Can a Christian sue someone for damages according to the Bible?
Can a Christian sue someone according to the Bible? If someone has hurt us, can we hurt them by suing them? How should we understand “an eye for eye, and a tooth for a tooth” in Matthew 5:38? That is, can I sue someone according to the Bible?
Can a Christian Sue Other Christians?
The answer to the question is found in 1 Corinthians 6. The first part of the chapter asks a series of questions.
Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life? So if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? 1 Corinthians 6:1-4 (NASB)
These questions reveal that the Holy Spirit is teaching that lawsuits between believers should never occur in the secular courts of nations, since believers will some day judge both the world and angels. This implies that disputes between believers can be resolved if the case is presided over by another believer. Lawsuits between believers in secular courts are prohibited by this scripture.
The next verse tells us that believers should be ashamed to go before a civil judge. Any legal action should be decided by a very wise believer.
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, but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? 1 Corinthians 6:5-6 (NASB)
In most churches this wise Christian would most likely be one of the church elders (or the case could be heard by the board of elders). He or they would hear the complaint from the accuser and the response from the accused. The parties would have to agree to be bound by the elder’s decision. He would make the final verdict and both believers would have to willingly submit. That is the biblical pattern that the Holy Spirit established through the apostle Paul.
It Is Better For Christians To Be Defrauded
Then God encourages believers to follow a better pattern. It is better not to sue and be defrauded. That is, it is better to suffer injustice and not to take legal action against another believer.
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? On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud. You do this even to your brethren. 1 Corinthians 6:7-8 (NASB)
Did you notice that the Holy Spirit says “it is already a defeat for you”? They had already violated God’s standard of the heart by suing other believers in a secular court. They demonstrated complete insensitivity to one another and revealed their own self-centeredness. They were already taking legal action against one another.
Can a Christian Sue Non-Christians?
In 1 Corinthians 6:8 Paul clearly rebukes them for suing “even” your brethren. Then he writes, “You do this even to your brethren.” The message is simple, Christians are not to sue others for personal gain. The Jewish religious leaders taught that vengeance was okay. But in Matthew 5:38-42, Jesus corrected their false teaching. Here are Jesus’ words,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” Matthew 5:38-42 (NASB)
Here Jesus quoted the teaching of the Pharisees and then says, “But I say . . .” Notice that Jesus says we are not to resist an evil person and him who slaps us. In fact, if someone wants to sue us, we are to give them what they want and give them more than they ask. If they ask us to go one mile, then we are to go two miles. The point is that a Christian is not to be self-centered. Jesus gave us the principle that Christians are not to sue. Can I sue someone because I have been hurt? If you are a Christian, the answer is, “No!”
The only possible condition under which a lawsuit would be biblically acceptable is when the lawsuit was for the benefit of someone else. But even then the Christian should not personally, financially benefit from the lawsuit.
The response of our hearts toward those who offend us should always be forgiveness and a willingness to be defrauded – to suffer loss. While legal action against unbelievers is not prohibited explicitly, it would appear that if we are to love our enemies as ourselves (Matthew 5:43-44) then we should be willing to be defrauded by them as well. It is better to forgive and yield!
Suggested Links:An Eye For an Eye
Love Your Enemy
Do Not Resist . . .