Q: #150. Is it okay for a Christian to sue someone?
A: I will never forget the time when I was called to jury duty, and the trial was going to be over a man suing a bus company because the bus driver accidentally drove over a curb and the man’s back was hurt. The man’s lawyer stood before us and said something along the lines of, “In the Old Testament, it said that there was to be an eye for an eye when someone was hurt, but since we can’t do that today we HAVE to sue.” Do we really? What does the Bible say about this?
The most well known place in the Bible referring to suing or taking someone to court is found in (1 Cor 6:1-7). In these verses, Paul makes it quite clear that Christians are NOT to sue other Christians. They are not to go to court to settle matters before the “unjust” or “unbelievers.” Instead, if there is a dispute between two Christians, it should be settled within the church, by a “wise man” or men.
In (Mt 18:15-17), Jesus laid out an order for confronting an offender which can also be applied to this subject.
1. Go to him personally and “tell him his fault.” If he listens, and you can work work it out, “thou hast gained a brother.”
2. If he will not listen, take one or two more witnesses with you and confront him.
3. If he still refuses to listen, “tell it unto the church,” and “if he neglect to hear the church,” he should be treated as a “heathen man and a publican” and removed from the church.
Paul tells us that as saints (every Christian is a saint), we will one day judge both the world and the angels. If we are going to do this, we should at least be able to judge smaller matters in “this life.”
When we fail to settle these matters privately within the church, but rather, attempt to settle them within the secular court system, it ultimately brings harm to the cause of Christ. It is a poor witness to non-Christians as well as fellow Christians. It also runs contrary to the Christian principles of love, forgiveness, and unity amongst Christians.
The question might then be asked, “Well, then is it okay for a Christian to sue a non-Christian?” While the Bible does not address this issue as clearly, I believe this is wrong as well, based on these same Christian principles.
Jesus appears to address this very issue in (Mt 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. (40) And if any man will SUE thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.” (Caps emphasis mine)
Jesus follows in verse (5:44) saying, “… Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” We are also told by Jesus to “Love our neighbors as ourselves” (Mt 19:19)(Mt 23:39). It is quite difficult to love someone in the way we should, be it Christian or non-Christian, if we are suing them.
Suing generally involves revenge, which we are commanded not to seek (Lev 19:18). It involves bitterness, which we are told to remove from our lives (Eph 4:31). It also means we are failing to forgive the wrong done to us, which Jesus told us MANY times we need to do (Mt 18:20-21,35)(Mk 11:25-26)(Lk 6:37), and which He Himself did over and over, including His dying words on the cross when He said “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).
Vengeance belongs to the Lord (Deut 32:35)(Rom 12:19)(Heb 10:30). God will administer justice to those who have harmed us (Ps 103:6)(Ps 146:7), but in the meantime, we need to trust in Him to provide for whatever needs we have (Mt 6:25-34)(Phil 4:6,19), rather than seeking to have our needs be met by an ungodly, secular court system.
(Rom 12:18) Live peaceably with all men.