Matthew 5:23–24 describes in a nutshell the correct response and procedure to follow when we have been in the wrong and have offended someone.
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.
The scene is clear. A person in Jesus’s day has come to worship. At that time, in keeping with the Jewish law and custom, worshipers brought sacrificial animals or birds with them. The sacrifice would be slain before God, providing cleansing of sin and a way of open access to prayer.
Today, it would simply be a Christian coming to his or her Father in prayer. Either way, the worshiper is suddenly seized with the inescapable thought, the painful realization that he or she has offended another person. In the words of Jesus, you “remember your brother has something against you.”
What do you do? Stop! Don’t ignore that realization. Don’t just plunge on into prayer, even though that may be your first reaction. God wants us, rather, to be sensitive to His quiet prompting.
In verse 24, we are instructed to do four things:
- Stop—”leave your offering there.”
- Go—”go your way.”
- Reconcile—”first be reconciled.”
- Return—”then come and present your offering.”
The key term is reconciled. It’s from a Greek verb that means we are commanded to go through a process that will result in a change. Clearly, the offender is to initiate the action.
That needs little clarification. We are to go (ideally, personally—if not possible, at least by phone or letter) and confess both the wrong and our grief over the offense, seeking the forgiveness of the one we wounded. Then, we are free to return to God in worship and prayer.
“But what if he or she won’t forgive?” Good question! We’ll tackle that tomorrow.