Should Christians Pursue Legal Actions?
Your Christian Law Firm, Dean Burnetti Law represents Injury Victims in Polk County, including: Lakeland, Auburndale, Bartow, Haines City, Lake Wales, Mulberry, Polk City, and Winter Haven; in Hillsborough County, including: Brandon, Tampa, and Plant City; in Pinellas County, including Clearwater, St. Pete, Gulfport, Treasure Island, Largo, Oldsmar; and all of the surrounding Greater Central Florida and West Central Florida Areas.
Psalm 119:105 – “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”
Many Christians wonder whether or not it’s appropriate for them to engage in legal actions. Often, they argue that a Christian should not file a civil lawsuit against another Christian in a secular Court of law, and they believe that the matter should be handled by arbitration or mediation by a wise Christian or Christian friends.
I Corinthians 6:1-8 states: When one of you has a dispute with another believer, how dare you file a lawsuit and ask a secular Court to decide the matter instead of taking it to other believers! Don’t you realize that someday we believers will judge the world? And since you are going to judge the world, can’t you decide even these little things among yourselves? Don’t you realize that we will judge angels? So you should surely be able to resolve ordinary disputes in this life. If you have legal disputes about such matters, why go to outside judges who are not respected by the church? I am saying this to shame you. Isn’t there anyone in all the church who is wise enough to decide these issues? But instead, one believer sues another—right in front of unbelievers! Even to have such lawsuits with one another is a defeat for you. Why not just accept the injustice and leave it at that? Why not let yourselves be cheated? Instead, you yourselves are the ones who do wrong and cheat even your fellow believers.
In this passage, Paul implies that Christians should avoid lawsuits for the following reasons:
1. Secular judges are not able to judge by biblical standards and Christian values;
2. Lawsuits between Christians reflect negatively in the church;
3. Christians often go to Court with wrong motives;
4. The ultimate goal of the Christian on both sides who are involved in a conflict is to resolve their conflict and retain their Christian Fellowship as well as witness together within the body Christ.
In Matthew 18:15-17, the Biblical pattern for resolving conflicts within the church is defined. We are instructed to:
1. Go directly and privately to the person with whom you have a conflict;
2. If the person that you have a conflict with doesn’t listen, take one or two church members or fellow believers, and approach them again;
3. If the person still doesn’t listen, take the matter before the church leadership;
4. If the person who you have a conflict with still refuses to listen after the church gets involved, that person should be treated as a nonbeliever as it relates to your conflict with them.
Within our culture, the very nature of litigation requires the participation of attorneys in or out of the Courtroom. Adversity, handled improperly, can quickly demonstrate an ungodly character. However, it should be noted that the American judicial system allows disputing parties, even after filing a lawsuit, to resolve their conflicts in a private mediation setting before they are heard in a Courtroom. The idea of a Mediation is to attempt to resolve the dispute before the need for Court intervention. This practice has gained popularity over the past two decades. In fact, in most cases, after filing a civil lawsuit, an attorney cannot even get a trial date scheduled until he or she shows that the case has either been to or is scheduled to go to Mediation.
As a historical backdrop, the Corinthian Christians in Paul’s time sued their fellow Christians in a secular Court. In Greek culture, watching civil disputes in public Courtrooms was a popular form of entertainment. As such, legal disputes attracted crowds and the masses as a pastime.
Paul’s point of contention was that by allowing the world to openly judge a Christian-versus-Christian legal dispute in a secular Court, it created negative witness. In effect, pagans would see Christians behaving just like they did and not demonstrating God’s love, which hurt the cause of Christ. Paul’s point was that it would have been better to be defrauded by a Christian and suffer some financial loss than to take them to secular Court, because the cause of Christ was worth more than money or possessions.
The Bible speaks of compensating a person for their loss. In Exodus 21:18-19, when one man struck another, the injured man was to be compensated for his loss of time (from work). The man who struck the crippling blow was to see that the injured man was completely healed and compensated.
In Exodus 21:22, if men were fighting and accidentally struck a pregnant woman, and she gave birth prematurely but without serious injury, the offender had to pay a fine to the woman’s husband.
In Exodus 21:27, a servant was allowed to go free if the master knocked out his tooth. This theory was consistent with the Bible’s requirement of compensation for the personal and physical injury caused by another.
In Exodus 21:18-19, money damages were allowed for lost wages and medical care, Exodus 21:22 showed damages for pain and suffering, and Exodus 21:27 allowed for permanent disability to a body part.
In Matthew 5:25, Jesus said that you should settle with an adversary on the way to Court, and in Proverbs 25:8, we are warned against bringing the matter to Court too hastily. Ultimately it is good advice since lawsuits can rob us of our peace, according to Proverbs 29:9.
Should Christians sue at all? I believe that a lawsuit is justifiable as an option for a Christian, depending on the individual situation, which should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
First, the party should try to settle the dispute outside of Court.
Secondly, this only applies to disputes between Christians. Paul never meant that a Christian cannot or should not go to Court to obtain justice against a non-Christian. However, in general, Christians should still seek to settle their disputes between each other and between themselves and non-Christians outside of the Court.
Finally, not all sins are crimes; but all crimes are sins. The church handles sins; but crimes are handled by the State. Yet, both the church and the State are the governing authority that God has provided over us.
As Christians, we must stand up against evil. Although it may not always be popular, Christians must be willing to hold evil accountable. Therefore, we cannot ignore using the legal system to take a stand against evil.
A Christian believer standing up in the Court system seeking justice does not go against God’s will. In fact, it may be the proper course of action. Seek wise counsel to determine the proper course. (Proverbs 12:15)
I’m attorney Dean Burnetti, and my background in theology as well as my decades of independent Bible study have brought me to the conclusion above. To learn more about me and my educational background in theology as well as my legal qualifications, please visit the “About Attorney Dean Burnetti” page.
Call (863) 287-6388 in Polk County or (813) 287-6388 in Hillsborough County today to schedule a free confidential consultation with an attorney at Your Christian Law Firm, Dean Burnetti Law.
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