By Mike Willis
Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift (Matt. 5:23-24).
I wish that I could live above sin. If I never sinned, I would not have to be concerned about making things right with those against whom I have sinned. Because I am a sinner and hurt others by my sin, these words from the Sermon on the Mount are extremely relevant.
Seeking God’s Forgiveness Is Not Enough
Sometimes men act as if they think that forgiveness is only vertical between oneself and God alone. That this is not so can be shown, not only from the text cited above, but also by practical illustration.
Suppose that I were to leave the parking lot this morning, totally consumed with our worship. In my preoccupation with other things, I back my 1987 Bonneville into the door of your new car. Immediately I stop and pray, “Lord forgive me of my carelessness and negligence. Please bless Sam financially so that he can afford to have his car fixed.” Have I taken care of my offence? Of course, not.
Sin is not limited to one’s relationship with God. It also affects those against whom one sins.
What Am I To Do?
This text lists the requirements. There are four steps to take:
1. Stop. When one recalls that he has sinned against his brother, he needs to make it right. It should not be put off, even for worship. Every-thing needs to stop until the offence against the brother is corrected. Continuing to offer one’s worship to God does not bring reconciliation with the offended brother.
We see just how important proper brotherly relationships are to God. He will not accept the worship of a man who sins against his brother but does not correct it. We might tend to minimize our offences, forget them, and go on, but God calls men to account.
2. Go. The one who has sinned against his brother needs to go to his what the Lord commanded. Rather, a person is raising him-self up when he obeys the Lord. When one’s foolish pride keeps him from making things right with his brother, it is keeping him out of heaven.
3. Be reconciled. The word “reconcile” comes from the diallasso that means “to change; to change the mind of any one, to reconcile.” The person is trying to change the enmity that the brother feels against him because of his offence. For reconciliation to occur, a person must: (a) Ac-knowledge that the conduct which he is confessing is wrong, inappropriate behavior; (b) Acknowledge that he was guilty of that inappropriate behavior. Without both of these occurring, reconciliation cannot occur.
A person may avoid correcting his behavior by failure to acknowledge one or the other. For example, a drinker may say, “I know that drinking is wrong” but deny that he is guilty. Or he may say, “Yes, I drink” but deny that drinking is wrong. Neither corrects the offence. A person must do both: acknowledge that the conduct is sinful and admit that he committed it.
The TV character Fonzie had trouble saying, “I was wrwrr- wro wrong!” Sometimes Christians are like that. Even when their sins are exposed for everyone to see, they lack the humility to say, “I have sinned.” “I was wrong.”
4. Return. Having made things right with one’s brother, the person can now offer acceptable worship to God. He now returns to worship with God.
What If He Does Not Forgive Me?
The obligations of forgiveness are not always easy to bear. The innocent party has to bear the pain of forgiveness. He has to suffer the offence without retaliation. Just as the innocent God bore the cost of man’s forgiveness, so also the innocent bears the weight of forgiveness in our relationships with one another. He has the strength of character to say, “I have no desire to retaliate. I want our relationship with one another to be right so much that I am willing to forgive you.”
As you assemble for worship, ask yourself, “Is there anyone with whom I need to speak before continuing with my worship?”
Guardian of Truth XL: No. 20, p. 2
October 17, 1996