Jesus, in Matthew 5:21-22, taught how sinful anger was the spiritual equivalent of murder. Certainly, that is a much higher standard than most people would care to have applied to them. Sin isn’t just something we do externally but it is a matter of the heart and our inner attitudes. However, anger is a two way street. Or more precisely, there are at least two parties involved-the person who is angry and the object of that anger. Ultimately, Christ teaches us in these verses that reconciliation is of paramount importance when a relationship is strained by angry feelings regardless if we are the angry party or the object of someone’s ire.
First of all, Jesus teaches us that unresolved anger affects our worship. Notice that He says “if you are presenting your offering at the altar”. The altar in the temple was at the heart of the temple and bringing an offering was required at times and at other times was freewill. However, both kinds of offerings were supposed to be brought with the right heart attitude. During any time of worship we should engage in some time of introspection. Are our motives pure? Do we have unconfessed sin in our lives? We should also ask “Are any of my relationships strained?” During this time of reflection, the Holy Spirit is able to bring to our mind things that might hinder our worship of the heavenly Father. One of those things is a broken or strained relationship.
We see that the Lord has in mind a broken or strained relationship in the word picture He paints. The scene He describes is of us preparing to worship when the Holy Spirit causes us to “remember that your brother has something against you”. See, here’s the thing that we must take notice of and this is something I don’t think I’ve ever thought about before I sat down to write this post. Jesus doesn’t say that we remember that we have done something to someone else but rather we remember that they have something against us. Does that mean that they have a legitimate claim? Not necessarily. I can remember when I served on staff at a particular church in Alabama that there was one member who only had two problems with me—just two little problems. They were “Everything that I did” and “Everything that I said”. Now were there times that I was wrong—I’m sure there were. But I feel quite comfortable saying that most of the stuff she got her knickers in a twist about were things that she assumed she could read my mind and know the motivation of my heart neither of which she could do. However, the point our Lord makes is not that we have actually done something but rather that we remember that someone has something against us. In this context, the term brother does not seem to indicate “fellow believer” but probably has more a sense “the brotherhood of mankind”. In any case, if we know someone has something against us we should not wait for them to come to us but we should take the initiative. Reconciliation is that important to God.
Christ then calls us to go and “be reconciled” to our brother. On the audit that I just finished, there were numerous financial schedules that I had to examine. Several times, the numbers that should have matched did not match, Total Additions to Buildings for example, should have agreed between two of the schedules but they did not. I had to find what the difference was between them so I could say they were reconciled. Was there still a difference when I finished? Yes. However, the disagreement between the two schedules was now resolved because it was explained. If someone is angry with you and you make the attempt to reconcile, they may not want to reconcile the difference. Also, you may have a difference where you simply have to “agree to disagree”. Observe that Christ here does not say that we are responsible for their reaction only that we are responsible for initiating the attempt to be reconciled. We should be willing to humble ourselves and do what we can do to bring peace back the relationship. When we do that, we can proceed with our worship.
In verse 25, Jesus moves from a religious arena to a civil one. He exhorts us to “Make friends quickly” with someone who has a legal claim against us. I have never been sued and I am grateful for that. However, I did have an occasion to sue someone once. A gentleman passed me illegally on a road and hit my vehicle. He promised to pay for the repairs but he never did. I went to the courthouse and took out the paper to have a suit brought against him. When he got the paperwork, he came to my house to attempt to make things right. I worked with him and we settled the matter out of court. It was less expensive for him and less time consuming for me.
Here, Jesus is saying that if someone has a legal claim on us for something, we need to get that settled as quickly as we can because there are going to be consequences if we don’t. He continues in verses 25 and 26 to describe what would have been the legal penalties in that day. The point of the matter is this—we need to live at peace with people to the extent that we are able and we need to be willing to sacrifice to achieve that peace if necessary. Failure to do so can bring consequences not only from man (legally) but from God (spiritually).