Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Whence Cometh My Vindication? A Thought on Justice, Sacrifice, Church and State from I Cor. 5.1-6.11

It appears from Paul's letter, the church in Corinth was a mess. Factions had formed, sexual sin was left unchecked. At one point, Paul keys in on a particularly shameful situation: a man living in adultery with this father's wife. Some of the Paul's instructions to the church in this matter are fascinating. In particular, what I find interesting are comments Paul makes that seem more like postscript or subscript--not directly relating to the adulterous man. In the process of reminding the Corinthians that he has already instructed them not to associate with the sexually immoral, he adds, "…not at all meaning the people of this world… In that case you would have to leave this world." Paul quickly prevents any misunderstanding of this words. He does not intend to prescribe separatism from the very people Christ has called his disciples to evangelize. Paul is well aware that the unregenerate will be sinful. It is the church who Paul expects sanctification among.

That's not all! Paul's fascinating asides just get better and better. Not only does Paul have different expectations for believers and unbelievers, he says the sin of unbelievers isn't his business! "What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside." Paul expects to see sin outside the church and recognizes the Holy Spirit's role to bring conviction to hearts---to convince them of sin, judgment and the law.

Furthermore, he rebukes the Corinthians that appeal to the courts of the State saying, "If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints?"

"Ungodly"?? Paul. Hold on there brother. Who said anything about the courts of our land being ungodly? Surely this only applies to Roman courts, right? Paul's words can't have application for Christians in twenty-first century America. Our courts are godly, right?

Many modern American Christians believe that there is no fundamental distinction between Christian justice and the justice meted out by the State. For Paul, the justice system of the State was not a legitimate source of justice for Christians. For Paul, appealing to the State for justice would be absurd since true justice is found only in Christ. Does a wealthy man ask a bankrupt man for a loan? Why would the ambassadors of God's reconciliation look to the unreconciled for reconciliation? Why would those liberated by Christ look to those still in bondage for freedom from temporal constraints?

"…and this in front of unbelievers!"

Seeking justice from outside Christ is not only absurd for Paul, but also destructive to the kingdom. By our love for one another do we witness God's love to the world. How can the world see God's love reflected in Christ's church if it is obscured by the quarreling of Christians? For Paul, this is of utmost importance. Christ's love, that is supposed to be on display in his church, is the only hope for the world. There is no grievance so valuable it rivals the witness of the church's loving unity. He makes his point as sharp as possible: "Why not rather by wronged? Why not rather be cheated?"

Paul's questions hit me at a particularly sensitive place. It requires me to ask myself: Is my desire for instant retribution worth sacrificing the witness of my love for my brothers and sisters in Christ before unbelievers? Is my need for justice greater than their need for redemption? Or could I lay down my rights for their sake? Could I release my claim to embrace the cross?

I must also ask myself: Am I greater than my Master? Are my rights more worthy of claim than were his? When I committed to following Jesus, I accepted self-denial and a cross. Sacrifice hurts. I don't want to let go. I've been wronged and my soul demands vindication. But then I hear the voice of the Spirit saying, "Trust me. I am your Vindicator and your vindication."

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