GAINESVILLE, Ga. (BP)–Although it is not an example of Christlike character for a Christian to sue another believer or other individuals, the same standard is not advised in dealing with a business, corporation or insurance company.
Should a Christian initiate a lawsuit because of personal loss suffered due to the negligence or deceit of a company or business? I have addressed that question in “Business by the Book,” published by Thomas Nelson:
“Since there were no corporations in existence when the Bible was written, the best we can do is to relate the principle to the closest parallel of that time: a government agency.
“It seems clear from the book of Acts that Paul recognized both the authority and responsibility of the government of Rome. When he was falsely arrested, he relied on application of Roman law to regain his freedom. He also clearly used the implied threat of using that law to punish his antagonists (see Acts 16:37). When he was falsely accused by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and jailed by the Roman authorities he appealed to the law of Rome to defend himself.”
Corporations and businesses are entities controlled or solely owned by persons, but they appear to have no rights under biblical guidelines, except by prevailing law. So, it’s not unbiblical for Christians to sue corporations in order to require them to meet their legal obligations.
However, before suing anyone, including entities, Christians must be certain their reasons for initiating lawsuits are legitimate, lawful, biblical and moral. If God directs the Christian to abandon any legal action, he or she must willingly do so. “Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have” (Hebrews 13:5). God always judges our attitudes, and just because something is allowable doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do (see 1 Corinthians 6:12).
Legal counselors often advise suing an insurance company for loss, as well as punitive damages. However, the apostle Paul said, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).
Christians are not to seek revenge for being wronged (see Leviticus 19:18 and Deuteronomy 32:35), and that includes suing for more than the amount of actual loss or suing to make a point. God said, “Bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Colossians 3:13).
There seems to be no biblical restrictions for suing corporations. However, if a Christian decides to sue, it should be only for the actual amount of loss: such things as medical expenses, loss of income, loss of transportation, repairs, loss or damage to equipment or property, cost of medical services, and travel time.
Hospitals and doctors have liability insurance to cover incidents that result from negligence. One reason medical insurance is so high is that so many people sue for things that were never under anyone’s control or were not caused by one person’s negligence.
It seems biblically permissible to sue for hospital costs, rehabilitation, therapy, compensation for loss of wages while unable to work, or the costs of any surgery required to correct a condition caused by the negligence of hospital employees or of physicians. However, suing for damages in order to punish the hospital or physician should never be pursued.
According to the Bible, a Christian would not be prohibited from suing a company for the collection of a lawful debt, but that doesn’t mean that a Christian should exercise that right. “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify” (1 Corinthians 10:23).
Of course, insurance companies and corporations need to be held accountable for their negligence; nevertheless, a Christian’s attitude and his or her submission to the will of God is what is most critical.
Finally, if we really believe that everything belongs to God, the question remains, “Do I trust God or do I just say that I trust God?”
Burkett is chairman of the board of Crown Ministries, which merged last fall with the ministry he founded in 1976, Christian Financial Concepts. A Southern Baptist layman based in Gainesville, Ga., Burkett is the host of the national “Money Matters” radio program and author of two resources published by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention: “How Much Is Enough? 30 Days to Personal Revival” and “Jesus on Money.”