The Problem of Lawsuits Page 7 of 12 (series: Lessons on 1 Cor.)
by John Lowe
because ye go to law one with another.
Paul seems to pass over the question of “where” their lawsuits should be settled, and he scolds them for having any lawsuits with one another; but primarily, he is against them airing their dirty laundry before unbelievers. This was the point he was making, and the interpretation should be limited to this. Whatever may be the propriety or impropriety of going to court before Christian magistrates, the point which the apostle refers to was that of going to court before heathens. The passage, therefore, should not be interpreted as referring to all litigation, but only to that which was the subject of discussion. The apostle says that that was altogether wrong; that they should by no means bring their causes against their fellow Christians before heathen magistrates; that it does not make any difference who is on the right side of the question or what the decision might be, because the thing itself was unchristian and wrong. Rather than dishonor religion by a trial or suit, they should to be willing to take the wrong, and to suffer any personal and private injustice. The argument is, that more harm would be done to the cause of Christ by Christians appearing before a heathen court with their disputes, than could result to either party from the injury done by the other. And this is probably always the case, since although the apostle refers here to heathen courts, the principal is the same, and the same reasoning would apply to Christians carrying their causes into any court at all. It would NOT happen unless they were in spiritual decline (backsliding); and experiencing the decay of their first love, and of the power of religion and true godliness.
The Christian is of a different temperament from the man who is always screaming about his "rights;" it being a far better way of life to "go the second mile ... give the cloak also ... and turn the other cheek"—“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away” (Matt 5:38-42; KJV).
Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?
Paul is asking, “Since you are a believer and you know the Lord Jesus as your Savior, why can’t you suffer for Him—even though you may suffer unfairly? You may be injured wrongly, but why not suffer physical injury and financial loss rather than suffer loss of spiritual power, and have your testimony damaged by the way you are acting?” Jesus Himself set the example. He said, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matt 5:11-12; KJV).
We know that the world has never loved the righteous. We know that in the eyes of the world, all who live godly are foolish. But Paul said, “We are fools for Christ’s sake.” It is shameful, when a born again person is not willing to suffer a little reproach and financial loss for the sake of the Christ who gave His lifeblood so that we might have salvation!
Why do ye not rather take wrong? A Christian should be willing to put up with a little injury to avoid provoking others, by dragging them into court. His own peace of mind, and maintaining the calm of his neighborhood, are more pleasant than victory in a court room, or reclaiming his property, especially when the quarrel must be decided by those who are enemies of religion.
They should put up with wrong:
1. Because religion requires its people to be willing to suffer wrong patiently—
• Matthew 5:39, 40: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
• Romans 12:17,19: Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
• 1 Thessalonians 5:15: See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all
2. Because great injury results to the cause of religion from trials before heathen courts. The private wrong which an individual would suffer, in perhaps all cases, would be a less than the public injury which is done to the cause of Christ by the legal proceedings and strife of Christian brethren before a civil court.
3. The differences among Christians could be adjudicated among themselves by one or more of their brethren. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, the decision would be more likely to be just and satisfactory to all parties from an amicable recommendation, than from the decisions of a civil court. In the very few cases where it would be otherwise, it would be better for the individual to suffer, than for the cause of religion to suffer. Christians ought to love the cause of their Master more than their own individual interest. They ought to be more afraid that the cause of Jesus Christ would be injured than that they might be a few dollars poorer from the conduct of others, or that their character might suffer from the injustice of others.
To be defrauded means “to receive injury; or suffer a loss of property.” Grotius thinks that the word "take wrong" refers to personal insult; and the word "defrauded" refers to injury in property. Together, they are probably designed to refer to all kinds of injury and injustice. And the apostle means to say, that they had better submit to any kind of injustice rather than take the cause against a Christian brother before a heathen judge. The doctrine taught here is that Christians should NOT go to court with each other before a heathen court; that they should be willing to suffer any injury from a Christian brother rather than do it. And by implication the same thing is taught in regard to the duty of all Christians, that they should be willing to suffer any injury to their persons and property rather than dishonor religion by litigations before civil magistrates. It may be asked, then, whether lawsuits are ever proper; or whether courts of justice are ever to be resorted to by Christians to secure their rights. To this question we may reply, that this discussion by Paul relates only to Christians, when both parties are Christians, and that it is designed to prohibit an appeal to courts by them. If it is ever lawful for Christians to appeal to a civil court, it is thought that it can be only in circumstances like the following:
1. Where two or more Christians may have a difference, and they do not know what is right, and how the law applies in their case. In such instances it may be necessary to appeal to a civil court for a determination—to have what is called an amicable settlement, to ascertain from the proper authority what the law is, and what is justice in the case.
2. When there are causes of difference between Christians and the men of the world, the men of the world do not acknowledge the appropriateness of submitting the matter to the church; therefore it may be proper for a Christian to take the matter before a civil court. Evidently, there is no other way, in such cases, of settling a matter; but it must not be approached with a spirit of revenge, but with a spirit of love and kindness. Courts are instituted for the settlement of the rights of citizens, and men by becoming Christians do not alienate their rights as citizens. Even these cases, however, might commonly be resolved by referring them to impartial men, which is better than the slow, and expensive, and tedious, and often irritating process of carrying a cause through the courts.
3. Where a Christian is injured in his person, character, or property, he has a right to seek reparation. Courts are instituted for the protection and defense of the innocent and the prosecution of the fraudulent, the wicked, and the violent. And a Christian owes it to his country, to his family, and to himself, to see that the man who has injured him receives the proper punishment. The peace and welfare of the community demand it. If a man murders my wife or child, I owe it to the laws and to my Country, to justice and to God, to attempt to have the law enforced. So if a man robs my property, or injures my character, I may owe it to others as well as to myself to see that the law in such a case is executed, and that the rights of others are upheld. But in all these cases a Christian should engage in such prosecutions, NOT with a desire for revenge, NOT with the love of litigation, but with the love of justice, and of God, and with a mild, tender, candid, and forgiving attitude