Is It a Sin to Sue Someone?

Lawsuits and legal disputes between believers are unfortunately common in the church today. Many Christians wrestle with whether it is biblically permissible to sue another Christian. There are good arguments on both sides of this issue. As with all ethical matters, Scripture must be our guide.

The New Testament speaks to this issue, though not with absolute clarity. prayerful study is required to discern God’s heart on this matter. We must approach it with humility, recognizing that godly Christians can and do disagree.

Key Takeaways:

  • Lawsuits between believers should be an absolute last resort after all other reconciliation efforts have failed.
  • Christians are called to resolve disputes within the church, not in secular courts.
  • However, the Bible does not strictly forbid Christians from using the legal system for legitimate disputes.
  • Christians must balance grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation with justice, restitution, and protecting the innocent from harm.
  • Christians should get counsel from spiritual leaders before suing another believer.
  • If a lawsuit is necessary, the motive and conduct during litigation must be biblical.
Is It a Sin to Sue Someone?

New Testament Guidance

Several New Testament passages address Christians settling disputes in secular courts. The most relevant are:

1 Corinthians 6:1-8:

“Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers!

Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated? No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren!” (NKJV)

1 Corinthians 6 strictly prohibits Christians from settling disputes within the church in secular courts. Such quarrels should be resolved within the church body and its leadership. Engaging in the litigiousness of the world reveals a heart of unbelief. It brings shame to the testimony of Christ.

Believers ought to demonstrate greater wisdom, grace, forgiveness, and love for one another. The willing acceptance of wrongs preserves the unity and witness of the church in a world filled with strife and contention.

However, this passage does not forbid the use of the courts for just causes outside disputes between believers. The main thrust is settling issues among Christians in a loving and peaceful manner.

Matthew 18:15-17

“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” (NKJV)

This passage gives Jesus’ instructions on resolving conflicts between believers. The process begins privately between the parties. If unresolved, church leadership should arbitrate. Only after the church’s attempted mediation has failed does Jesus permit treating the brother or sister like an unbeliever.

This implies the involvement of secular authorities is justifiable only after the church has completed its due diligence. Even then, the heart and motives must be pure, not vengeful. The goal remains repentance, reconciliation, and restoration of the relationship.

Romans 12:17-21

“Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

This passage gives strong cautions against Christians taking up offenses. Believers must lean toward grace and forgiveness, not retaliation. Vengeance belongs to God alone. We overcome evil with good by caring for those who wrong us.

However, refusing to avenge oneself does not prohibit appropriate legal recourse, especially when protecting the innocent from harm. The focus is on heart motives of bitterness, hatred, and revenge. A lawsuit might still be lawful if pursued with the right heart.

Principles for Determining If a Lawsuit is Proper

Based on relevant Scriptures, I offer these principles:

  • Have you exhausted all efforts within the church to resolve the dispute? The church should arbitrate matters between believers whenever possible.
  • Is your motive to punish or take revenge on the other party? Any sense of vengefulness disqualifies a lawsuit. It reveals pride and an unforgiving heart.
  • Are you suing out of anger or to defend your rights at all costs? As believers, we surrender our rights to God. Anger and entitlement have no place in this decision.
  • Will the lawsuit cause immense damage to the church’s witness and the name of Christ? If so, it is ill-advised regardless of other factors.
  • Is the lawsuit absolutely necessary to protect the innocent, especially those who cannot defend themselves? If so, it may be justified and even required of us.
  • Have you sought much counsel from spiritual leaders? Their godly wisdom should guide you in this difficult situation.
  • Are you fully convinced in your own conscience this is an appropriate step after much prayer? If doubts remain, do not proceed until gaining full peace.
  • If the other party is a non-Christian, have you carefully considered the message you are sending to them about Christ? How can you conduct yourself in a way that will point them to the gospel?
  • Are you willing to show extraordinary grace and forgiveness during the legal process? You must conduct yourself in a loving manner throughout.

I caution against dogmatically declaring it a sin when a fellow believer feels a lawsuit is their only recourse against a serious injustice. However, such actions must be exercised with much care, counsel, prayer, and a heart of humility and grace.

Above all, even if you proceed legally, continue to seek whatever reconciliation and restoration remain possible between you and the other party. Lawsuits between Christians should always be surrounded by love and bathed in prayer.

Objections Some May Raise

Some Christians oppose the idea of believers ever suing each other under any circumstances. They offer arguments such as:

1. 1 Corinthians 6 forbids it. As noted above, 1 Corinthians 6 prohibits lawsuits between believers within the church but does not necessarily apply to other disputes. The passage strongly emphasizes keeping disputes internal to preserve the church’s witness.

2. Christians should always turn the other cheek. While Scripture calls us to bear wrongs patiently, this does not preclude legitimate use of the legal system in extreme cases to protect ourselves or others from harm. Turning the cheek does not require enabling abuse or other evils.

3. We should let God take vengeance, not seek it ourselves. Absolutely. Any lawsuit pursued from a position of wanting to “get even” or punish is wrong. However, seeking reasonable justice or protection through lawful means is not forbidden. Our motivation makes all the difference.

4. Lawsuits between Christians always make the church look bad. Ideally, Christians would never have grounds to sue one another. When disputes arise, we ought to reconcile matters within the body of Christ. However, in a fallen world, believers still commit grave sins against each other. After internal reconciliation efforts are exhausted, legal action may be required as a last resort, though still undesirable.

5. Christians should be willing to let offenses go and forgive. Forgiveness is required, but it does not prevent taking actions to restrain wrongdoing or seek a just resolution when serious issues are unresolved. Forgiveness and reconciliation do not require total inaction against injustice.

6. The Bible tells us to live at peace with one another. This is certainly the ideal. But when a fellow Christian gravely sins against another and will not repent, reconciliation becomes impossible until the issues are addressed. After the church attempts to arbitrate, legal recourse may be the only path to ultimately restore peace and safety.

7. Christians cannot judge others. While individual believers have no authority to condemn others’ souls, God does grant civil government and legal authorities the power of judgment in this age. Christians serving in those roles (judges, police, lawyers, etc.) make lawful judgments to restrain evil. When all else fails, private citizens may use the courts to resolve otherwise unaddressed injustices between believers.

The arguments against Christians settling disputes through secular courts carry much wisdom that must be heeded. Reconciliation within the church should be pursued wholeheartedly. Lawsuits between believers are almost always a tragic outcome that makes the gospel look unattractive.

However, after exhausting all biblical means of resolution guided by spiritual leadership, believers may still have grounds to pursue legal action in extreme cases with the right motives and conduct.

How to Proceed If Choosing to File Suit

If after much prayer, counsel, and introspection you feel compelled in clear conscience to take a fellow believer to court, proceed with utmost caution. I urge the following:

First, continue appealing to the other party for reconciliation outside the courts, seeking mediation if necessary. Filing a lawsuit should be the absolute last resort, not the first response.

Second, maintain an attitude of grace and humility throughout the legal process. Do not speak ill of the other person or make unnecessary adversarial demands. Act in kindness.

Third, retain legal counsel who shares your Christian values and will represent you with integrity. Some lawyers stir up animosity between parties. Avoid that toxicity.

Fourth, express to your lawyer a strong desire for settlement or mediation. Make it clear you want to avoid protracted litigation, if possible. Be willing to compromise to reach agreement.

Fifth, do not discuss the other person’s sins publicly. Protect their reputation as much as possible. Refrain from gossip about the suit. Don’t bring reproach upon Christ’s name.

Sixth, make the congregation aware of the situation, preferably before filing the suit. Ask them to pray for you both to reach reconciliation. Transparency prevents nasty surprises.

Seventh, continue attending church as normal. Be willing to worship alongside the other party. If they avoid you, reach out in love periodically. Let your heart remain open to mend the relationship.

Eighth, maintain close counsel with church leadership throughout the lawsuit. Heed their continued guidance. Allow them to hold you accountable for your conduct and motivations.

Lastly, do not take any legal victory as an opportunity to belittle the other person. Show them the grace and mercy God has shown you. Seek to restore fellowship, not permanently sever the relationship.

Even if a lawsuit seems biblically defensible, proceed with much caution and counsel. Bathe the process in prayer from beginning to end. Above all, keep an open heart toward reconciliation and fellowship with the other believer.


Lawsuits between Christians are usually unwise and reflect poorly on the church. Every other avenue of resolving the dispute should be pursued within the body of Christ. Secular courts must be a last resort after the church’s efforts have failed. Even then, prayerful caution is essential, and conduct during litigation should be above reproach.

While the Bible gives principles governing this, devout believers differ on whether Scripture strictly forbids Christians ever suing each other under any circumstance. Humility is required. We must follow the Spirit’s leading for our specific situations.

Ultimately, Jesus calls us to sacrificial forgiveness and grace toward those who wrong us. Our deepest desire should be reconciliation and restoration with those we are at odds with. While some lawsuits might be lawful, they seldom lead to healing and fellowship. Let us choose the higher road of love.

I pray these principles will help you navigate these difficult waters if ever faced with this dilemma. Seek much counsel and stay sensitive to the Spirit’s wisdom. Above all, keep your heart humble and open to reconciliation, even amid strife. The watching world will know we are His disciples by our love.

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