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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Lawsuits and Christians

Lawsuits and Christians
1 Corinthians 6: 1-8
Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers! Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated? No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren!
This issue brings up some big questions. Are we suppose to turn the other cheek when it comes to bringing lawsuits to secular courts? What if we are cheated out of our lifesavings by con artists? What if we are assaulted by someone? What if our child is molested? Do we have recourse in our secular law? We aren't just talking about getting mad at the next door neighbor's barking dog...it can be much more serious.
First lets look at the background of this letter to Corinth. Corinth was a major trade city located in southern Greece just 45 miles from Athens. It was in the Roman province of Achaia. It hosted the Isthmian Games (like the Olympic Games) which brought even more foot traffic to the area. By this time Corinth was so morally corrupt that it's very name became an adjective for debauchery and depravity. When you call someone a "Corinthian" it refers to their practise of drunkeness and gross immorality. In 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10, the Apostle Paul refers specifically to some of these sins for which the Corinthians were noted. some of these sins were still practised by church members in Corinth. Corinth had a "high place", or acropolis, at the summit of a hill some 2,000 feet above the city. It was here that the temple of Aphrodite (the Greek goddess of love) was found. This temple employed 1,000 priestesses who worked as "religious" prostitutes. The church in Corinth had been founded by Paul on his 2nd missionary journel (Acts 18:1). Apostle Paul stayed and ministered, preached, and taught for a 1 1/1 years. After he left them in the care of some newly trained leaders, he began to hear reports of thier problems with sin. He wrote them 3 letters with 1 Corinthians being the second of the 3 letters. The first letter, or epistle, was lost to history but is referred to in 1 Corinthians 5:9.
Paul is writing to correct some of their wrong ideas and sinful behaviors. He gives them basic teaching on how wrong beliefs can affect their behaviors and lead to sinful lifestyles. In our passage today, Apostle Paul reminds us that we are Christians who are different from the world. We are no longer citizens of this world. They weren't Greek, Roman, Corinthian...they were Christians. As Christians, today, we aren't American, South Carolinians...we are Christians. We have citizenship in a New World called God's Kingdom. We are His adopted children and therefore are His princes and princesses. We are also His representatives or ambassadors on this earth. We represent God and God's Kingdom to this world.
Philippians 3: 20
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,
Ephesians 2: 19-20
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone,
The Apostle Paul corrects their beliefs and reminds them they are children of God, as one who is eternally secure in Christ, as one whom He promises to care for in this life, as one who is called to the high privilege of representing Him in this world. Do you think this view of yourself would make any difference in your values and behavior?
He lists those abominable, sinful behaviors and then...
I Corinthians 6: 11
And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
We have been washed by the blood and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We have been sancitified, which means set apart for holy use. We have been justified by Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit. We are no longer in debt to sin because Jesus paid the price. We have a new standing before God, in which the Christian is now clothed in Christ's righteousness. When we become Christians the Holy Spirit comes to live in our hearts and begin changing us from the inside out, maturing our own newly born spirit. We begin to learn about our relationship with God and our new standing as His children. We begin to understand our Father and His Word. It begins to change our thinking and then it is worked out by changes in our behavior, our habits, our character.
The Apostle Paul goes all the way to their identity and tells them they've forgotten who they are. His point is: Remember your new identity in Christ and live consistently with it! If our lives are not changing, if our behavior does not reflect the Holy Spirit's work, then we may be living in false security thinking we are saved when we aren't. Sin's total domination over us is broken when we become saved. It should be replaced with new behaviors of obedience and holiness, transformation and new direction.
This does not mean we are perfect or sinless. We have not "arrived" until we get to heaven. But we should be slowly maturing, learning, growing and it should be reflected in our lives, our lifetsyles, our habits, our character.
In spite of their serious sinful behavior, Paul insists that their identity has changed ("such were some of you"), and he insists that they have been completely forgiven ("washed"), set apart as God's children ("sanctified"), and declared righteous in God's eyes ("justified"). Far from threatening their standing with God because of their sins, he affirms the security of their standing with God in spite of their sins! How can this be? Because our standing with God is never based on our work for him, but always and only on Christ's work for us—and our willingness to receive it.
You don't have to change your moral life before you can come to Christ; you have to come to Christ the way you are before your moral life can be changed. Paul understands that our behavior and values tend to be a reflection of how we view ourselves.
In 1 Corinthians 5, Apostle Paul had directed them to punish heinous sins among themselves by church-censures. I.e. excommunicating an unrepentant Christian, disassociating from those who have a consistent pattern of sin even though they call themselves Christians. Action against unrepentant sin was to put this unrepentant Christian out of their church as a divine chastening for their sin. We should not tolerate such sin in our church because it brings an evil influence to permeate the whole church and corrupt it. It is also a bad witness of the church's reputation and Jesus' reputation. The church should remove anything sinful in order to prove that we are separate from the old life of sin. We are new creatures in Christ Jesus and the old ways of sin should no longer control us. Paul says that this censure will hopefully lead an unrepentant person to repentance and restoration to the church. It was not meant to be cruel and hateful, but a necessary action that was for the greater good. In 2 Corinthians the sinner had repented and Paul encouraged the church to take the person back into fellowship.
1 Corinthians 5
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles-that a man has his father's wife! And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner-not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore "put away from yourselves the evil person."
Now that we've rounded out the context of this scripture lets discuss what 1 Corinthians 6 means to our life. As Christians, can we use the secular courts to settle our disputes? Are we disobeying God if we bring lawsuits against others?
The Apostle Paul directs them to determine controversies with one another by church-counsel and advice. Conflict resolution is important and how we, as Christians, do it can be a major witness to the world or a major disaster that brings discredit to the church and Jesus Christ.
Romans 12: 14, 17-21
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse...Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. Therefore "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Of all people, Christians should be the most adept at reaching peaceable resolutions for their conflicts. Of all people Christian leaders, the Pastors, Elders, Preachers, Theologians, should be especially gifted at conflict resolution. For good or for ill they lead by their example. We don't want our testimony for Christ to bring reproach to His Name. Never let it be said, "They are suppose to be Christians and yet look at how they behave. They are just a bunch of hypocrits."
To the unsaved, our behavior is under a microscope, looking for faults so that they will have an excuse not to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. To the immature or new believers, our behavior is an example that they watch carefully and we do not want them to learn sinfulness by our example. Or course, we will NEVER be perfect until we reach heaven and we will always make rash mistakes or fall into sinful behavior which ultimately makes us the hypocrits people say we are. But it should be our priority to check ourselves regularly and repent of our sins and try to behave the way that God would have us behave. Sin should not be a pattern in our lives, a habit, a recurring, persistent character flaw. We have weaknesses towards sin but it no longer has to control us. We are able to repent and trust God to continue strengthening us.
We must understand our position with God and with the church and realize how our sinfulness affects not just us, our relationship with God, our family and our family in Christ but it also affects the unsaved. If we realize how important it is, then we would realize it may be better for us to suffer injustice than to bring disgrace upon the Christian community by exposing misdeeds in the public arena of secular courts. That doesn't mean we should tolerate sin (see above) or hide sinful behavior but we should be able to work out our own discipline and bring mediation through Christian counselors. And, if we must suffer loss, it's better to do that and leave it in the hands of God to resolve the problems in His way.
Matthew 18: 15-18
"Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.' And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.
Romans 13: 1-8
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.
As far as it lies within us, we should be forgiving and turn the other cheek. We should go the extra mile to try and resolve conflicts through Christian arbitration. We should humble ourselves, even if it means taking a loss, so that things don't get out of hand. We should trust God to take care of conflicts and to repay us in His way and in His time. We should follow peaceful avenues to bring resolution and then drop it when even that doesn't seem to work. We can be firm and yet Christ-like in our behavior, never resorting to cursing, shouting, fingerpointing, blaming, out of control anger, unforgiveness, hatred, slander, etc.
But are there times when Christian can, or even should, pursue matters in a secular court? This is something we should only enter into with much prayer and searching of our souls. Because it is our motives that are looked on by God. Are we suing someone just to get a lot of money...our greed and selfishness are sinful motives. Are we pressing charges against someone because of hatred and unforgiveness? These are sinful motives. Are we pursuing someone with the law just because we want them to pay, punish them, want to hurt them? These are sinful motives. So carefully, prayerfully check your own heart and your own motives. And, continue to check your heart and keep it clean of impure motives during this testing.

Titus 3: 1-2
Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men.
1 Peter 2: 11-17
Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men-as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
God has ordained civil government to establish a system of courts for conflict resolution. These courts are responsible, and Christians do not sin when they employ the courts for protection. Traditionalists say Christians must not sue another brother because we are to love our enemies, do good to those who persecute us, pray for our adversaries, and not resist the evildoer. We are to suffer the wrong, turn the other cheek and be as submissive as our Lord, who during His trials did not fight back but took the blame. Vengeance belongs to God, not us.
These general principles would prevail concerning court action, except that none of the above addresses litigation and legal disputes when a Christian breaks the law. "Turn the other cheek" is applicable if a Christian employed the courts for personal vengeance to get back at a hated enemy. If someone steals your car, Christians may have the offender charged, arrested and ultimately brought to trial, doing all of these things without malice or personal vengeance. This is not unscriptural, for the legal system is, after all, a servant, a friend, and a "minister of God for good" (Rom. 13:4). We may use lawful means to protect ourselves and others.
God is in the balance. In all things there is a balance to be sought. Carefully, prayerfully take your matters to God. Cleanse your own heart of sin and pursue only as God leads. Be willing to humble yourself if need be. And let God work what is right in each situation. Your peace of heart and clean conscience is worth more than any money to be had through lawsuits. But you can use the courts to protect yourself and others.

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