THEOLOGY & APOLOGETICS
Misunderstood Teachings of Jesus Part 1
Reconciliation with God and Man
By Christopher Schwinger
Misunderstood Teachings of Jesus, the Series
Reconciliation with God and Man
The Prodigal and his Brother
Blasphemy and Forgiveness
Matthew 5:23-24: Reconciling with another person before approaching God
"Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering." (This article uses the NASB version.)
The misunderstanding: You have to probe anxiously for whether you've fixed all your relationships, or otherwise you're wasting your prayers.
The correct interpretation: 1 John 4:20 phrases it best: "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen."
Explanation: In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is going deeper than the written commandments and looking at the sinful attitudes which cause the commandments to be broken. In Matthew 5:21-22, Jesus says that if you have hatred toward another person, you're no better than a murderer. This means that even if you haven't committed murder, you still have the ability to, because murder comes from hatred. If you keep all the commandments but they don't teach you to love, then the purpose of the commandments has been lost on you. Commandments help identify where you're at on holiness and set limits on how much the legal system will tolerate of people's mistreatment of each other. Expounding on this point, Jesus uses a "therefore" in Matthew 5:23. He says here and elsewhere that you can't be right with Him unless you are treating others right also. So if one of your relationships isn't right, and you have the power to help it but don't, then you're wasting your worship at the altar. This is what Paul also said, in 1 Corinthians 13:3, "And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing." Then Jesus gives another example in Matthew 5:25-26, that if you're about to be accused, then you should try to make it right before you get to court, because a court of law dehumanizes situations; you forfeit your own desires because the written law tells people how they're supposed to respond. But if you can prevent it from getting to that point, you will be much happier.
Proverbs 17:9 says, "He who conceals a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends." What that proverb means is this: It's usually counterproductive to seek out a discussion of something which had been an issue in a relationship the past but no longer is. But if there is still an issue in the relationship, and you're wanting to show love to the other person, you will know whether that person is unwilling to receive your love, and whether it's your own fault. It's a discernment that God gives us as we grow in character. Just as you wouldn't inquire whether you've offended someone who seems to be fine with you, you wouldn't come up to a person who offended you and say "I forgive you" if they weren't already truly apologetic to you, because that wouldn't mean anything to them: "You have nothing to forgive me about, because I didn't do anything wrong!" (their response to you). As hard as it is to accept, we aren't able on our own to mend relationships. The other person/people also have to want to. The context of that passage makes the best interpretation of this "offense" an obvious relationship barrier, not something we have to search for anxiously. Everything Jesus teaches in the Sermon in the Mount is supposed to demonstrate how hard holiness is and that no one can be holy without divine help.
Image Credit: Duccio di Buoninsegna; "Appearance of Christ on Mt. Galilee"; 1308-1311; Public Domain
Tags: Biblical-Truth | Christian-Life | Controversial-Issues | False-Teaching | Jesus-Christ
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