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Should Christians Sue?

The debate of lawsuits for Christians is answered in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8.  The Apostle Paul instructed the Christians in Corinth not to take each other to court.  Evidently the church members were suing one another frequently for Paul to include this in his letter to them.  He starts off his letter in 1 Corinthians 1:10 to say, “I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”  This did not mean Christians were exempt from problems with one another but that they should handle them in a different way – a biblical way.

Christians should forgive one another and attempt to reconcile their differences to display Christ-like character and faith in God’s Word (Matthew 6:14; Ephesians 4:32).  One has to ask themselves, “Why would someone want to become a Christian if they behave just like the world and can’t solve problems with their Biblical system?”  Now, Paul was not saying a lawsuit was never permissible.  The first step towards reconciliation over any matter with believers is to follow the pattern of Matthew 18:15-17.  First you go to them alone to settle the issue.  If that does not fully settle it you take along a mediator.  If that does not work then you get church leadership involved to help you resolve the issues and hopefully reconcile the relationship.  If all that has been done, in some cases a lawsuit may be permissible but should be considered only after much prayer and counsel with your spiritual leaders in the church.  You just don’t rush quickly into a lawsuit.  A lawsuit should not be done for revenge or in anger.  Justice may require the presiding and actions of the courts.  But there is a difference in seeking justice and revenge.  A Christian must ask, “What is the motive of my heart in this matter?”  Paul used the court system to his benefit as a Roman citizen to protect himself when facing punishment (Acts 16:37-40; 18:12-17; 22:15-29; 25:10-22).  But his motives were pure.  A Christian should not automatically jump to sue even if wronged even if it is permissible/lawful (1 Corinthians 6:12).

1 Corinthians 6:7 gives us an interesting perspective.  Paul says, “It is an utter failure for you to go to law against one another (speaking of Believers).  Why do you not rather accept being wronged?  Why do no not rather let yourselves be defrauded?”  Bigger than righting a wrong is the Believer’s testimony.  It is better to be taken advantage of than to be a terrible witness for Christ.  Jesus even said to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39).  This does not mean let them run over you or lie down and die in defeat.  It does mean we must proceed with the character of Christ seeking justice.  Forgiving a debt is Biblical (Matthew 18:21-35).  After all, Jesus forgave our debts (Matthew 6:12; Romans 5:8).  If the matter can be handled Biblically (Matthew 18:15-17) then don’t go to court over it with another believer.  Sometimes, in cases like child custody and protection of one’s rights/property (like what Paul did), it is necessary to go to court.

Romans 13 tells us God has established the legal system and authorities for justice, protecting the innocent, and punishing evildoers (cf. Amos 5:15; Matthew 23:23).  Paul is telling believers in 1 Corinthians 6 to stop going to court over frivolous matters and issues that forgiveness, Biblical counsel, and repentance should settle.  Our motives should be pure in whatever we pursue.  What if someone takes you to court?  If you owe them, pay them (Matthew 17:24-27; 22:15-22) and don’t let it get to the point of court.  If it has, make arrangements to pay what you owe (Romans 13:8-10).  Admit your guilt.    Before you go to court, ask yourself:  Have I followed Matthew 18:15-17 and other ways of reconciliation?  Have I prayed and sought counsel from church leadership? Are my motives pure?  Am I acting out of spite, vengeance, or anger?  Am I truly seeking justice alone?  Would this harm my testimony or the church at large?  Am I being honest in this matter, avoiding deception and lies?  If you have done all this and there seems to be no other way to resolve the issues then the proper legal action may be necessary.  Remember 1 Corinthians 6:7 and forgiveness though.  If you must go to court, proceed cautiously, prayerfully, and wisely with a Christian lawyer and the Holy Spirit as your main Guide for the sole purpose of seeking Biblical justice if peace is not possible (Romans 12:18).

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Stephen and his wife Haley have called Arkansas home all of their lives. Stephen has served in several ministry roles over the last 25 years and as a lead pastor for the last 8 years. Stephen attended Williams Baptist College and earned a BA in Biblical Studies from Ouachita Baptist University, an MA, MDiv, and DMin in Christian Leadership and Pastoral Ministries from Liberty University. When not pastoring, Stephen enjoys running, cycling, reading, writing, camping, fishing, and spending time with his family.

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