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.