7 - First be reconciled, then present your offering

Greg Aikins on March 20, 2020

(Commands of Jesus in Matthew)

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.  – Matt. 5:23-24, NIV.

This is a radical demand from our Lord.  I cannot simply gloss over it with excuses as to its impracticability or even impossibility.  I have to face Jesus’ words squarely and let them search my heart.

In the context of the Sermon on the Mount, I am forced to acknowledge that Jesus is instituting a new and different law that regulates the lives of his people.  Rather than “doing only what I have to do” to fulfill the letter of the law, Christ is calling me to live according to his law– the law of love.  Hate (the opposite of love) toward a fellow disciple is the same as murder (Matt. 5:21-22).  As a member of Jesus’ new community I need to deal quickly with conflicts, because if I don’t I will ultimately injure myself – again the opposite of love (5:25-26).  Christ’s love is the standard (Gal. 6:2).

Jesus is imagining one of his Jewish followers offering a freewill offering in the temple.  The obvious application is that if I am worshipping the Lord, that is, serving God in any form, and am reminded that a fellow believer has “something against” me, I need to go immediately, and seek to be reconciled to him or her.  What does it mean to be “reconciled”?  According to one source, “reconciliation is bringing again into unity, harmony, or agreement what has been alienated.”[1]  The implication is that when true peace is restored between us, I am then free to go on with my service before the Lord.[2]

I find this command demanding because in order to seek reconciliation I will have to make myself vulnerable.  After all, my attempts at peacemaking may be belittled or rejected.  There are also some issues which seem to defy attempts at reconciliation.  Deeply held political views, seemingly “irreconcilable differences”, and even “philosophical” problems with each other pose real challenges.  After all, even Paul and Barnabas couldn’t seem to work out their issues and it led to the break-up of their missionary team.[3]

Paul says “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3, emphasis mine).  There are varying degrees of difficulty involved in working toward reconciliation.  Sometimes I meet with another and a misunderstanding is easily cleared up.  At other times, it takes a lot more effort.  But glossing over the real issue or acquiescence in order to avoid confrontation is never the answer.  “Conflict which is settled by giving in to the other or winning the fight at the expense of the other does not lead to peace.  Peace is restored when both parties feel their needs are being met.”[4]

Frankly, I need help in order to fulfil this command of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I need the help of the Holy Spirit to pour out the love of God in my heart towards my fellow believers (Rom. 5:5).  I need the Spirit of Jesus to give me courage to be vulnerable as I seek to be reconciled.  I may need to take someone with me to help me in the process with another, as Jesus advises (See Matt.  18:15-20). But in any case, the initiative must be mine.  May God grant us the faith to just take the first step and go!

[1]Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. V, p. 44.

[2]“This command cannot be taken to mean simply that the one offering his gift should replace an attitude of animosity toward his brother with one of good will; for this he would not have to leave the altar.  It means he should remove whatever is the ground for his brother’s complaint against him.” ZPEB, V, p. 45.

[3]See Acts 15:36-41. 

[4]Horace Fenton, The Peacemakers: Resolving conflict between Christians (Leicester, England: IVP, 1987), p. 30.