“If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother…”
Matthew 5:23, 24, nkjv
Forgiving Others Is Important, but That’s Not Jesus’ Point Here
Reading these Bible verses recently, I caught something I had never noticed before. In the past, I had always read this passage as, if you are holding something against someone else, you need to forgive them before you make your offering. After all, Jesus says pretty soon afterward that “if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:15, nlt). But, here He makes a different point.
This Matthew 5 passage talks about whether someone has something against you, not the other way around. If someone feels hurt by you, betrayed by you—whatever grudge they may be holding against you—Jesus says you are to go to them and be reconciled.
Where Does the Blame Lie?
How many times do we sacrifice relationships because of pride, telling ourselves (and anyone who will listen), “I shouldn’t have to apologize. I didn’t do anything wrong!” Our contemporary, entitled mindset that says, “They just need to get over it,” runs contrary to Jesus’ teaching.
I find it interesting that Jesus doesn’t address blame in this scenario. He addresses responsibility—not who’s responsible for the rift in the relationship, but, rather, who is responsible for repairing it. Hint: it’s His followers, you and me.
Notice that Jesus doesn’t qualify His command in any way. There are no if’s.
- Jesus doesn’t say to go to your brother if you’ve actually done something wrong.
- Jesus doesn’t say to take care of things if the other person brings it up.
- Jesus doesn’t say that if you didn’t mean to hurt them, it’s their problem.
- Jesus doesn’t say that if it happened a long time ago, there’s no need to dig up the past.
Jesus says, “Be reconciled.” Period. What’s more, it’s on us as His followers to reach out, to make the first move.
Jehovah Rapha Turns Bitter to Sweet
One of God’s names revealed in the Old Testament is Jehovah Rapha, which means “the God Who Heals.” We first encounter this name of God in Exodus 15, where He purifies undrinkable water for His people who are thirsting in the wilderness. After turning the bitter waters to sweet, God introduces Himself as “the LORD who heals you” (Exodus 15:26).
To work this miracle of turning bitter water to sweet, God required Moses’ participation. Likewise, when God performs the miracle of turning our relationships from sour to restored, He requires us to participate, as well. The Apostle Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:18 that God “has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (nkjv). The Amplified Bible translation further explains, “so that by our example we might bring others to Him.”
May it never be said of us that “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Romans 2:24). How we as Christians handle difficult situations with others should reflect the patience and kindness of God, which in turn will lead unbelievers to repentance (see Romans 2:4).
To Save the Soul of a Brother
Let’s have another look at the beginning of verse 23: “‘Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar…’”
I had a wonderfully insightful pastor teach me that whenever you see “therefore” in the Bible, you should stop and ask what it’s “there for.” (Clever, right?) This means we need to go back to the immediately preceding verses to see what led up to Jesus sharing this insight.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’
“But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ [empty head] shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.”
~ Matthew 5:21, 22 (nkjv)
Now we realize that when Jesus says “whoever is angry with his brother,” He’s not talking about us being angry with our brother. His concern actually lies with this brother who is angry with us! If we allow our brother’s hurt feelings to fester, even if his feelings are “without a cause,” we allow that brother’s soul to be in danger of God’s judgment and even “hell fire.”
Many people quip, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” without realizing they are quoting Cain, first murderer in all humankind (see Genesis 4:9). Jesus desires that we love our neighbor as ourselves (see Matthew 22:38, 39), second only to our love for God. Wouldn’t you say that a brother is even nearer than a neighbor?
What’s My Motivation?
The world calls it being the bigger man. It endlessly amazes me how our culture can take a noble, godly concept and put a prideful spin on it.
Just trying to be the bigger man shifts the focus to ourselves and away from the healing ministry of reconciliation that draws others to salvation in Jesus Christ.
Let’s make sure our hearts are right before God, and then let’s go and make things right with our brother.