Questions From Readers
● Do Paul’s words at 1 Corinthians 6:1-7 mean that under no circumstances should a Christian take to court a case involving a fellow believer?—U.S.A.
The apostle Paul’s inspired admonition is: “Does anyone of you that has a case against the other dare to go to court before unrighteous men, and not before the holy ones? Or do you not know that the holy ones will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you unfit to try very trivial matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? Why, then, not matters of this life? If, then, you do have matters of this life to be tried, is it the men looked down upon in the congregation that you put in as judges? I am speaking to move you to shame. Is it true that there is not one wise man among you that will be able to judge between his brothers, but brother goes to court with brother, and that before unbelievers? Really, then, it means altogether a defeat for you that you are having lawsuits with one another. Why do you not rather let yourselves be wronged? Why do you not rather let yourselves be defrauded?”—1 Cor. 6:1-7.
Here Paul was showing the Corinthian Christians the inconsistency of taking disputes between Christians before secular tribunals. The judges would be men who were not governed by the lofty principles of God’s law and whose consciences were not trained through a study of his Word. As many of the judges at that time were corrupt and accepted bribes, Christians had little reason to believe that their judgment would be just. Paul referred to them as “unrighteous men.” Were Christians to take their disputes before such men, they would be ‘putting in as judges’ men whom the congregation looked down upon as lacking integrity.
Then, too, in taking matters before unbelievers for judgment, they would, in effect, be saying that no one in the congregation had the wisdom to judge “matters of this life” among Christians. This was wholly inconsistent with the fact that spirit-anointed Christians as heavenly associate rulers of the Lord Jesus Christ would be judging, not only men, but also angels. And by dragging fellow believers before pagan judges, they would bring great reproach upon God’s name. As outsiders would be led to believe that Christians were no different from other people in being unable to settle differences, the interests of true worship would be injured. It would have been far better for individual Christians to take personal loss rather than to injure the entire congregation by bringing their disputes to public notice.
In view of the foregoing, would dedicated Christians today go before secular courts if that were to injure the advancement of true worship or misrepresent it in the eyes of outsiders? No. Of course, as all other people, true Christians are still imperfect humans. They make mistakes, and problems arise in connection with business matters and the like. But differences of this nature ought to be settled within the congregation, for God’s Word provides the needed guidelines and there are men in the congregation who are well grounded in the Bible.
However, if a Christian refuses to correct a serious wrong when it is made clear to him by elders serving in judicial capacity in the congregation, such a one would be expelled. This is in line with Jesus’ words: “If he does not listen even to the congregation, let him be to you just as a man of the nations and as a tax collector.” (Matt. 18:17) Thus, for example, one who defrauded his Christian brother or who failed to provide materially for his wife and children would find himself outside the congregation if he did not repent.—1 Tim. 5:8.
The injured party could thereafter decide whether legal action should be taken in an attempt to force the guilty one, now disfellowshiped, to rectify matters. Of course, the injured party would want to take into consideration whether it would be worth the time and expense as well as whether the congregation could still come into disrepute by bringing to public attention the actions of one of its former members. If the wronged Christian conscientiously felt that God’s name would not be reproached and legal action was definitely needed, he would not necessarily be acting contrary to the spirit of Paul’s counsel if he were to take to court one who was no longer a part of the Christian congregation. Jehovah God has permitted secular authority to serve as his instrument in bringing lawbreakers to justice, and in this case the one wronged would be availing himself of legal help after exhausting the intracongregational means to have the wrong corrected.—Rom. 13:3, 4.
There may even be times when Christian brothers conscientiously feel that they could go to court with fellow believers. This might be to obtain compensation from an insurance company. In some countries the law may specify that certain matters have to be handled in a court, such as wills that may have to be probated by courts. But this does not create adverse publicity or bring reproach upon the congregation. In handling such legal matters that would not affect the congregation adversely, Christians can be governed by what they consider to be best under the circumstances.
However, if any member of the Christian congregation, without regard for the effect of his action on the good name of the congregation, ignores the counsel from God’s Word on this matter, such one would not be “free from accusation” as a Christian. He would not be one who has “a fine testimony from people on the outside” of the congregation. (Titus 1:6; 1 Tim. 3:7) He surely would not be an example for others to imitate, so this would affect the privileges that he might have in the congregation.