THE CHRISTIAN AND LAWSUITS
The teachings of the Scriptures covering the relation of believers to litigation set forth two spheres in which lawsuits may occur: among believers, and with unbelievers (1 Cor. 6:1-11; Matt. 5:40). In each case the proper response and obligation of believers is set forth. The instruction covering lawsuits among believers will be treated first, for it is the longer and clearer of the two passages. And the teaching covering lawsuits with unbelievers will follow.
THE BIBLICAL TEACHING ON LAWSUITS AMONG BELIEVERS
(1 Cor. 6:1-11)
(1 Cor. 6:1-11)
This is by far the longer of the two passages dealing with lawsuits, and it is by far the clearer. It is specifically directed to Christian people, and therefore its proper application is clear.
1. All courts for deliberate wrong are absolutely forbidden to Christians initiating wrong (1 Cor. 6:8-11). "Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren" (vs. 8). This is a charge brought against the Corinthian believers to the effect that they were guilty of perpetrating sin, and were actually engaged in robbing their brethren. The courts of the world simply provided a successful way of stealing from brethren what did not belong to them. And the nice thing for them was that the courts of the land not only provided the way but also placed the seal of approval upon it. But it was deliberate sin nevertheless, and sin against brethren in Christ. Against this the apostle delivers a terrible blast. . . .
2. Worldly courts for rectifying wrong are absolutely forbidden innocent Christians seeking redress for grievance (1 Cor. 6:1-3). "Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?" (vs. 1). To the apostle the taking of issues between saints before worldly courts was a case of the most daring disrespect. It was inappropriate, out of order, a topsy-turvy move, if there ever was one. . . . In the plans of God He has exalted the church to the place of occupying the highest court in the universe and judging the world. If God has deemed the church worthy for that task, then surely the church is worthy to judge in small matters which pertain to this life. . . . How absolutely indiscriminate and inconsistent the church has become. How inexpressibly and inexcusably low the church has fallen to place herself below the world.
3. Church courts are the only human resort for innocent Christians seeking compensation for grievance (1 Cor. 6:4-7). . . . This passage certainly makes it clear that there are wrongs which need redress within the church. And it is right that these wrongs should be made right. But there is one place for this to be done, and that is within the church. . . . But in case the last extremity of the church is exhausted and there is still no reimbursement for great wrong, what then? The answer of the apostle is-this, "Why do ye not rather take wrong? Why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?" (vs. 7). One must then leave the whole matter to the Lord.
THE BIBLICAL TEACHING ON LAWSUITS WITH UNBELIEVERS
(Matt. 5:39, 40)
(Matt. 5:39, 40)
It has been suggested by some that when it is impossible to get an honorable hearing before the church, or believers guilty of sin are unwilling to hear the church, that on the basis of Matthew 18:17 they may be treated as heathen and publicans, meaning action may be taken against them in the courts of the world. This may be true, but the reader is urged to consider carefully the teaching of Matthew 5:39, 40 before drawing his conclusion. As nearly as the writer has been able to determine, believers are commanded to do the following things, according to this passage.
1. Believers are commanded to resist not unbelievers who make use of the courts against them (Matt. 5:39, R. V.). The passage reads, "But I say unto you. Resist not him that is evil." And this is followed with several matters where nonresistance should characterize the believer's conduct, among which is the matter of litigation (vs. 40). While it is difficult to settle on the meaning of the phrase "him that is evil," it seems best to conclude that this means more than a believer who does evil. The words "whosoever" (vs. 39), "any man" (vs. 40), and "whosoever" (vs. 40), suggest that this reaches far out beyond the Christian community to include believer and unbeliever alike. . . .
2. Believers are commanded not to seek amends when they suffer the loss of property (Matt. 5:40, R. V.). "And if any man would go to law with thee, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also." The implication of the passage goes on from that of non-resistance to relinquishing the property for which suit is being made. Behind this there must not only be the command to refuse civil authority as a means of rectification, but also the promise of the Lord with that command. "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written. Vengeance is mine: I will repay, saith the Lord" (Rom. 12:19). . . .
3. Believers are commanded to demonstrate righteousness which exceeds the mere justice of the law (Matt. 5:40b, R. V.). In this passage Christ says, "Let him have thy cloak also." The coat for which the man is suing is an inner vestment with more or less value to the man who owns it. But the cloak was an outer mantle, a garment that was thrown over all the clothing and often, was very costly. This outer mantle might best be used by others to some advantage, but not so with the inner garment. However, when one sues for the garment of less value, not only should the believer resist not, not only seek no return of the coat, but far and away in response demonstrate a righteousness that will utterly amaze the unbeliever, by voluntarily offering to him his outer and more costly mantle. This will be heaping coals of fire on the head of the enemy to the end that one might "overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:20, 21).