Avoid Lawsuits

by Crystal Easom

This is another installment from Crystal, our intern and a senior at Moody Bible Institute majoring in Biblical languages.  Crystal hopes to attend law school after graduation.

America is notorious for being sue-happy. This plague is ever evidenced by verbiage warning the sleepy commuter that hot coffee is, indeed, hot and by toy capes that come with the warning that the fabric does not enable the wearer to break gravity’s pull and soar into inhuman flight. This condition is neither unique to our nation, our Western culture, nor our era: it seems that Corinth may have been infected first.

This church was located within a prosperous city along a major east-west trade route and, though not prestigious, Corinthian schools were excellent and a point of city pride.  The Corinthian church was composed of primarily Gentile believers ranging from those of high education and status to humble birth, from the wealthy to the poor.

Following Paul’s introduction in 1 Corinthians 1, he immediately appeals to the community to cease their quarrels and strive for unity, that worldly wisdom is made foolishness by the message of the cross. Indeed, Paul instructs the Corinthian believers to avoid the assumption of the world’s wisdom, particularly concerning morality, justice, and entitlement. Setting himself as a model in 1 Cor 4:13, he declares that when he and his fellow apostles “are slandered, [they] try to conciliate.” In 1 Corinthians 6:1, Paul chastises the believers for seeking justice before a pagan court known for questionable justice rather than seeking restorative justice within their own community.

Perhaps our world today, two thousand years and a hemisphere removed, is not that different from that of the Corinthians. We value our hard-won wisdom from our secular education and live individualistically, prizing self above any community. We allow personal divisions to break the body of Christ and think little of it, moving to a different seat in the sanctuary or changing churches, feeling free to sue any who wrong us with little consideration for the other party.

While Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia recently died, his words live on.  In 1987 he wrote: “I think this passage has something to say about the proper Christian attitude toward civil litigation. Paul says that the mediation of a mutual [party] … should be sought before parties run off to the law courts… I think we are too ready today to seek vindication or vengeance through adversary proceedings rather than peace through mediation… Good Christians, just as they are slow to anger, should be slow to sue.”

Now, it should be noted that Paul is making no unreasonable or separatist statement here; in Romans 13:1-7 Paul instructs believers to submit to Roman justice in the criminal courts. The courts that Paul is speaking of are the ????????? ????????? (lit. smallest courts) comparable to the small claims courts of today. Reformer John Calvin wrote that “Paul does not here condemn those who from necessity have a cause before unbelieving judges, as when a person is summoned to court; but those who of their own accord bring their brethren into this situation, and harass them, as it were, through means of unbelievers, while it is in their power to employ another remedy.”

What other remedies exist?

Believers should seek to follow Christ’s instruction in Matthew 18:15-17: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as [one outside of the community.]”

If personal efforts to reconcile should fail, a mediator can be brought into the conciliatory efforts. Should that not succeed, parties may elect to submit to arbitration instead of a court’s legal proceedings. These proceedings may take place before the church or a certified Christian conciliator – someone both parties trust. This process aims to glorify God: to preserve Christian witness by avoiding the antagonism and publicity of a legal suit and to restore the fellowship by finding a just and mutually beneficial agreement that satisfies the parties and ideally addresses underlying issues.

Abraham Lincoln as a lawyer said: “Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser in fees, expenses, and waste of time,” echoing Paul’s words 1 Corinthians 6:7: “To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you.”

With the force of Jesus, Paul, Scalia, Lincoln, and so many others behind these words: reconcile.

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