To sue or not to sue?
The purpose of a lawsuit is to provide someone who has suffered a loss at the hands of another party a legal means to recover the property or other damages from the offender. In practicality, it is one person accusing another of an offense and requesting that a judge or jury make a decision about guilt or innocence and compensation.
What are our rights and options when we have a legitimate case against another individual for a loss? First, let's address the best defined situation: one Christian against another. The principle covering this situation is found in 1 Corinthians 6. We are directed to take our case before true believers when another Christian is involved. "Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?" (1 Corinthians 6:1).
The recourse provided when two Christians are involved is outlined in Matthew 18. The principle is simple: We are to take any offense directly to the other believer. First, we are to see that person alone, then with a witness, if necessary and, ultimately, take the offender before the church. The purpose in every instance is for restoration in the faith, not collection. This procedure, if taken seriously, would certainly serve as a testimony to the unsaved. "Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?" (1 Corinthians 6:7).
Since the direct implication of 1 Corinthians 6 is of one believer suing another, what about suing nonbelievers? There are no direct references to suing nonbelievers, but there are some very revealing indirect references.
It is important to bear in mind that God's Word deals much more with our attitudes than with our actions. When a Christian has the attitude toward others that God requires, most actions will change toward them. "Bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you" (Colossians 3:13).
Above all, God's Word teaches us to surrender our rights, even to the unbeliever. This means literally to put others first, even when they are wrong. "Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back" (Luke 6:29-30). This attitude can be very costly when you live in a society of opportunists. A Christian recently told of an instance when someone cancelled a contract with him and flatly told him, "I know you won't sue me because you're a Christian." Once you've taken a stand for the Lord, it may well cost you materially.
Right to defend
A Christian man asked about his scriptural right to defend himself when accused by someone else. The question he asked was, "Can I and should I defend myself against an unjust claim?" The answer can be found in the apostle Paul's defense against unjust claims throughout the book of Acts (see Acts 16:37, 22:25, 25:11). Paul did not attack his accusers, nor did he attempt to extract any compensation from them. He did, however, vigorously defend himself against their claims, several times even reciting Roman law applicable to his case. As long as our motives are right and we are not seeking retribution, we can, and often should, defend the rightness of our actions.
Suing is certainly not a new concept. It is apparent from the apostle Paul's writing in 1 Corinthians 6 that lawsuits were commonplace in the first century. Unfortunately, suing today has become a first, rather than a last, recourse.
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