Formations 08.21.2022: Healing Relational Rifts

1 Corinthians 6:1-11

I’ve lost track of how many stories I’ve heard or read in recent years about abusive pastors and churches. Sometimes it’s misappropriation of church funds. Sometimes it’s sexual abuse. Sometimes it’s something else.

Whatever the particulars, there are a few things we can expect when these stories break. For one thing, it’s common for church leaders in these situations to circle the wagons and protect the status quo. Any accusations against the church or its leaders are dismissed: They’re the lies of God’s enemies, not worth taking seriously. Keep telling the truth, and they’ll turn on you.

Almost invariably, the defenders of the status quo appeal to today’s passage to silence their critics. “When you have a grievance against another, why do you take it to the civil authorities?” they say. “Such matters should be settled within the church.”

Of course, if we did this, it would simply invite the church’s leaders to judge themselves, whether they’re in the right or in the wrong. Three guesses which way they’re most likely to decide!

But read the passage again. Is it really talking about church leaders abusing their power and trying to cover it up? First Corinthians 6 doesn’t address this sort of thing at all. Rather, it deals with ordinary Christians and their struggles to get along. The context is how to handle relational rifts such as those we read about in Matthew 18:15-20 and Galatians 6:1-5.

In Corinth, believers are taking each other to court to settle disputes that Paul believes should have been handled within the church itself. Those who will judge angels (v. 3) certainly ought to be able to resolve disputes among themselves!

Sadly, this process of seeking and extending forgiveness, of talking through their problems like adults, is too much for the Corinthians to handle. So they take their grievances to the Roman courts, and in the process they undermine their claim to being transformed by the gospel.

Whatever we once were, Paul says, through Christ we have been washed, sanctified, and justified.

Surely, people like that should be able to figure out how to get along with one another.


• When have you seen relational conflicts damage the church and its witness?
• When have you seen churches enforce the status quo by insisting its members keep silent?
• What does it take for God’s people to get along in the church?
• How does wisdom help us respond healthily to conflict with our siblings in Christ?
• What strategies have helped you find reconciliation when relationships are in jeopardy?
• How can we apply this wisdom in our relationships outside the church?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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