Confident Christianity: “Two Circles of Life” – 1 Corinthians 6:1-11

It seems like my generation struggled with the questions of identity. Look carefully into our writing and film era, and the questions of identity surface all over the place…

bourne identityAction novel readers and movie buffs will tell you that “Jason Bourne” was a fictional character created for a trilogy of novels by author Robert Ludlum. The earliest appearance of the character was in the novel called The Bourne Identity (1980), adapted for television in 1988 and made a 2002 feature film with the same title where Matt Damon played the lead role. Damon went on to again play “Jason Bourne” in two sequel movies: “The Bourne Supremacy” (2004) and “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007). I no longer find this genre as my personal choice for reading, nor are the films something I would find relaxing on the silver screen – but millions do. I read the first novel back in college, and was fascinated by Ludlum’s ability to write with such clarity he projected a reader deeply into the intensity of the scene as Bourne moved through once threat to his life after another. There is no doubt that Ludlum can write! I mention this not as an endorsement of the books or movies – but simply because I cannot help but think of the issue of identity without recalling the novel I read so long ago.

The story of the Bourne Identity opened with Jason Bourne, a man with amnesia, coming to his senses and wondering about who he really was. He had almost instinctive survival abilities and knowledge slowly returned to him through his retrograde amnesia, as he sought to discover his real identity. While regaining himself, he found himself in the cross hairs of several shadowy groups, hunted by at least one professional assassin, and his own government’s CIA. Publishers Weekly named The Bourne Identity among the best spy novels of all time. I recall being unable to put down the book as Jason was evading assassination and seeking his own identity.

Re-runs of CSI still blare a song by “The Who” called “Who are you?” to snap casual viewers to attention when their show begins playing. As a search for a killer is the question that provides the premise of the show, this “Who dunnit” crime show centers on the whole issue is identity.

For the younger among us, the story of Simba illustrates the same problem. In the “Lion King” a baboon named Rafiki finds the young lion prince running away from his responsibility of following in his father Mufasa’s footsteps. The baboon says, “You don’t even know who you are!”

Whether seeking their own identity, that of a killer, or even of a prince – identity showed up often in drama and film of my generation. Here is what I know: most people struggle to find out who they really are. These films and novels were written with tones that struck at the cord for a search about personal identity. I have served Jesus long enough to know something else… Most believers don’t seem to understand who they are in Christ, either. One of the symptoms of that lack is they don’t identify the uniqueness of being part of the body of Christ, and their actions reflect a life lived in the wrong circle of influence! Many believer find the world’s way of looking at things much more easily understandable than the Bible’s way. Truly Paul was right. We need a transforming of our minds. Here is a truth we encounter in 1 Corinthians as we study today…

Key Principle: When believers recognize their unique identity in Christ, they learn to judge life by different standards!

As we look carefully at the letter Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers of the first century, we discover that Paul presented a fact something that shocks believers who have not previously encountered this precious truth of God: Believers live in two distinct circles (spheres of influence) that do not operate under the same rules.

The point of our reading in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 in the last lesson was to underscore the notion that believers are not like their unsaved neighbors in a number of ways.

First, we have more restricted association when it comes to people who join and become a part of us. Paul reminded:

1 Corinthians 5:9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people…

So that we aren’t torquing this out of it context, remember Paul was instructing them on some who were living in known immorality but wanted to remain as part of the church. Yet, Paul suspected he needed to be clearer about this standard. He continued:

1 Corinthians 5:10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.

Paul made clear in the verses two important truths. First, I live in a world that I am not called on to judge, but I recognize Jesus will! (5:12a, 13a). God has made government to help keep the world in line now (Rom. 13:1-5) and withholds the right of judgment for His throne at a later time. In that day, believers will play a role, but that is for another time – not now (6:2).

Second, Paul made clear that believers are a part of the church, the Body of Christ, and MUST evaluate and at times separate to maintain the standard of God’s Word (5:12b,13b). That isn’t “judgy” – it is obedience. It isn’t “unloving” – it was a standard given by the Author of love and for purposes that would reflect Him. It may not be popular, but it is right.

Let’s be clear: this wasn’t a witch hunt searching for people to exclude from ministry – quite the opposite. This came to Paul’s attention because it was publicly known and acknowledged, but left un-dealt with in the church. Let’s flatly state the standard then: If someone is involved in immoral behavior according to the standards outlined by Scripture, they are ineligible to remain a part of church ministry. It DOESN’T mean they cannot come to a church meeting – for we invite people in who don’t know Jesus all the time. It means they can play no role that would suggest the believers accept them as one of their own. If you walk as an outsider, we will love you – but treat you as an outsider. Our assumption will be that you need Jesus – even if you believe you made that decision in the past. Our reason is simple: You are not living like a believer is commanded to live by the Lord, and you are living in defiance of God’s standards. That will not work, even if you believe it will. It is not acceptable to God even if you think you have good reason. Rationalizing is the natural work of the unrepentant rebel.

If you have been saying to yourself things like: “This isn’t as bad as ____, who does this”; you are acting the part of a child. If you are rehearsing the tired old “Nobody’s perfect!” routine – remember that truth can be used for anyone to rebel and violate any standard. When we clutch to our sin, we take our hands from the Savior’s to grab something we want MORE than Him – and that is our problem. Believers are to place Him first, and all other things behind. Jesus said: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you…. He who loves his life will lose it, he who gives all the things of this life over as loss to cling to Me – will gain life.” Let me be clear: This generation is not the one that is exempt from walking in truth and integrity. It doesn’t matter what temporal benefits you are receiving – they are not what you are called to seek – especially if they violate the Word of Christ.

To make the two circles of a believer’s life even more clear, Paul offered an example: Property disputes between believers must not be brought to public courts (6:1). The issue was this: two people went to church, and one apparently defrauded the other or took something of value away from the other believer, and the victim wanted it settled. This was a civil matter, not an overtly criminal one, and Roman law allowed the alleged “victim” to pursue the matter in court. Paul wrote:

1 Cor. 6:1 Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints?

Look very carefully at the verse, because Paul is precise about what is included and what is not. First, this is a civil case – presented by one civilian against another – as a small claims court any civil department of law would allow. It is not a criminal case. If someone is breaking into your house or abusing another person, that isn’t civil – it is criminal. You call the police and let them decide the steps to be taken.

Second, the context of the case demands that both parties claim to be believers. Where do you see that? Look at the context. Remember chapter divisions are not in the original. Paul has been talking about how people IN THE CHURCH make judgments differently than in the world. This isn’t about a believer and an unbeliever in the direct context. If you read it carefully, the end of the sentence suggests that an appropriate venue for settlement would be in the church. Would that make sense if one party was NOT a believer? Would you settle an issue in a court of the Moose Lodge if the other party was a Moose member and you were not? Would you anticipate a fair trial? The point is the verse is about two believers – there is ample evidence.

The Supporting Principles for this Example:

Paul supplied, under the influence of God’s Spirit, three appropriate examples of his reasoning as to why believers should not settle civil cases before the world, if both are believers. They have the court of the church, and do not need the court of the world.

Principle #1: The Destiny Principle

First, Paul argued that because of our collective destiny, i.e. what we WILL BE, we must settle our disputes among believers within the circle of believers (1 Corinthians 6:2-3).

1 Corinthians 6:2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life?

There are several terms we must reckon with to get at the meaning of these verses. The term “saints” in the first sentence refers to the same people as the “you” in the second verse. The believers were the saints to whom Paul was referring. The term “angels” refer to the metaphysical beings of the spiritual world and are directly contrasted with matters of “this life”, as in the physical world. The term “angel” is not a metaphor for Pastor or any other person in this world or the contrast would not make sense. Paul laid out the argument:

First, believers will be judges in a future time (6:2). Jesus told the disciples at least some of them would sit on the judges “dais” (Mt. 19:28) because they gave up their future to walk with Him. Paul explained to Timothy that believers would “reign with Christ” (2 Timothy 2:12), a reference to Revelation 20:4 where certain believers became the underling judges to Jesus’ Kingdom.

Second, believers will judge angels (6:3). This requires some explanation for most of us. Remember, Jude 1:6 says that God took the fallen angels that broke into the human world to corrupt it and cast them into prison. 2 Peter 2:4 also affirmed that action. 1 Corinthians 11:12 warned that a lack of submission among believers can affect the angelic observers. These help set up our understanding of what Paul is arguing about judging angels.

Don’t forget the word judge does not mean “condemn” in this verse but “to distinguish or decide”. A wife may ask her husband to look at some wallpaper for the bathroom and help her “judge” which is best for them – he isn’t condemning one choice to wallpaper hell – just discriminating between his taste options.

When to believers judge angels?

First, we should define the terms. Who are angels? The Bible mentions five different types of angels: Cherubim (guardians of God’s holiness, first mentioned guarding Eden in Genesis 3; Lucifer was created to be one), Seraphim (six wings, Isaiah 6), Archangel (Jude 1:9, Michael is only named, Rabbis have seven, including Gabriel, Uriel and others), Messenger angel (Gabriel, Luke 2) and guardian angels (Mt. 18:10).

Second, think about timing. When will believers judge them?

The timeline for angels began, as best we can tell, before the creation of the physical world. It is revealed in the poetry that appears to offer a shadowy presentation of Satan’s rebellion against God’s government.

Isaiah 14:13-14 “But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. 14  ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ Lucifer attempted a hostile takeover of God’s government. As a result, Satan began to advertise his plan among the angelic host.

Ezekiel 28:18 “By the multitude of your iniquities, In the unrighteousness of your trade You profaned your sanctuaries. Therefore I have brought fire from the midst of you; It has consumed you, And I have turned you to ashes on the earth In the eyes of all who see you.”

It appears that one third (1/3rd) of the angelic host followed Satan in his rebellion. That event appears again, as referenced in Revelation 12:

Rev. 12:4 And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth

God responded to the rebellion at some point in the past by creating the awful place of judgment we know as “hell”. The place wasn’t a fiction of priests of the Dark Ages or Giotto and painters of the early Renaissance – the place was revealed by Jesus as very real in Matthew’s Gospel.

Jesus said in Matthew 25:41: 41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.” We must remember that Hell wasn’t originally created for people – but for the rebellious angelic world.

It appears that in response to the fall of angels, God established the cosmos:

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

Shortly after, man was lost in sin and rebellion. Gen. 3 tells how a serpent was embodied by the “fallen one” to lead men away from God. Satan then drew man away from God and God revealed redemption’s promise in the same passage. Satan remained railing against believers in earshot of Heaven (Job) awaiting the expulsion from Heaven. He tried infiltrating the race (Gen. 6) but God stepped in (Jude 1:6).

The Bible promises that part way into the Tribulation Period, God will boot Satan from Heaven’s outer domain and he will come with new vitriol onto the earth.

Revelation 12:7-8 “And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, 8 and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” Satan will be cast to earth to set up a great battle against God. His armies will be destroyed (Rev. 19) and he will be bound (Rev. 20).

The Bible also promises a new government order from God: He will be in charge then in the millennium (Rev. 20). We may not know many details of how we will give angels orders, but we know that we will, and that our positions of authority in Christ’s kingdom! In Revelation, it is martyred believers that specifically are judges, but none of the believers knew which of them would be martyred, so all needed to assume it could be them.

The point is: Since some of us will judge angelic beings, so we cannot take our brothers to court to settle disputes, it is demeaning to God’s intended position for believers.

Principle #2: Position Principle:

After Paul argued about what we WILL BE, he made the point that we shouldn’t take other believers before secular courts because of what WE ARE NOW (6:4-8).

1 Corinthians 6:4 So if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? 5 I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, 6 but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? 7 Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? 8 On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud. You do this even to your brethren.

Paul’s argument is as follows:

• We deal in higher (ultimate life and death eternity) issues in the church (6:4).

• We have available resources of the Spirit’s wisdom within (6:5-6) to keep us from needing outer assistance.

• We have a higher value system and a higher standard than those without (6:7-8) to be prepared to lose something this side of Heaven to uphold Heaven’s values.

OK, you say. I get it. I shouldn’t take a brother to court over a property dispute because of what God has planned for my future, because of what I am in my present position… but there is another compelling reason: WHAT I WAS!

Principle #3: History Principle

Paul argued that because of what I was in my own past (6:9-11) the world shouldn’t be engaged in my hunt for justice in this area. I know sin. I have done sin. I have hurt people and trashed my reputation before. I don’t belong there anymore if I can avoid it!

1 Cor. 6:9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.

Paul reminds us that in the world we were:

• unrighteous (adiakos: violating criminals),
• fornicators (pornos: unlawful use of sex),
• idolators (idolatrace: worship of false gods),
• adulterers (moykous: sex outside of their marriages),
• effeminate (malakos: a boy kept for male homosexual use – abused who felt dirty but not by their choices),
• homosexuals (same sex participation),
• thieves (kleptace: embezzler),
• covetous (pleonektace: insatiable desire for more),
• drunkards (methousos: intoxicated),
• revilers (loudoros: rabble rousers),
• swindlers (harpax: criminals)

Read the list and you will easily see the world does things the EASY WAY. If you have an URGE- fulfill it. If you want it, take it. If it looks good – why hold back? It is easier for us to do wrong then to do good. We have to work at doing good while doing wrong just seems to come naturally. It is easier not to pray then to pray It is easier not to be committed then to be committed. It is easier to have impure thoughts then pure. It is easier not to give then to give.

Godliness is a disciplined life, not a haphazard one.

We are living in a time when the new ethical rules are being written into the next generation, and we seem powerless to challenge them. The rise of naturalism in the last generation is breeding angry atheism in this one. It reminds me of the saying of C.S.Lewis: “We’re all either helping people toward God or away from him”.

I need to stop and let every believer in the sound of these words think about that for a moment. I am either helping draw people near to God with my life, or helping them flee away with my compromises. It really is that simple. My sin affects many others – even when I don’t see it today. Do you really believe Abraham and Sarah knew they were causing the Middle East conflict in their tent so long ago? Just because they didn’t see it doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening. Just because they couldn’t imagine how that would affect more than a quarter of the population of the earth living in darkness, doesn’t mean we cannot draw the line back to their compromise in the Middle Bronze Age.

Our society doesn’t truly grasp the concept of freedom our forefathers shared. They think freedom means, that they are free to do what ever they want. It means they are free to do drugs, drink, have sex with whoever or what ever they want, it means that kids are free to do whatever they want to do in school “go or not go” “study or not study”, and it means adults can do to what ever is necessary to get ahead… and you could probably add your own to this list. Tragically the things that are supposed to be evidence of their freedom have in reality enslaved them, and are now a heavy ball and chain around their neck. Drugs and drinking have led many to an overpowering addiction, a lost home, a lost job and a lost family. Sex anytime, anyplace, anyone has led to diseases, death, unwanted pregnancies, massive numbers of abortions, a broken heart from being used, and the inability to enter a marriage bond pure and undefiled. Youth who exercise their freedom in school find them selves uneducated and flopping hamburgers or washing dishes for the rest of their life.

God’s freedom is that which frees me from the bondage of satisfying self in favor of a new ability to please God.

Some believers need to be reminded to get out of the dirt from which they were cleansed by the precious blood of Jesus.

Paul said it this way in 1 Corinthians 6:11: “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

BUT what Jesus did for us can be described this way:

Jesus made it clear: No thought is so disguised, no wrong is so hidden, no dark of night is so deep that it can hide you from My flaming eyes fire. Yet a rebel can live. He can come to Me. It is the purpose for which I have come. You cannot fall too far or climb too high that My grace can reach you when you call to Me.

Let’s not leave this lesson until we have said it, seen it and celebrated it – we have a new identity in Christ. We do not act like we did – because we will not lie: We are not who we were. Now we are:

WASHED (apoluo: washed off)

Harry Houdini, the famed escape artist once issued a challenge wherever he went. He could be locked in any jail cell in the country, he claimed, and set himself free in short order. He repeatedly kept his promise. Yet, one time something went wrong. Houdini entered a jail in his street clothes; the heavy, metal doors clanged shut behind him. He took from his belt a concealed piece of metal, strong and flexible. He set to work immediately, but something seemed to be unusual about this lock. For thirty minutes he worked and got nowhere. An hour passed, and still he had not opened the door. By now he was bathed in sweat and panting in exasperation, but he still could not pick the lock. Finally, after laboring for two hours, Harry Houdini collapsed in frustration and failure against the door he could not unlock. But when he fell against the door, it swung open! It had never been locked at all! But in his mind it was locked, and that was all it took to keep him from opening the door and walking out of the jail cell.

It saddens me to observe that many believers remain locked in darkness, when the gate was already unlocked. Paul’s simple point is this:

You WERE (according to this text): unrighteous (adiakos: violating criminals) – but you are not now CRIMINALS FOR CHRIST.

You were SEXUAL SINNERS – but you are not now FORNICATORS FOR CHRIST.

You were USED BY THE WORLD – but you are not now VICTIMS FOR CHRIST.


You were thieves – but you are not now ROBBERS FOR JESUS.

You were drunks and hoodlums – but you are not now PARTY ANIMALS FOR JESUS.

These things are from a past life with its hopes and dreams, its desires and hungers fixed on the physical world.

You are SANCTIFIED (hagiadzo: marked for use):

I plead with you, beloved, don’t EVER get to the place where it is more important to you that sinners be found comfortable in their sin than that God is found to be revered in the place of worship. We are not set apart for popularity, we are set apart for distinct living for His purposes. That is what He intends.

If you don’t believe you would deny Christ when ISIS puts a knife to your throat – then don’t deny Christ when temptation beckons you to give yourself to its cause instead of following hard after Christ.

You are JUSTIFIED (dikayao: to pronounce as fully freed from further obligation to your debt of sin).

Sally was married to Bill for many years. Then one evening Bill had a heart attack and died. Several years later, Sally remarried a man named Jack. Jack was in many ways different than Bill. Bill didn’t like to eat breakfast (he just grabbed a cup of coffee and headed out the door) and Jack liked to start his day with a big country breakfast. Bill didn’t care if the house was kept clean and Jack wanted the house to be neat and tidy. After Jack and Sally had been married for a year, Jack was beginning to get aggravated. He came down the stairs hoping to find things different but the house was messy and as he went into the kitchen hoping to smell bacon and eggs cooking on the stove, he only found a cup of cold coffee. When Jack voiced his dissatisfaction with the situation Sally said “well that’s the way Bill liked things”. Jack said “Sally, Bill is dead. You are my wife now. You have to stop living like you are still married to Bill.

There are so many things that bind us. As long as we hold on to them, their power over us continues. It is only by letting go that we become free. So, what’s making a monkey out of you? You are special because you belong to the Lord. That calls us to be distinct and different.

When believers recognize their unique identity in Christ, they learn to judge life by different standards!