It’s a verse every Christian believes in until he suffers some great wrong. It’s a verse every Christian affirms until he is called to implement it in his own life. And it’s just then that the words seem to transform from clear to opaque, the application from simple to obscure. In 1 Corinthians 6:7 Paul speaks of lawsuits between believers and says “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” It’s better to suffer injustice within the church, he says, than to harm Christ’s cause before the world. It’s better to suffer harm quietly than to express outrage publicly. If you sue a brother and win, the church has already lost.
This is just one application of a much wider principle that is repeated throughout the New Testament, a principle that calls Christians to behave with humility and meekness, even in the face of grave injustice. Christians are not to retaliate when wronged, nor to repay evil with evil, nor to curse those who harm them. Rather, we are to bear patiently through suffering and persecution, we are to endure hardship, we are to entrust ourselves to God. We are to do all of this even—and perhaps especially—when our trials come at the hands of those who profess Christ.
None of this is easy. It is no small thing to suppress our natural instinct for vengeance or to set aside our natural longing for retaliation. It is no small thing to allow ourselves to be wronged and then to meekly suffer the consequences. It may be one of the greatest challenges we are ever called to face. Yet we can be equal to the challenge if we take hold of the grace God offers us.
To be equal to that challenge, we will need to look back, look up, and look forward.
We will need to look back to Jesus Christ who serves as our perfect example and who calls us to do no more than he has already done. As unjust as our persecutors may be, his were certainly worse. As grievous as our losses may be, his were certainly far greater. Yet he endured his suffering meekly and now “to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). He entrusted himself to God and obeyed God to the very end, and so may we. So must we.
Then we will need to look up to see God as sovereign, God as reigning over this world and all its affairs. We have to believe and understand that our suffering falls under the sovereignty of God. Whatever we have suffered has not taken place outside of his will, beyond his providence, or past the jurisdiction of his sovereignty. This injustice was not unforeseen by God and did not catch him by surprise. Rather, he in some way willed it and permitted it. And he now expects us to respond in a way that is consistent with his Word, even when to do so pushes us beyond all our natural capacities.
And we will need to look forward to the day when all suffering will be soothed, all injustices will be righted, and all rewards will be dispensed. By suffering meekly today, we are preparing ourselves to be rewarded later. When we refuse to demand satisfaction in this moment, we are expressing faith that a time will come when God will make all things right. When faith becomes sight we will have not the least doubt that God has done all things well. Even this.
It may be God’s will that the most difficult thing he ever calls you to do is to endure being wronged, and to do so in a way that displays Christian character. It may be that the greatest challenge of your life will be to endure injustice with meekness and patience. It may be that God’s specific calling upon you is to suffer wrong and to do so without taking vengeance and without losing the joy of your salvation. But by looking back and looking up and looking forward, you can suffer well, and you can suffer long, and you can suffer in such a way that you display the beauties of the gospel of grace, the beauties of Jesus Christ himself.
(There will inevitably be many “what about” questions that follow an article like this and, indeed, that follow any consideration of 1 Corinthians 6:7. Those would be a subject for a different day but for now let me challenge you with this: with this passage, as with certain others (e.g. submission to government, honor toward parents), our first instinct often seems to be how to avoid its plain teaching rather than how to implement it. So today let’s keep our focus on its plainest teaching: “To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?”)