Paul starts off by telling them that they should not be taking each other to settle their disputes. He tells them that if they have disputes with one another that someone within the church should settle the issue. Then in verse 7 Pauls says this:
To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?
Paul is telling the Corinthians that the very fact that a dispute has reached the point where it has to be settled by a lawsuit already indicates defeat for them. Why is that? Having to resort to a lawsuit means that none of the people involved in the dispute is willing to forgive the other and overlook the wrong (or perceived wrong) done to them. Basically, a lawsuit is declaring that I am right, you are wrong, and I am going to see to it that you pay for being wrong. This unwillingness to forgive your brother or sister in Christ is bad enough but to then take the matter to civil court and broadcast your unforgiveness to them is even worse.
Why is Paul so concerned about this situation? What makes this issue worth addressing in his letter to the church? Consider what Jesus Himself said in John 13:34-35:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
Jesus says to His disciples that the world, or those who are not His disciples, will know who they are based on their love for each other. In this context, the "each other" at the end of verse 35 refers to the disciples. If I were to paraphrase this verse it would read something like "Love each other. The lost world will know you follow me by observing how you love others who follow me." The way we, as Christians, love each other should be one of the primary things that draws people to Christ. They should how we love, care for, and support each other when we gather. Paul knows this and knows that what the Corinthians are doing in allowing their disputes to escalate to the point that lawsuits are needed is not behavior that will attract lost people to the Savior. What makes it worse is that they are intentionally taking these lawsuits to the very unbelievers they are supposed to be witnesses to and broadcasting their inability to love each other in a very public way. It is the equivalent of Christians taking their disputes and disagreements to be settled by Judge Judy today (which has undoubtedly occurred, by the way). Paul says that we should rather be wronged and defrauded than display unforgiveness to the world. It is better to be sinned against than to wrong the name of Christ among unbelievers by our actions toward our brothers and sisters.
The question for us today is do we interact with other believers in such a way as to attract the lost to our Savior. Think about times when Christians are gathered together: conferences, church services, small groups, etc. Do we really love each other the way Christ loved us? Would someone looking on at our gathering find themselves longing for that type of fellowship and communion? Does our love for each other act as the first step in introducing others to Jesus?
These are tough questions and I, for one, am not sure I like the answers when I consider my own life.
Do I really consider the name of Jesus more worthy of protection than my own?