The Bible speaks specifically to the question of Christians filing lawsuits against one another.
1 Corinthians 6:1-7
When one of you has a dispute with another believer, how dare you file a lawsuit and ask a secular court to decide the matter instead of taking it to other believers! Don’t you realize that someday we believers will judge the world? And since you are going to judge the world, can’t you decide even these little things among yourselves? Don’t you realize that we will judge angels? So you should surely be able to resolve ordinary disputes in this life. If you have legal disputes about such matters, why go to outside judges who are not respected by the church? I am saying this to shame you. Isn't there anyone in all the church who is wise enough to decide these issues? But instead, one believer sues another—right in front of unbelievers!
Even to have such lawsuits with one another is a defeat for you. Why not just accept the injustice and leave it at that? Why not let yourselves be cheated? Instead, you yourselves are the ones who do wrong and cheat even your fellow believers. (NLT)
Conflicts Within the Church
This passage in 1 Corinthians 6 is addressing the issue of conflicts within the church. Paul plainly teaches that believers should not turn to secular courts to resolve their differences, directly referring to lawsuits among believers—Christian against Christian.
Paul implies the following reasons why Christians should settle arguments within the church and not resort to secular lawsuits:
- Secular judges are not able to judge by biblical standards and Christian values.
- Christians go to court with the wrong motives.
- Lawsuits among Christians reflect negatively on the church.
As believers, our testimony to the unbelieving world should be a demonstration of love and forgiveness and, therefore, members of the body of Christ ought to be able to settle arguments and disputes without going to court. We are called to live in unity with humility toward one another. Even more than the secular courts, the body of Christ ought to have wise and godly leaders gifted in handling matters involving conflict resolution. Under the direction of the Holy Spirit, Christians submitted to the proper authority should be able to rightly resolve their legal arguments while maintaining a positive witness.
The Biblical Pattern for Settling ConflictsMatthew 18:15-17 provides the biblical pattern for settling conflicts within the church:
- Go directly and privately to the brother or sister to discuss the problem.
- If he or she will not listen, take one or two witnesses.
- If he or she still refuses to listen, take the matter to the church leadership.
- If he or she still refuses to listen to the church, expel the offender from the fellowship of the church.
If you have followed the steps in Matthew 18 and the problem is still not resolved, in some cases going to court might be the right thing to do, even against a brother. I say this cautiously because such actions should be the last resort and decided only through much prayer and godly counsel.
When Is Legal Action Appropriate for a Christian?
So, to be very clear, the Bible does not say a Christian can never go to court. In fact, Paul appealed more than once to the legal system, exercising his right to defend himself under Roman law (Acts 16:37–40; 18:12–17; 22:15–29; 25:10–22). In Romans 13 Paul taught that God had established legal authorities for the purpose of upholding justice, punishing wrongdoers, and protecting the innocent.
Consequently, legal action may be appropriate in certain criminal matters, cases of injury and damage covered by insurance, as well as trustee issues and other specified instances.
Every consideration must be balanced and weighed against Scripture, including these:
"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, 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. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." (NIV)
For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (NIV)
If you are a Christian considering a lawsuit, here are some practical and spiritual questions to ask as you decide on a course of action:
- Have I followed the biblical pattern in Matthew 18 and exhausted all other options for reconciliation of the matter?
- Have I sought wise counsel through the leadership of my church and spent extended time in prayer on the matter?
- Rather than seeking vengeance or personal gain, are my motives pure and honorable? Am I solely looking to uphold justice and protect my legal rights?
- Am I being completely honest? Am I making any deceptive claims or defenses?
- Will my course of action reflect negatively on the church, the body of believers, or in any way harm my testimony or the cause of Christ?