Should Christians Litigate?
Foremost in the mind of any Christian who faces a legal challenge is whether or not they should in fact take a Christian brother or sister to court?
Many times in my career as a lawyer, Christians have approached me to sue family members, to sue people who are in the same fellowship with them, or people who they know also submit to the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ. Without fail, they would tell me that they are suing because it is a matter of principle for them, and not about the money. Without fail, these very same people would, at the end of the process, feel let down regardless of whether or not they were successful in the outcome of the matter.
There is however not a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, to sue or not to sue. God has created governmental structures, and God has, from the earliest times, put laws into place to govern the earth. Nowhere in God’s Word does God undermine or nullify such governmental structures and God will never violate that which He has ordained and has put in place.
If a criminal law is broken, the consequences are criminal punishment. Nowhere does the Word of God suggest that Christians who commit crimes should go unpunished. In the same vein, if a civil law is broken, for example, I accidentally bump into my neighbour’s car, I am by law obliged to compensate my neighbour. God holds people accountable for their deeds, and every action we take in life has a certain consequence.
If my neighbour is also a Christian, does it mean that I am now exonerated, and that my Christian neighbour has no redress against me for the damages that he may have suffered? Surely not!
God in His Word admonishes us as Christians not to take our cases before the worldly courts. This does not mean that the matter should not be dealt with, or that a wrongdoer should not be held accountable. It is more a matter of how the matter should be dealt with by us as Christian brothers and sisters. It is God’s desire for our lives that disputes between Christians be resolved in a Christlike fashion - in love. Our courts are certainly not designed to handle conflict between Christian brothers, nor do they have the necessary jurisdiction to do so.
You may end up having a piece of paper, a ‘judgment’ in your favour from the courts, against your Christian brother. In order to satisfy such judgment, you have to execute the judgment by, for example, attaching the assets of such a Christian brother, regardless of the consequences.
You need to examine your own heart and your own mind before you take legal action against a Christian brother or sister – what is your true motivation? Is it perhaps retribution? Is it perhaps retaliation? Is there any unforgiveness in your heart?
If your answer to any of these questions is in the affirmative, you should not be going to court as the true desire of your heart is to see our earthly judges deal with issues that can only be dealt with by the Lord. It is the Lord who will vindicate, and it is not for you, or any earthly judge that you might want to employ, to judge another person and ‘punish’ another person on your behalf.
I am sure that many of the judges in our courts who are entrusted to settling disputes between litigants will agree with me. Our court rolls are clogged with matters that should never have been brought before them and which could and should have been resolved in brotherly love, without resentment or a desire for retribution.
I must emphasise that there is nothing wrong with using our courts, which is after all an institution ordained by God to order and give structure to society, to recover payment of a debt that is due and payable (as long as your motivation is pure and you have exhausted every other means to obtain payment in a lawful manner).
We cannot and should not approach earthly courts to deal with disputes that fall within God’s jurisdiction –issues of hurt and offence and unforgiveness. These are heart issues, and if this is the real cause of the litigation, an earthly court will never be able to satisfy you.
We can only approach the throne of God in prayer for guidance in a matter with our Christian brother or sister, if we are prepared to walk in complete forgiveness and where we do not hold any ill feelings towards that person. Take care that you do not find yourself on your own, in an earthly court, with only your earthly advocate to intercede for you!
Karien Hunter (BJuris LLB). Property law specialist and head of AMC Hunter Inc Attorneys, Notaries and Conveyancers. For more info contact 031 303 4001