Issue #205 -------
August 21, 2005
You must remember that some things that
are legally right are not morally right.
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
I really appreciate the spirit of the above quote from "Honest Abe," our 16th President of the United States. It was a remark made to a prospective client whose case he had just turned down. Lincoln refused the case because it involved a $600 claim against a widowed woman with six children. The client was legally justified in his claim, but, in Lincoln's view, was not morally justified in seeking satisfaction against a poor widow with six hungry children to feed. Another great American leader, General Robert E. Lee (1807-1870) wrote in a personal letter to James Alexander Seddon, "I think it better to do right, even if we suffer in so doing, than to incur the reproach of our consciences and posterity." Both these men, in proclaiming their convictions, evidenced godly wisdom. The biblical principle has always been: 'Tis better to suffer personal wrong, even when in the right, than to demand one's rights when, in so doing, much greater harm than good is accomplished. The apostle Paul stated the principle well when he wrote, "All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor" (1 Cor. 10:23-24). As members of Christian community, we must often consider the greater good, a greater good which includes our witness, both verbal and visible, to those who are outside.
Sometimes, however, the disciples of Jesus Christ lose sight of the greater good and turn their focus inward. The symptoms of such are varied, but Paul deals with one of them in 1 Cor. 6:1-8. Brethren were litigating against brethren, and this was being done "before unbelievers" (vs. 6). Their public witness for Christ was being destroyed because a few sought to pursue some personal grievance in a public court of law. The apostle Paul was absolutely appalled at their lack of spiritual maturity, and he rebuked them severely, regarding their behavior as shameful (vs. 5). Indeed, he characterized their actions as "a defeat" (vs. 7). When brethren "go to law" against brethren, no one wins!
This sister explained in her email to me that the Christian institution where her husband serves as Administrator is being sued, along with certain individuals at the institution, by a former employee over a contractual dispute. The concern of this couple is "the negative light this casts upon the church. We are extremely grieved over the repercussions this will have. It has already caused many of our spiritual family to take sides and make hurtful statements. It's very obvious that everyone loses!!" Various attempts at mediation, even through the elders of the church, have failed. Without taking sides in the litigation, since I don't know any of the particulars, all I can safely say is that this is an unfortunate situation in which much harm to all parties involved will very likely occur, and, indeed, already has to some extent! Brethren litigating against brethren rarely, if ever, leads to a positive witness to the world of the transforming power of Spirit-filled living. The troubled sister from Tennessee closes the email with the heartfelt plea, "What would God want us to do???"
First, let me share with you what I believe our Father would not want you to do. Do not let the personal hurt and frustration of being taken to court lead you to the point of feeling and displaying resentment, bitterness or even hatred toward this person or persons prosecuting you. When we allow ourselves to be reduced to the same spirit as those who oppose and oppress us, we are defeated, regardless of the legal outcome of the lawsuit in the courts. In the "court of public opinion," whenever Christians publicly eviscerate Christians it is a spectacle scripted by Satan, and the world applauds the scene of slaughter before them in the coliseum/court with sinful satisfaction. You may not be able to prevent a brother from initiating a lawsuit against you, but when such happens you can prevent your attitude from being sucked down to his or her level. When Jesus was led before the court by His brother Jews, He evidenced a more noble spirit, and even though He "lost the court case" that day, it was HE who came away the ultimate winner! Attitude is everything! Christ "left you an example for you to follow in His steps. ... while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously" (1 Pet. 2:21, 23).
Following the lead of Christ, Paul said, "When we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate" (1 Cor. 4:12-13). He then says, "I exhort you therefore, be imitators of me" (vs. 16). Nothing is gained by exhibiting the same sinful spirit as those who array themselves against us. This is not to suggest we allow ourselves to be door mats for them to wipe their feet upon, or that we simply roll over and silently submit to their injustice against us, but neither are we to reduce ourselves to their tactics and temperaments. We must demonstrate to them and to the world about us that we walk a different path than they; we "walk worthy" (Eph. 4:1) as befits our upward call in Christ Jesus. Thus, as Paul points out, our goal is to "conciliate." When a brother seeks to take you to court, seek to conciliate; settle the matter, if at all possible, away from the public arena of the courtroom where an occasion will be provided for unbelievers to further mock the Christian faith. Jesus prayed that His disciples might "all be one ... so that the world may believe" (John 17:21). Disciples going to law with fellow disciples, however, is hardly evangelistic. Therefore, seek to settle the matter away from the courts if at all possible.
The apostle Paul told the Corinthian brethren, some of whom actually were taking their Christian brethren to court before unbelievers, "Can it be that there is not one wise person among you who will be able to arbitrate between his brothers?!" (1 Cor. 6:5, Holman Christian Standard Bible). Before Christians with disputes ever take it to the courts, they should seek arbitration or mediation among fellow brethren. Most communities of believers have men or women within them who have the skills and wisdom necessary to give wise counsel and render fair judgments. These persons should be sought out. Many times the problem will be solved at this level. Unfortunately, however, as in the scenario from Tennessee, that is not always the case. Some are simply determined to pursue their grievance all the way through the court system. In such cases, those Christians being litigated against really have no choice. They are required by law, if they are the focus of the lawsuit, to appear in court and respond to the charges. Their only real alternative, and it is often a costly one, is to simply give the complainant whatever he or she wants, whether it is believed they are entitled to it or not. "As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat as well" (Matt. 5:40).
I like the way Eugene H. Peterson has rendered the statement of Paul to the Corinthian brethren in his version of the Scriptures known as "The Message." He paraphrases 1 Cor. 6:1-8 as follows: "And how dare you take each other to court! When you think you have been wronged, does it make any sense to go before a court that knows nothing of God's ways instead of a family of Christians? The day is coming when the world is going to stand before a jury made up of Christians. If someday you are going to rule on the world's fate, wouldn't it be a good idea to practice on some of these smaller cases? Why, we're even going to judge angels! So why not these everyday affairs? As these disagreements and wrongs surface, why would you ever entrust them to the judgment of people you don't trust in any other way? I say this as bluntly as I can to wake you up to the stupidity of what you're doing. Is it possible that there isn't one levelheaded person among you who can make fair decisions when disagreements and disputes come up? I don't believe it. And here you are taking each other to court before people who don't even believe in God! How can they render justice if they don't believe in the God of justice? These court cases are an ugly blot on your community. Wouldn't it be far better to just take it, to let yourselves be wronged and forget it? All you're doing is providing fuel for more wrong, more injustice, bringing more hurt to the people of your own spiritual family. Don't you realize that this is not the way to live?"
In a very insightful article titled "Why Not Rather Be Wronged?," Dr. Gordon Hugenberger noted that Christians, just like non-Christians, often hurt or wrong one another; sometimes unintentionally, sometimes intentionally. These things happen! Thus, it is not necessarily shocking to the apostle Paul that some of the brethren in Corinth have disagreements with one another. Even Paul had disagreements with brethren on occasion. "What offends him is that these members have chosen to bring their disputes before secular courts. In response, Paul asks one of the most surprising and most convicting questions anywhere in the Bible: 'Why not rather be wronged?' Any non-Christian can think of a thousand reasons why it is better not to be wronged. Anyone who is following Christ, however, is following One who chose to be wronged, rather than to wrong, and so he or she sees the problem through entirely different eyes" (from Dr. Hugenberger's web site; article dated: April 28, 2002).
Some have wrongly concluded from the above statement by Paul to the church in Corinth that Christians are forever forbidden to make any use of the courts or the judicial system to resolve legal disputes. Some cases are so complex, and involve such vast assets, that legal renderings are necessary for the protection of all parties involved. A handshake may be morally binding, but in our society it is not always legally binding. Sometimes even Christians need a court order in hand. That is just the reality of the times in which we live. The critical consideration, however, is the attitude with which such resolutions are sought, and our behavior during the public process. It should be Christ-like throughout! Yes, brothers in Christ should first seek to settle matters as family; that is, they should seek to settle it within the family. Petty squabbles should never deteriorate to public spectacles before unbelievers in the courts. Some contractual disputes, however, involve large institutions and large sums of money or property. Resolution may not be something that can be accomplished without binding court documents determining actions and outcomes for years into the future. In such cases, I find no reason Christians can't make use of the court system to secure a resolution of some legal or contractual dispute. Both parties, however, should keep in mind that they are Christians, and behave accordingly throughout the process. Resolve the matter in the courts, but remain brothers, and do NOT provide cause for unbelievers to mock the Faith by your behavior during litigation of the case.
Alice Curtis, who is an associate professor at the Regent University School of Law in Virginia Beach, Virginia, wrote an excellent article on this subject for Christianity Today in which she gave the following advice: "Am I saying that a Christian must never sue? No. There will be situations in which one has no choice but to seek legal recourse to resolve a conflict. I am saying, however, that Christian-initiated lawsuits should be rare. Moreover, if a Christian does sue, he should do so only after taking the following steps: (1) Prayerful self-examination that is not tainted by anger over the other party's actions, (2) Counsel from a trusted and neutral Christian advisor, (3) Genuine attempts at resolution using the principles laid out in Matthew 18:15-20, (4) A determination that the lawsuit can be handled with integrity and will not tarnish one's Christian witness" ("Should We File Lawsuits?," Christianity Today, vol. 45, no. 10, August 6, 2001, p. 66).
So, let's return to the question sent in by the sister from the state of Tennessee and apply the above principles to that specific situation. The situation, as best as I understand it from the brief information provided, is that a former employee is suing an institution and some of its administrators in an effort to resolve some type of contractual dispute. As I understand it, fairly large sums of money are at stake here. Although individuals are involved who happen to be Christians, yet the complaint seems to be largely with an institution, and concerning the particulars of some legal contract or arrangement. Apparently efforts were made to provide mediation within the church so as not to involve the courts, but these efforts failed. Without knowing the details of either side's case against the other, I would say this may well be the perfect example of a scenario where the courts need to be involved to sort out the intricacies of what may be some rather involved and complex contractual obligations, and then make a binding ruling that will bring legal resolution. In such cases, the courts serve a legitimate function and should be utilized if all other efforts to reach a satisfactory agreement have been exhausted.
The important point to emphasize here, for both parties in this lawsuit, is to remember that you are both Christians, and thus representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ. As you seek resolution of the matter in the secular courts, remember -- your behavior toward one another before unbelievers will be noted by them. Thus, behave honorably and nobly as befits your profession of faith in Jesus Christ, accept the resolution of the court, and walk out together as brethren united in Spirit. In so doing, you show the world a better way, a more godly spirit, in dealing with complex legal issues. In so doing, this normally negative situation may actually generate some good, as the world witnesses brethren making use of the legal system in a more brotherly manner than is commonly seen in such situations. I would ask the Reflections readers to keep these brethren in your prayers that this legal matter may be resolved in as loving a way as possible, and that the testimony of Christ in that area will not be tarnished.
From a New Reader in Australia:
Dear Brother, I have read several of your articles and would value you adding me to your mailing list. Thanks!
From a Minister in Russia:
Dear Al, I praise the Lord for your last Reflections issue on the Holy Spirit! You were absolutely correct when you wrote, "He indwells each of us in a powerful way, limited only by our own degree of willingness to submit to His leading." If we would only allow Him to manifest Himself through us we would be surprised to see what He is able to do through us! I pray that we all in Churches of Christ will study the subject of the Holy Spirit open-mindedly, forgetting our traditions and allowing God to write on a blank piece of paper. God bless you richly, brother! Keep on doing the great work!
From a Minister in India:
Dear Brother, I am very happy to study your dissertation on "Indwelling and Empowering." I have been teaching the same as you for the last 30 years, but here our beloved brethren go by "Word Only" theory. They should understand that Christianity is not theoretical but practical. Every Christian must be empowered with Godliness, Christliness, and Spiritliness. I once again thank you for your article and pray to God to empower Brother Al to teach the Aletheia.
From a Minister in New Mexico:
Thanks, Al, for an excellent discussion of the Spirit Who is God. Like the wind, the Holy Spirit goes wherever He wills, doing whatever He wills. We see the effects of the wind without seeing the wind itself. And we see what the Spirit has done, and is doing, without seeing the invisible God. Miracles? Thank God the Spirit accomplishes miracles every day! He lives!
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Al, Thanks for a great article! I also believe in a personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Those who deny this fact are on the verge of blasphemy! Thank you, brother, for your efforts!!
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
Al, That was an excellent article on the indwelling and empowering of the Holy Spirit. I believe exactly as you do. Doctors predicted my wife would be dead seven years ago. Of course, I was begging God to leave her with me for a few more years. She is still with me. I can't prove whether God did it, or if it was the expertise of medical science, but I believe that God should get the credit and thanks!
From a Reader in (Unknown):
Al, I thoroughly enjoy your Reflections articles. You have a gift of concise, logical writing. I too will soon be leading a study of Galatians. Your introduction a couple of weeks ago was great. Keep up the great work!
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, I must say that your article on the Holy Spirit was very good. I know that we do not agree on many things, but I think you got it right on this subject. I was so impressed that I prepared your article to go on my web site.
From a Reader in Ohio:
Dear Al, Needless to say, it's been a while since I have responded to your Reflections. I enjoy them all. In my humble opinion, I think your sharing regarding "Indwelling and Empowering" was about as thorough and clear as possible "in writing."
From a Reader in Alabama:
Al, I received your Reflections on "Indwelling and Empowering" earlier this evening and have read some of it. I'll read it all before I go to bed. You paid me a very high compliment by referring to me as a "beloved reader." You also paid me a high compliment by calling Alabama "great." I am proud of my native state. Thank you so very much for responding so affirmatively to my request for information about the Holy Spirit. I believe this Reflections will rank near or at the top in interest by your readers.
From a Reader in California:
Dear Brother Al, I loved your article. It is through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that we can understand the true meaning of the Scriptures. Yes, God works miraculously through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I could cite you a couple of interesting happenings, when we were trying to break free from legalism, when it could only have been the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts that caused us to "see" what we had never been able to see before. He also showed Himself to us in other ways, ways we chose to believe were miraculous -- even though both our fathers (staunch Church of Christers) said it was just "coincidence." I can't accept that it was "coincidence." Thanks again for the article. I read it through without stopping. I will read it again, no doubt.
From a Reader in Louisiana:
Al, I appreciated the article on the indwelling/empowering. I find that those who do not believe in the indwelling and guidance of the Holy Spirit also believe they have done it all on their own. If we don't allow the Holy Spirit to use us, denying even that He has an active part in our lives, then who or what else can use us? That thought scares me, given the dichotomy of good and evil. Though I think it takes great courage to pray that my body offered up to God can be indwelt by the Holy Spirit and used by Him to do good, I am beginning to think it takes greater courage, or maybe "chutzpah," to spend your life denying God's power, and trying to perform good works so that you can approach Him and say, "You owe me; I worked for You!"
From a Minister in Georgia:
Brother Al, While it is certainly true that God has the power to perform any deed He desires, I assume we both believe God can act through providence. When I pray for the sick, I pray that God may have influence through the skill of the doctors, or by whatever other natural means the desired end may be accomplished. But if, as you have stated, you believe miracles are still being performed, and you pray for such, do you pray for the resurrection of the dead? Do you pray that a person's severed limb might be reattached? Do you pray that persecuted Christians who are imprisoned in some Islamic jail might have their chains miraculously loosed? If not, why not? Is that more difficult for God than healing someone's migraine headache?!
From a Reader in North Carolina:
Very nice article, brother Al. However, I have a problem with God being a "micro-manager" ... thus, I have difficulty praying! Since God knows everything that is going to occur anyway, why pray? I know it is commanded, but I don't understand why. If God "picks and chooses" prayers to answer and people to bless and curse, then I am even more confused about Him than before. Does God cause people to lose their jobs so they will turn to Him? Does God cause a tsunami to destroy 200,000 lives to prove to people that He loves them? Does God save one child from a murderous molester and then let the other sibling die because He is trying to teach a lesson? What's the lesson, Al? I don't believe in a "micro-manager" God. I don't believe in a God who arbitrarily picks and chooses who to bless, curse, kill, save, endanger, overpower, etc.
From a Reader in Texas:
Dear Brother, Thanks for your article #204. I have read it, printed it out, and will file it in my old fashioned Baker's Textual and Topical Filing System under "Holy Spirit." A couple of comments -- (1) I guess we are always gratified to read our own words or thoughts in someone else's writings, but I was "tickled" when I read my own exact words (spoken 15 years or so ago) to a very aggressive and "pugilistic" preaching brother who, after I sat in his "church house" and listened to him teach a class on 1 Cor. 13, and then suggested to him (privately) that he might like to read some of the other ideas and interpretations of verse 8 regarding "that which is perfect," loudly and angrily asked me, "Do YOU believe that miracles still happen?" To which I replied, in a quiet, calm, loving (I hope) voice, "Yes, brother. That's why I still pray." Which were your words exactly!! (2) I have been an avid reader of brother W. Carl Ketcherside's for over 40 years, and have (with his personal help) been able to collect (and have bound) all of his Mission Messenger publications. Do you have at hand the issue and number of his paper in which the article you quoted regarding the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit appeared? Thank you, brother Al, for your Reflections on this issue. Your thoughts about the Holy Spirit's indwelling and activity are so very much like my own. Thank you for your articulate and thought-provoking way of putting those thoughts and beliefs on paper. I have come to think of you as a close, personal, much loved and respected friend.
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
Dear Bro. Al, I have only one question regarding your Reflections article "Indwelling and Empowering" --- Why did you wait so long to write it??
From a Reader in Florida:
Brother Al, For many years I have believed that Romans 8:26-27 were defining verses with regard to this subject you have addressed. His intercession for Christians in their weakness and ignorance has little, if anything, to do with the written Word! For all of the written Word that we might know, it is still necessary for the Spirit Himself to search our hearts and express utterances on our behalf that we cannot speak for ourselves.
From a Reader in Alabama:
Dear Al, I could hardly wait to get into your essay on the Holy Spirit today. Long overdue, but well worth waiting for. I have been a Christian in the Church of Christ fellowship for 47 years "with all the right credentials." But "discovering" the Holy Spirit has brought about one of the most amazing and enlightening changes in my life. We in the Churches of Christ have long overlooked this magnificent dimension of God's person. I had always thought this was too complicated and deep, and that I wasn't intelligent enough to understand Him; so I never pursued such a study. However, I found a book -- "The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace" (available through Mars Hill Bookstore in Florence, Alabama) -- by Jay Guin, who also grew up in our fellowship and who graduated from Lipscomb, and he understands our deficiency. It was a wonderful primer for folks like me, and I would recommend it to anyone who is floundering in the ignorance with which I suffered. I read it twice, and then taught a Ladies' Bible Class using it as a guidebook. The results have been incredible. I found that most within my fellowship were as ignorant as I. I have seen lives transformed in those who have come to see God's actual presence in their lives. Thank you for your part in enlightening others; I'm grateful for your gift.
From an Elder/Minister in New Jersey:
You really scare me now! I have come to respect and admire your wisdom and insight. The scholarly way you approach your study and the reasoned enlightenment you bring to the table is comforting and uplifting. What really bothers me now is that you have expressed my own beliefs on the Holy Spirit better than I could have! Thus, you are as far out in left field as I am!! You may want to reconsider some of your thoughts to separate yourself from one such as me! But seriously, brother, thank you for that article: this star shines brightly in your constellation of explanations. Thank you! Also, I believe your gift of knowledge is not to be downplayed in any way! Misunderstanding of the written Word has caused much of the division in the religious world. Your vibrant and vital ministry is what it is because of men's divisive use of the Scriptures. By the way, we're tired of your heat up here in New Jersey -- you can take it back ... and take the humidity with it! Thank you again for your gifted efforts!
From a Reader in Colorado:
I just finished reading your article on "indwelling." My own feeble opinion is that where I was raised in Arkansas, and at that particular time (the 1930-40's), people of the Church of Christ were almost afraid to teach the active, personal indwelling of God's Spirit because it might tend to identify us with (you should pardon the expression) "Holy Rollers." We naughty kids, in those years, would go to some of the "Holy Roller" meetings, sit outside, and "watch the show." I really wish we had been taught more about the personal, active part the Spirit plays in our lives. I wish I had known more about it when I was a lot younger. It would have made some of the really hard times in my life a whole lot easier to bear.
From a Reader in California:
Al, Once again -- excellent! It's always difficult to articulate the biblical perspective without invoking the emotionalism so often sparked with this topic. The church today is afraid of the Holy Spirit. The topic reeks of irrational, "Holy Roller," subjectivism. You've handled it well. By the way, why do we allow Satan to be active today, but conclude that the Spirit is on some sort of heavenly coffee break?! I'm excited to know that the Holy Spirit indwells me, and further, that He is active in my own efforts to live a faithful Christian life.
From a Reader in Alabama:
Dear Al, I started reading this article yesterday and then had to stop and finish it up today. I didn't want to skim over it too lightly. I have to say, this is one of the best articles you have written (in my humble opinion). It answers many questions I have had regarding the Holy Spirit. Growing up in Churches of Christ (41 years now) I never heard much about the Holy Spirit, and it was especially never mentioned that He dwells inside of believers. I have come to believe this, however, over the past 3-5 years. I don't see how one can come to any conclusion other than that wonderful fact when one really reads the Scriptures! It's amazing, but I look back over my life and realize there were times when the Holy Spirit was leading me and I didn't even know He existed!! Thanks as always for your study, your devotion, and your leadership in our fellowship. We need more Al Maxey's proclaiming Truth without fear!!
From an Elder in Missouri:
Al, I agree with everything you said here regarding the Holy Spirit. I have said for years that if we don't believe in God acting in our lives (by healing, guiding, leading, etc.), then we had best stop asking for these things. How can we deny the plainly spelled out words of the NT that state He does dwell in Christians? What a sad existence there is for those who thusly deny, resist and quench the Holy Spirit. However, they too are our brethren and hopefully some day they will see what they have been missing. One of the members of the class I teach on the Holy Spirit said, "The wonderful thing is that these unfortunate Christians have the Holy Spirit as a gift dwelling in them even if they don't know or believe it!" A major contributor in the lack of study and understanding of this subject lies in the fear many have about it. Foy E. Wallace wrote a book on the Holy Spirit many years ago, and in it is a statement that says in brief that the Holy Spirit could not actually dwell in a human being for the body would explode! Sad that such a studied man in many areas fell short in this very wonderful subject. Some also fear that if we even talk about the Spirit we will be like the "Pentecostals." Also, thank you for your kind definitions of the liberal/conservative. I have at various times been called a rank liberal and an ultra-conservative on the same day and often about the same topic of discussion. I have concluded that this simply means that I am in the middle on these controversial topics, and I think that is a good place for me -- not extremist in any fashion! Keep up the good work.
From a Minister in New Mexico:
Dear Al, Your Reflections continue to encourage me, giving me hope that our great brotherhood will soon see the light and learn what it means to be truly free in Christ.
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