Lawsuits between Christians?

Posted on 02 Jul 2017, Pastor: Rev Hans Vaatstra

Manuscript of this sermon is available for reading services

Reading: Daniel 7:9-14, 23-27
Text: 1 Corinthians 6:1-8

Daniel 7:9-14  New American Standard Bible (NASB)

The Ancient of Days Reigns

9 “I kept looking
Until thrones were set up,
And the Ancient of Days took His seat;
His vesture was like white snow
And the hair of His head like pure wool.
His throne was [a]ablaze with flames,
Its wheels were a burning fire.
10 “A river of fire was flowing
And coming out from before Him;
Thousands upon thousands were attending Him,
And myriads upon myriads were standing before Him;
The court sat,
And the books were opened.
11 Then I kept looking because of the sound of the [b]boastful words which the horn was speaking; I kept looking until the beast was slain, and its body was destroyed and given to the burning [c]fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but an extension of life was granted to them for an appointed period of time.

The Son of Man Presented

13 “I kept looking in the night visions,
And behold, with the clouds of heaven
One like a Son of Man was coming,
And He came up to the Ancient of Days
And was presented before Him.
14 “And to Him was given dominion,
Glory and [d]a kingdom,
That all the peoples, nations and men of every [e]language
Might serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
Which will not pass away;
And His kingdom is one
Which will not be destroyed.

Daniel 7:23-27New American Standard Bible (NASB)

23 “Thus he said: ‘The fourth beast will be a fourth kingdom on the earth, which will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth and tread it down and crush it. 24 As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings will arise; and another will arise after them, and he will be different from the previous ones and will subdue three kings. 25 He will speak [a]out against the Most High and wear down the [b]saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and [c]they will be given into his hand for a [d]time, [e]times, and half a [f]time. 26 But the court will sit for judgment, and his dominion will be taken away, [g]annihilated and destroyed [h]forever. 27 Then the [i]sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the [j]saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him.’

1 Corinthians 6:1-8  New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Lawsuits Discouraged

6 Does any one of you, when he has a [a]case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the [b]saints? 2 Or do you not know that the [c]saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to [d]constitute the smallest law courts? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life? 4 So if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, [e]do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? 5 I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, 6 but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers?

7 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? 8 On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud. You do this even to your brethren.

Lawsuits between Christians?

Reading Daniel 7:9-14, 23-27

Text: 1 Corinthians 6:1-8

What is better to assert your rights or see your responsibilities as a Christian?  Our Saviour never stood on his rights at all but allowed himself to be wronged even to his own hurt. He only ever saw his responsibilities. This passage in 1 Corinthians helps us to do like-wise. We’ll look at it in three parts

  1. A poor testimony. In Paul’s day the Greeks were notorious for their love of going to law. According to one commentator the law courts were one of the main sources of entertainment for those with time on their hands, much like those who might watch television soap operas like Coronation Street today. Many of these cases involved disputes over property or other financial matters. Unfortunately this litigious spirit had taken hold in the church at Corinth as well. Members in the church were dragging each other before the courts all too often. They seemed to be obsessed with their rights and with passing judgment on those who they felt wronged them.

The court system is of course necessary to protect one’s interests but it can be abused, especially if people go to court with the mentality to extract every last penny out of their  hapless debtors. You may recall from Jesus parable in Matthew 18 that the unforgiving official did to his hapless debtor. He choked him demanding to be paid and then had him thrown into debtor’s prison.  Others seem to have a mind to ruthlessly sue those who have offended them just to exact revenge or gain the maximum benefit for themselves. In New Zealand in 2015 there were over 3,300 civil cases before the courts. Who knows how many of these were motivated by greed and lack of love?

Thankfully we don’t often hear of such things happening in the churches today. That is  probably in part because the church has had 1 Corinthians 6 to look at now for 2,000 years and also because of the Lord Jesus Christ as we’ll see further on in the sermon. That’s not to say that it has never ever happened in our churches where one brother has taken another to court over a civil matter such as a property, or financial dispute. One case I know of was an intellectual property breach which had an adverse effect on a brother’s business. That went to a district court as a civil proceeding. However one of the brothers thought better of proceeding. He decided that its ‘better to be wronged.”

So what does 1 Corinthians 6 teach about such matters?

  1. a) When brethren slug out their disputes in the courts its really a shame on them as Christians, the church and the name of Christ. Paul wrote “does any of you, when he has a case against his neighbour, dare to go to law before the unrighteous? Its as if Paul were saying how dare you!? Have you no shame? Members of the church were airing their dirty linen in public as it were. That’s not to say that Christians are wonderfully holy all the time or that we ought to sweep problems under the carpet! No!, however when it comes to civil disputes of a minor nature between brothers in the church why bring shame on one another as Christians and on the church by taking them to court.?  And,… just to put a bit more 21st century perspective on it,  matters of a more minor nature according to the jurisdiction in New Zealand are those which would normally be handled by a district court rather than the high court and which involve disputes of less than 200,000 dollars.
  2. b) a second reason going to court over trivial matters is such a poor witness is because it’s a betrayal of one’s calling. Going back to the first chapter we are reminded that the Corinthians were called to be;..                      i) saints,                                                                                                                                                     ii) to share in Christ and to know that the cross of Christ is the power and wisdom of God for those who are being saved.                                                                                                          iii) called to know that the foolishness of the cross puts to shame the strong and the wise in the world.

But instead they were behaving like those in the world, dragging each other through the courts.

This was contrary to their calling and to Jesus teaching in in Matthew 5:38-40 where it says “If anyone would sue you and take your coat let him have your cloak as well.” And it wasn’t as if going to court was merely a matter of seeking justice. Their actions were fraudulent. They were wronging and defrauding their brethren and seeking to do it via litigation through the courts

This was a betrayal of their calling to be saints There was no charitable love in what they were doing

Does that mean a Christians may never resort to court action? No! Paul appealed to the Romans judicial system to defend himself and the Christian faith.  In Romans 13 we find that  God has instituted the civil government including the judiciary  to serve the public and keep her citizens safe and to deal with matters which are not merely disputes between brothers but serious criminal  matters and offences against the crown. Neither are we saying that a Christian is necessarily any kind of expert in the law any more than the average Christian is an expert in medicine or engineering or any other particular field. Some have also asked in the light of 1 Cor. 6 whether or not Christians ought to be lawyers and judges? The answer has to be yes because every area of life is under the sovereignty of God. The Christian who recognises that knows that we are called to exert a godly influence in every area of life.
However when it comes to minor civil matters as is indicated in verse 2 where it says “the smallest law courts” (the literal translation is small judgments or trivial cases) then it is a shame and a betrayal of the name of Christian to take another brother to court over trivial  matters.

  1. Remember who you are and what your destiny is. Paul called the Corinthians saints who will judge the world therefore they were more than competent to handle their own small disputes. In verse three Paul also says “do you not know that we shall judge angels?” The teaching of Christ provide the background for this theology . In Matthew 19:28 Jesus said “truly I say to you that those who have followed me … shall also sit on 12 thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Through-out the New Testament the consistent message is that Christians are raised to share with Christ the resurrection life.

In the passage we read earlier from Daniel 7,  “The saints of the most high are said to receive the kingdom  and possess it for ever and ever. The kingdom and the kingdom of the whole of heaven shall be given to the people of the saints most high.”

In their factionalism, squabbling and litigious behaviour the Corinthians had forgotten who they were; that is, saints set apart for God’s purposes and destined for glory in the new heavens and the new earth . There they and we will preside over the angels who worship God in the heavenly realms and who are ministering spirits sent to those who are to inherit salvation. According to 1 Peter 1:12 the angels ‘long to be able to look into mysteries of the gospel. And according to Ephesians 3:10 the manifold wisdom of God worked out in the church is beyond the understanding of the principalities and powers on the heavenly realms.”

Well you know is the task of God’s saints, his redeemed people, to communicate this divine wisdom to the angels in heaven. For the angels turned demons, who according to Jude 6 were proud and fell away; the text tells us we will sit in judgment over them.

And so, in that light, any earthly squabble we might have between brothers pales into insignificance compared to our being saints who have been  raised with Christ now and compared to what we will be and what  our role will be in the new heavens and the new earth.

Furthermore according to our text it’s shameful to appoint men who do not know the Lord or God’s will for their lives and whose destiny is with Satan and his demons. It’s shameful to appoint them as judges over God’s people.  Paul says that Christians would be better off appointing the least of their own brethren, men who seem to be of little account in the church as judges rather than the judges among the pagans and unbelievers. Another way of translating of “no account” is least esteemed”. He is turning the Corinthians assessment of who really matters in the community upside down. It is not necessarily the top people in the world or in the church who matter to God. It could just as well be men who appear to be quiet and humble and of ‘no account’ in the world. Appoint them as judges says Paul, especially when it comes to the relatively trivial matters which the Corinthians were taking each other to court over.

Christians do after all have the mind of Christ according to Paul in chapter 2:16 and what better mind to make sound judgments with when it comes to disputes between brothers

  1. The Christians calling. In verse 7 b Paul wrote “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? Say a Christian brother takes another brother to court over a business partnership that has gone broke due to poor management. One of the brothers  has spent too much, a contract was lost  due to failure to complete the terms of the contract causing lass to both families. One of the brothers decides to sue the other for the losses incurred. He take it to a civil court and wins the case and is awarded damages. However the case has had a detrimental effect on relationship. It has also had a detrimental effect on the church because side were taken. An atmosphere of hostility developed. Love was lost and a family lfet the church.

Paul says better to be wronged and defrauded father than do harm to the church.  Again we can think of Jesus words, “If someone wants to sue you and take your tunic  let him have your cloak as well. The point there is that by doing so you may lose something of material value but you will maintain relationships with-in the church”

Paul talks it even further why not let yourself be defrauded? That really goes against our sense of justice!  Who in their right mind would allow themselves to be ripped off? In context of what Paul is saying it is better to be wronged and defrauded than to harm the church. Paul is asking the Corinthians to wear material losses for the purpose of showing a loving and forgiving spirit. He wants Christians to show a spirit of meekness and humility which is willing to endure wrong for the sake of Christ and the church. We can compare that to what Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2: 20ff where it says “if you do right and suffer for it,… then patiently endure it . This finds favour with God. For you have been called for this purpose since Christ suffered for you leaving you and example to follow. He committed no sin. Nor was any deceit found in his mouth and while being reviled did not revile in return. While suffering, uttered no threats but kept entrusting himself to him who judges righteously. He bore our sins in his body on the cross that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.”

That really clarifies the situation for us. Christ never stood on his rights. He didn’t see his equality with God something to be clung to at all costs. He humbled himself, let himself be terribly wronged to the point of a cruel death on the cross for our sakes so that we could be forgiven and reconciled to the father.

He suffered for us leaving us an example to follow in his steps.

This is really the main point of this passage. Therefore Christ-like way and our Christians calling in the matter is to defer to a  brother or sister when it come to matters of small importance in the kingdom of God,  for example disputes about money. Money according to Jesus in Luke 16 and the parable of the unjust steward is the least of all the blessings we have from God. Spiritual blessings such as gifts and fruits of the spirit are far more important. It is better to defer on such trivial matters than for love to be lost . And if there is a dispute over such matters then let it be decided by those in the church in a spirit of love and reconciliation rather drag such matters through the courts.