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FIRST-PERSON: Should Christians sue?

GAINESVILLE, Ga. (BP)–The purpose of a lawsuit is to provide someone who has suffered a loss at the hands of another party with the legal means to recover property or other damages from the offender.

Unfortunately, suing has become a first recourse — even among Christians. This raises many questions. How should believers respond when cheated? Does it make a difference if the offender is a Christian? What if a Christian is sued? Should a Christian sue?

Lawsuits must have been common in the first century. “Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints?” (1 Corinthians 6:1). However, it’s clear that Christians are not to sue other believers, even at the risk of being wronged. “Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?” (1 Corinthians 6:7).

A simple principle is outlined in Matthew 18:15-17 for two Christians who have a conflict: Take any offense directly to the offending believer. So, when in doubt, lean toward mercy rather than justice (see Matthew 12:7).

First Corinthians 6 is all about one believer suing another believer, but what about suing non-believers? The Bible deals as much with attitudes as with actions. Many Christians may act acceptably but have wrong motives or attitudes in their hearts.

God’s Word teaches us to surrender our rights and put others first, even if we feel they are wrong. Sometimes this attitude is costly and results in personal loss. But the questions are, “Do we really believe that it all belongs to God?” and “Do I trust God or do I just say that I trust God?”

Every means, short of a lawsuit, should be pursued in trying to resolve the situation (beginning with Matthew 18:15-17). Once all the options have been exhausted and the situation still isn’t resolved, God’s Word teaches that the offender should be forgiven. That means the offense needs to be “written off” and forgotten and the results left in God’s hands.

You have every right to defend yourself if someone brings a suit against you. Paul defended himself against unjust claims many times (see Acts 16:37, 22:25 and 25:11).

Paul vigorously defended himself and even recited Roman law that was applicable to his case. As long as our motives are right and we are not seeking retribution, we can defend ourselves.

American citizens have the legal right to sue. However, a Christian’s primary purpose is to serve God. If we really want to pursue righteousness, rather than going to the courts of this world with issues of personal injustice, we should turn to God regarding the injustice and leave the results to him.

Although it is not an example of Christlike character for a Christian to sue another individual, 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? Companies as we know them did not exist in biblical times. The closest parallels of that time were governments.

In the Book of Acts, when the apostle Paul was falsely arrested, he applied Roman law to regain his freedom and used the implied threat of using that law to punish his antagonists (see Acts 16:37). When falsely accused by Jewish leaders and jailed by Roman authorities, he defended himself with Roman law. Because government is an entity, not a person, Paul was within his rights to use Roman law against that entity.

Biblically, Christians are not prohibited from suing non-believers, but that doesn’t mean they 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).

Attitude and submission to the will of God are the most critical issues. So, again, “Do you trust God or do you just say that you 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.”

    About the Author

  • Larry Burkett