Summary: Should Christians sue other Christians? Should Christians sue anyone? Is it ever right to use the laws of this nation to achieve a measure of justice? What does Paul say about this?
LET’S SETTLE THIS
How should Christians settle differences of opinion with each other, disputes, or even instances of personal damages? Through lawsuits?
Lawsuits have become a way of life in North American culture. I remember as children when someone wanted to throw a nice icy rip-your-skin kind of snowball at another child, the response was often “You do it and I’ll sue you.” At which point the other kid actually rethought his decision. Strange as it sounds, I guess he didn’t want to lose his life-savings of five bucks.
Twenty years ago someone standing on a street corner whose elbow was brushed by a passing truck would likely exclaim, ’Thank God, I’m alive!’ Now a person in the same situation shouts, ’Thank God, I’ll be rich.’" If you think he is exaggerating, don’t forget the woman who won a million dollar suit against McDonald’s because the coffee she got at the drive-thru, which she spilled on herself, was too hot. Then there is also the fellow in New York who a few years ago attempted suicide by jumping in front of a subway car. He failed to kill himself, but he did win a $650,000 judgment from New York City, because their train hit him.
Even the Church today is subject to threats of legal actions. There was a cartoon in Christianity Today many years ago and the setting was on a Sunday morning. On the church platform is a soloist about to sing a number as the pianist prepares to play the introduction. With microphone in hand, he says, “I’d like to share a song with you that the Lord gave me a year ago … and even though He did give it to me, any reproduction of this song in any form without my written consent will constitute infringement of the copyright law which grants me to sue your pants off … praise God … ”
Apparently the Corinthians were quite fond of law and lawsuits. It was actually entertaining for them to be a part of a legal action and to try to figure out penalties. They would have loved John Grisham novels, the Law & Order TV series and the like. And of course, this being the culture, the habit of bringing a lawsuit against someone seeped into the church.
The Apostle Paul was not impressed with this behavior and sharply rebukes the Church for settling their differences in this way. In our passage today, we are taught why this is inappropriate for Christians and what motivates a proper settlement between brothers and sisters in the Lord.
1. Bringing Church troubles to secular courts
Someone in the Church at Corinth was following the pattern of old habits and using a natural recourse to assert his rights. In other words, he was suing the pants off a fellow Christian.
Paul responds, “If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints?” The implication is that it is an act of audacious boldness. It is outrageous. One who would do this in the church to a brother or sister is uncaring; this person has reached a point where he does not care what anybody thinks or feels. All that matters are his rights regardless of the injury it causes to others.
But what is really disturbing is the ignorance of such a person to bring church troubles before secular courts, pagan judges who have no understanding of the family God, of what divine forgiveness is like, or of what peacemaking is all about.
The person who threatens to sue is ignorant of our position in Christ.
And yet this is happening more often than we think. The lawsuit explosion has hit the church in recent years. Listen to these examples of court cases in recent years. A pastor sued his denomination for age discrimination because he could not find a church willing to hire him for the salary he demanded. -- The board of trustees of a Baptist church in Louisiana filed suit to remove their pastor from his position. A few days later, another group, claiming to be the real trustees, filed a counter suit, asking that those who had filed the previous suit be removed as church members. -- A family in Illinois sued their church for injuries their 15-year-old son suffered at a church picnic when he fell out of a tree. His parents had watched him climb the tree and had warned him to be careful because it was dangerous, but when he fell, they sued the church.
Paul responds to this earthly thinking saying, “Do you not know that the saints 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!” The Bible clearly tells us that we are going to be a part of God’s judgment of the world at the end of times. We are going to rule and reign with Jesus – what this means exactly, we don’t know. But somehow we will enter into the mind and heart of God as he examines the thoughts and innermost desires of men and women (Rev. 20:4; 2 Ti2:12). It seems that Paul is telling us to start practicing now for that time. We will even sit on judgment of angels who fell away from God. Imagine that! These beings are higher than us and someday we will judge their motivations. Incredible!