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William D. Bontrager, J.D.

1710 C.R. 121, Hesperus, CO. 81326

970-259-3384

wdb@frontier.net

MAY WE SUE? SHALL WE SUE? WHOM MAY WE SUE?

As a former practicing attorney, a former judge, a teacher of law, a minister of reconciliation, and a Christian, I am often asked these three questions by Christians facing potential legal conflict. Let's look at I Cor. 6:1-8 (using the New American Standard version).

"Does any one of you" -- you may not claim that there is something unique about you which relieves you of the Word which follows.

"When he has a case" -- you may not claim that there is something unique about your conflict which relieves you of the Word which follows.

"Against his neighbor" -- you may not claim that there is something unique about your adversary which relieves you of the Word which follows. Many people think this passage applies only to fellow Christians, in part because of its juxtaposition with chapter 5. But the Greek work used here is heteros, "other person". This follows Christ's call to "go until the whole world," and "be light and salt." It fits with the effort to recover stray and lost sheep (Matt. 18:12-14). [However, in v 5, Paul changes to the Greek word adelphos, "of the same womb". More on this later.]

"Dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints" -- you have a choice of where you will begin to find help. The law is unrighteous because it cannot offer or do reconciliation as an outcome of its process. It can only divide and increase anger and bitterness. The saints, as shown by vs 2-3, have the ability to judge your actions and attitudes in light of God's word. As you seek their counsel, they may tell you of where you need to confess or forgive. [See Confession and Forgiveness -- Keys to Reconciliation] And they can teach you of God's process for conflict resolution and reconciliation -- Matt. 5:23-26 and Matt. 18:12-20. [See The Path To Reconciliation; The Who, What and How of Matt. 18:16; The Church in Matt. 18:17] They may go with you as "witnesses" in Matt. 18:16. They may bear burdens which the conflict is causing you. They may call you to do acts of justice towards the other person. None of these things will be done for you when you go to the lawyers -- they do not know the things of God, cannot give you the things of God, and would not think they should give you the things of God if they knew them.

"If then you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? I say this to your shame. Is there not one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren?" -- if your adversary is a Christian, and if the processes of reconciliation found in Matthew 5 and 18 do not work in resolving the conflict, you are still better to come to the church for judgment. After completing Matt. 18:15-16, arbitration by the church is preferable to going to the law than bringing a bad report against Christ and His body by going to law.

"But brother goes to law against brother and that before the unbelievers" -- Why? We do not want our sins uncovered; we do not want to confess; we do not want to forgive; we do not trust the "unlearned in the law"; we don't know how to do Matt. 18; the church is not equipped; it is too late for God; my problem is too big for God; you just don't understand, I have no choice -- I have seen or heard every one of these as explanations. We are, after all, sinners -- rebellious hedonists. We do not want to face what we believe to be the sacrificial road of following the Lordship of Christ.

"Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits one with another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud, and that your brethren." -- the defeat is your failure to act in faith and start with the saints. Suing may drive your brother into despair, anger, bitterness, confusion -- does that not wrong him, defraud him? And if you allow the conflict to take over your life (a very real potential when only the world is your counsel) -- may you not wrong and defraud yourself, and remove yourself from the capability of being used by God?

Well, there were three questions which started this:

May we sue?

Paul did not say we could not. We live under grace rather than law. Paul was teaching, admonishing and exhorting in this passage. The closest he comes to a command concerns arbitration of commercial disputes between the brethren.

Should we sue?

Not without first bringing the matter to the church for guidance and counsel.

Whom may we sue?

Probably not a brother or sister in Christ, and definitely not if it is a matter

of commerce capable of arbitration. But beware judging the salvation of the other person by their actions in order to justify suing them! This is another reason to "come to the saints".

May we defend if sued?

Yes, but do not defend in the ways of the world. "Let your 'yes' be your 'yes',

and your 'no' your 'no', and anything beyond that is of evil." Matt. 5:37 requires absolute honesty in court, and that means confession of where you have done wrong. I Peter 3:15 adds a word on the attitude you should have throughout the process: "Always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account [of what you do or do not do] for the hope that is within you, yet with gentleness [towards your adversary] and reverence [towards the law and those in authority]." And I Peter 2:23 tells us more about our method of defense, and about where we put our hopes and expectations: "and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He offered no threats; but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously."

But may I use the criminal law against another because of what it says in

Romans 13:1-7?

Yes, you may. In some cases, you must. We do, after all, live in two kingdoms

-- the one of God and the one of man. But before using the criminal law against

another, I would still suggest you seek counsel from the saints and, if possible,

attempt the Matt. 18 process first.

Can all that I have said prove costly?

From the view of the world, absolutely. From the view of the spiritual, never. Even if God calls you to a great sacrifice in His process of conflict resolution, rest assured that the joy you will experience after the sacrifice will overcome any sense of sacrifice. "It is finished" was a shout of triumph, not of resignation.