Matthew 5 21 "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' 22But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
I have a long, varied Christian experience – many churches, many Christian ministries, Christian colleges, mission trips, etc. Someone who knows me is going to think I’m writing this about them and their experience. I’m not. Or maybe I am, but I’m writing it about 50 different experiences. In other words, if you see yourself in this exhortation, it’s not because I am writing about your specific experience, but because your specific experience really reflects something that happens quite often in our Christian experience for which Christ has given a very clear specific command.
The situation is unresolved Christian conflict. Some issue came up, people got angry, and instead of resolving the issue, one or both parties dug in their heals. Eventually each went on their separate way unreconciled. The answer is NOT what most of us try to do – keep plodding along in Christian ministry in hopes that all the other good that seems to come in spite of or maybe even because of the conflict will outweigh the bad. The answer is, quite simply, to STOP EVERYTHING and be reconciled.
Consider the scenario Christ presents – this guy or girl is at the altar ready to offer a good gift, likely a very good gift. The quality of the gift about to be offered is not in question here. It could be the best gift ever, given of completely good motives. And Jesus says LEAVE IT. Don’t distract yourself from this unresolved situation by all the other good things you have done and continue to do for God. Praise God your ministry has pointed others to the gospel. Praise God that you still bring meals to the sick or visit widows in their affliction. That is good and the appropriateness of those offerings is not in question. And, yet, Jesus stills says LEAVE IT. First, be reconciled to your brother or sister. If you continue in fruitful ministry while unreconciled to your brother or sister in Christ, it does not discount the value of your offering. It just is plain, simple disobedience. It’s sin.
Reconciliation doesn’t mean that you and your opponent finally fully agree about whatever issue that prompted your original conflict. It means that you humble yourself to say, “You are more important than this issue. And while I hold to my convictions, I was angry and unloving in our conflict. Please forgive me.”
Humbling myself in these situations is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. In my experience, it is extra hard to talk myself into moving toward someone in reconciliation. First, they likely sinned against me as I did them. And I desperately need them to recognize their sin against me. The fear of rejection is two fold – I fear that they may reject my apology, but I also fear that they won’t acknowledge their part in the conflict. In that scenario, I imagine myself walking away in utter dejection after humbling myself and being real and vulnerable with that person. But the reality of my experience is that even when someone doesn’t receive my apology or acknowledge their sin against me as I want, I still have won. Because the point was obeying Christ’s commands, and now I can offer Christ my offering to Him without baggage. The other person may not have received my attempt at reconciliation, but Christ receives it. And THAT makes it worthwhile.
If you are plodding along in Christian ministry in hopes that all the other good that you are doing outweighs the bad of the lingering conflict, remember Christ’s instruction to stop everything and be reconciled --- and OBEY Him.
If you are in that place, feel free to request prayer in the comment section.
**One added thought -- This verse helps me know how to think about good Christian ministries that have sinned against someone I know. Until I examined Christ's teaching here, my choices seemed to be only to ignore their sin and support the good they were doing or totally discount everything they did because their sin was so obvious. When confronting a ministry leader once about their sin against another, their response to me was, "But don't you all the good this ministry is doing?!" Christ gives us a 3rd response, which is neither denying the good works the ministry/person is accomplishing or accepting their sin against you or another. They could be doing great good. BUT they STILL need to stop everything and be reconciled. They may be doing great things and still be disobeying Christ.