So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)
In the last couple of blogs in this series on ‘The sermon on the mount’ we have looked at the phrase “Do not murder” and then the idea that even being angry in your heart towards somebody is tantamount to murder in God’s eyes, because He sees into our very hearts and can detect that hateful murderous intent.
This week sort of continues along that theme and talks about being reconciled with one another before we even think of offering service to God.
God has such a love for all people that it really upsets Him if we are in wrong relationships with one another. He would much rather we sort it out with one another before we consider coming into His presence. He considers it the height of hypocrisy to start to worship Him while we are in conflict with another of His precious children.
What’s interesting about these verses is it is focusing on someone else’s attitude other than our own. Of course we should pursue reconciliation if we have something against someone, but this passage is suggesting we should still do something even if someone has got something against us. It might not affect us at all, but if we are aware of it, we should do something about it.
If we are really not aware, our conscience is of course clear, but even if we have an inkling that someone has a problem with us we are obligated to do something about it. A little qualification is required here though. We are responsible to make restitution for the unrighteous acts we do, but not the righteous ones. If we have done something foolish, selfish or sinful, then of course we should set it right. But sometimes people are upset with us because of righteousness. Jesus upset an awful lot of people, but he wasn’t required to apologise to them. Yes He always wanted to keep the channels open for reconciliation and still loved those who hated Him, but He would never have worshipped at all if He had been required to make restitution to everybody He had upset. It would have been a very long queue!
In the book of Romans the apostle Paul wrote some great wisdom for these sorts of situations;
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (Romans 12:18) That’s the key. Sometimes we can attempt reconciliation but it is thrown back in our face. We can’t do anything about that, but if it is a genuine attempt, that is what matters.
It occurs to me that there are at least 3 very important points here;
· We need to seek reconciliation wherever and whenever we can.
· We need to be able to recognize our own faults and when we are in the wrong.
· We need to seek God for a humble spirit.
This passage makes it clear that God is not looking for personal piety but a communal love between brothers and sisters. We live in a very individualistic society, but God’s kingdom is all about ‘the body’, His people, the group. Yes of course he loves individuals but He doesn’t consider them on their own, but only as they function as a unified group.
We get the sense of how important this is when we consider the context of the situation Jesus was speaking into. He was speaking in Galilee, the altar that these sacrifices were to be made was in Jerusalem, which was about 80 miles away. If you had a problem with someone when you got to the altar, you might well have a 5 or 6 day journey to make it right! That’s pretty important.
I’m going to finish with 3 reasons we need to take this passage seriously. Consider this:
· Jesus says so
· You can’t worship properly when you are in conflict.
· God won’t listen to your prayers (consider 1 Peter 3:7 in a similar concept)
That settles it for me.