“For I, the LORD, love justice. I hate robbery and wrongdoing.” Isaiah 61:8 NLT
The following narrative’s origin, while birthed out of an actual dispute amongst Christians and Christian organizations, does not pertain to any specific situation. Rather, I have endeavoured to take a fresh, Biblical look at what Christians should do when Christian to Christian negotiations fail and justice has not been served. The fundamental question being addressed here is, “Should Christians take other Christians to court; specifically secular courts?”
As you read through these thoughts please do so with your Bible at hand.
While grappling with this issue I have had to contend with supposedly Bible-based and/or church traditions, and with serious questions such as “How can God possibly be glorified through this?” Seeing as it is the most important, I will try and answer the last question first.
I have struggled through many sleepless nights trying to discern whether actions being taken are appropriate. Yet, it was when I was challenged by this most fundamental question of all, “How can God be glorified through this situation?”, that I realized the course of action decided upon could and hopefully will bring glory to God.
I have become convinced that God can be glorified through difficult and sometimes controversial situations by:
- Being obedient to God’s leading as we discern it through His Word, prayer, the Holy Spirit, affirming circumstance and His people (none being acted upon in isolation of others).
- How we conduct ourselves in any specific matter. Holding one’s head high (as in trusting God), not falling into the trap of spreading rumours, exaggeration or speaking untruths, etc.
- Opposing and exposing evil.
- Seeking justice, especially for the orphan and widow.
- Carefully and faithfully upholding what we learn in Scripture and applying it in context.
- Not becoming judgemental. God is the judge and will have the final say in any given situation.
- Trusting God to defend one’s cause when others falsely accuse or spread lies, rumours and innuendos.
- Praising God and giving Him glory regardless of any specific outcome.
I further believe that when a Christian(s) finds him or herself in an adversarial situation he or she can wave the banner of godliness and be an encouragement and example to those who have likewise been oppressed and/or wrongfully treated by others within the body of Christ. The more I have meditated on these matters the more I have become convinced that those who are unjustly treated need to be defended in the presence of God and man. It is a serious relinquishing of Biblically ordained responsibilities by Church leaders who fail to seek and uphold justice. God did not call us to be dish rags – simply wrung out and thrown away. No! God Himself is the greatest proponent of justice – Jesus sacrifice is absolute evidence of that. Peacemaking [Matthew 5:9] should not be confused with seeking justice [Isaiah 1:17]. The difference is often overlooked to the detriment of the church.
This brings us to the second major topic, contending with traditions.
Two key passages of Scripture are repeatedly quoted in situations where there is conflict within the body of Christ; Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 6:1-7. In both instances as I have read and re-read these passages in context a whole new understanding has been realized. The importance of having a Berean attitude is of paramount importance. Verses or passages of Scripture read and quoted in isolation and out of context can establish dangerous precedents not supported elsewhere in Scripture.
The narrative in Matthew 18 actually starts off with disciples asking Jesus who will be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven and ends with Jesus telling Peter the parable of the unmerciful servant; the issue of ‘if a brother sins against you’ is placed in the middle of this extensive narrative. Having reflected on my personal experiences, I found myself more and more identifying with the servants in verse 31, “So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done.” In 1 Corinthians Paul chastises the church for their gross behaviour including sexual immorality, etc. One of the offences that grieved Paul was taking their brothers to court over ‘trivial matters’ (6:2). The words ‘trivial matters’ must not be overlooked and be used as an argument against taking appropriate action in the secular judicial system when matters of a serious legal or criminal nature arise.
Paul appealed more than once to the legal system, exercising his right to defend himself under Roman law (Acts 16:37–40; 18:12–17; 22:15–29; 25:10–22). In Romans 13 Paul taught that God had established legal authorities for the very purposes of upholding justice, punishing wrongdoers, and protecting the innocent.
The following are just a selected few of the hundreds of passages of Scripture concerning God’s perspective on seeking, applying and upholding justice:
The significance of justice
Isaiah 9:7 "Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this."
Psalm 89:13 "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; mercy and truth go before Your face."
Proverbs 1:2-5 "To know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding, to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, judgment, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion— a wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel,..."
You will note that there are thirteen imperatives in the following two passages.
Isaiah 1:16-17 “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow."
Psalm 82:2-4 "How long will you judge unjustly, and show partiality to the wicked? Selah. Defend the poor and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy; free them from the hand of the wicked."
Deuteronomy 16:18 “You shall appoint judges and officers in all your gates, which the LORD your God gives you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with just judgment."
See also Romans 13: 1-7 below.
Deuteronomy 27:19 ‘Cursed is the one who perverts the justice due the stranger, the fatherless, and widow.’ [One can ‘pervert justice’ by simply failing to provide it.]
2 Samuel 8:15 So David reigned over all Israel; and David administered judgment and justice to all his people.
Psalm 10:17-18 LORD, You have heard the desire of the humble; you will prepare their heart; you will cause your ear to hear, to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may oppress no more.
Isaiah 56:1 Thus says the LORD: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for My salvation is about to come, And My righteousness to be revealed.”
The Neglect of justice
Isaiah 1:21-22 How the faithful city has become a harlot! It was full of justice; righteousness lodged in it, but now murderers. Your silver has become dross, your wine mixed with water.
The secular judicial system has been established by God
Romans 13: 1-7 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honour to whom honour.
This viewpoint is further reinforced in 1 Peter 2:13, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king who has supreme authority, or the governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong...”
As one considers a choice and course of action in a dispute or confronting an adversary, one should ensure that prudent steps have been taken:
- Endeavour to find a ‘peaceful’ solution. Matthew 5:9
- Seek the counsel of the wise and godly. Proverbs 9:9
- Study the Scriptures so that you can be confident in your actions. Acts 17:11
- Present your petition to God. Philippians 4:6
- Seek professional [legal] counsel so that you can act knowledgably and wisely. Proverbs 4:7
- Be prepared to submit your case to a tribunal of godly Christians and accept their judgement. 1 Corinthians 6:4
Having endeavoured to follow through on each of these steps, the right action may be to plead your case before the judicial courts so that your case may be determined by those who are skilled and knowledgeable in law to make a right judgement.
Even though you may be willing to abide by the aforementioned principles one cannot necessarily force one’s adversary to do so and, though you may feel uneasy about doing so, to neglect the seeking of justice cannot be biblically justified.
Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD understand it fully. Proverbs 28:5.