No one wants to go to court and present or defend their actions, regardless of the side they will be standing. Disputes, however, often arise and a resolution to the matter is necessary and demanded. Even though we are not “of the world,” we are “in the world” and it is necessary to transact business “in the world.” Much prayer and consideration is demanded before a believer brings another believer before a court of law.
What is causing the dispute?
Before considering a suit against a fellow Christian, we must consider whether our action involves any element of revenge, bitterness, wrath or anger. Paul in Ephesians 4:31-32 advises us to eliminate these emotions “along with all malice.” We are to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” It is helpful to consider the root of the dispute as James 4:1 asked the question, “what causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?” The verse further alluded that our “passions are at war within [us].” If the dispute is rooted in emotion, we should allow a “cooling down period” to see if the matter resolves itself.
Just as emotions should not guide our decisions in the midst of a dispute, we are to “look not only to [our] own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). Therefore, we are to consider whether a court action will have an overly detrimental effect on the offending party. Sometimes victory or a declaration of judgment is not worth the award or the cost.
Can it be resolved between you two?
In Matthew 5:25, we are advised to “come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison.” We must realize our contributory actions may be brought up in the event a dispute is brought to court. For example, if a drunk patron slams a barstool over our head, we will have to testify that we too were present at the bar.
Paul went into great detail when he explained the proper course of action when a dispute arises between believers. In 1 Corinthians 6:1-11, he gave a discourse as to the reasons we should avoid having the courts resolve disputes among the brethren. He advised that believers should attempt to resolve the matter among themselves. He explained the saints are to be the judges of the world and if we reverse the roles, “are [we] competent [enough] to try trivial cases?”
Can it be resolved by the church?
He further reasoned, “why do [we] lay them before those who have no standing in the church?” Christians are to avoid the shame of bringing a matter against a brother in the court of law. He proclaimed that filing such a matter “is already a defeat” and it is better to suffer the wrong or be defrauded than to resort to this action.
In the gospel of Matthew 18:15-17, we are instructed “if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” A calm discussion of the event can often quickly resolve a contentious dispute. However, if this fails to diffuse the matter, we are to “take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.”
Can it be resolved by a mediator?
Mediation is a common means of alternative dispute resolution. A non-interested independent party is commonly able to “talk some sense” into one of the parties. If the matter is still in dispute after this small group discussion, we can then “tell it to the church.” This sort of practice was once commonplace. The church is not only able to determine any repute upon the church, but also the merits of the matter. If all of these efforts fail in resolution, we can “let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
Court action against a fellow brother or sister in Christ is to be avoided. The matter should first be attempted to be resolved solely between the parties. Then, it is recommended that the parties be assisted by other Christians as intermediaries. If the dispute still cannot be resolved, the matter is to be brought in front of the church for resolution. If the church is unwilling or unable to quash the contention, the matter can be taken before a court of law.
Photo credit: Getty Images/Chris Ryan
Chad Napier is a believer in Christ, attorney at law, wannabe golfer, runner, dog lover, and writer. He enjoys serving his church as a deacon and Sunday School teacher. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and at his golf devotion par3sixteen.com. He and his wife Brandi reside in Tennessee with their canine son Alistair.