If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother goes to law against another and this in front of unbelievers!
The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers. (1 Corinthians 6:1-8 NIV)
However, the Bible also states, “Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits.” (Exodus 23:6) and “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; for the rights of all who are destitute; Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy (Proverbs 31:8-9).”
Your beliefs are of absolute importance to us. We recognize the difficulties discerning between the law and your faith. Seeking a claim is certainly not forbidden in the Bible. The state requires automobile owners to purchase insurance. Would it be in good stewardship to purchase insurance, yet refuse to use it? Why would one invest in something, yet refuse to reap its benefits? That is not a sign of good stewardship.
While being a biblically educated Christian, one might be uneasy about suing a defendant who has similar Christian beliefs. Nonetheless, there are other people, associations, government entities and other groups that seek profits before people. George Ready is an attorney who resolves many of his cases without lawsuits. Negligence claims, injury disputes and car accidents can occur between Christians. The Bible does not ban lawsuits. Let’s study this passage more closely.
The court system of Paul’s Corinth was based on the Roman civil system. Magistrates were elected, and they came from the local aristocratic class. These local magistrates judged civil cases. Honor and shame were the dominant social values. Winning a court case would result in gaining honor. Losing a court case would result in loss of honor.
The Corinthians civil court system was used as an avenue for gaining honor. This is nothing like using our courts to obtain compensation for injury or justice from a Judeo-Christian modern-day mindset.
Paul’s argument is well-crafted rhetoric. It is laced with references to honor and shame. However, many of these references are a reversal of Roman honor and shame. In v.1 he introduces the problem, but it is a partial introduction. Paul reveals the true purpose in v. 8 when he accuses them of doing wrong and defrauding their own brothers. In v. 9-10, Paul outlines a list of sinners who will not inherit the kingdom of God. The last item on the list is swindlers. Thus, the argument in this text is not against Christians using the court system in the pursuit of justice but rather using it as an avenue to swindle.
Moreover, if you look at this passage carefully. The kinds of cases involved in the passage are described in the text as “trivial in nature.” Suits to recover for your injury from an accident, car wreck or other situation where the acts of another have caused you serious harm are never trivial.
Paul actually resorted to law twice when he was wrongfully arrested as a Roman citizen. He also used the threat of law in Acts 16:37. When one examines the Bible carefully, there is a clear distinction between serious matters and trivial suits.
Further, these types of serious disputes are rarely actually “between believers.” In most cases, the responsible party has purchased insurance to protect themselves when they commit a negligent act or cause an automobile accident. It is rare for any case to cost an insured person any money personally.
Much of our civil injury law (called “tort law”) is actually based on Bible verse. Remember that in the Book of Exodus a person would be held liable for having a dog that was known to bite or a bull that was known to be vicious. If a person created a situation that is known to be dangerous then he would be liable for the damages (Exodus 21:33). Many other situations resulting in injury to another caused by actions of someone also resulted in financial responsibility in the Bible.
Finally, the negligent person or business has a responsibility as well. If not for lawsuits, we would still have dangerous vehicles on the road, medicines that killed people instead of helping them and the very wealthy would never be responsible for injuries they cause.
As you can see, the Bible does not forbid lawsuits, but it gives us much direction. We should follow those directives but then proceed to protect our rights and make recovery for our injuries if following those directives doesn’t result in a satisfactory conclusion with your fellow Christian.