“So when you are offering your gift at
the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against
you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your
brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”
We should be at peace with each other and in fellowship with each other. We should be united in a circle of friendship. We should be; however, it is not always so. We fight with our spouse. We get exasperated with each other in church. Sometimes we cannot stand our neighbors, and maybe they cannot stand us either. Sometimes we get downright enraged with our relatives. We just cannot believe that they could do that to us. We get irritated, and irked. We get riled up and rankled and vexed. We get down right mad at other people. They did us wrong. Or sometimes, we reluctantly admit, we did them wrong.
So most people live much of the time in a state of resentment against somebody for something. However, it does not have to be that way. Most of the difficulties between human beings can be solved. Most problems in human relationships can be solved—if we want to solve them. If we are willing to make ourselves a little uncomfortable, to go through the embarrassment, to devote the time and effort, we can be reconciled. There are practical ways of doing this, and we just need to do what must be done.
One of the greatest difficulties between husbands and wives, parents and children, and friends and neighbors is what we might call “loose ends.” Loose ends are those situations between people that are left dangling. And the simple solution is take action. Don’t leave them hanging.
In our verses today, Jesus deals with the case where a brother or sister knows a problem exists in a relationship. This is serious. Unresolved problems sap the strength out of any connection or association. Unresolved problems in a church hinder the church’s effectiveness. Unresolved problems in families tend to breed more problems and can tear the family apart. Therefore the lesson is obvious. We need to do something about the “loose ends” in our relationships. In fact, we can go further than that. The implication of these verses from Matthew is that God’s people are the kind of people that tie up loose ends.
In the KJV, v23 begins, “if thou bring thy gift to the altar …” Imagine that we are living in ancient times, and we have entered the temple in Jerusalem, intending to offer there a gift to God, it may have been money, it may have been an animal sacrifice. To modernize that, we might say that this person has come to church with her tithe and a desire to worship the Lord. She is ready to sing praises to God and to hear a rousing sermon, or perhaps a boring sermon, and then to celebrate Holy Communion. But right in the middle of this person’s attempt to participate in worship, she is reminded of a problem. She has offended another person.
You might say, “Well, it is good that she has a conscience. Obviously she is sincere and devout, and when she gets out of the worship service, she ought to go and take care of this problem she has with this other person.”
But that sort of misses the point doesn’t it? Jesus says that the most important thing here is the broken relationship. It is a matter of priorities. Jesus does not say, do not worship God. He is saying that you cannot worship God as long as you have relationship problems that you can do something about.
God is love. We need to express God’s love to other people. Now this expression of love in a bad situation may not be something we want to do. For one thing we do not want to revisit these psychological battlefields. It is uncomfortable to think about the bad things that happen in relationships. We want to think of ourselves, and we want others to think of us, as the good guys. We don’t want them to know that sometimes we have been insensitive jerks and irresponsible oafs. But Jesus says get over that. Get over yourself. Do what needs to be done. Do it now.
I read a story about a young man who was a rebellious teenager. Right out of High School, against his father’s wishes, he joined the army. After basic training down at Fort Jackson in Columbia, he came home, and he had a little session in which he sat down with his father and they were reconciled, and his father said, “Well son, did you learn anything so far in the army?” “Yes,” said the young soldier. “I learned what ‘now’ means.”
When is a good time to be reconciled to that person whom I don’t like very much and who probably does not like me very much. Now. Stop everything else. This is the most important thing you can do at this moment. Make things right with that other person. Do whatever is necessary to restore that relationship immediately.
The attitude required here is an intimate love that cares so much that we cannot let them go. If we don’t care about them, then we don’t care what they think about us. So let them be offended. Who cares? Jesus says, if you are my disciple, you care. You care about others. This is the mark of a Christian. You love them so much that you are going to stop whatever you are doing right now and make your relationship with them right. .
But it takes time and effort to maintain relationships and most people are kind of lazy. They may know that they have offended someone, and they intend to do something about it, but they just have not gotten around to it. The truth is that they are probably never going to get around to it, and that wounded relationship is going to fester, and eventually die, and that friend is lost.
We see it all the time. This is why marriages fail. This is why parents and children quit talking to one another. This is why churches lose members, and this is why you loose friends.
And this effects our whole attitude toward life. Refusal to heal relationships produces bitter and angry people, which causes even more difficulties. We alienate still other people. Have you seen this happen? We get angry at one person, and our anger spills over upon others, so we push them away also, and then we begin to wonder why we have no friends.
Sometimes we get arrogant and say, "Well if he thinks I’ve offended him then he ought to come and tell me. If he’s not man enough to come and tell me then it’s his problem, not mine." That is not what Jesus said at all. He said, if someone is angry with you, it is your problem and you need to do something about it.
And sometimes you will find that when you take the initiative in this kind of thing, the other person feels much the same as you. We get mad at each other and we feel bad about that afterwards. If we go to that person we had the fuss with, we find that they also are sorry about the argument, and they are looking for an opportunity to be reconciled to us. So by going to them, we gave them that opportunity.
But you might say all that is very nice but not all relationships are that easy to fix. For one thing, some people offend so easily that it is almost impossible to get along with them. As we say, they have a chip on their shoulder. They seem almost to be looking for an excuse to be angry. Sad to say, there are folks like that. They need Christian love most of all. The nature of any relationship is that it is not entirely about us. It is also about them. We need to help them work through their problems if possible.
But we also need to deal with a broken relationship for our sake. It is not healthy to have all those dangling loose ends and damaged relationships. We all need to be ministers of healing and restoration to each other.
Or maybe we say, that person is offended with me, but I did not intend them any offense. They just misunderstood; therefore it is not my problem. That is not what Jesus says. If they think there is a problem, we are called to resolve it.
They may have listened to some gossip that said you said something about them. That is the way it always is, isn’t it? They heard you said so and so, and they are offended. And your response is I did not say it, so it is not my problem. But Jesus says, it is your problem. Go and resolve the misunderstanding.
You might ask, “what if they do not want to be reconciled with me?” The Apostle Paul, in Romans 12, says, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live in peace with others.” As much as possible, we are to make amends. The key phrase in the verse is “as much as depends on you.” We are to do everything we can do to be reconciled with the other person, but beyond that we cannot go. There is a point at which they are responsible for their part in the relationship.
But even so, many people hesitate to deal with an angry situation, because they think, if I open that wound again, all that anger is going to spill again, and I do not know if I can handle that. And that may happen. If you open yourself up to that other person, they may vent, and hearing what they have to say may not be easy. Hearing the situation from their point of view may cast us in an unpleasant light.
Furthermore, the process of reconciliation may take awhile. Most people cannot snap their fingers and forgive, but given time, I think, most people do forgive.
If they do not, however, that is not your problem. Jesus says go and do what you can to make amends. If they do not accept your attempt, you have still done what Jesus said.
Now obviously if we were perfect people, we would never do anything to offend another person and we would never need to be reconciled, but last time I checked, there were no perfect people around. We are just human beings. We have moments of anger, moments of just plain stupidity, and we say ugly things to each other. Husbands say ugly words to wives, wives to husbands, parents to children, friend to friend, and even Christian to Christian. And we go off and nurse our hurt, our anger, our grudge, and that hurts even more.
The Bible teaches a better way of living. This morning in our ARP Psalter we learned a new song, 280, Christian Unity. It is a paraphrase of Psalm 133:
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
for brethren to dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard:
that went down to the skirts of his garments; As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion:
for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.
Have you ever thought that God values our gifts. It is strange that it should be so. God our creator, the creator of the entire universe, values the gifts we bring Him—gifts of praise, thanksgiving, service, and material offerings. In all such giving at the altar, we enter into the highest experiences of fellowship. But the gift is acceptable to God to the extent that we have the right attitude toward God. And our attitude toward God is measured by our attitude toward others. Or, put it another way, we can judge our relationship with God by our relationships with people. And if our worship seems dry and barren, the cause can be found in the way we treat people.
We have all probably known folk who went for years without speaking to relatives or neighbors—because of some offense over something that happened long ago. Some families seem to almost treasure their feuds, but that is not a pleasant way to live.
These verses from Matthew are part of the Sermon on the Mount, and they exhort us not to leave loose ends. Settle your differences, be reconciled quickly. Forgive and be forgiven.
As we partake of Communion today, our faith in Christ ought to be practical. Yes, we do this in remembrance of Him, and that remembrance ought to cause us to go and be reconciled with our brothers and sisters and then come before the Lord to be reconciled with the lord. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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