Legal Matters 2

1 Corinthians 6 1-11 a

Q. You said it was ok to take the dishonest contractor to court, but what about 1 Co 6? Didn’t Paul discourage lawsuits there?

A. First, let’s see what 1 Co 6:1-8 say:
1 Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints?
2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts?
3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life?
4 So if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church?
5 I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren,
6 but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers?
7 Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?
8 On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud. You do this even to your brethren.

I did not quote 1 Co 6 because I did not think it applied to the inquirer’s case. Observe the following:
Who: neighbor (v 1), saints (v 1, 2), brethren (v 5, 8), brother (v 6 twice). Paul was talking about believers as plaintiff and defendant.
What: go to law (v 1, 6), lawsuits with one another (v 7), constitute law courts (v 2). This refers to Christians suing each other before unbeliever judges. It also refers to the lack of wise Christians competent to constitute law courts (v 2) and sit as judge to decide cases (v 5).
How: Avoid lawsuits and rather be wronged or defrauded (v 7).
Why: The testimony of the church is at stake, because we have been justified, sanctified and washed in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of God.

The inquirer’s case involved an unbeliever contractor defrauding a believer customer. This is a straight-forward tort case, in which a wrongful act by the contractor (substitution of inferior materials) caused harm to the customer (costly repairs and replacement), and led to civil legal liability. It has nothing to do with lawsuits between Christians, nor the unavailability of mature Christians judging such grievances. The issue does not involve the reputation of the church. That’s why I did not refer to this in the discussion. Simply because the passage is about lawsuits does not mean that it applies to the current situation. We must exercise caution in applying only relevant principles to the case in hand.

Legal Matters

repent forgive 1

Q. Does Mt 5:23-26 only apply to our brethren in our real family and those in our church? Would this mean that it is ok to go to court with other people, especially a dishonest Muslim contractor? I have a dishonest contractor that substituted cheaper material and I have to swallow the tremendous cost of fixing it. Should I take it as a reprimand from God because of my past iniquities? just like God had given Judah into the hands of Babylonians. If it is so, then I should take the reprimand like an obedient child. When people insists to be paid with cash to avoid paying tax, should I avoid hiring them?

A. First let’s examine Mt 5:23-26:

Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.

Notice the following:
Who: first, it is “brother” in v 23 & 24, also twice in v 22. Then it is expanded to “opponent at law” in v 25 (twice), not just “brother”.
What: they have “something against you” i.e. you have wronged them. This is different from your case, which is “they have wronged you”.
How: first be reconciled to your brother. Deal with the grievance first.
Why: sin that is not dealt with obstructs worship; also its consequences are severe.

Now let’s see whether this applies to you. The dishonest contractor is an “opponent”; whether he is Muslim or any other faith is irrelevant. You have something against him because he substituted cheaper material. A Christian should act honorably in all matters so that others do not have something against you, but you are not at fault here, he is. Should you take him to court? That depends on many factors, not just Mt 5:23-26:

1. Your attitude:
Rom 12:17-19 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, …
The word “never” appears twice here – never pay back evil for evil, and never take your own revenge. I don’t think you are trying to do that, but only seeking justice. While we aim to be at peace with all men, sometimes it’s not possible. An example would be the widow going to the unrighteous judge in Luke 18:1-8.

2. His attitude:
Lk 17:3-4 Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
These verses address how to deal with a “brother” who sins. The principle is “if he repents, forgive him”, as forgiveness of sins is conditional upon repentance throughout the Bible. The contractor is not a brother. However, if you rebuke even a brother when he sins, shouldn’t that extend to a dishonest opponent? If he is not brought to justice, wouldn’t he continue to offend, cheat other customers, and more will suffer?

Based on what you described, I would not treat this as a reprimand from God:
Jer 31:34 They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
God forgives and “forgets”. It is true that sin always has consequences, and just as a cut would leave behind a scar even after it heals, sin has consequences even when forgiven e.g. David and Bathsheba. However, the chastisement is typically directly related to the sin, as God wants us to learn cause and effect and fits the punishment to the crime. Judah was unrepentant, that’s why God handed them to the Babylonians to teach them to repent.

I would avoid merchants who insists on being paid in cash to avoid paying taxes, as this betrays dishonesty. If he cheats on taxes, he can cheat on labor and materials as well. Sometimes contractors would quote a price including taxes (i.e. give a discount by absorbing the taxes themselves) to compete for the business, but that’s different from intending to evading taxes in the first place.