Litigation
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

In our study of the book of Proverbs we have come to that portion of the book which is described in the words found in Proverbs, chapter 25, verse 1:

Proverbs 25:

1 These are also proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied out.

We emphasized to you in our last lesson that we designated this particular division of the book The Gleanings of Hezekiah's Men because when good King Hezekiah came to the throne, recognizing that men had long neglected the Word of God, he ordered the dusty scrolls to be brought out, uncovered and read to men who were interested in the Word. They discovered some proverbs of Solomon which were not associated with those that they had already known, so they read them, copied them and added them to the sayings which we have already been studying together.

The Gleanings of Hezekiah's Men begins with chapter 25, verse 2, and goes through chapter 29, verse 29. We reemphasize, so that you will have something to guide you in your study, that this particular section deals with five subjects. Chapter 25 presents to us unrelated comparisons. That is a number of comparisons that are not related one to the other. In chapter 26 there are given to us illustrations of fools and sluggards, the two classes of people often referred to in the book of Proverbs, speaking of open rebellion against God and that latent rebellion which might be described as spiritual indolence. In chapter 27 there is presented to us a discussion of right attitudes and relationships. In chapter 28 there is a discussion of practical righteousness, and in chapter 29 we have the power of righteousness.

The section which we designated in chapter 25 as a series of unrelated comparisons contains seven such comparisons. We noticed the first one in our last lesson when we suggested that we would think together about the king and his kingdom. We now want to think with you about the second comparison presented in the book. We are going to refer to it with the term litigation . I would like for you to notice the portion of the Word which will deal with the subject of litigation, which begins with verse 8:

Proverbs 25:

8 Go not forth hastily to strive, lest thou know not what to do in the end thereof, when thy neighbour hath put thee to shame.
9 Debate thy cause with thy neighbour himself; and discover not a secret to another:
10 Lest he that heareth it put thee to shame, and thine infamy turn not away.

Attitude Toward Litigation

We will stop our reading there because verses 8-10 deal with the subject which we need to think about. We have emphasized to you in our study of the book of Proverbs that the book is an intensely practical one. It would have good advice for people who make no profession of Christian faith. It would have good advice for people who want to know exactly how to live in ordinary, everyday affairs.

The verses we have read concern a very practical problem that some of us will face, perhaps already have faced, or at least we will face sometime in our earthly existence. What should be our attitude toward litigation? That word litigation is not one that we use every day, and for some of you it may need a definition. Litigation is a word that says in a few brief letters what could be discussed in many lines. It simply refers to lawsuits—the necessity of going to law with other people.

You might wonder exactly where I found anything related to lawsuits or litigation in this particular portion of the Word, so I would suggest that you look again at verse 8:

Proverbs 25:

8 Go not forth hastily to strive, lest thou know not what to do in the end thereof, when thy neighbour hath put thee to shame.

The Amplified rendering of the Scriptures, taking into account the meaning of the original word, presents a rendering which emphasizes exactly what I am talking about because it says: “Rush not forth soon to quarrel before magistrates or elsewhere.” The translators of the Amplified rendering recognized that the words in the original text indicate a discussion of the matter of going to law one with the other.

Let me digress for a moment and remind you that the book of Proverbs is speaking of general people on the subject of litigation. Those of you who are Bible oriented know that the instructions which you as a Christian should follow in most cases is presented in I Corinthians, chapter 7, and summed up very basically without detailed discussion. We are reminded there that you and I should not go to law with our Christian brethren, that we should endeavor to settle all disputes before Christians.

Of course, someone immediately brings up the thought that they brought up to the Apostle Paul: “What am I going to do if somebody is cheating me and that somebody is a believer?” The Apostle Paul said, “It would be much better for you to be defrauded. It would be much better for you to suffer loss than to go to law with a Christian brother.”

Those of you who are familiar with jurisprudence know that there are many things that must be settled in the courts of our land that do not necessarily suggest any enmity or any personal disagreement. Such are sometimes termed friendly lawsuits , and the only way the matter can be settled is in the courts of the laws of our land.

Solomon is suggesting some advice about litigation. In this paragraph he presents three approaches to the settlement of the dispute—three things that might be kept in mind, for these three things are constantly occurring. One of them I have referred to as an ill-advised lawsuit . Perhaps we should say that one way not to settle disputes is to enter into a lawsuit ill-advised.

Another approach is what we might term an out of court settlement , as described in the first statement found in verse 9.

The third approach could be resulting in a libel suit, if we are not careful with our tongue. We are reminded of what James has to say: “The tongue is a little member, and if an individual has learned to control it he will be able to control the other members of his body right well.” Victory over the tongue seems to be the biggest problem that most individuals face.

An Ill-Advised Lawsuit

I would like for us to look in detail at the first suggestion I have made: an ill-advised lawsuit . Look with me at verse 8:

Proverbs 25:

8 Go not forth hastily to strive, lest thou know not what to do in the end thereof, when thy neighbour hath put thee to shame.

Notice the phrase right in the middle of the verse, “lest thou know not what to do in the end thereof.” That brings to my mind the suggestion, an ill-advised lawsuit. You go to court, and when the thing is finished it doesn't look well for you, and you really don't know what to do. You are worse off than you were at the very beginning.

Let's analyze this verse and see why this advice is forthcoming. Notice first the phrase, “Go not forth.” This particular phrase is the translation of the Hebrew word yatsa , which may be translated by the word exact and may be translated by the word proceed . The words themselves, “go not forth,” as you recognize in the English text, have no immediate legal connotation; but this Hebrew word yatsa is a legal word as illustrated by the manner in which it is translated in other portions of the Word.

Keep a marker here and turn with me to II Kings, chapter 15, and notice how this Hebrew word yatsa is used as a legal term in the Scriptures. In this passage of Scripture you will recognize the story of the activity of some kings against the kings of Judah. When these kings of Judah were taken into captivity and put under subjection, their captors were not content to simply have them as subjects; they penalized them. Notice verse 20:

II Kings 15:

20 And Menahem exacted the money of Israel, even of all the mighty men of wealth, of each man fifty shekels of silver, to give to the king of Assyria. So the king of Assyria turned back, and stayed not there in the land.

The king of Assyria had invaded the land. He could be bought off and still Menahem exacted a certain amount of money from his subjects to pay the bribe so that his country might live in peace.

Notice that word exacted . It is the translation of this Hebrew word yatsa , to which we have called your attention. If you go back for a moment to Proverbs, chapter 25, you will find Solomon offering this advice: “Do not hastily exact by means of authority a penalty from anybody.”

You see, when we are talking about striving here (“Go forth not hastily to strive…”), we are not talking about some kind of a pugilistic endeavor; we are talking about a matter of lawsuits.

If you will notice in Habakkuk, chapter 1, verse 4, the word proceedeth is a translation of the Hebrew word yatsa . Habakkuk is describing the manner in which God is dealing with men. Habakkuk, you will recall, did not quite understand God's dealings and he was complaining about it. Notice verse 4:

Habakkuk 1:

4 Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth.

Habakkuk was talking about the sad condition within the land where justice was just about a thing of the past. He said, “The courts of our land are in such condition that wrong judgments proceedeth…” Notice the word proceedeth . It is a translation of the Hebrew word yatsa , which is translated by the words go forth in Proverbs, chapter 25.

Do not enter into a legal proceeding against someone unless you know what you are doing is the wise thing to do because if you enter into such a proceeding without thoroughly counting the cost you may wish that you had not done so.

Go back to Proverbs, chapter 25, as we continue our exegesis of verse 8, and notice another word which will emphasize to us what we are talking about at the moment. Notice the word strive. “Go not forth hastily to strive…” This word strive does not suggest the idea of physical contact with the individual concerned. The word strive comes from the Hebrew word ruwb , which is translated by the word controversy in Deuteronomy, chapter 25, verse 1, and translated by the word adversary in Job, chapter 31.

A Plea for Righteous Judgment

Let us turn to those passages of Scripture and see the word in its setting and recognize that about which we speak. Look at Deuteronomy, chapter 25, verse 1:

Deuteronomy 25:

1 If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, that the judges may judge them; then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked.

Here God is making a plea for righteous judgment. You see, we are talking in courtroom language here when we talk about this matter of striving. We are not talking about an ordinary fight, but for an individual coming before the judges for the settlement of a controversy. This word controversy comes from the Hebrew word ruwb which is the translation of the Hebrew word strive . Here again we have emphasized to us litigation. Go not forth hastily into a courtroom to settle a dispute. Things might turn out worse than you expected.

You will notice that the word for strive and the word for controversy is also translated by the word adversary. Turn to the book of Job, chapter 31, and notice verse 35, when Job, thinking about his own sad state before the Lord, not able to plead his own case and no one else to plead it for him, said:

Job 31:

35 Oh that one would hear me! behold, my desire is, that the Almighty would answer me, and that mine adversary had written a book.

Notice the word adversary . It a translation of this word ruwb . When Job was saying, “I wish that my adversary had written a book,” he was saying, “I wish that my adversary would be explicit in his charges. I am being accused of a lot of things and really I am guilty of nothing. Why can't my adversary be specific?” It was customary in that day as it is in this day to have written charges against the accused before they could be properly considered.

Go back again to Proverbs, chapter 25, and look at verse 8, which will help us to understand why we are talking about an ill-advised lawsuit. Certainly a lawsuit that resulted in victory for the plaintiff would not be called an ill-advised one for him. Someone would say, “That was a wise thing to do, to sue the person involved. You acted wisely.” All lawsuits do not turn out wisely, as Solomon indicates here in verse 8:

Proverbs 25:

8 Go not forth hastily to strive, lest thou know not what to do in the end thereof, when thy neighbour hath put thee to shame.

You will notice the last statement of that verse: “…when thy neighbour hath put thee to shame.” The neighbor here is used in a very broad sense—actually, the defendant. When the man whom you have sued has put you to shame, then what are you going to do?

We would not stop for even a second to think that the shame to which reference is made here is just mere embarrassment, for the word shame comes from the Hebrew word kalam which elsewhere in the Scripture is translated by the word wound , and in many instances it is used with the idea of wounding beyond hope of recovery.

What is Solomon saying? He is saying to us today, “Before you decide to enter into litigation with somebody you had better think the thing through thoroughly.” We might decide that it is a little better not to go to law because we might lose the case, and if we lose the case we will be much worse off than if we had not entered into the litigation about which we had been thinking.

Keep in mind we are considering the practical advice at the moment that is given in the book of Proverbs. That is the reason I suggested to you at the very outset that the book of Proverbs is a profitable book for individuals even if they are not believers, for the principles of action are based upon righteousness. Unsaved people who live according to principles of righteousness, though they will not go to Heaven, will live a much better life.

An Out of Court Settlement

We suggested to you three approaches to the settlements of disputes. Entering into an ill-advised lawsuit, oftentimes individuals will find that another approach would have been much better. I refer to the second approach as an out of court settlement . It is brought to my mind by what is recorded in the first part of verse 9. Actually in the original text, the last part of verse 9 belongs to verse 10, so as far as the original language is concerned, in verse 9 we have an out of court settlement. Notice verse 9:

Proverbs 25:

9 Debate thy cause with thy neighbour himself…

That represents an out of court settlement. The word debate here comes from the Hebrew word ruwb , at which we have been looking. It deals with the subject of controversy in the courts of our land, adversaries whom we must face in the courts of our land, so the suggestion is, “Have your own little court room. Have your own little lawsuit, but have it between you and your neighbor.”

The word debate does not refer to what we commonly consider debate. It does not refer to some physical encounter; it simply emphasizes the fact that you should go to the person with whom you have some difference of opinion and say to them, “Let's settle this thing ourselves.” Oftentimes that approach is much better from many different standpoints than you might think. The next time you are thinking about going to law, consider this very practical advice in the Old Testament, and decide that perhaps a better thing to do than you might ordinarily think would be to settle the whole matter out of court by making an agreement with the person involved.

Repeating Secrets Can Constitute Libel

I think that speaks for itself and there is no need to further emphasize the truth, so we would draw your attention to the third thing that is involved in the settlement of disputes. More often than not, we are exposed to this third problem to which I am making reference. You will recall when I was giving you a survey of what we were going to discuss, I used the word libel , which is another thing that is involved in the settlement of disputes because oftentimes in our energy and zeal to have things go our way, we are not as accurate in our statements as we could be. The witnesses that we employ are not as dependable as they might be, and we find ourselves in a sad situation indeed when we are sued for libel.

I think this is what Solomon had in mind in the last part of verse 9 and verse 10:

Proverbs 25:

9 …discover not a secret to another:
10 Lest he that heareth it put thee to shame, and thine infamy turn not away.

On the surface you might wonder what all of this has to do with the subject at hand. What has this all to do with litigation? What does all this have to do with lawsuits? It simply sounds like we are just talking about being able to keep a secret, but the matter in question becomes related to litigation when we exegete the verse, noticing the meaning of some of the words.

Notice the word discover in verse 9:

Proverbs 25:

9 …discover not a secret to another:

That word discover comes from the Hebrew word galah , which literally means reveal . Don't reveal secrets to somebody else. That would be good advice just like it is. It would be good advice for all folk to follow. Learn to keep secrets. If somebody confides in you, learn to keep that secret. Don't reveal it. But an added thought comes to our attention when we look at the word secret and notice that it comes from the Hebrew word cowd , which refers to a special kind of secret. It isn't a secret that somebody tells you, as one person to another exchanging private information; but it refers to secret matters which are overheard. You overhear something that is really none of your business. You overhear something of a secret consultation and you repeat that something.

Repetition of it is a dangerous thing, but the thing that makes it even more serious is that you may not have heard it correctly. Oh, you could say, “I heard the words clearly. There is nothing wrong with my hearing.” That may all be true, but you may not have heard the words in their context, and your repetition of the words out of context could well constitute libel, so you are told here to be very careful that you do not reveal something of which you are not sure. Don't repeat hearsay. Above all, don't repeat gossip, for if you do, (look again at verse 10) you may be put to shame, and thine infamy will turn not away.

We have looked at the word shame and recognized it to represent a wound, but the word infamy comes from the Hebrew word dibbah which refers to the English word slander or the words evil report . If you are not careful of what you may have even innocently repeated, it might turn out to be a slanderous thing. The word infamy can be a very serious thing because of the phrase in the statement that the infamy may not turn away. If you will look at that phrase you will notice that it comes from the Hebrew word shuwb , translated by the English word cease. The suggestion is that the infamy (the wound, the shame, the danger which comes your way) will be such that it will never cease. You will never reach the end of paying the judgment that is pronounced against you.

Some of you have heard of experiences, I am sure, of individuals who have had judgments pronounced against them, those judgments being of such great nature that it is absolutely impossible to pay them. They are hindered all of their lives because of judgments received against them which they are not able to handle all because of a loose tongue, all because they have been guilty of the sin of libel.

Spiritual Lessons from Practical Statements

In our study of the book of Proverbs where it has seemed practical we have drawn some spiritual lessons from the practical statements, and I would like to do that first by asking you to turn to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5, for I wonder, the Lord Jesus Christ being so very familiar with the Old Testament, if He might not have had in mind these very verses from the book of Proverbs when he uttered the words which He states in this portion to which we refer. Notice verses 25-26:

Matthew 5:

25 Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.
26 Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.

Those of you who are familiar with the story in chapter 5 know the spiritual import of these two verses, but I wonder if the Lord Jesus Christ might have had in mind Proverbs, chapter 25, verse 8, when He drew this spiritual lesson. I say spiritual because the adversary in verse 25 is none other than God Himself. The suggestion here in verse 8 is for an out of court settlement. You see, the controversy that God has with man has got to be settled sometime, and the suggestion is that you settle it out of court, agreeing with your adversary while you have the opportunity.

The Apostle Paul emphasized the truth: “Now is the day of salvation; behold now is the accepted time. Today, if you hear His voice, harden not your heart.” If you have anything to settle with God settle it today. That is the thought. If you don't you might be drawn into court. The ultimate court, the final court, you recognize under the terms The Great White Throne Judgment , when men will stand before God. The issue then will be settled as to why men did not receive the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. They will be cast into prison, and they will not be let out until they have paid the uttermost farthing.

The suggestion of the verse is not that there is a way out of Hell. That would be contrary to the Scripture. The implication of the verse is: There is no escape. You settle it now, or you pay the debt for all eternity.

I do not think it would be doing violence to the Scripture (listen carefully to what I say now) to emphasize that the principle applies to believers in a different way. Believers, as you well know, will never stand before the Great White Throne Judgment , but believers are judged for their disobedience. The Apostle Paul is saying exactly the same thing when he says, “If you judge yourselves, you shall not be judged.” Agree with your adversary in the way. Agree with your adversary while you have the opportunity. If you judge yourselves you will not be judged; but when you are judged, says the Apostle in I Corinthians, chapter 11, verses 30-31, “You are chastened of the Lord.” Agree with your adversary in the way because if you don't, you will have to enter into God's prisonhouse of chastening, and you will not come forth until you have paid the uttermost farthing. Here, thank God, you will come forth, for Paul said in his letter to the Hebrews that there is always an afterward related to chastening: “All chastening for the present seemeth to be grievous, but afterward (thank God there is an afterward), it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness.”

There is one other passage of Scripture I would like for you to notice: Matthew, chapter 18, verse 15:

Matthew 18:

15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

This is the way to settle things out of court, spiritually speaking. Look at the verse carefully because oftentimes they are misread. Did you notice: “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, let him come to me and get on his knees and grovel in the dust and tell me how sorry he is.”?

You may be saying, “Exactly what rendering are you using at the moment?” I am using an erroneous one because the Bible doesn't say that in any rendering. That is the carnal rendering of this passage of Scripture, for men who are carnal, not spiritual, feel that this is what should happen. If I have offended you, if you are a carnal Christian, you will sit in your ivory tower until I come to you groveling, begging, pleading to be forgiven; but if you are a spiritual Christian and you say to me, “Joe, you have trespassed against me. I don't know whether you know you have or not, but you have.” If I am a spiritual Christian, I won't say, “Well, I like that!” I will say, “Brother, how did I trespass against you?” Then you will tell me my fault, but you tell me . There won't be anybody else around when you tell me. You won't get me in a crowd and tell me. You will tell me alone, and you will be able to say in all honesty that what I am saying to you is between you and me and God. Nobody else knows it.

If I am a spiritual brother, I will hear you—that is, I will not only listen to what you have to say, I will say, “Brother, I appreciate so much your coming to me. I appreciate you so much for telling me this fault. I wasn't aware of it and I ask you to forgive me right now, and I certainly will ask God to forgive me.”

What does the passage of Scripture say? “You have gained your brother.” You see, your fellowship with him has been broken; and, Beloved, it could remain broken forever if you didn't go to him because in this particular instance he isn't even aware that he has offended you.

You will notice that there are some carnal Christians who will not hear (listen carefully to what I am saying) spiritual Christians. You may wonder why I am using these terms when you don't find them here in the text. You recall Galatians, chapter 6, verse 1:

Galatians 6:

1 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.

Beloved, if you are in a state of carnality don't, don't, don't, don't go to anybody with whom you have a disagreement. Make sure that your carnality has been confessed and you are controlled by the Holy Spirit. It is conceivable that a spiritual Christian could come to me and I would say, because I was in a carnal state, “Well, you just go jump in the lake. If you don't like the way that I do things, that is just too bad. If I said that about you, it is true. Nobody else had guts enough to tell you.”

I might react in any number of ways, you know, because a carnal person can do anything. What are you supposed to do? Are you supposed to say, “Well, I went to him and he spit in my face, and I am through. He can go to Hell, as far as I am concerned.”?

That is not where your responsibility ends. You go back and you find one or two more spiritual Christians, that in the mouths of two or three witnesses every word should be established. You say, “Joe, I came to you the other day, and I am not sure that you understood what I meant. Maybe I didn't make myself clear, and maybe you didn't really say what I thought you said, so I have brought two brothers with me. They love you and I love you. We would like to pray with you about this fault. We would like to see this thing straightened out. We don't like to see broken fellowship.”

I might respond, if I am in a state of spirituality, saying, “Brethren, I am so glad you came. I have been so miserable and I want to get this straight.” But I might say, “All three of you go to Hell, and don't bother me any more.”

You say, “You wouldn't talk like that.” Well, I would if I were in a state of carnality. There is no telling what I might do if I were walking in the flesh and not in the Spirit.

Then what is your responsibility? The only thing that is left for you to do, according to verse 7, is to tell it to the church. What for? So that there can be a great big gossip fest? So that there can be a lot of excitement? What church? The Body of Christ, Beloved. “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in their midst.” It doesn't have to be a church on the leading street in town or on the back alley. You take it to the members of the Body of Christ, and perhaps I will respond favorably then, when I have not responded favorably before. But suppose I don't. What should you do? Look at the last part of verse 17. “Joe Temple should be treated as a heathen man and as a publican.”

That has had a variety of interpretations. That means that you ask for my church letter. That means that you fire me. That means that you just have nothing more to do with me. That's all. You see me on one side of the street and you get on the other side. Beloved, I beg of you to seriously consider what is taught in the Word concerning this matter of treating an individual as a publican sinner.

Let me say to you that it doesn't mean that. What do you do for sinners? Let me put it this way: What ought you to do for sinners? You ought to pray for them, and if I am the guilty party, then you ought to pray for me. No, Beloved, it isn't a matter of withdrawing fellowship with the idea of having nothing to do with a person. It is a matter of carrying a burden until it gets right. The Corinthian believers overdid the thing, you know. They would have nothing to do with the man involved in fornication, and they nearly lost him. Paul had to correct their actions.

Conclusion

These studies in the book of Proverbs concerning litigation have a spiritual application. Sometimes a lawsuit is ill-advised. Sometimes it is better to make an out of court settlement, and if Christians were inclined to sue for libel, I sometimes wonder if there wouldn't be more lawsuits among Christians than any other group of people because I am amazed at the loose tongues believers have when they are talking about other believers—the cutting, unkind things that are said, and in many instances, the dishonest things which are said.


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