“To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?”
— 1 Corinthians 6:7
In the New Testament letter of 1 Corinthians in the sixth chapter, Paul addresses a legal conflict within the Corinthian church community. He asks, "When a personal offense is made, one with ramifications for the social and financial life of the community, how is it to be resolved?" His answer: "Seek mutual resolution among yourselves before bringing the issue to a law court."
He is saying, lawsuits among fellow Christ-followers are often a lose, lose situation. One may win in court, but both lose spiritually. Legal justice is carried out, but spiritual community is damaged. "To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you" (6:7). This appears sensible. Yet what Paul writes next may be surprising, even offensive, to modern Western readers:
"Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?"
We think, "surely that cannot mean what it seems to mean, that when we are legally owed our right, Paul suggests we would instead suffer the wrong? Even prefer it?" How can Paul's advice be explained? Biblical scholar David Garland provides a clue to the answer:
“Refusing to seek redress for a wrong is not only better than bringing charges against another Christian before pagan (secular) judges, but also better than impaneling a jury of Christians to hear the complaint. It reveals that one understands, accepts, and lives out the wisdom of the cross.”
— David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 209.
What is Paul doing? He is presenting to the Corinthian community an application of the gospel, the operative principle of the Christian message, the non-retaliatory substitutionary ethic demonstrated in the death of Jesus on the cross. When wronged, how did God respond? He could have taken action. It was his legal right. Sin against the holy God is ultimate "defrauding."
A penalty in the final court of moral justice was demanded—and given. Yet not by the perpetrator. But by Christ.
In the death of Jesus, the Judge became the judged, and by doing so, became our Savior.
To borrow the language of Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:7, it was God's great Preference; his perfect life rather than my sinful life. His innocence rather than my guilt. His atoning death rather than divine justice for my sin.
What moves me to worship? It is that when legal action, not unlike that in the Corinthian church, was a valid step against me, Jesus preferred to experience the defrauding I deserved, for me.
All my inadequacies replaced with his adequacy. All my imperfections, replaced with his perfection. He preferred to suffer for my insufficiencies, than to have his rightful due.
It makes me worship.
Oh that I would prefer to suffer, in the place of my wife, in the place of my daughters. Oh that I would prefer to be 'defrauded' so the name of Jesus would grow in fame; that he would be made attractive to the world; that I would diminish.
Is this foolish? Then may I be worthy to be counted a fool.
For when I had earned justice for my crimes, Christ gave me what I didn't deserve — friendship with God.
It was his great Preference