Robert Jeffress - Should Christians Sue One Another?
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. In the business world, there are times when the only way to settle a dispute is to bring your case before a judge. But what happens when your adversary is a brother or sister in Christ? When is it okay for Christians to sue one another? Well, the apostle Paul addressed that timeless question in 1 Corinthians 6. My message is titled "Should Christians Sue One Another"? On today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
By one estimate, this coming year Americans will waste $200 billion on frivolous lawsuits. That may explain why a recent survey revealed that more than 80% of Americans believe that many people use the judicial system as a lottery, to see how much money they can win. And by the way, that's nothing new. Solomon said there's nothing new under the sun. 2.000 years ago, the citizens of Corinth had the same propensity to sue one another. Next to chariot races, suing people was the favorite spectator sport in the city of Corinth. And unfortunately, the Christians in Corinth were bringing that love for litigation into the church, and the result was the church was becoming the laughing stock in the city of Corinth.
If you have your Bibles tonight, I want you to turn to 1 Corinthians 6 when Paul addresses this very relevant question, should Christians sue one another? First of all, note in verse one that Paul explains the problem. He says, "Does anyone of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints"?
Now to fully appreciate what Paul is saying here you have to understand something about the culture in which Paul was writing, and William Barclay gives us some background about what was happening in the Greek culture as a whole. If you had a beef against somebody that you wanted settled, Barclay notes that there were three ways the Greeks went about settling disputes among citizens. And probably the way disputes in Athens were settled is the same way they were settled in Corinth. If you had something against somebody, first of all, each of you would hire a private arbitrator and they would try to come to some resolution. And if that didn't work, then you would take it to the court of 40. And if that group of 40 citizens couldn't settle the case, then it went to a jury trial. But the jury trial was nothing like our 12 jurors today. If you had a dispute that involved $100 or less, it was decided by 201 and citizens. If it was more than $100, 401 citizens would decide it.
And we know from secular literature there were some cases in which 1.000 to 6.000 citizens were involved in trying to render a decision. Can you imagine such a thing? That's why it was a common saying that in Greece every person was a lawyer. Everybody was involved in the legal system. And here's the part about it, they loved it, it's how they filled their days, being involved in settling disputes. Now, when Paul saw that the Christians at Corinth were doing the very same thing, he was repulsed by that. Now I need to offer a clarifying word here. I've noticed we've had some attorneys, some of our attorneys here present tonight probably wondering if I'm going to try to put them out of business. I don't believe that this passage is an absolute prohibition against going to court in all situations.
There are some instances in which we have to look at the court to settle issues. But Paul was saying in this passage it is preferable if Christians would settle disputes among themselves rather than going to court. And Paul gives us at the beginning of verse two three reasons that we should not sue, we ought to avoid suing another believer. First of all he talks about the competency of Christians to judge. The competency that we have to settle disputes to judge among ourselves. You know, many times we get the idea, well, the church is just not competent, we're not skilled to settle thorny, complex issues. But Paul says just the opposite. Christians are competent to render decisions to settle disputes, and he gives two illustrations of that. He says in verse two, first of all, one day we're going to judge the world. Look at verse two. "Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not confident to constitute the smallest law courts"?
In Revelation 20:4, listen to what the apostle John says. "Then I saw the thrones and they that sat upon them and judgment was given to them, and I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the Word of God, and those who would not worship the beast or his image had not received the Mark on their forehead or on their hand, and they came to life and they reigned with Christ for 1.000 years". Or look at Revelation 22:5. "And there will no longer be any night, there will no longer be any need of the light of the lamb or the light of the sun because the Lord God will illumine them and they will reign forever and ever".
Paul said if we endure with Christ, one day we are going to reign, we are going to rule with Christ. And here's the question. If we Christians are going to have responsibility for ruling over this vast universe that God has created, shouldn't we be able to settle the smallest disputes among believers today? Why can't we do that? He gives a second illustration of our competency to judge. He says one day we will judge the angels. Look at verse three. "Do you not know that one day we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life"? Now what does it mean we're going to judge the angels? Some people believe that we're actually going to judge the fallen angels mentioned in Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2:4, those angels that cohabited with men and God confined to that place of judgment. Some people believe we're going to judge those angels one day.
Frankly, I don't believe that, that's God's prerogative to judge. I think the word judge could be better translated we will rule over the angels. Right now, God has created man a little bit lower than the angels in the sense that we don't have all of the powers right now that the angels have. But Psalm 8:6 says one day we will rule over all of God's creation, including the angels. If, again, we're going to rule over these magnificent creatures called angels, shouldn't we be able right now to settle the smallest disputes among us? Paul says our competency to judge is a reason we ought to try to settle disputes among ourselves rather than going to the court system. But then he mentions a second reason not for suing another Christian, and that is the incompetency of unbelievers to judge. The incompetency of unbelievers to judge.
Now this is the key passage in this whole chapter. Verses four and five. "So if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? I say this to your shame, is it so that there's not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren"? Now I want you to look at that phrase in verse four. "If you have law courts dealing with matters of this life". Don't you see that as a concession on Paul's part that there are courts that have jurisdiction over matters in this life? Paul is conceding that. He says you do have courts dealing with matters in this life, but why would you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church of God? What he's talking is going to the court system to try to settle spiritual disputes. There is no reason to do that.
Why would you want people who don't posses the Holy Spirit of God, who are unregenerate, who are blinded in spiritual matters, why would you ask them to settle what are basically spiritual issues in your church? Now, I think to be balanced here we need to understand what God's view of judges and government really is. Yes, I believe it's preferable to always settle a dispute with another Christian without going to court, but I also believe that there are some instances in which Christians may not be able to resolve an issue and sincerely they may go to the court and ask God to work through that decision to render justice. And I think we're very unbalanced in our view of judges and the legal system if we don't look at the totality of what scripture says about government authorities, including judges. To say that they're all evil, that they are not capable of making any judgments, of not ever rendering justice, is not to paint a clear picture of what the Bible says about the legal system.
Many times God uses governing authorities, including the judicial system, to render his justice. You know, it's easy to say all courts are evil and we should never use them, but that is not the scriptural view of governing authority. What I'm saying to you is this chapter is not an absolute prohibition against all kind of lawsuits. But what it is talking about is a specific kind of case we ought to avoid. Cases that are born out of vengeance, cases that try to get an unfair advantage, to get something for nothing, are cases that involve spiritual issues. And that's mainly what Paul has in mind here. To ask an unrighteous judge to render a decision about a spiritual issue would be like asking a second grade student to grade a college calculus exam. That student has no frame of reference, no ability to render a proper judgment or evaluation. So it is in the church of Jesus Christ.
Now there's a third reason Christians ought to settle disputes privately and not go to court, and that is the reputation of Christ. Look at verse six. "But brother goes to law with brother and that before unbelievers". I think this is the heart of what Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 6. He said the fact that you constantly drag your fellow Christians into court is hurting the reputation of Christ. In John 13:35, Jesus said, "By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another". When the citizens of Corinth saw Christians hauling their fellow Christians into court, it was a way of saying we're no different than anybody else. We care about ourselves before we care about anybody else. And because of that the Corinthians were losing interest in the things of Christ.
So what's the solution? He offers a better solution beginning in verse seven. He says, "Actually then it is already a defeat for you that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud. You do this even to your brethren". You know there's some parts of the Bible I just don't like. That may sound funny coming from a preacher, but there are just some parts of the Bible I don't care for. Like Romans 9 that says God is sovereign and he can do whatever he wants to do without checking with me first. I don't like that. I want him to ask me before he decides to do something. But he doesn't do that. I don't like verses like 2 Timothy 3:12 that says, "All that live a godly life will suffer tribulation".
I don't like that, I wish that verse were not in the Bible. And I wish this verse was not in the Bible. I don't like verses that tell me that we ought to be willing to experience the mistreatment of others rather than having our way, but that's exactly what this passage is saying. It's saying that when we are faced with hurting the reputation of Christ, we ought to go ahead and take the loss rather than hurt the reputation of our Lord and Savior. Why would God call us to do this? Why would he say it's better to endure mistreatment than hurt the reputation of Christ? See, what we often forget is we're all in a training program. That's what this life is. It's a training program for us to become like Jesus Christ in our affections, our actions, our attitudes. And if you and I are going to become part of Jesus Christ, part of the curriculum for that training program involves suffering unjustly. Just like Christ suffered unjustly. That was part of God's program for his own son, why are we surprised that that would be part of his program for us, to be treated unfairly? Remember Hebrews 5:8. "Though he was a son," talking about Jesus, "He learned obedience by the things that he suffered".
What are the principles from this passage? You know, in some ways it would be easier if we lived under the Old Testament law. You say, how could you say that? Well, under the Old Testament law there was a regulation for every area of life. If you had any decisions, all you had to look up in the Old Testament and say, well, what does the law say I ought to do? I mean there was a specific law for every situation. Of course that didn't make the people holy, they always were looking for loopholes, but at least they could know what they were supposed to do even if they didn't do it. But under the New Testament, the new agreement, there are very few laws but there are many principles, timeless truths that we have to learn to apply to our individual situation. So in about the eight minutes we have left let me share with you five principles from this passage about when we should not sue another Christian. When we should not go to court with another believer.
First of all, we should never sue another Christian to gain an unfair advantage over a believer. We are not to sue to gain an unfair advantage over a believer. Now write these down so you'll remember them. Verse eight clearly says that the Corinthians were suing one another to defraud one another. And so before you go to court against a Christian, ask yourself this question, do this gut check. Am I trying to get something for nothing? Is that my real motivation in this suit, to get something for nothing? If so, you should not go to court.
Secondly, second principle, we are not to sue if we have not attempted to settle the dispute privately. We cannot go to court unless we've attempted to settle the dispute privately. If we use the court system, it ought to be the last resort, not the first resort. Matthew 18 talks about how to confront sin. Many of those same principles can be used in trying to settle a dispute privately. We go to the person first of all privately, then we take two or three with us, and then we try to settle it within the church before going to the courts.
Third, we should not sue another believer if the reputation of Christ will be damaged. If this is going to be a high-profile suit that is going to in any way disparage the church or the reputation of Christ, it would be better to go ahead and suffer the loss.
Fourth, and this is key. We should not sue if we are trying to avoid personal suffering. If you're depending upon the courts to right every wrong that's been committed against you, if you're depending on the courts to settle the score, you really don't understand God's will for your life. 1 Peter 2:21-23 says, "For you have been called for this purpose. That is, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example to follow in his steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth, and while being reviled he did not revile in return, while suffering he uttered no threats, but he kept entrusting himself to the one who judges righteously". Again, if God's plan for his own son included unjust suffering, we should not be surprised that that is his purpose for us as well.
And finally we should not sue if we are using the courts for vengeance. Any believer who sues another believer to get even is on shaky ground. Romans 12:19 says, "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord. I will repay". God can settle the score much better than any judge. And if you're trying to get a judgment against somebody out of vengeance, out of desire to hurt them for hurting you, you're barking up the wrong tree. Look at verses seven to eight again for a moment. This is very interesting what Paul says. He said now if you have trouble swallowing that idea that you should not hurt somebody for hurting you, why are you getting all hot and bothered about the way somebody has defrauded you and wronged you? Haven't you defrauded other people? Haven't you wronged other people? And more importantly, haven't you wronged God himself? Before you try to use the courts to exact vengeance against somebody, remember, first of all, what you've done to God.
Think about your own sin against other people and God before you seek your pound of flesh. Then look at verses nine and 10. "For do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Do not be deceived, neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor effeminate nor homosexuals nor thieves nor the covetous nor drunkards nor revilers nor swindlers will inherit the Kingdom of God". Now look at verse 11. "And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the spirit of our God". He was saying, Corinthians, before you start demanding justice for what somebody did for you, remember what you did to God.
All of us are guilty of one or more of every sin mentioned here. If not in action, in our own spirit. All of us are guilty of being idolaters, all of us are guilty of being immoral, all of us are guilty of being revilers. We all have committed some or all of these sins, but think about this. God didn't give you and me what we deserve, justice. Instead, he extended to us mercy. And what Paul is saying is before you run to court suing another Christian, shouldn't you extend that same mercy to the person who has wronged you? Somebody has written, "The person who refuses to forgive destroys the bridge over which he must one day pass". Paul said forgiveness for wrong committed against you is the best solution, even better than a lawsuit. "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted," Paul said, "Forgiving one another, just as God in Christ has also forgiven you".