The Commands of Jesus: Go and be reconciled to your brother… (Matt. 5:23-24)
Context: This command is from the Sermon on the Mount (found in Matthew 5-7). In Matthew, Jesus is portrayed as a new and better Moses. Moses was seen as the Lawgiver in the Hebrew Bible (received the Law on Mount Sinai). What we find in the Sermon on the Mount, is that often, Jesus quotes one of the commandments or one of the other rules from the Torah (or Law, like 5.21, 27, 31, 38) and he expounds on it, revealing the Spirit that God gave the command in. He wanted to deal with our sinfulness (both external and internal).
Jesus is showing how demanding a holy God is. He cares more about our mere external obedience to a few commands, he cares about our heart. He was dealing with religious people who thought they could justify themselves before God on how they observed certain rituals (the Pharisees, that is). Jesus knows that external sinfulness comes from our internal uncleanness (see Mark 7.20-23). Adultery is obviously sinful but it stems from our evil thoughts. We think we are ok if we don’t engage in the external act of adultery (or any sexual immorality) but we can harbor these internal thoughts. These internal thoughts are what lead to the immoral sinful behavior. Jesus is trying to get us to deal with the source of our sinfulness (our hearts).
When Jesus discusses the “gift at the altar” he is discussing the OT sacrificial system. There were five main offerings in the OT. They ranged from offering animal sacrifice to cover various types of unintentional sins to voluntary offerings (both animal and grain) for thanksgiving, fellowship and worship.
Jesus pictures a person going to the temple to offer one of these sacrifices. The person on the way to sacrifice (or worship as it was known to the OT believer) realizes that someone has something against them. Jesus tells the potential worshiper to go and get it right before offering his “gift” or sacrifice.
Who is responsible to go and make things right? (You are, even if you are not wrong).
Other passages that discuss resolving conflict (within the Christian community)
Matt. 18.15-20 – If someone sins against you, tell that person first (and no one else)
If that is unsuccessful, take along one or two witnesses (involve others to hear the both sides and help to mediate the conflict).
If the witnesses see your side of the matter and yet the person who has wronged you has not repented, then tell it to the community that you are both a part of. If that doesn’t work, expel the unrepentant person out of your community. That is done so that, perhaps exclusion from such Christian fellowship will prompt the unrepentant person to repent, make things right and desire to rejoin the community.
(See 1 Cor. 5.1-5 to see the expulsion of a blatantly immoral person. The goal is ultimately restoration.)
What if the witnesses take the other person’s side? Then you need to be humble enough to examine yourself and repent if you indeed were wrong. Even if you still feel wronged, the right thing to do (I believe) is to repent publicly for the misunderstanding (and in your heart, forgive all involved for the sake of unity. See 1 Cor. 6.7-8, rather be wronged than to sue your Christian brothers and sisters).
What if that person is not a believer that has wronged you? I think the same principles apply (accept for the expulsion from the community).
I think Paul’s discussion in Rom. 12. 16-21 informs us here. Some of the highlights: live in harmony with one another; do not repay anyone evil for evil; be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody, if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone; overcome evil with good.
How hard is that, to go to someone who has wronged you? Or, can we apply this passage to an incident where you know a brother or sister is upset at you (and honestly, you’ve done nothing wrong)? Should we go and get things resolved? I do think so. As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Go and get it worked out. Jesus makes it sound like it impacts your worship. Resolve conflict before you worship.
Read 1 Cor. 13.1-3 – if I can participate in all of these wonderful forms of worship (from an external standpoint) and do not have love (an internal attitude) then I have nothing. My worship, no matter how wonderful the external form might be, is compared to noise in God’s ears. My singing, my preaching/teaching, if not done with love (and love promotes unity and resolves conflict) is worthless.
Can you think of a time that you resolved conflict in a mature manner (similar to the passages in this lesson)? Can you think of times you tried to do things the right way and it was a disaster? Is there anyone out there that you can think of that has something against you (and perhaps you are completely in the right)? Can you begin to pray through a strategy to discuss the matter with them? Do you need one or two witnesses to help arbitrate?
Have you ever thought that your external form of worship could be undermined by your inner attitude, especially if there is unresolved conflict in the Christian community?