August 12, 2001

SHOULD YOU SUE?

The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already.  1 Corinthians 6:7

Lawsuits are everywhere. A few years ago a woman sued McDonald’s after spilling hot coffee on herself. She won a lot of money. The case was all over the news and inspired others to sue.

More recently another woman spilled a cup of McDonald’s coffee on herself. She was sitting in her mother’s car at the time. The hot coffee scalded her ankle and allegedly left a scar. She sued McDonalds for making hot coffee. She sued Cobb Manufacturing, the company that made the coffee cup. She sued Wal-Mart, the maker of the cup holder. And get this: she even sued her own mother! The lawsuit charged dear old mom with negligence and says that she “owed a duty of care for the safety of others riding in her vehicle.”

In another case, someone sued McDonald’s over a pickle. This person said she suffered a second-degree burn on her chin after a hot pickle fell from one of the small burgers she and her husband bought. The suit charged that the pickle was defective and unreasonably dangerous to the customer, breaching an implied warranty for safety. Oh, that wicked pickle! The woman demanded $110,000. Her husband sought another $15,000 for the way the pickle deprived him of the services and consortium of his wife.

If you can sue your mom or sue over a pickle, then you might even want to sue someone who saves your life. A famous TV and movie actor gets drunk, has a fight with his girlfriend, runs his car into the back of hers, spins out of control, smashes into a pole, and breaks his neck. He can’t breathe, so paramedics put a respirator tube down his throat, and they save his life. Amazingly, the actor goes on to recover from his broken neck and isn’t paralyzed. He’s in good health, with no lasting damage except that his voice is a little raspy. So what does he do? He sues the paramedics who saved his life! He charges that when they inserted the breathing tube, they harmed his vocal cords and hurt his acting career.

You might think such lawsuits are crazy, but you still might be suing somebody or at least think about it. You might say, “I have every right. My lawsuit isn’t ridiculous. Others may be, but not mine. My case is completely justified.”

Is that so? Really now, should you sue?

Taking someone else to court may seem like a way to win something. You may win a case. You may win a sense of revenge. You may win some money. But will suing really make you a winner? No, lawsuits are for losers. The Bible says, “The very fact that you have lawsuits means that you have been completely defeated already” (1 Corinthians 6:7). If you’re in the middle of suing someone, you may hope you’re going to win, but the Bible says you’ve already lost by suing at all. Lawsuits are for losers.

Suing may seem acceptable, even advisable, if you ignore God and follow the world’s way of doing things. But if you trust God as your Father and follow Jesus, you shouldn’t be suing people in a civil court. Why not? What’s wrong with suing? At least four things. First, it’s beneath your dignity. Second, suing goes to the wrong court. Third, suing usually does more harm than good. Fourth, suing is more fitting for people lost in sin outside God’s kingdom than for those who are new people in Christ. These four things are apparent in what the Bible says about lawsuits in 1 Corinthians chapter 6.

Beneath Your Dignity

The first reason for not suing someone is that it’s beneath the dignity of God’s children. In 1 Corinthians 6:1-3, the Bible says to Christians,

If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before God’s people? Do you not know that God’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!

Have you ever thought of yourself as helping to judge and rule the world? Can you picture yourself with authority over angels? Does that sound hard to believe? How could small, weak unimportant people turn out to have a position governing the universe and ranking even above mighty angels?

Suppose you walk into a room and see a baby. The baby is weak, small, drooling, and has a smelly diaper. Across the room are some government officials, well-dressed, smart, powerful. If someone tells you the little stinker will someday have authority over those important officials, it might sound ridiculous. But what if that baby’s father is the king? Then it’s indeed true that the baby will someday have authority over those officials.

If you know Jesus as your Savior, God is your Father. You’re a child of the King, and that makes you a prince or princess in his kingdom. Right now the angels are stronger and holier than you are, but a time is coming when your holiness will match that of the angels and your greatness will surpass theirs. Right now you may still be a spiritual baby, you may be small and weak, you may be smelly with sin, but you won’t be a baby forever. As God’s Holy Spirit keeps working in your life, you keep getting cleaned up, you keep growing up, and at the appointed time, your Father will give you great authority. When Jesus Christ returns to judge the world and rule over it, God’s children will rule along with the Lord. “They will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5).

What does this have to do with lawsuits? If you’re a child of God the King, then some things are beneath you. One thing that’s beneath you is bickering over things without eternal importance and suing over something as trivial as money. If you belong to the Lord, you’ve got a magnificent future, and that magnificent future should affect your present behavior.

Think again of a baby in diapers. At first that baby might be content simply to be fed whenever he’s hungry and have his diapers changed as needed. He might claw and scratch other babies in tussles over toys. But he shouldn’t stay a baby forever. He needs to learn that there’s more to life than a full stomach, clean diapers, and fighting over toys. He needs to keep growing and getting ready for what he’s going to be in the future.

Some children of God can be like babies in diapers. We want God to meet our needs and forgive our sins. As long as the Lord feeds us and cleans up our sinful messes, that’s all we want from him. Meanwhile, we bicker with others and even go to court over things which, in the light of eternity, are less important than baby toys. Let’s grow up! There’s more to being a Christian than being forgiven and having our needs met. In Christ we will someday govern the world and judge angels, and already now, says the Bible, we “are being transformed into [Christ’s] likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Even if we won’t reach of full glory and authority for awhile yet, shouldn’t we at least get beyond acting like babies and start living up to our future as co-rulers with Christ? If you’re a child of God in Christ, you degrade your own dignity by suing others.

And if those you are suing also belong to Christ, it’s even worse. Do you really want to attack someone who is headed for a God-appointed throne? How dare you take a person to court whom God is planning to give a position higher than any earthly judge? If you could see that person right now as he will someday be when God glorifies him, you would be tempted to fall down and worship that person. You wouldn’t dare to sue. You wouldn’t dream of it.

To see how foolish and degrading it is for one Christian to sue another, imagine you’re about to become an executive in a giant corporation and be paid a salary in the millions. Next, imagine that a brother of yours is about to become an executive in the same company with equally high authority and an equally huge paycheck. Now, with both of you about to receive tremendous power and wealth, would you take your brother to court over a boyhood argument where you thought he ate more than his fair share of a candy bar? Of course not! That would be beneath your dignity. How could two high-powered, high-paid brothers go to court over a candy bar incident from their past?

Well, it’s even worse when brothers in Christ, who will someday sit on God-given thrones of authority, go after each other in lawsuits. It’s not the way family members should treat each other. The disputes are usually over stuff so trivial that it won’t count for anything in the kingdom of God. And it’s beneath our dignity as children of the King.

The Wrong Court

Another problem with suing is that you’re going to the wrong court. If two Christians have a confrontation, can’t resolve it, and go to a third party for a decision on the matter, to whom should they go? Should they go to a government court with a judge who might pay no attention to God? Shouldn’t they instead go to a fellow Christian, or to the pastor and elders of the church, to deal with their dispute? If Jesus’ followers will judge the world and rule angels in the life to come, can’t they be counted on to settle the minor matters of this life?

Therefore [says the Bible in 1 Cor. 6:4-6] if you have disputes about such matters appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother goes to law against another–and this in front of unbelievers!

If two Christians have a dispute and need to involve a third party, why go outside the church and depend on civil authorities? Can’t you find even one fellow Christian whose judgment you respect? Can’t you agree to let that person hear both sides and then make a decision to which both sides will submit?

Why belong to a church if you can’t respect its authority and submit to it? If you have a bad church, get a new church. However, if you’ve got a good church but a bad attitude, then get a new attitude! Trust that Christians who will someday rule the world on God’s behalf will be more likely than a non-believer to handle your case rightly. Don’t go to a non-Christian court to settle a dispute between Christians.

Jesus says that if you’re a Christian and a fellow Christian has wronged you, the first thing to do is to talk to that person alone. Do this as privately and as lovingly as you can. Try to resolve things between the two of you, without dragging others into it. If it works, great! If not, the next step is to take one or two other Christians with you to see the person. Again, if that solves the problem, it spares a lot of shame and hurt by not involving more people than necessary. If it doesn’t work, and if it’s a serious sin that absolutely must be dealt with, take it to the church leadership for a judgment. That’s the course of action Jesus tells us to follow (Matthew 18:15-17).

Is there ever a time to involve civil authorities? If someone commits crimes that not only violate God’s law but also violate the laws of society and endanger others, then police and civil authorities should be informed. For example, if someone abuses his wife or molests a child or steals money, he should face the legal consequences of criminal conduct. But many civil lawsuits are more about money than about justice, more about getting something for myself than protecting others from predators. So don’t take non-criminal issues to the wrong court. If it’s not a criminal matter, ask whether it’s worth pursuing at all. And if you do decide to pursue it, go to the church, not the government. Otherwise, you’re going to the wrong court.

More Harm Than Good

Still another problem with suing is that it does more harm than good. Everybody loses. It harms both sides involved in the suit, and it hinders the overall cause of Christ.

For example, sometimes when a congregation splits up, both sides lay claim to church property, and the dispute ends up in court. Whether the cause of the split was doctrinal division or personal differences, such splits are always painful. The trouble gets even worse when both sides want to make sure that their side–and not the other side–get the building and financial assets. If the matter goes to court, both sides are spiritually harmed. They also hurt others who don’t belong to any church by making them think, “If that’s what Christianity does for people, I’m not interested.” Jesus tells us, “By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). If church people are busier suing each other than loving each other, how can anyone recognize such people as disciples of Jesus?

If you live by the Spirit of Christ, your goal is to win people, not to win fights. In a lawsuit, you might win the fight, but you lose people. You lose relationships with those you’re battling, and you lose the chance to attract people to Christ who might have been drawn by love but are repelled by strife. How dare you endanger things of eternal importance for the sake of something as minor as money?

Lawsuits are for losers. When Christians take each other to court, everybody loses. As the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 6:7-8,

The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means that you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers.

It’s better to lose financially than to lose spiritually. It’s better to feel ripped off and not get back at the other person than to get entangled in a situation where everybody is wrong and everybody loses.

Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, says, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth… Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:5,9). Followers of Jesus will someday inherit the earth and rule with Christ; as sons of God they will even govern angels. Until that day comes, we enhance our own spiritual wellbeing and advance God’s cause by being humble peacemakers.

Are you an instrument of God’s peace? Peacemakers take the first step in healing a relationship; they don’t wait for others to take the first step. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that nothing should come ahead of repairing broken relationships, not even offering a gift to God. If you’re in the middle of worship and remember that someone else has something against you, says Jesus, drop everything. “First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:24).

If someone takes you to court, says Jesus, don’t just insist that you’re right and assume you’ll win.

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny” (Matthew 5:22-26).

In other words, if you’re involved in a court case, consider the possibility that you are wrong and that the judge will rule against you and punish you. And remember that God is the supreme Judge. Do what’s right not merely according to civil law but according to God’s law. If you know you are in the wrong, then don’t try to get away with it. Admit your sin to God and to your opponent. Offer fair restitution, and try to settle as soon as possible. Otherwise you will be a loser in God’s court, even if you somehow manage to win the case in civil court.

We are eager to defend ourselves and fight for our rights, but that often does more harm than good. Jesus says, “Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well” (Matthew 5:39-40). Jesus wants us to follow his lead in sacrificing our rights in order to honor God and bring peace to a bickering world.

It’s almost impossible to be tangled in a lawsuit and be completely right. It is so hard for us to see where we’re in the wrong that it’s usually best not to stick up for ourselves and sue others, even when we think we’re in the right. Often we’re afraid of being cheated when in fact we are the cheaters. We can’t bear the thought of letting someone get away with wronging us, when in fact we may be committing at least as many wrongs against others. And even if we are right about a particular matter, we can end up being wrong if we go to court with a greedy or vengeful spirit. By turning the other cheek instead of fighting back, we risk suffering for doing right. But it’s better to suffer for doing right than for doing wrong. Instead of sticking up for yourself, count on God to stick up for you. If you go to court, you’re already a loser before you get there, and you’re doing more harm than good.

The New You Shouldn’t Sue

Here’s a final reason for not suing: lawsuits are more fitting for those lost in sin, outside God’s kingdom, than for those who are new people in Christ. Suing people is legal, and it’s common, but that doesn’t make it good. Lots of things are common that are contrary to Christ. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 the Bible concludes the discussion of lawsuits by saying,

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Lawsuits are grouped with bad behaviors that belong in hell.

If you’re not a Christian at all, if you haven’t received God’s pardon in Christ, if his Holy Spirit is not in you, then it’s understandable if you’re as self-centered and combative as the wicked world around you. In that case, your attitude toward lawsuits is a symptom of a much more serious problem: you don’t have eternal life, and you must be born again and have your sins washed away by faith in Jesus.

But perhaps you already belong to Christ and yet want to sue somebody and make them pay. How can you trust that Jesus died to take away your sins against him, yet sue others for sinning against you? How can you be filled with the Holy Spirit of love and peace, yet launch a lawsuit that may include slandering and swindling your opponent? How can you be a citizen of God’s kingdom, yet go to court rather than count on God to judge?

Old habits die hard, but they must die. Don’t fall back into behaving like your old, sinful self. Don’t act like the sort of person you were without Christ. Act like who you are in Christ: a child of God who will someday share in God’s good government of the world; a member of God’s family who counts on brothers and sisters in the church more than on civil courts; a peacemaker eager to do good even if you must endure harm. The Bible says, “If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:20-21).

If you’re a follower of Jesus and have been born again with a new spiritual nature, then be who you are! You were once wicked, doing things the world’s way, but that’s not who you are anymore. There’s a new you. And the new you shouldn’t sue.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.