Is it Okay for Christians to Sue Each Other?
- Dr. Roger Barrier Preach It, Teach It
- 2018 28 Nov
Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two leaders in our church are locked in a legal battle because of a business deal gone bad. I am so disillusioned. I want to tell them to stop, but I need to know what the Bible says about this. Can you give me some help?
The best passage I know that teaches on how Christians handle conflict are the words Paul penned in 1 Corinthians 6:1-11. Here are just a few thoughts:
What We Forget When We Can’t Get Along
We live in a litigious society. Entitled people, self-important people, have difficulty with overlooking offense. Remember, the author of this passage was a prominent Pharisee, a legalist, before he met Christ and penned these words!
The Jews did not ordinarily go to law in the public law-courts; the Greeks on the other hand, loved lawsuits and litigation. So do we.
Not unnaturally, some of the Greeks had brought their litigious tendencies into the Christian Church; and Paul was shocked. His Jewish background made the procedure revolting and his Christian principles made it even more so.
The Precipitating Issue: Christians Who Take Christians to Court Are Completed Defeated
"If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people?" (1 Corinthians 6:1, 6-7a)
First, to settle disputes before pagan judges is a blight on the Christian faith.
Second, such a practice was treason to one of the key doctrines of the Christian faith--love and unity among the saints.
It should not be construed that there is never an occasion when Christians should go to court. Sometimes it is necessary to go to court. But even in these kinds of exceptions, a Christian's purpose should be to glorify God, and never to gain selfish advantage. The general rule is this: do not go to court with fellow Christians, but settle matters among yourselves.
What They Forgot
"Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?" (1 Corinthians 6:2-5, 7b-11)
1. Their Future Role: Christians Will Judge the World and Angels
One day the children of God are going to sit in judgment upon the world!
"This is to be your ultimate destiny," says Paul. "Why, then, are you spending your time quarreling about inconsequential things?" (1 Corinthians 6:2-5)
2. Their Christians Attitude: Christians Can Choose to Suffer Wrong and be Cheated
"The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters." (1 Corinthians 6:7-8)
Jesus taught us clearly:
“If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love." (MSG)
The right attitude of a Christian is rather to be wronged or defrauded than to sue a fellow Christian. It is far better to lose financially than to lose spiritually.
God outlines two alternative actions to lawsuits between Christians.
- Set up a judge within the congregation and keep the matter within the Christian community.
- The superior alternative is to absorb the loss without complaint, criticism, or lawsuit.
Long ago Plato taught that the good man will always choose to suffer wrong rather than do wrong.
God does not ultimately settle accounts in human courts. He settles them at Judgment.
3. Their Distinctive Character: Not Everyone is Right with God(1 CORINTHIANS 6:9-11)
"Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers, nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
In this catalog of sins Paul named about every type of wickedness there is. Then he made the amazing statement, "And that is what some of you were."
He was reminding them that there was a time when they should have been taken before God's court and immediately consigned to hell. Instead, the Lord forgave them of all their sin. Thus what right did they have to hold anything against a Christian brother? If God had been so merciful, they should be merciful to others of the Lord's people.
The proof of Christianity is in its power. It could take the dregs of humanity and make saints of them. It could take men lost to shame and make them sons of God. The world is filled with men and women who are living, walking, proof of the re-creating power of Jesus Christ.
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.
Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/Jirapong Manustrong