Litigious Christianity

Lawsuits, Conflict

A phrase that none of us want to hear is: “You are being sued”.  Those words bring fear into the heart. We don’t like the idea of being called into court or of having to spend a lot of money in attorney fees to defend ourselves.

We live in a litigious society. If anything bad happens many people immediately think about suing someone.  Whether it is coffee being too hot at McDonalds or the Judge who sued a Dry Cleaner for losing his pants, people are quick to sue. I think some people view a lawsuit as a way to make money without having to do anything. Think about the effect lawsuits have on our society

  • A large portion of Medical bills are due to malpractice insurance premiums and the attorneys hospitals need to keep on retainer.
  • Homeowners insurance and business insurances all have to contain additions for liability insurance (in case someone falls in your home or business or has any other number of problems that might lead you to be sued)
  • Car owners have to carry liability insurance because of the people who may sue you after an accident
  • Schools have to tread lightly on almost every moral issue because of the threat of a student suing the school
  • Drug companies need to inflate the cost of drugs in case there is a problem with a drug in the future resulting in a “class action” suit.

As we read 1 Corinthians 6, it is apparent that the problem of lawsuits is not unique to our day.  It was also a problem in the church at Corinth.

THE MATTER OF LAWSUITS 

If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? 2 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? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! 4 Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! 5 I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6 But instead, one brother goes to law against another—and this in front of unbelievers! (1 Corinthians 6:1-6) 

One commentator gives us a history lesson,

a faithful Jew would not even consider having what was a “Jewish problem” decided on by a Gentile court. There was even a procedure set up for dealing with differences within the Jewish community. This was Paul’s background, and it was also the background of the Jewish members of the Corinthian church.

But the Greek members of this church had a very different heritage. There was among the Greeks a natural love of litigation. The fondness for the contest, for debate, and for oratory made going to court almost a form of entertainment. While there was in the Greek system a method of settling disputes before they got into court, evidently these particular church members were not availing themselves of this quieter way of solving their problems. 

Some Qualifiers 

Before we look at Paul’s objections to lawsuits among believers it’s important to note what Paul is NOT saying. First, Paul is not saying the legal system is bad.  In Romans 13 Paul tells us to respect the governing authorities.  He points out that the “system” is necessary to restrain evil and bring about justice.

Second, Paul does not say we should never go to court over an issue with a non-believer.  I don’t believe Paul is encouraging such action, but . . . there are times when it may be necessary to go to court.  There are times when the only way to defend yourself or to right a wrong is to take legal action. 

Why Lawsuits among Believers are Forbidden 

Paul points to several reasons why Christians should not sue other believers. First, Paul seems to say that it is beneath us. As children of God, believers will sit in the seat of Judgment (whatever that involves).  We will be part of God’s court. Paul argues that to turn to secular or unchristian system of justice to arbitrate between us would be like a Supreme Court Justice turning to a college Political Science class to arbitrate his personal issues.

Second, we have a different value system than that of the world.  The courts look to assign blame; the Christian community should be seeking reconciliation.  In the secular courts there are always winners and losers and the scars that result often shatter relationships permanently.  In a Christian community we should be striving for understanding and fairness and the result should be people feeling that a problem has been resolved fairly and relationships can move forward.

The third reason we should not sue other believers is in verse 6.  Paul says when we sue another believer: It is a terrible witness.  The people outside the church are eager to find any reason to dismiss our message of hope and new life.  When Christians fight other Christians in a public forum, it stains God’s reputation and actually ends up pushing others away from the gospel.  The world reasons: If they can’t get along with each other, why should I believe their talk about God’s transforming love?

A  Better Way

Better Way #1: Mediation.

if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church!(verse 4)

Paul suggests that when those times of disagreement come upon us (and they will because we still have remnants of our sinful human nature) it would be better to ask another Christian to serve as a mediator.  Paul says even the least member of the Body of Christ (who possesses God’s Spirit) should be able to serve as a mediator.  The Mediator’s job is NOT to “render a verdict” but to help the two sides to work through their disagreement and come to a fair resolution. Today there are even Christian Legal societies that have lawyers who specialize in this work as mediators. The financial cost is minimal and the long term result is much to be preferred.

Better Way #2: Absorb the hurt.  Paul writes,

The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? (v. 7)

In our book DIFFICULT PEOPLE we label this option “The Overlooked Option” because it is and option few people even consider.  Paul said there are simply some things (many things?) in life we should simply overlook.  Proverbs 10:12 and 1 Peter 4:8 says: “Love covers a multitude of sins”.  In other words, when we love someone, we should be willing to overlook some things.

Let me give you five reasons to overlook things we could fight about.

  1. To keep little things from becoming a big thing.  Probably you have experienced this in marriage: some little comment leads the other to take offense and they become defensive and aggressive in return and things escalate quickly.  Some things should be dropped before we make a mountain out of a molehill.
  2. There will be times when we want others to overlook what we do.  We all make bad decisions on occasion.  We should do for others what we would want others to do for us.
  3. We should let some things go because the situation is not going to change.  Why fight about what can’t be changed? An example we use in our book is in-laws.  Couples need to put limits on the     control and involvement that in-laws have in their lives, but it is     fruitless to argue about their personalities.  Those are not going to change.
  4. We should let some things go because that is what grace demands.  Jesus reminded us that those who had been forgiven much (which is all of us) should be willing to forgive others who, by comparison, have done little to us.
  5. We should be willing to let some things go because God’s reputation is more important than our own.  This is a key argument for choosing to overlook a wrong rather than to fight.  Paul argues that it is better to absorb a loss or a hurt rather than risk tarnishing God’s reputation.  We see this in Paul’s comments in Philippians 1. Some people were using his imprisonment and preaching Christ out of selfish ambition and Paul’s response to this was, “What does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.  [Phil 1:18] (Goettsche, DIFFICULT PEOPLE pp. 55-59)

Think about how many problems would be solved; how many churches would avoid splits; how many friendships would remain intact; and how many families would remain whole; if we were willing to absorb the hurt or turn to mediation with our differences.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN US AND THE WORLD 

Paul next speaks some difficult words.  Let me read them from the New Living Translation because I think it is a little clearer.

Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, 10 or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. 11 Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

These of course, are fighting words in today’s society.  They even sound a little harsh to our ears that have been constantly programmed about tolerance.  However, we need to remember that these are not our opinions, they are God’s Word.  Note four things,

First, not everyone is going to go to Heaven.  There are those today who proclaim that God will eventually allow everyone into Heaven. Paul says the “wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God”.  The Bible’s definition of “wicked” is those who stubbornly refuse to bow their knee to the Lord.  They refuse God’s gift of salvation through Christ; they refuse to acknowledge that they have fallen far short of God’s holy standard.  They refuse to follow Him and instead choose to go their own way.  These people are wicked. Because of this stubborn refusal, God says they will not gain forgiveness or eternal life.

Suppose you were on a large ship that capsized in the ocean.  While everyone was floating in their life jackets a ship comes by and lowers life rafts and throws out ropes and life preservers to bring people on board.  All the people have to take hold and let the people on the ship pull them aboard.

Suppose some of the people refuse to get in the raft, grab the rope or the life preserver.  Maybe some of them think it is too demeaning.  Others don’t like the feel of the rope or the color of the preserver.  Others don’t like the look of the men on the ship.  Maybe some boast, “I don’t need you.  I am a great swimmer and I can save myself.”  Should the men on the boat be blamed for those who refuse to be rescued?  No.  In the same way, those who refuse God’s offer of salvation and new life; those who refuse to truly follow Him and do what He commands; cannot blame God if they are not saved. 

Second, certain things are sin no matter what we say.  Sexual sin, the worship of idols, adultery, religious prostitutes, those who practice homosexuality, those who are thieves, greedy, drunkards, abusive, or scam artists are committing sin.  It doesn’t matter if we enact laws that make some of these things legal. It doesn’t matter if we seek to minimize the nature of the acts by calling it “white collar crime” or excuse them by saying they are genetic.  It doesn’t matter.  God calls it sin.

There are times in our country when people will challenge the “constitutionality” of a law.  If the case gets to the Supreme Court and the law is upheld or struck down, the issue is settled; it doesn’t matter what the lower courts have said. The Highest court has spoken on these behaviors and the issue is settled.  We don’t have the right or option to negate what God has said.

Third, we must avoid tunnel vision.  We need to hear and see the entire list and not just pick out a couple of mentioned sins. Did you read the news article about the church in Kansas that was ordered to pay 11 million dollars because they had been sued for picketing military funerals because they believed the war in Iraq (and military deaths) is punishment for our nation’s tolerance of homosexuality? This is a case of tunnel vision.

Here’s my question: Why did they pick homosexuality out of this list? Why not say bad things are happening to America because we are greedy, or because we are not being faithful to our marriage vows, or because we drink too much, or because we are dishonest . . . .or even because we are abusive to others (like standing outside a military funeral and disrupting the sad proceedings with our disrespectful words)?

The Bible does say homosexuality is wrong.  But we must not zero in on just the one sin and miss the others.  Let’s not focus on what “those people” are doing and ignore what the text is saying to us!

Fourth, Paul is not saying that people who have committed these sins can never be saved.  Paul was writing to the believers in Corinth and said, “and such were some of you”.  In other words, some of the people who were now believers, had been people who cheated on their spouses, pursued the homosexual lifestyle, engaged in sex outside of marriage, were former con artists, used to spread rumors and lies about others, or were abusive and angry people . . . but when they confessed their sinful behavior and put their trust in Jesus Christ, they experienced God’s forgiveness!

This doesn’t mean that these people never sinned again.  It does mean that the bent of their life was different.  These things were no longer the normal pattern of their lives.  They were moving toward holiness rather than toward sin.  Forgiveness is available for any sin.  However, you cannot continue to ignore God’s standards and still go to Heaven.

Conclusions 

I see there are three reminders in this text.  First, when you have a problem with another person (especially another Christian person), remember what is at stake.  Make every effort to resolve a conflict amicably.  Paul is giving serious and good advice.  We should bring in a mediator or simply choose to overlook the offense.  We should seek to resolve a conflict rather than risk a stain on the name of Christ or bring the cancer of division into the church.  Is there some issue in your life right now where you need to ask for a mediator rather than an attorney?  Do you need to ask someone to help you work through a difficult circumstance?  Dare to do what the Bible tells you.

Second, we need to remember where we have come from.  We have all come out of a sinful background.  In the past we all have done some very sinful things.  We often knew what was right to do but did just the opposite.  We were all lost until God reached out to us to show us the way to forgiveness and new life. 

As we relate to others caught in the web of sin we need to relate to them with the compassion of those who understand.  There is no reason for us to be arrogant or mean.  We must not, and cannot, negotiate on the definition of sin, but we can extend love and diligently work to tell others about the One who has set us free and will do the same for them.

Finally, we need to remember there is a way out.  If you are caught up in the life of sin you don’t have to stay there.  The history of Christianity is filled with those who once were lost but now are found.  Your first step must be to come to Him.  You must recognize that you cannot save yourself and then you must take hold of the rope of salvation that He has given you through Jesus Christ.  Ask Him to rescue you.  Bring Him the broken pieces of your life and trust Him to make you whole again.  God will cleanse you and make you new. He will give you the strength to leave the sinful life and begin living a life that is different, a life that is free, and a life that is honoring Him.  His invitation is extended and His arms are open right now. Let Him rescue you.

In this litigious society Paul speaks radical words. He clearly defines right and wrong and He says to believers, that when we have conflict among us, we should act like His children rather than reverting back to ways of the world. We should be more concerned about our relationships with each other than getting what we want.  We should pursue what is fair instead of trying to get “all we can get”. We should live in this world in such a way that we won’t be embarrassed or ashamed in the next.

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Scripture:

1 Corinthians 6:1-11