How should a Christian conduct himself when his offender is sued? Should he forgive him?
From the outset it is important to understand that …
We can not take our brothers to secular courts
In the I Epistle to Corinthians the Apostle Paul wrote this:
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? 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? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life? 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? 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, but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? 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? On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud. You do this even to your brethren. (1 Corinthians 6:1-8)
Apostle Paul called secular courts unrighteous judgments and Christians who have disagreements with each other should not go before that court, but they should be tried by the church. As long as someone is a member of a church and has a conflict with another member of the church, the court must be made in the church and both of them must comply with the ecclesiastical trial decision. If he does not comply with this judgment and dwells on his injustice, he will be expelled from the church.
As for relations with the people who are unbelievers, the Scripture teaches us so …
To live in peace with all men so far as it depends on us
If a conflict appears and it usually makes people turn to public courts, we should seek to solve it so far as it depends on us in a peaceful way, not taking that man to the court. But, so far as it depends on us, because it does not always depend on us and it is not always possible to solve the conflict without addressing the court. This is how God teaches us:
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, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)(NASB)
Based on the above biblical text I want to emphasize a few important things about going to court:
- Do not take someone to court to return evil for the evil caused by him or her. If you take someone to court, you should do this to stop him from doing harm and not to pay back for his evil. If revenge is the motivation for which you took someone in court, you have already done wrong and not according to the Word of God.
- So far as it depends on you, if possible, seek to restore the relationship with that man and to do him good without taking him to court.
- Do not take your own revenge. Some people do not take their enemy to the court, because they are not satisfied with the punishment he will be given there and they decide to take their own revenge. This is in a total contradiction to God’s will. He says that vengeance is His and He will repay those who hurt us, His children.
- If your enemy is hungry, feed him and if he is thirsty, give him a drink. That means, if there is any good that you can do to him to raise his consciousness, do it. To burn coals on one’s head means to raise the consciousness of a person and make her repent for the evil she has done to you or to others.
- When the offender has done something wrong to you, do not be overcome by that evil but think about what good you can do this man – a real good, to lead him to the salvation of his soul.
I remember a friend of mine, a pastor from Romania, who was one day called by his wife who called him home urgently. His wife told him on the phone that a thief came into their home and that she called the police and neighbors rushed to help. When the pastor came, there were the neighbors who had helped to catch the thief and the thief was there, too. They were waiting for the police, and the pastor saw that the thief was a teenager living in the street, and he asked his wife to give the thief something to eat until the police came, so that he would not go hungry. As they were dinning, the pastor asked this boy more details about his life. Soon the police came and arrested him because he also had many similar crimes, the young man was sentenced to several years in prison. My friend pastor, all these years, went to prison, brought him clothes and what else he needed and said the Word of God to him, so that when the thief came out of prison he was a new man and began to live a new life and now they are good friends with the pastor and his family.
Gichin Funakoshi, the creator of Shotokan karate, said that one of his teachers was a very strong man and being in old age, one day a young man attacked him wanting to beat and rob him. The master grabbed his hand so that the thief could not release the hand that was already twisted around his back. Holding his arm back, the master took him to the first restaurant, sat down and after he ordered food he began to talk with him and find out why he decided to attack an old man and then he rebuked him. This event had a great impact in the life of the thief and he left the evil which he was used to practice.
The government has the duty to do justice
The government has been established by God and through justice God’s vengeance is administered and the offenders are punished. Here is what the Scriptures say on this subject:
Everyperson is to be insubjection to the governing authorities. Forthere is no authority exceptfrom God, and those which exist are established by God. Thereforewhoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. Forrulers are not a cause of fear forgood behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, anavenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. (Romans 13:1-4)(NASB)
Since the governing authorities were notified or know about a crime, they have the duty to punish the offender for the evil he had done. If they do not do it, then the governing authorities do not limit evil, but they contribute to its growth and spread. In the summer of 2011 a group of Italian pedophiles was identified in the city of Balti, in the North of Moldova, who molested boys and adolescents from vulnerable families. They were brought to law, but at a certain stage, the parents of those boys withdrew their statements. It is not hard to understand that criminals paid the parents of the molested and thus persuaded them to withdraw their petitions. Criminals were released and went home to Italy. If they had done this crime in Italy, they would have been applied chemical castration, while in Moldova they managed so easily to escape unpunished. Because governing authorities do not fulfill their service they have from God, the offenders were not punished. This makes evil to grow and we are horrified to see that every week more and more cases of pedophilia are presented in the media.
We must forgive everyone in our heart
The personal duty of every Christian is to forgive all people who have offended them regardless of the proportions of the crimes committed against him, and the duty of the government is to bring wrath on the one who practices evil. Forgiveness is an attitude of the heart and it must take place in the heart. There are many cases when people do not bring the offenders to justice, but they neither forgive them. Statistics say that on average every fourth woman was sexually victimized in childhood or as an adult. How many of these women brought their rapists to court? Very few. But most of them can not and do not forgive those who raped them. We can give more other examples of people whose heart is burdened with grief to people who have done wrong and whom they can not forgive. God wants to forgive everything and everyone and not burden our hearts with unforgiveness. I managed to forgive my father in my heart only after his death and after I became a Christian. What a great freedom I had in my heart when I fully forgave him. Lord Jesus said:
Whenever youstand praying,forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. [But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.”] Mark 11:25-26)(NASB)
The way we forgive others most directly affect our relationship with God and therefore we must forgive everyone, and when criminals come to be punished, we accept it not because we can not forgive or we want to take revenge on them, but to stop them from doing more evil. But we must always forgive in our heart.
Forgiveness does not mean toleration of evil
While approaching a case when discipline had to be administered to a church member, the Apostle Paul presented important truths about forgiveness. Somebody sinned in the church of Corinth and this brought sorrow to the whole church. The church, at the urging of Paul, took up an attitude, judged and punished the man and that gave a good result. Now, the Apostle Paul writes to Christians in the church the following:
But if any has caused sorrow, he has caused sorrow not to me, but in some degree—in order not to say too much—to all of you. Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. For to this end also I wrote, so that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. But one whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakesin the presence of Christ, so that no advantage would be taken of us bySatan, forwe are not ignorant of his schemes. (2 Corinthians 2:5-11)
Because the church inflicted punishment, and because the punishment achieved its purpose and brought correction, therefore, Paul now tells them to forgive and receive him back into the community of the Church, moreover, he says that they should reaffirm their love for him. If we do not forgive, says Paul, we give Satan the opportunity to take advantage of us because he who sinned could be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. But it is wrong if we forgive without punishing and without helping the man to repent of the evil he has done and correct himself, because that way we also give Satan an opportunity to take advantage of us. Here I do not mean that forgiveness that must give every man in our hearts, but the one that is connected to how we relate to him.
I do not know what reason made you want to bring your offender to court and I do not know what harm he has done, but I hope that the teaching of this article will be helpful.
Translated by Felicia Rotaru