Wednesday, November 20, 2013


I believe any thinking person will agree that the scriptures mean what they mean. It is incumbent upon each of us to investigate what they say, led by the Spirit, to get to that meaning. Since language itself is a fluid vehicle, we must carefully go to the original meaning of any text, when at all possible, led by that same Spirit, to correctly understand God's intention.

Some things are more readily understood than are others as well. Even Peter acknowledged that Paul the Apostle said some things difficult to understand. I'm with Peter on that.

Also, some things are more important than others. Any issue dealing with matters of salvation supercedes all others. Matters of discipleship and guidance for believer, for example, are important, just not to the level of salvation issues.

So then, we come to a Christian suing another Christian in a court of law and we would agree that it is of the latter category. You can miss this with correct understanding of the principle found in scripture and go to heaven. But you can't miss the nature of Christ, for example, and enjoy the assurance of that same place in eternity. You HAVE to be right there. No one is saying the former is not important in it's own right, just not one we separate over as brothers and sisters of the Kingdom.

Having said that, I would like for us to examine 1 Corinthians 6:1-11. Historically, it was written to a people whose court system was not the best. A.T. Robertson says that the Corinthians were basically a gentile church operating in a culture where civil courts were entertainment almost. They had civil litigation down to a science, if not art. The Judges were a known commodity, corrupt, and persuadable. There was no jury system at all.

In short, the court system was a joke. Paul was always ready to contrast with favor the wisdom of God with that of the Corinthian culture, as in chapters 1 @2, and does so here, as he makes it clear that the church can judge relational matters far better since they're going to assist in judgment at a later date anyway.

In fact, he may be saying sarcastically in v4 that the least person in the church can settle those issues if the leaders are too busy for such matters.

A further textual study would lead one to see that Paul is not condemning courts completely either since in v12 he says, "All things are lawful, [meaning not prohibited] but all things are not expedient." [meaning not the best]  It should also be noted that Paul saw no problem with him personally appealing to Caesar [the highest court of all] when he was held without trial and, as a Roman citizen, was not permitted his day in court.

Add to that the 1 Peter 2 passage where Peter indicates that the courts are "God ordained" since the word "ordinance" doesn't mean "law" as much as it means "institution", and is used in relation to God. So it is saying that the institutions of men are God's instruments for our lives. For a guiding institution [court-room] to be appealed to over a possible criminal matter is always correct and godly, as Paul himself proved with his appeal to Caesar, since they exist to punish and protect in legal problems.

However, in these minor relational matters that the Corinthian Christians were suing over, they should be able to appeal to the church and the church should give proper guidance. But that's a big should. It is important to see that Paul's disgust was as much with the whole of the church here as with the individuals who went to court. I think this shows if we are going to get upset with a person for going to court against another Christian, [the context is speaking only of brothers/sisters]  I think we should be just as upset with the church for not speaking out in these matters when the wrong that demands a verdict is being done.

But just as important, as in all things, is that a believer's purpose in settling disputes should not a matter of winning/losing or demanding personal rights, but lovingly rebuking a wrong done and speaking the truth about it whether in court or in church. Revenge, anger, and personal rights are not to be the motivating factor at all. As John Calvin said, "to not go against God, they [the wronged one] must take special care not to come to ANY court [secular or church] with ANY desire for revenge or ANY poisonous thing. In all is to be the guide."

Another thought here. Matthew 18 is often appealed to as a guide for believers and rightfully so. But one may need to remember that when Jesus gave that instruction, there was no established functioning local church body as we know it today. The word "church" [ekklesia] in that Matthew passage was probably used in it's pristine meaning which was "a called out group with a specific purpose." So it could be saying it should be taken to ANY group that has been requested to adjudicate any issue.

Then, also remember that to try to personally do Matthew 18 in a matter, but to not not be willing to carry it to where Jesus took it, final arbitration by some group asked to make a judgment, [even the local church today] is short-sighted and unbiblical in my judgment. If you start something finish it.

In our day of convoluted intricate contracts and trusts and loans, we face lawsuits for injury, malpractice with damage, equal rights, and a myriad of other categories that I doubt even Paul would have wanted the church to try to settle. For example, suppose a Christian banker, has found a fellow church member in default on a massive loan with his bank. he may have to let the court settle the legalities of it all, as ordered by his board of directors, but that banker should certainly let the church work on the relationship between the banker and his church friend. [which may be the most important thing after all] The offender undoubtedly needs to repent, correction, forgiveness, guidance and recovery relationally.

In it all we should bear in mind that the principle of not going "against" [pros] "another" Christian in a court of law will NOT be violated if one is seeking a legal hearing to protect, for example, a child [or spouse] from abuse. Even if the abuser is a professing christian spouse/parent legally, and such an one is known by the other spouse/parent to be guilty of abuse, they are correct in using the courts for peronal protection. This it is NOT violating the "against" prohibition in my view.

Finally, some concluding thoughts. I found several on a website that triggered some of my own.

A__The legal system is a gift of God to Christians as well as all others in a society and is to be appreciated for it's ability to enact protection and punishment where appropriate.

B__Christians are free, maybe even responsible for the use of those courts in matters that clarify legalities and criminal matters that are beyond the reach of congregations.It speaks of a high submission to the powers ordained of God.

C__The motive for anything is more important than the action. If it is to bring out [speak] the truth in love, it can be right, but, if revenge, anger, self protection or other things motivate, it can be wrong.

D__While it is undoubtedly best to not make a blanket declaration that no Christian should EVER take another believer to court, the proliferation of lawsuits is deplorable and the church needs to step up to the plate when christians are having problems. Church membership, discipline, and congregational involvement must take on more significance than personal opinions about styles of worship and what goes in. It is what's coming out of us that has me concerned. I haven't found it said better than a pastor did in this statement...And I quote...

"Now it’s at this point that it’s very tempting for me as a pastor to say that this is an iron clad law, that a Christian should never—in any circumstances—take another Christian to civil court to resolve a difference. You see, if I say it’s an absolute law, then we’re more likely to take this teaching seriously. If I suggest that this is a principle, and that in some circumstances other biblical principles might allow exceptions to this principle, then I crack open the door to allow exceptions. And if I do that, knowing human nature, I know every Christian is going to think that their situation qualifies as an exception. So if we allow the possibility of exceptions, then this will end up being one of those biblical principles that all Christians agree with but that no Christians actually apply, because each Christian thinks that his or her situation is an exception. So it’s very tempting to be legalistic, to say that this is an iron clad law, end of story.

But I think this is a principle with the possibility of exceptions. And let me first say that in the vast, vast majority of cases I do think that it’s wrong for a Christian to resort to civil court to resolve a difference with another Christian. But I think in some circumstances other important biblical principles come into play, and in those cases, those other principles take priority over this principle. Let me give you one example: Imagine two Christians who are going through the tragedy of divorce. Imagine that the wife decides she doesn’t want her ex-husband to be involved in the lives of their kids, and the only way for the husband to ensure his ongoing involvement in his children’s lives is to go to court and sue for custody. In that case the welfare of the kids and God’s calling to be a father is a higher principle than avoiding civil action against another Christian. So I think a husband would be justified to go to court and fight for a fair custody arrangement as a last resort. That’s just one example.

So how do you know whether your situation might be an exception to this principle? All I can say is that you can’t know it for yourself, that you need wise, mature input from the spiritual leaders God has placed in your life. You see, this kind of discernment comes from the community of faith as it together seeks God’s direction, not just from yourself because you’re likely to be biased. So when we feel as if our rights have been violated we should look to God’s community for help."    Pastor Tim Peck

I say...Amen, Pastor Peck.

This is one of those..."glass darkly" situations perhaps. My hope is these thoughts will cause us all to tread softly graciously.

Paul B.


Victorious said...

hmmm... lots to think about here. Personally, I would never take personal problems to anyone in the church. A close friend or family member, yes; church, no. If a problem is of a legal nature, an attorney is the best recourse in my opinion. An attorney is impartial whereas church people may not be.

Just my off-the-cuff thoughts, but will read and ponder again.

Regardless, I'm thankful for your posts, Paul.

Paul Burleson said...


Generally speaking, as I'm sure you know, the post is in response to some Christians who make the blanket statement that Christians should NEVER go to court or call someone out legally. My point is to show that the courts have a legitimate and even godly place in our lives according to the biblical materials.

Matthew 18 is there, however, and there are issues that would require the local church to respond if certain issues between two believers cannot be resolved. It's trying to navigate the difference that I'm hoping this post will give some assistance to.

Steve Miller said...

Thanks Paul for the timely post as always. I really like your comment regarding Matthew 18, "if you start something you need to finish." This I believe also applies to approaching any subject in which the Bible provides guidelines or principles such as the application of our legal system in society. My point is that so many approach an issue starting with a societal sound bite as their text instead of researching thoroughly the Biblical text and its application to me. I may not necessary feel better after this or like the outcome but I believe I am on the road to a better disposition about it which always leaves open humility being a reality in me. If I get stiff necked about it then pride can be the dominant theme not the subject l initially started with. Thank you brother.


Paul Burleson said...


You said... "My point is that so many approach an issue starting with a societal sound bite as their text instead of researching thoroughly the Biblical text and its application to me."....I agree.

May we learn to start at the text and move from there in whatever issue is being discussed. When the text is silent, we are at liberty to follow our unique journey in life with the Spirit aren't we!

Where the Spirit is there is liberty. Liberty in obedience in the former and liberty to choose in the latter. It doesn't get any better than that.

Steve Miller said...

Kind of like "trust and obey" isn't it! The liberty due to the presence of the Spirit is inescapable, available and dependable. Why settle for something less?

Aussie John said...


Yes! Amen,Pastor Peck, and Pastor Paul.

What? Is this a new club? The P.P. club.

Your words,"My hope is these thoughts will cause us all to tread softly graciously" are so to the point.

Those who are recipients of God's grace in salvation, WILL reveal the quality of graciousness in those times when the old nature seems to motivate another person.

These are the times when the genuineness of our claim to be a follower of Christ are often put to the test. Can we let go, or do we pursue vengeance dressed in the guise of justice?

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

Oh my! " Can we let go, or do we pursue vengeance dressed in the guise of justice?"

Another of your classic one-liners that say more than most missives men write.