. TV networks are filled with court shows: There’s The People’s Court and Divorce Court. There’s Judge Joe Brown, Judge Wapner, Judge Matthias, Judge Dredd (Just kidding about that last one)—and of course I don’t want to leave out the most famous judge in the world: JUDGE JUDY! You know, forget TV shows—I remember when lawyers did not ADVERTISE—and by the way the good ones still don’t—but these days we see ads on the sides of metro buses and TV—all the time inviting us to get a lawyer by dialing something like 1-800-WHIPLASH.

Well, as silly as all this—it was even WORSE in the church in Corinth—forcing Paul to deal with another difficult situation in this problem church. Here’s a quick overview to show you why I refer to it that way—

* Last week we looked at chapter 5 where Paul dealt with disciplining a non-repentant church member.

* This week we’re looking at when Christians were becoming sue happy.

* Next week Paul deals with sexual immorality.

* And, in coming weeks we’ll look at chapters where Paul deals with disputes about marriage and the use of spiritual gifts.

I mean, Paul had a tough row to hoe when it came to helping this quarreling church.

And remember—we are dealing with these difficult subjects because church relationships are a core value here at Redland. This is one of our ROOTS. If we are going to remain a healthy body of Christ—we need to remember the importance of getting along—which necessitates looking at potentially divisive issues like these. As I said a few sermons back, CHURCH HARMONY IS A BIG DEAL! And if you doubt that, I would remind you that Paul is ranking this issue of getting along—including dealing with silly lawsuits between Christians right up there with the sin of incest and a same sex lifestyle.

Okay—before I read our Scripture let’s look at some background to help us better understand this particular chapter. One thing we need to know is that in Greece litigation was part of everyday life. It had become a form of challenge—and like today’s TV shows—a form of entertainment. Here’s how it worked back then. If two people found themselves in some kind of dispute that they couldn’t resolve, they went through what was called private arbitration. Each person would hire a personal arbitrator; then they would hire a third mutual arbitrator. And they would sit down and talk and try to settle the case.

If that failed—as it often did—they would get a jury of 40 people and then there would be public arbitration. If that still didn’t work, then they would enter the general court system where juries would number as little as 200 and as many as 6,000. That’s a lot of people for jury duty! Imagine the cost of sequestering 6000 jurors for a murder trial! The Greeks must have been getting summons to be on juries all the time.

Here’s another thing we need to know. The legal system in Corinth was not used so much to seek justice as to establish one’s status, honor, and position in society. Plus—the courts were often used by the fortunate to tread upon the less-than-fortunate. Well, things had gotten so bad in the Corinthian church that believers were flippantly going through this process—taking each other to court—just like the rest of the culture. Instead of being different—instead of going against the flow—they were going with it—becoming lawsuit-happy just like the world around them. And Paul writes this part of his letter in an attempt to help them stop this foolishness.

With that in mind turn to 1st Corinthians chapter 6 and follow along as I read verses 1-11: 1 – “If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? 2 – Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 – Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! 4 – Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? 5 – I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6 – But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers! 7 – The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 8 – Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters. 9 – Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men. 10 – Nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 – And that is what some of you were. 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.”

Now—before we go any farther I want you to understand a couple things that Paul is NOT saying here.

i. First, Paul is NOT saying that all things that happen in the church should be handled in-house.

Sadly, a church near here made that mistake. Something illegal happened and they decided to deal with it themselves instead of contacting the authorities. This kept children from getting the help they needed and it negatively impacted that church’s reputation. So Paul is not advising that here. There are issues that require the intervention of authorities. I’m thinking of things like embezzlement, abuse, sexual misconduct, etc. Those kinds of things should not be handled in house.

ii. A second thing that Paul is NOT saying—is that we should never go to court with an issue.

God has given us certain rights which are our privilege to defend—right like: personal payment for services rendered, personal protection, personal property, etc. Courts help make sure people receive their rights—I’m thankful for lawyers like Bob Michael who use the legal system to make sure people are protected. By the way, Bob doesn’t need to advertise—and I think it’s not just because he’s an amazing lawyer. It’s because God gifted him for the good work of protecting those who can’t protect themselves. I would also remind you that Paul himself used human courts on several occasions.

* He defended his faith before Gallio in the courtrooms of Corinth (Acts 18:12-16).

* In Philippi, Paul referred to his rights as a Roman citizen.

* And—in Caesarea Maritima he appealed to the Court of Caesar.

You know, I’ve heard people refer to Jesus’ words in Luke 11:46 when He said, “Woe to you also, you lawyers” —as justification for thinking poorly of all attorneys. But Jesus wasn’t referring to lawyers. No—our Lord was talking about experts in the Jewish law—who had made God’s law a burden to the people by adding tons of man-made rules. Well, Paul is not saying either of these things. What he IS saying is that a growing Christian should never have to resort to a lawsuit when in a disagreement with another growing Christian. Paul was upset that the Corinthians were suing one another over silly issues in a secular court system rather than resolving the conflict in a community of faith. Highlighting the terrible witness this action would be to people outside the church, Paul says in verse 7, “Why not just let yourself be wronged or cheated? Wouldn’t that be better?”

In short—Paul was seriously upset that it had come to this. I mean things were so bad when you came to church you might hear someone say: “You’re in my seat; I’ll see you in court.” Or—“Hey, you parked your camel in my slot. You’ll be hearing from my attorney.” Paul was trying to wake these people up so they could see that the cause of Christ more important than the money that could be gained in a ridiculous lawsuit. If you were here last week, then you should remember that Paul says Christians are not to judge the world—but they are to judge themselves.

Well, in this text we see that the Corinthians had gotten that reversed. Rather than deal with a conflict inside—they were taking it to a pagan court.

In 1982 Warren Buerger, the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court at the time referred to this principle and said, “One reason our courts have become so overburdened is that Americans are increasingly turning to the courts for relief from a range of personal distresses and anxieties. Remedies for personal wrongs, that once were considered the responsibility of institutions, other than the courts, are now boldly asserted as legal entitlements. The courts have been expected to fill the void created by the decline of the church, family, and neighborhood unity.”

And the late Supreme Court Justice Anonin Scalia once said this: “I think that this passage in 1st Corinthians has something to say about the proper Christian attitude toward civil litigation. (Isn’t it cool for a justice to know and refer to the Bible?!”) Paul is making two points. He says that the mediation of a mutual friend, such as a parish priest, should be sought before parties run off to the law courts. I think we are too ready today to see vindication or vengeance through adversary proceedings rather than through mediation. Good Christians, just as they are slow to be slow to anger—should be slow to sue.”

And of course Buerger and Scalia are correct. We have no business taking each other to court over mere disagreements. After all, Christ bore the ultimate grievance in our place. He endured the wrong that we should have endured. He was defrauded of what was rightfully His in order to give us what we never deserved. I mean, since Christ absorbed all our wrongs—since He absorbed all of our attacks, since He absorbed all our rejection, then when others do the same to us, we should follow Jesus’ example.

Plus, Paul says, it’s silly for us to ask the courts to solve our relational issued. After all, when time ends we will be involved in the judgment of the world and of fallen angels, so it’s disgraceful to the church when it can’t resolve its small squabbles. It’s like a famous surgeon asking a sixth grader to help him put on a band aid. Well if we can’t resolve our conflicts through lawsuits, how do we? What does healthy conflict resolution between two Christians look like?

The answer to these questions is found in Jesus’ words in Matthew chapter 18: “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

Now—relying on John Ortberg’s commentary on this passage—found in his book, Everybody’s Normal Until You Get to Know Them, I want us to look at 7 basic principles of resolving conflict.

Before we begin let me point out one quick thing. It is indeed VITALLY important that we—as Christians—get this right—that we learn to deal with ALL conflict in a God-honoring way. Remember—LOVE is our Lord’s SUPREME VALUE. His summation of the total teaching of divine revelation is captured in one word: LOVE—love for God—love for people. Therefore, the greatest crimes against the kingdom of God are crimes against love. To embrace hate—to slander another person—to gossip—to hold a grudge—to prejudge our opinion of them based on skin color or occupation—these are deep violations of Jesus’ fundamental command.

My point is this: As Christians we are to be known as people who reflect God’s love. We are to set the example for our fallen world when it comes to resolving conflict and getting along. And—the tragic events of this past week show that it is VITALLY important for us to obey our Lord’s clear teaching when it comes to relationships. I feel like right now our culture is a powder keg—about to explode. I’m afraid to turn on the news because I’m afraid that more incidents like those of this week could flare up at any moment. So—we need to let our light shine as Christians—showing our world that all people have infinite value—red, yellow, black, and white—they are ALL precious in God’s sight. And one way we show this—one way we show that we do indeed embrace the sanctity of all human life—is by learning to deal with conflict and disputes in a way that affirms our love for others.

Okay let’s get started. How do we resolve conflicts in a LOVING, GOD-HONORING way?

I. Acknowledge the Conflict

Here’s the first principle: Acknowledge the Conflict.

I mean, let’s be honest here. We could replace the “if” in verse 15 with the word “when” because we are ALL sinners. We are ALL flawed. We are ALL selfish so ALL people have disagreements. Ortberg writes: “To be alive means to be in conflict. People may not be normal but conflict certainly is. It is an inescapable part of being an ‘as-is’ human being.” And acknowledging this is an important first step because many times—especially in churches—we pretend that conflict doesn’t exist. We do this because we buy into the foolish belief that a lack of conflict is automatically a sign of spiritual maturity—when it’s usually a sign of relational laziness. I mean, ignoring conflict indicates a lack of love—it shows we don’t love enough to want to resolve the conflict.

II. Own Responsibility

Here’s a second principle. Own Responsibility.

The next word in Jesus’ sentence here, after the phrase “If there is conflict” is the word “YOU.”

And—by using this word Jesus is calling on everyone to do their part in seeking reconciliation. We shy away from that—we think, “Let the other person come to me. It’s not fair that I should have to take the first step. After all he started it. Plus, I didn’t do anything wrong.” Well, that last statement is almost NEVER true. We all play a part in conflict and we need to own up to it.

Ortberg points out that the reason we don’t accept responsibility in conflict is because the anger that comes with conflict often contains an element of self-righteousness—that causes us to want to blame the other person. You know, I googled ROAD RAGE shootings and a long list of incidents came up where someone cut someone off—words were exchanged—things became heated—and then someone pulled out a gun and started shooting. As a result, people died—babies died—children died—adolescents died. After one such shooting where a man angrily killed a 17-year-old girl he said, “She started it. I am just as much a victim as she is.” Listen—to resolve conflict in a loving way we need to own our part of the problem—and we all have a part. We are never totally innocent. It’s interesting that while in Matthew 18 Jesus tells His hearers that should take the responsibility to set things right if the OTHER person has sinned—in another setting He tells His hearers to take the first step if THEY are the ones in the wrong. My point is that Jesus puts the burden on YOU in both cases. If YOU’VE done something wrong—take the first step—and if a wrong has been done to you—YOU still take the first step. Why? Because as I said community is a core value—and because the point here in Matthew 18 is to RESOLVE CONFLICT and to RESTORE relationships! That must be our goal—to make enemies our friends.

This leads to a third principle.

III. Approach the Person

Approach, don’t avoid the person you are having conflict with. Jesus says, “GO!” In other words, don’t let the resentment fester. Remember, avoidance kills community—it destroys relationships—so don’t do that. Meet with the person. Sit down—talk things out. Resolve the issue and restore your relationship. Now—I’m not saying rush right over to the person you are ticked with and set things straight. No—I think it’s always best to cool off a bit. You see, anger is a form of physiological arousal. When you are mad adrenalin is secreted; your heart beats faster; your blood pressure rises. Anger prepares us to act. And taking action while you are angry can be a dangerous thing because when we are mad you and I tend to suffer from something therapists call, “cognitive incapacitation” —which is a fancy way of saying, we can’t think straight. Ortberg says, “Anger produces what might be called ‘The Jim Carey Effect.’ As we get madder and madder, we get dumb and dumber.” Neil Warren puts it like this, “When your inner gauge reads, ‘RED-HOT ANGER,’ delay response.” And Proverbs 17:17 says, “People with a hot temper do foolish things; wiser people remain calm.” So—go for a long walk—talk to God honestly about your feelings. Ask Him to point out your part in all this. Ask Him to see if there is any offensive way in you—and lead you away from it. Ask His help in learning why you are angry. But once you have cooled down and thought things through—don’t avoid the person. No—GO! Deal with the conflict. Waiting enables the problem to fester. It makes things worse.

IV. No Third Parties

A fourth principle of conflict resolution here in Matthew 18 is this: NO “third” parties. Jesus says we are to go directly to the person and ONLY the person involved. Now—as a general rule—that’s the LAST person we want to go to. It’s part of our avoidance tendency. I mean, what we REALLY want is to go to someone else and say, “Let me tell you what’s going on here. And please understand—I’m not gossiping by coming to you. I just want to lay it out objectively and get some feedback from a third party. Don’t you share my concerns about this person, who is my brother in Christ and is obviously a deeply disturbed psychopath?” In short, we want to build a coalition against the other individual. We want to find others who will justify our anger—justify our writing this person off. You know we tend to idealize the first century church. We think that church were perfect—those Christians never had conflict. But in the same New Testament that tells us about how these guys and gals were of one mind and devoted themselves to one another in love—also paints a picture of a church where conflict was alive and well. Remember? In Jerusalem the Greek-speaking members got in a fight with the Hebrew speakers over whose widows were being taken care of best? And—what about Ananias and Saphira. They were so jealous of other people’s reputation for generosity that they lied about what they did with the money from the sale of their property. Even, Paul and Barnabas had such a strong disagreement over John Mark that they dissolved their partnership.

And then do you remember Euodia and Syntyche in Philippi? They were locked in conflict. And it’s interesting what Paul doesn’t advise. He doesn’t say, “Euodia, talk to some other people about how unfair Syntche is being to you. Thoroughly discuss her character flaws and neuroses so that others can pray for her more intelligently.” Nor does he say, “Syntyche, let three or four of YOUR close friends know how Euodia has mistreated you so they can reinforce your self-righteous sense of martyrdom.” Instead Paul strongly asks them. In fact he PLEADS WITH THEM to resolve this conflict directly—to agree with one another. So, we are to go to the person with whom we have a problem. No third or fourth parties.

You know, one of the myths of today is that talking about our anger with a third party will help us become less angry. Well, it does make us FEEL better. But it doesn’t help the situation. Carol Tarvis has done a great deal of research on anger and she says, “Talking out an emotion [with others] doesn’t reduce it. It rehearses it. As you recite your grievances, your emotional arousal builds up again—making you feel as angry as you did when the infuriating event first happened and in addition, establishing an attitude of hostility about the source of your rage.”

Travis is right. So—no third parties. Go to the person. I can’t tell you how many times when I did that—went to the individual—explained my feelings, heard their side of the story—that my anger diminished. I understood THEIR feelings—their perspective on the issue. The conflict went away—and we became closer friends. Our relationship was strengthened such that we were LESS likely to have conflict in the future. After talking we understood each other better.

V. Use Sensitivity

A fifth PRINCIPLE to remember is: USE SENSITIVITY. One reason Jesus says to keep it between the two of you is that when we bring others in, we needlessly embarrass the person by defaming them with our “coalition.” So we shouldn’t do that. Instead we should treat the person in the way we would want to be treated. Plus—think! Be sensitive as to how it’s going to affect the church if you talk to others. If you do, the problem won’t just be between you and the person. No—now it involves everyone else because gossip—and the damage to relationships that it causes—spreads. Plus—the problem escalates as gossipers embellish the story.

Here’s another “sensitivity issue” to remember. When we vent our anger on a person we—the ventilatOR may feel good but the ventilEE tends to get angry and defensive. So before venting—before gossiping—ask yourself is this how I would want to be treated? Remember the golden rule—do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

VI. Use Direct Communication

A sixth principle to remember when conflict comes is the importance of Direct Communication. I mean, don’t beat around the bush. Jesus says, “Show him his fault.” When you go to the person you are in conflict with, tell them clearly what he or she did to hurt you. I mean, they may not realize that they hurt you in the first place. So, as graciously as possible explain HOW it hurt you—and what the consequences have been. Ask for the change you would like to happen. Be sensitive and humble—but be clear. You can’t resolve a problem unless you are clear what the problem is.

VII. Aim at Reconciliation

Finally, and most importantly, aim at RECONCILIATION. As Jesus says, “If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” So—the goal in conflict situations is not to win or score points—its reconciliation. The goal is to heal the relationship in a way that it is stronger than it was before. This is a principle we often forget. We tend to think of conflict as a contest—a chance to win as we are proven right. But right or wrong—we are called to peace—to reconciliation. In fact, that’s how Paul refers to us in 2nd Corinthians 5:21—we are “ministers of reconciliation.”

This week I read about Ghassan Thomas, a Christian pastor who started an underground church in Bagdad before the fall of Saddam Hussein. Afterwards that church became public and grew to an attendance of over 1400. His congregation erected a sign on their building that said “Jesus Is the Light of the World,” but the church was raided by bandits who left behind a threat on a piece of cardboard. It read: “Jesus is not the light of the world, Allah is, and you have been warned.” The note was signed “The Islamic Shiite Party.” After a lot of prayer—Pastor Ghassan loaded a van with children’s gifts and medical supplies—which were in critically short supply following the American invasion—and drove to the headquarters of the Islamic Shiite Party. After presenting the gifts and supplies to the sheikh, Ghassan told the leader, “Christians have love for you, because our God is a God of love.” The Shiek said, “We respect God. We respect Jesus.”

Thomas said, “If you respect Jesus, would you let me read you His words?” He took out his Bible and read the words of Jesus from John 8, “I am the light of the world.” Then he brought out the cardboard with the death threat. The sheikh read it and looked ashamed. After a brief pause, he said: “We are sorry. This will not happen again. You are my brother. If anyone comes to kill you, it will be my neck first.” The sheikh even attended Thomas’ ordination as the pastor. Pastor Thomas followed the principles for dealing with conflict in Matthew 18. He went to the person. He was clear—-sensitive. His purpose was not an escalation of the conflict—–but rather RECONCILIATION—and perhaps an open door through which to share the Gospel. And it worked. Jesus’ way ALWAYS works! I don’t know what happened to this sheikh but he met a Christian face to face—he heard the Gospel message.


You may be here today and have unresolved conflict with someone in your life—maybe someone in our church family. You may even be considering a lawsuit. Well, you’re being here is not a coincidence. Maybe the Holy Spirit prompted me to speak on this text today so as to help you with your situation.