Sometimes Jesus surprises us with a bigger duty than we expected.
Consider this scenario:
Someone spoke out of turn. Someone misunderstood you. Or resented what you said. Or criticized your criticism.
Result: There was a hurt. An injury. A disconnect.
It’s easy to say, “That’s their problem, not mine. I didn’t mean it that way.”
But Jesus didn’t see it that way.
Here is the statement from Jesus. What did He say?
Matthew 5:23–24 23Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,
I naturally feel justified. But even if I didn’t CAUSE it, Jesus sees it as MY problem. Simply because I was there. And responsible. My words—misapplied, misconstrued, misunderstood—caused it.
But what Jesus is addressing is that my brother or sister has something against me. To even REALIZE this I have to be concerned about the relationship. I have to be WANTING to make it right.
So Jesus draws the picture. I am standing in front of the altar where I came to make an offering to God. My song, my worship, my prayer.
But as I stand there, I remember the point of disconnect. The disappointment, the shock, the hurt on My brother’s or sister’s face. At the same time, I tell myself that I didn’t mean any harm. If he (she) weren’t so sensitive, there would be no issue.
Or perhaps he or she just imagined it. Or caused it. But even that doesn’t free ME. According to Jesus, it is still MY responsibility to take the first step to make it right.
So what must I do? STOP. Hold that offering.
Matthew 5:23–24 23Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
What must I do?
24leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
Reconciliation is the priority. It is my duty to make things right—
Even though I am sure it is the other person’s problem.
Even though I am sure I didn’t CAUSE it—and possibly could not have prevented it.
Here is the same text from the New Jerusalem Bible.
Matthew 5:23–24 (NJB) 23So then, if you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering.
Reconciliation first. Offering second.
What is the most likely cause of the offense? Paul says it in his letter to the Galatians. Apparently there was strife between them and Paul warned them sharply. The New Jerusalem Bible states it well:
Galatians 5:13–15 (NJB) 13After all, brothers, you were called to be free; do not use your freedom as an opening for self-indulgence, but be servants to one another in love, 14since the whole of the Law is summarised in the one commandment: You must love your neighbour as yourself. 15If you go snapping at one another and tearing one another to pieces, take care: you will be eaten up by one another.
They were not free to snap at one another. Rather, they should be busy serving one another in love. Love—Christ-like love, agape love—not trying to get even or get ahead of one another.
Paul saw that the love was missing, the brotherly spirit of kindness and sympathetic concern.
Galatians 5:15 15But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!
Paul went on to make a very practical example about relationships in the brotherhood. There should be a mutual, loving concern, not “biting and devouring one another.” He says,
Galatians 6:1 1Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.
Notice Paul is addressing this to “you who are spiritual.” It is advice for the spiritually minded, those who are Kingdom-bound, who have chosen God’s higher way of thought and behavior.
What does it mean to be “overtaken in a fault”? It is to be surprised by it. Something comes up unexpectedly and we fall headlong on our face! It is like walking down a woodsy path, and we stumble on a root we didn’t see.
Paul is talking to the spiritually minded companion of the brother or sister who stumbles. What is the right attitude of the companion? Paul says,
1…you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.
3 points of duty for the one helping the one who stumbled:
1) “Restore,” literally “mend” or reconcile the brother or sister
2) Keep a spirit of gentleness, meekness, humility—not
“I wouldn’t have tripped on that!”
3) Realize “it could have been I who stumbled”!
It must be all in a spirit of loving concern for the other’s spiritual good.
Being overtaken in a fault fits into David’s analysis of various types of sins that he described in Psalm 19.
David was pondering the depth and breadth of the sins he had fallen into. He put them in three different categories:
Psalm 19:12–13 12Who can understand his [category 1] errors? Cleanse me from [category 2] secret faults.
Category 1 errors are mistakes, something wrong but done inadvertently. Not wilfull, and not intentional. Something like Paul was talking about with one “overtaken in a fault.”
The next are more serious, we might call them category 2 sins, what David calls “secret faults.” Knowable, but harder to correct—because we keep them under cover, hence have no one to help us. We close out brotherly or sisterly help by keeping them “secret.”
Then David goes far down the scale to the really big, premeditated ones: category 3, or presumptuous sins.
Here David prays God for help.
13Keep back Your servant also from [category 3] presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me.
These sins would dominate heart and conscience. David says, “Let them not have dominion over me.” Then what?
If free from [category 1]errors, [category 2] secret faults, and[category 3] presumptuous sins, then David says, continuing in verse 13:
Then I shall be blameless, And I shall be innocent of great transgression.
That last is what David –and all of us—want: to be blameless, innocent of transgression.
That is why David revered the Scriptures so highly. As he had just said a few verses earlier:
Psalm 19:9,11 9The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether…
11Moreover by them [God’s statutes, judgments, commandments, precepts, laws] Your servant is warned…
The Scriptures are God’s warning bugle. They cry out loud and long against sin. If we are spiritually alert, they warn us of danger, especially the danger that comes from within our own hearts.
What a blessing we have in the word of God! With God’s help we can be victor over all these sins!
Let us close our thought with this comforting passage from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians:
2 Thessalonians 3:3–5 3But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the [evil]. 4And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, both that you do and will do the things we command you. 5Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the [patient waiting for] Christ. And when something goes wrong, let us have the courage to search it out and do our part first to make it right!