Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 5:23b “. . .if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest
that thy brother hath ought against thee;”
To discourage us from anger, Jesus verbalized terrorizing metaphors in verse 22. We need to remove all our inner bitterness, for the sake of God, others, and ourselves. Anger allowed to fester produces heart-murder, often including a murdering of our own selves. A physician recently told me he has patients who cannot get well due to bottled up bitterness. To keep this and other explosive results from occurring, Jesus points us to prevention, to squelching anger before it reaches us.
Imagine the vivid scene Jesus depicts here. We are gathered together on Sunday morning for our public worship service, a good time for self-examination. As the offering plate comes our direction, we are suddenly arrested by a mental image. A memory flashes through our mind like a lightning bolt. We left a jagged edge to a relationship last week. The other person may still be hurt and upset at us.
In light of the terrible penalties voiced in verse 22, what shall we do? Shall we decide to wait till after church or later this week to seek reconciliation? No. We must interrupt our solemn worship and go make things right with the individual.
Before proceeding to verse 24, note what verse 23 does not mention–blame. In strained interpersonal dealings, blame does not matter. Relationship is the issue. Jesus is not speaking here about complaints we have against others. He elsewhere dealt with this aspect, also, “When ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any” (MK 11:25). Our present text emphasizes what others have against us. Either way, blame does not matter. Do not play the blame game; leave that activity to little children. We must initiate efforts at reconciliation when we have “ought” against others, and when they have “ought” against us, whether real or imaginary.
Our Master practiced what He preached. After the crucifixion, Jesus took the initiative in seeking out the disciples, though Peter had denied Him, and the others, except John, had forsaken Him in His hour of need. I am glad Jesus did not play the blame game. I rejoice He did not stop at the foot of Calvary and say, “Wait a minute. I’m tired of this. I’m not to blame for John Marshall’s sins.” “When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (RM 5:10).
Jesus’ message in word and deed is loud and clear. If anyone so much as even thinks they have been injured by us in any way, we must seek to make it right.
Matt. 5:24a “Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way;. . .”
Why leave it there? First, as a pledge we will return. Public worship without moral living is incomplete; moral living without public worship is also insufficient. We must do both, leaving neither undone. Some stay away from church, giving as their reason that they have ill will toward another, as if one sin justifies another.
Why leave it there? Second, as a pledge to God that we will not rest till we have made everything right with our fellowman. In light of judgment by trial, the Supreme Court, and gehenna fire (5:22), we want God to know we are on our way to rectify our wrong. We would rather have God, so to speak, preoccupied, looking at our gift in anticipation rather than have Him focused on us in anger.
Thus we need to leave the gift at the altar and quickly go our way. Promptly run as fast as our legs will carry us. Do not wait to be sought out or for a more convenient time. Everyone resolves to do unpleasant duties eventually, but Jesus’ point here is for us to do it at once. In light of judgment by trial, a Supreme Court, and gehenna fire, go at once, even if it requires interrupting a sacrifice, a most solemn act of worship. If necessary, leave church in the middle of the offering.
Matt. 5:24b “. . .first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer
Beware seeing only the literal meaning of Jesus’ words. For instance, a Pharisee might say, if in church, move quickly, but if at work, take your time. Do not miss the deeper message Jesus was conveying. He was striking for a new basic attitude toward people. Human life is to be deemed valuable and precious, yea, sacred. Do we treat people with the same dignity and respect we treat other “sacred” things, like Scripture and ordinances of worship? God values people, and desires us to show respect for them more than He desires us to perform ritual for Himself.
Worship is useless when harboring anger, or any other known sin. This may help us better understand why we often go away empty from worship. Our offerings have no worth in and of themselves. Their value is contained solely in the fact they express the giving of one’s whole self, inside and out, to God in total surrender.
No gift offered on the church-altar has any positive effect as long as our heart-altar burns false fire. Unfortunately, many seek to buy off God, hoping to substitute ceremony for integrity and purity. Thinking one can make up for moral failure by performing ceremony and ritual has ever been a fatal error of the religious. The scribes and Pharisees were experts at this, but our righteousness must exceed theirs. A Christian must not try to use religious acts to compensate for sinful deeds. “To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 SM 15:22). Morality must come before ceremony. Before bending the knee in prayer, bend the heart in obedience.
Thus, regardless of the response we anticipate from the offended one, make friendly overtures. The person may not respond well or accept our advances, but we will have cleansed ourselves of wrongdoing and thus avoid wrath from God.
Do not deem such acts of reconciliation a degradation. Let us swallow our infernal pride. Consider not the cost to our touchy ego. Call this behavior self-conquest, call it meekness, call it being God-controlled, call it being spiritually sane.
The most important thing in the world is to be right with God, but we cannot be on good terms with God when we are on bad terms with others. Therefore, do not worry about making God wait, as it were, in worship while we go do right. God has much more time than He has committed followers. He will gladly sacrifice a few hours to gain a true disciple. Even now as I speak, God is willing to wait for you. Go thy way and be reconciled to your brother. It is worth our effort to do so.