Summary: A biblical view of how Christian's should respond to lawsuits.
I’ve changed the names and a few facts of the stories that you will hear today. Bill sounded incredibly upset and shocked on the phone. He told me he returned from vacation to find he was locked out of his own company. The man with whom he was forming an agreement, Victor, literally changed the locks on the doors and took over the company. Bill is a member of Christ Fellowship and Victor was a member of a church in Plano. Bill appealed to no avail. He could have sued the man, but instead he asked me if the elders could help. Bill and Victor agreed to submit to the decision of a team composed of two elders from Victor’s church and one elder from Christ Fellowship. After evaluating the data, the three-member elder team concluded that Victor had wronged Bill. They gave Victor a few options to make it right. He refused. The elders appealed to him. I personally called and emailed Victor appealing to him before God to do what is right for the sake of the gospel and his own soul. He stubbornly refused. Bill lost his company and a large amount of money he was owed. He could have gotten a lawyer and sued on multiple grounds. Bill chose instead to be wronged and walk away. He lived out 1 Corinthians chapter six.
In such cases most Christians sue the heck out of each other, demanding their rights and fighting for what they are due. We live in a massively litigious society; so was ancient Corinth. Even our TV shows are filled with people going to court with each other from Judge Judy to The People’s Court. How should we handle disputes, especially between brothers in Christ? We are studying Paul’s letter to Christians in ancient Corinth, in which he addresses hot potato issues to show us how to find spiritual wisdom in a foolish world. Today we look at how to handle the hot potato of legal disputes between Christians.
What was the situation in Corinth? Paul addressed a very specific problem, but as we will see, his advice has broader application. Take a look at First Corinthians chapter six, verse one to see the problem:
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 Cor 6:1.
The phrase translated “has a dispute” is a technical term for a lawsuit, or legal action. Someone in the Church had the gall to haul a brother Christian to court to be judged by unbelievers. Paul is horrified. In the previous chapter, he confronted the Corinthian Christians for failing to judge sin in their midst; he now confronts them for bringing their disputes in the family before secular courts. The sharp incongruity between who they are in Christ and what they are doing boggles Paul’s mind. He literally says in verse five that he writes this chapter to shame them. With nine rhetorical questions he tries to shock them out of acting like the rest of the people in Corinth. In Paul’s analysis the problem arose not just from bad behavior, but from bad theology. So Paul takes us to four deep realities which form the foundation for how to think well about disputes between family members in the church. Paul’s one big point is quite clear. Don’t sue your brother.
Don’t sue your brother.
Most of the chapter explains why we should not sue our brother in light of these four deeper realities. But objections usually jump into people’s minds. “But in business I sign contracts all the time that have clauses about legal resolution. Should I not sign the contract? What if I do not know whether the other person is a Christian? Is it ok to sue a nonbeliever? What about suing a company or another entity that is not a person? What if you are a lawyer and a believer wants to hire you against another believer? What do you do if another person sues you? Should you get a lawyer and fight the matter in court? What about divorce? Should a believer use a lawyer and go to court in a divorce? What if another person who claims to be a Christian is hurting lots of people and needs to be stopped legally?”
We will discover that chapter six is like most of the Bible. It gives us divine principles, but not case law. Rather than speaking to specific cases, the Bible gives solid principles that we apply with wisdom by the Spirit to specific cases. My hope is to help you grasp the four deep realities of your destiny, mission, values and identity, which will guide you in how to handle disputes with fellow Christians.