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In 1 Corinthians 6:1-3 Paul admonishes the church:
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? 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?
Here Paul gives us a glimpse of the future Kingdom, but also sets a present course of action when dealing with disputes. Christians—particularly elders in the church—ought to know the law of God thoroughly so that they can judge disputes according to the mind of God. Their failure to reach such competency is a “shame” (vs. 5), because it forces Christian people to defer to courts that judge according to the laws of men.
A biblical judge not only knows the law of God but also has the ability to hear God’s voice and to follow the leading of the Spirit in applying that law. He knows the proper procedure as well, such as what was set forth in Matthew 18:15-35.
The time between the two comings of Christ is when the church should be in training to be world judges in the age to come. Every dispute within a church body which cannot be resolved between the two parties ought to be resolved by the eldership. The more often such disputes are resolved, the more practice they are given, resulting in better understandings of the law and the mind of Christ. Yet Paul laments that this goal had not been achieved in the Corinthian church. We have the same lament today.
Nonetheless, I believe that God has been training the remnant of grace, the overcomers, so that when they are raised in the first resurrection, they will form the government of the Kingdom that is qualified to judge the world—and angels, too.
When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, he had many disputes to resolve. In fact, he was so busy resolving disputes that he was wearing himself out and had little time to do anything else. So his father-in-law, Jethro (or Reuel) gave him some wise advice, which Moses implemented. Exodus 18:25, 26 says,
25 Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. 26 They judged the people at all times; the difficult dispute they would bring to Moses, but every minor dispute they themselves would judge.
Years later, when Moses gave his final speeches in the plains of Moab, he reminded them of this in Deuteronomy 1:16, 17,
16 Then I charged your judges at that time, saying, “Hear the cases between your fellow countrymen, and judge righteously between a man and his fellow countrymen, or the alien who is with him. 17 You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not fear man, for the judgement is God’s. The case that is too hard for you, you shall bring it to me, and I will hear it.”
Curiously, when I was about twelve years old, I was asked in a meeting to share my favorite Bible verse. I turned to Deuteronomy 1:17 (above). I remember my dad being quite surprised. Only much later did I realize how this verse would foreshadow my interest in Bible law.
This shows us the pattern for the Kingdom Judicial System that has yet to be implemented fully. The system that Moses established was either lost or applied by the carnal minds of men, due to their lack of spiritual understanding. One of the most egregious injustices of later judges (including the Sanhedrin in Jesus’ day) was their refusal to be impartial.
Deuteronomy 1:16 instructs judges to “judge righteously” not only “fellow countrymen” but also “the alien who is with him.” Verse 17 continues, “You shall not show partiality in judgment.” Later, Moses tells the people in Deuteronomy 10:16, 17, 18,
16 So circumcise your heart and stiffen your neck no longer. 17 For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. 18 He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. 19 So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.
By linking heart circumcision with the ability to be impartial in judgment, Moses suggests that such impartiality would characterize those of the New Covenant. Judges who remain Old Covenant minded would lack the ability to reflect the impartial nature of God. In fact, they should have learned the value of impartiality by their own negative experience as aliens in the land of Egypt, where they were treated as slaves or, at best, second class citizens.
In fact, this may be one of the prime reasons why God brought the Israelites into Egypt in the first place. It was to teach them the horrors of partiality, so that when they finally left Egypt and were formed into a kingdom, they would never be partial again.
Unfortunately, they soon forgot that lesson. By the time Jesus walked the earth, they had a long-standing tradition to treat foreign converts to Judaism with partiality. For this reason, when King Herod reconstructed the second temple, he built a dividing wall in the outer court to keep at a distance all women and aliens who sought to draw near to God. On this wall was posted a sign that read:
“No Gentile may enter beyond the dividing wall into the court around the Holy Place; whoever is caught will be to blame for his subsequent death.”
This sign was discovered in an archeological dig by M. Ganneau in 1871. Paul wrote about this dividing wall in Ephesians 2:14-18, telling us that Christ abolished it (in principle) so as to create “one new man.” Hence, he said, “through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”
Hence, Jesus Christ reflected the impartial nature of His heavenly Father and re-established the lawful order set forth in the law of Moses. Unfortunately, those who rejected Christ held on to their traditions of men, which had nullified the law of God. Numbers 15:15, 16 says,
15 As for the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns with you, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the alien be before the Lord. 16 There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you.
Any alien (foreigner) who wished to live in Israel was expected to be subject to the law of God in the same manner as the rest of the people. He was to be loved as well, for this formed part of the second of two great commandments. Leviticus 19:18 says, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
When Jesus was asked, “who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29), Jesus answered with the parable of the Good Samaritan, implying that Samaritans were their neighbors.
It is clear, then, that the law of impartial judgment applied to the way in which Israelites treated foreigners in matters of law. They were not to be judged according to their ethnicity but were to be subject to the same law of God that governed everyone in the nation. Further, their sacrifices were to be accepted equally in the temple, for “just as you do, so shall he do” (Numbers 15:14).
When Solomon dedicated the temple to God, he prayed in 1 Kings 8:41, 42, 43,
41 Also concerning the foreigner who is not of Your people Israel, when he comes from a far country for Your name’s sake 42 (for they will hear of Your great name and Your mighty hand, and of Your outstretched arm); when he comes and prays toward this house, 43 hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name, to fear You, as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that this house which I have built is called by Your name.
Isaiah 56:6-8 comments on this, saying,
6 Also the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to Him, and to love the name of the Lord… 7 even those I will bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer… for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples. 8 The Lord God, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares, “Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.”
The “others” in this case refers to the foreigners—people other than Israelites. All were welcome at the house of prayer, and there was no dividing wall in Solomon’s temple to keep foreigners from drawing near to God. The dividing wall was built by Herod the Edomite king—no doubt to please the majority of the Sanhedrin who held that tradition of men.
If we believe (as Paul says) that “the saints will judge the world,” it is clear that we must define the term “saints.” Are all believers “saints” in this sense? Will God give judicial authority to those who are ignorant of the law or who remain partial in their judgment? Paul is not fully clear on this in 1 Corinthians 6, but he is indeed critical of the church for its lack of judicial ability.
This question also speaks into the idea of “God’s chosen people.” Is God partial toward Israelites? Does one’s genealogy qualify him/her to rule in the age to come or to judge the world? Or is one qualified by maturing spiritually through the pattern set forth in the feast days: Faith (Passover), Obedience (Pentecost), and Agreement (Tabernacles)?
The present age is the time to learn to be impartial and to qualify as an overcomer to rule and judge the world. If we cannot judge “matters of this life” (1 Corinthians 6:3) in the present age, how will we qualify for greater things in the age to come?