Summary: A look at what Paul says about Christians and lawsuits
The United States is clearly the world's leader in lawyers and litigation. There are almost one million lawyers in our country, over twice as many as there were twenty years ago. The State of Delaware, which has a population of 750,000, has more attorneys than the whole nation of Japan, which has a population of over 125 million. This trend shows no sign of changing. Every year 100,000 people apply for the 50,000 openings at law schools which are sanctioned by the American Bar Association. Why are there so many lawyers? It is not really a popular profession. There are still lots of nasty jokes out there like, "What do you say about a lawyer who is up to his neck in sand? ... Not enough sand." Or, "Why don't lawyers play hide-and-go seek? ... Because nobody will hunt for them." But people often do hunt for a lawyer, and they are willing to pay over $100 an hour for their services.
There are lots of different reasons why someone hires a lawyer, many of them very valid, but civil litigation, one person suing another, is becoming the most common reason. Someone said, "In the old days, if you had a conflict with your neighbor, you gave him a piece of your mind. Now you take him to court." That's why over 125 million lawsuits will be filed this year. Oh, there are some ambulance-chasing lawyers who try to drag people into court, but it is almost always the client who seeks out the lawyer. Attorney Carl Lansing says that in recent years a new attitude has developed toward lawsuits. He writes, "A symbiotic relationship of greed is on the rise between the public and the legal profession. Many people are no longer interested in fair compensation when they are wronged. They want to get rich. 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.
The lawsuit explosion has also hit the church. 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. -- A pastor sues his own church and the church board, claiming they were interfering with the performance of his duties. -- 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. -- A number of years ago, two factions of a church in our denomination took each other to court to see which group would end up with the church property. -- Many of you remember last year when a Lutheran church in Duluth was closed because of a lawsuit against it by a man who had been sexually abused by a former pastor of the church. Lawsuits are happening with increasing frequency, both outside and inside the church.
It is in the context of all the litigation that we come to our text today. As we continue our journey through the Book of 1 Corinthians, we come to Chapter 6:1-8. In some ways, these words the Apostle Paul wrote seem quite strange in our modern situation, but I think God has some very important things to say to us through them. Let's pause and pray that we would be able to hear that today.
Let's look at what Paul says about Christians and lawsuits. 1 Corinthians 6:1 If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? When there is a conflict of some type, Christians should not be taking each other to court. Paul recognizes, Romans 13, that the Roman rulers were in charge of criminal matters, but when the dispute involved property or some other type of civil matter, Christians had no business going before nonbelieving judges. In Paul's day, the Romans allowed the Jews to apply their own law in civil matters, and since Christianity was considered merely a branch of Judaism by the Romans, there was no reason why Christians would not have that same privilege. Paul finds it bizarre that Christians would choose to go before a judge who was probably a pagan. Paul seems to view disputes between individual Christians as almost inevitable. But when they occur, he expects they will be settled within the context of the church. 6:2,3 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! Matthew 19:28 and Revelation 20:4 tell us that at the end of history Christians will be called to judge the rest of humanity. Paul says angels, who now are superior to human beings, will one day be under our authority. That being the case, 6:4 Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! The Greek grammar of this verse is a little unclear, but apparently what Paul means is that even the "lowest" in the church, those with little education, with little experience, who are not seen as very wise people, should be able to do a better job of settling a dispute than someone who is not even a Christian.