Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Paul's Advice in Conflicts

Wednesday, February 20, 2008 -- Week of 2 Lent

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 953)
Psalms 72 (morning) 119:73-96 (evening)
Genesis 42:18-28
1 Corinthians 5:9 - 6:8
Mark 4:1-20

Paul says something remarkable at the end of today's reading. He is chiding some of the members of the congregation in Corinth because they have been engaged in some form of civil lawsuit. Apparently one person in the congregation is accusing another of having been defrauded or wronged, and they have gone to court to seek justice.

Paul is horrified. To him, lawsuits between members of the congregation are a scandal for the church. He has three things to say about it.

First, take these disputes to the church. I was part of a group that founded a Christian mediation service when I lived in Jackson, Mississippi. We sought to follow the procedural advice of Matthew 18 to create a panel of peacemakers who would listen to both sides and offer counsel. The grieved parties could choose to enter into legal binding arbitration, where the judgment of the panel would be enforceable, or to agree to listen respectfully, with the hope that they would follow the panel's counsel. Each panel consisted of three trained peacemakers -- a lawyer and pastor and a lay person (often with some expertise that might bear on the nature of the disagreement). The goal was reconciliation, not just judgment. I sat on two of the panels. In one case, the parties reached a place of mutual reconciliation. In the other, one party simply wanted justification, and refused to accept the counsel of the group.

There was a lot to commend the process. It was quick, inexpensive, and about as non-adversarial as such a dispute can be. One lawyer quipped with exaggeration -- if this caught on, it could put a lot of lawyers out of business.

So Paul tells the Corinthians, first, take your conflicts to the church that they may be receive a hearing and some form of judgment that might hopefully produce reconciliation.

The second thing he says is that the church shouldn't submit to the secular courts because it is God's intention that those called out into the church become the eventual judges of the world and angels. Why should those whom you will judge be the persons you take your disputes to?

But it is the third comment that is the most striking. "To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?" Paul's sense of security in the justification that is ours by grace is so strong that there is nothing that can truly threaten us. That's one of his major themes. He is bulletproof. We all are, he says. God's free gift in Christ overcomes all. God restores us to a perfect relationship with God and promises us a share in the universal triumph of Christ. What do you need to defend? What is there to fight for? We are already completely triumphant, completely loved, completely safe. Let it go. Someone wronged you, defrauded you? So what. They can't hurt you. Not really. Not as long as your union with God is intact. That's the only threat. And when you go into public conflict, you actually may be threatening the union of God in Christ, corporately and individually.

Then he goes one more step in his exasperation. "...Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud -- and believers at that." To have brothers and sisters wronging each other is scandal. We are past these things now, Paul asserts, because "you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God." Live out of that energy and do not wrong. And if wronged, forgive and let it go.

It is an invitation into a life of profound freedom and peace.



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About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117

An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at
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The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 10:26 AM, Blogger The Underground Pewster said...

Why do we have such a litiginous society? Why were the Corinthians straying from Paul's ideal? I propose that many in the Church remain materialistic and worldly, and have not truly renounced "Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness..." (Baptismal Covenent) that come beween us and God (my little addition). What we have here is a failure to renunciate.

At 10:47 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Nicely put, Cool Hand U.P.


At 3:43 PM, Blogger scott said...

You guys are getting too smart for me...

I wonder why it's so hard to give things up... what about us makes us that way?


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