Whole Counsel Theology

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Requirement of Matthew 5:23-24

This past Lord's Day in our Sunday School lesson (thank you, my students, for bearing with me since I was sick), we talked about Jesus's statements in Matthew 5:21-26. This is a continuation of our current Sunday School series on the Sermon on the Mount, a study that has been extremely beneficial to myself and our students so far (at least I suspect it has been). Though there is a lot here to discuss, I am going to focus on verses 23 and 24 in this post.

Matthew 5:23 So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you,
Matthew 5:24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

How often do we read over this passage of Scripture and blow right on past it with the casual thought in our heads that goes something like, "Well, we don't have sacrifices that we offer on altar's anymore, so what Jesus is saying doesn't really apply to me." Similar arguments have been used to dismiss the entire book of Leviticus and other parts of the Old Testament as obselete and not useful for us anymore. Jesus had a few things to say about how He viewed the Old Testament, and the same applies here. Shame on us for daring to dismiss ANY of the Word of God, and shame on us further for not digging into it to find the greater context of what was going on and the principles behind it.

Even though we do not offer something as a sacrifice on an altar, what is the context in which something on an altar is offered? When ancient Israel offered a sacrifice, whether it was an offering for sin, or for thanksgiving, or anything for that matter, it was acknowledging God was Who He said He was. He hates sin, and they were guilty before Him -- that is why they needed to make a sin offering. He is the Giver of all good things; the harvest and flock come from Him. This is why an offering of thanksgiving was important; it acknowledged that God was responsible for the blessings they were enjoying.

In some way, therefore, all of this was in the context of worship. The sacrifices offered on the altar were more about God than they were about the people offering them. Not only that, our praise is sometimes called a sacrifice:

Hebrews 13:15 Therefore, through Him let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of our lips that confess His name.

The tie-in to the Old Testament sacrificial system is fairly clear; the ancient Israelites offered up the fruit of the ground, and the fruit of their flocks. We offer up "the fruit of our lips," which the Bible calls "a sacrifice of praise."

With all of that said, it becomes clearer that there is important application for us in these two verses. When we approach God in worship and offer up "the fruit of our lips that confess His name," we need to make sure, as Jesus said, that a brother doesn't have something against us. If someone does, then we won't be able to worship properly. We'll be sinning, disobeying our Lord's command.

Now, that begs a couple of questions. Do we then need to have EVERYTHING taken care of? What about things that we don't remember? These are important questions, and they need answers.

First, we are not immediately responsible for things that we cannot remember. Why is that? Jesus says we aren't. He said, "and there you remember that your brother has something against you." If we honestly cannot remember it, then we are not under the obligation to resolve it before worship (since we are not aware of it). Of course, when we DO become aware of it, we are then responsible to right the wrong.

Secondly, and stay with me here for a moment, I would have to say that we are not responsible to have EVERYTHING remedied with someone before we come to worship. I think Dr. John Piper addresses that issue very well, using the context of the Sermon on the Mount to guide us. You can find the whole article here, but the main point is below:

But then notice what comes next in Matthew 5:10-12:

10 Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness [not sin, but righteousness], for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely [not truly], on account of Me. 12 Rejoice, and be glad [that is, don't let your conscience be troubled as if you were guilty of their hostility], for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Now this is remarkable. What Jesus says is that sometimes people will hold something against you when they shouldn't—insulting you, persecuting you, saying all kinds of evil against you falsely. What do you do in such circumstances? Do you stop worshipping as long as someone feels like this about you?

If so, Jesus would never have been able to worship in the latter years of his life. He was constantly opposed. They sought to trip him up in his speech. They tried to kill him. They tried to shame him. Was he responsible for this? Not only that, he said that the same would be true for his disciples. In Matthew 24:9 he said, "You will be hated by all nations on account of my name." In other words, if you are faithful to me, somebody will always have something against you."

Don't think we're off easy now that this has been established, however. Jesus, of course, never sinned. Therefore, he wouldn't have needed to go to someone before He worshiped. We, of course, are not that way. The only way we are going to find out if we are completely in the right or not is to go to someone with whom we have had conflict and make sure it is resolved.

Chances are also that we are not completely in the right. I have learned long ago, by the grace of God, that I'm almost NEVER completely in the right when I'm involved in a conflict. I might have failed to be meek and gentle in how I said something (violating one of the beatitudes and failing to show the fruit of the Spirit). Perhaps I failed to speak the truth in love. Maybe I got angry inappropriately, or maybe I flat out did something that was obviously a sin to me and the person I was sinning against. It is a lot easier to sin than we might think.

We also should NOT wait for the other person to come to us and repent first. It doesn't matter if the problem was 90% our fault or even just 1% our fault. If it was just 1%, then repent of your 1%! Sin is sin, and no matter how little there is, we are guilty of it either way. We are not responsible for the other person; we are responsible for ourselves. God doesn't tell us to repent of another person's sin; it isn't possible ((though there are times when it is appropriate to rebuke such a person). He tells us to repent of our own, and there is not a measure put on it.

So then, if indeed we can think of something that someone has against us, we should go to them and repent of anything we did or might have done. Our ability to worship God properly depends on it.

Glory be to God alone.



  • Great post. I have recently been conducting a study of I John, and that little epistle clearly illustrates your point. We cannot be right with God if we are wrong with the brethren. God bless!

    By Blogger Gordon Cloud, at Monday, February 06, 2006 2:28:00 PM  

  • Gordon,

    Thanks for the encouragement. It is certainly appreciated!

    David Hewitt

    By Blogger David B. Hewitt, at Monday, February 06, 2006 8:32:00 PM  

  • So what do we do when we have wronged someone, and have sought forgiveness through repentance to no avail? We seek reconciliation, with our brother or sister, but there is none to be found.

    By Blogger david morton, at Monday, February 05, 2007 10:00:00 AM  

  • Good question.

    If someone is unwilling to forgive, then they are in violation of Scriptural commands themselves. We of course cannot make someone obey God. So, we must always be at the ready to be reconciled with that person. If we've gone to them for reconciliation, I would have to think that our responsibility in Matthew 5 is fulfilled -- that is, we are then cleared for worship. However, that being said, we should always be looking for the final reconciliation from our brother or sister who at that point... if you think about it... are the ones who really ought to be seeking OUR forgiveness for remaining bitter.


    By Blogger David B. Hewitt, at Tuesday, February 06, 2007 10:12:00 PM  

  • Thanks for this post! Yikes, I needed this admonishment...now I need God's courage to carry it out & go to a person whom I find myself bristle around...! Help, Lord Jesus!

    By Blogger Nina Ruth Bruno, at Thursday, February 14, 2008 11:15:00 PM  

  • Good post. But as Christians can we agree to disagree? Especially with family members who exhibit jealousy and anger against other family members?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Saturday, April 10, 2010 11:00:00 PM  

  • Certainly we can agree to disagree. The issue of this passage is related to sin and not a friendly disagreement. Of course, as I think Piper rightly pointed out in Jesus's example, if we are more than willing to make amends and the other party is not, then we ought not think we are disqualified from worship.


    By Blogger David B. Hewitt, at Monday, April 12, 2010 9:58:00 PM  

  • A peer of mine wronged me a while back, should I then have to talk to him? Can't I just forget about it and move on?
    I also offended my sister when I was probably around five. Now, seven years later must I ask forgiveness of her?

    By Blogger jmanjay, at Sunday, April 18, 2010 7:52:00 PM  

  • So as i read this and all the comments with it, I must confess to my wife that i have had multiple affairs, most before i knew Christ and now am being treated for sexual addition. I am very scared of lossing my wife. I also do not want to put her and the children though unneeded pain. So if i confess then i can worship God correctly, if i don't I cannot. and here is where i struggle. in order for me to be right with God(a selfish act) i must cause great pain to my wife and children?

    By Blogger jwirth, at Sunday, June 13, 2010 7:13:00 PM  

  • Ok after reading you blog post and the comments below here is where i am at.
    to be right with God (a selfish act) i must cause great pain to my wife and children by admitting to lots of adulterious affairs. I am currently in treatment for sexual addition and have been told i must do this a part of the addition healing process, but i read a passage not too long ago that talked about not bring sin out something like "what man does in private do not bring out in shame". So i am really stuck with all this. part of me say do not hurt them for my offload of guilt the other parts says if she stays with me and we work though it she will show me the grace of God

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sunday, June 13, 2010 7:32:00 PM  

  • You need not to Confess your sins to people who are unaware of them (AKA hurt by them).
    You WILL hurt them by TELLING.

    Only ask for the wrongs that they feel offended by.

    Like: you yelled at your wife yesterday, so you come to her today and say "I'm sorry I yelled at you."

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Saturday, October 02, 2010 2:22:00 AM  

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