Is it biblical to sue someone? Is it permissible for Christians to sue other Christians? What does the Bible say about believers who have disputes and whether they should bring each other to court to sue one another?
Lawsuits Among Believers
Apparently, the church at Corinth had a huge problem of division. This was despite the fact that the church, the Body of Christ, is one body of believers who ought to be in unity with one another. First Corinthians chapter 6 is where Paul directly addresses this issue. Many in the Corinthian church were apparently in such dissension that they were actually taking each other to court rather than what God commands should be taken before the church or should be settled by a brother or sister between the disputing parties.
Church members sing the hymn, “Oh How I Love Jesus” while at the same time we do not show that we love one another. Jesus told believers that we should love one another as He has loved us (John 13:34). He commanded Christians everywhere, in a new commandment, that we should love each member of the body of Christ. Jesus did not mean that we are to love only those who are lovable or those who deserve it but that we should love all members of His body (the church). Jesus first loved us while we were still enemies and He loved us – the unlovable (Rom 5:8). First John 3:14 clearly leaves no wiggle room for this command as John said, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.” This is how we know that we have eternal life – that we love our brothers and sisters. John states that this is the key indicator of this indwelling, eternal life; that “anyone who does not love remains in death.”
When we hate or fight with our brother or sister, we do not love Jesus
Christians Suing Christians
How we must grieve the Holy Spirit when we fight with one another to the point of taking each other to court. How hypocritical when we sing church hymns about loving God but we don’t love the brethren. These are irreconcilable to each other. When we hate or fight with our brother or sister, we do not love Jesus. Paul must have been sick to his stomach to find out that church members were suing each other in public courts of law and these disputes were harming the reputation not only of the church but of Jesus Christ Himself.
In 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 Paul writes to the Corinthian church:
“If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? Or do you not know that the Lord’s people 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, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned 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 takes another to court—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 and sisters. Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
God Hates Division
Lets take this import chapter verse by verse and apply it to the question of whether it is right for Christians to sue each other. In verses 1 Corinthians 1:1-3, Paul says, “If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? Or do you not know that the Lord’s people 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?” (1 Tim 2:12, Luke 19:12-27, Rev 20:4).
Paul says that it is a detestable thing to take matters between church brethren before a secular, worldly, ungodly court of law (v 1). If there is a dispute between believers then these things should be brought before the church (the Lord’s people) and not before the world to decide (v 1). Christ has told us that we will reign and rule with Him someday and will even judge angels and even the world (v 2). God has said that we will be kings and priests and rule with Christ yet some Christians can not even settle matters within the church!
Paul was ashamed of such behavior saying in 1 Corinthians 1:5-6 that surely there must be someone “wise enough to judge a dispute between believers (v 6). Rather than allow matters to be settled in church, “one brother takes another to court “(v 6). Even worse, this is done “in front of unbelievers” so as to give the Church of Christ a black-eye and hurt the church’s reputation. The world will see no difference between Christians and unbelievers and think, “why should we join a group like that which is no different from the world?” The world must think, what duplicity – what hypocrisy! And who could blame them for thinking this. Jesus said that the world would know that we are believers if we love one another in John 13:34-34, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Here Jesus said that “everyone will know that [we] are [His] disciples if we love one another. Love is not suing one another. Love is forgiving one another and being willing to take wrong and not retaliating.
Christians Bringing Lawsuits Against Christians
Paul continues this theme of Christians suing Christians writing, “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 and sisters” (1 Cor 6:7-8). Paul sees us who sue other Christians as having been “completely defeated already.” He says it is much better to “be wronged” or “rather be cheated” instead of trying to sue each other over something that could be settled between believers or, in the least, be brought before the church (1 Cor 6:4).
Paul bluntly associates these frivolous lawsuits with “wrongdoers [who] will not inherit the kingdom of God”(1 Cor 6:9). Paul classifies this type of activity with “the sexually immoral…idolaters…adulterers…men who have sex with men…thieves…the greedy…drunkards…slanderers and swindlers” (1 Cor 6:9). Get that! Paul sees Christians who sue other Christians as no different than the immoral and idolatrous. Ouch! This is a very serious sin as far as God is concerned. And these types of sinners “will not inherit eternal life (1 Cor 6:9).
Is It Biblical to Sue Someone: Key Takeaway
There is no room for justifying a Christian taking another Christian to court. They do not love one another as Christ loved the church. They do not love their neighbor as themselves. They may not have even passed from death to life (John 3:14). It defiles the reputation not only of the church but of Jesus Christ Himself Who is Head of the church. God associates this type of sin with sexual immorality and this type of sin is committed by those who will not inherit eternal life (1 Cor 6:9). The conclusion is that Christians are commanded to not sue one another but settle the issue in the church since Christians will be reigning with Christ someday. How can they expect to reign in the coming Kingdom of God when they can not even settle issues with each other? God forbid.