By Jacqueline J. Holness
Sadly, I have recently found myself in a situation where I am considering suing another individual over a sizeable amount of money that should be refunded to me.
Thankfully, I have never before been in a situation like this. As a result, I have asked almost anyone who would listen what I should do, and I have received a variety of answers from friends, family members, attorneys, church members, and so on. Even my 12-year-old nephew weighed in after listening to me lament about the situation at a family dinner. “Call Judge Judy,” he said with a smile. We all laughed.
His suggestion reminded me that we are a litigious society. Between the daily roundup of court-themed television shows featuring colorful personalities like Nancy Grace to legal thriller movies by John Grisham to high profile cases such as the O.J. Simpson murder case, we have become comfortable with and even entertained by the inner workings of the legal system. Still, no matter the cultural climate, Christians must return to the Bible again and again to find direction in this fallen world. What does the Bible say about lawsuits?
In 1 Corinthians 6, believers are encouraged not to take their disputes outside the church. The Word of God takes it one step further: “The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already.” Ouch.
In my work for a legal news service, occasionally I come across a complaint in which one faction of a church is suing another faction of the church. Many of these complaints result from power struggles. While these churches may be wonderful churches, it makes me wonder about the church’s theology. Why can’t they just get along?
Legal disputes are also mentioned in Matthew 5:40, 41: “And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” As my father would say, this is hard doctrine! This verse suggests that we are not to be flippant when it comes to deciding to handle our disputes in the legal system. In fact, we have to be long-suffering.
Honestly, the last thing I want to do when I have a grievance against someone is to be long-suffering. I want my issue resolved and I want it resolved right now. But when I consider how long-suffering my heavenly Father is with me, how can I not extend the same courtesy to my fellow human beings?
Jesus had more to say about patience in the handling of disputes in Matthew 18:15-17. First, the matter should be addressed privately between the offended person and the offender. However, if the issue is not resolved between the two, then two or three people should be brought in for the sake of objectivity. If that second step doesn’t work, the entire church is invited into the dispute. If the offending party doesn’t listen to the church, the church should “treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
We are to pursue justice in resolving disputes instead of vengeance, which is sometimes difficult to do when you feel you have been wronged. In Romans 12:19 we are told that vengeance is the Lord’s responsibility. In 1 Corinthians 10:23 we are directed to consider our motives: “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.” Although we may have legal recourse in a matter, is it the most beneficial manner of approaching the situation?
The Importance of Prayer
Before these directives are to be considered, we must first take up our petitions before the omniscient God who knows both sides of the issue—and the truth. Philippians 4:6, 7 are two of the most powerful verses in the Bible, promising that when we find ourselves in contentious situations, we can still have a peaceful resolution—if only within ourselves.
Jacqueline J. Holness, a member of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, is a correspondent for Courthouse News Service, an online, national news service for attorneys. Contact Jacqueline at afterthealtarcall.com.