“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
(Matthew 5:23-26 ESV)
Yesterday we learned that God considers selfish anger to be just as serious as murder itself. In today’s passage Jesus further expands on this idea by showing us how our anger affects our relationship with God [Psalm 66:18]. This would have been a shocking revelation to His listeners and is just as eye-opening today.
Worship of God is good. He commands us to worship Him for our own sake. But when we have internal, unresolved sin our outward acts of worship are not acceptable to Him. Continuing on the subject of interpersonal relationships, Jesus tells us that reconciliation must precede worship.
Sin creates distance between ourselves and God. It also creates distance between ourselves and others. Jesus tells us to settle our differences in our personal relationships before we attempt to settle our differences with God. It’s not that our human relationships take priority. It’s that our human relationships affect our relationship with God.
Notice that even if we have nothing against another person but they [have] something against us, we are to attempt to reconcile. While we can’t control what others think, God wants us to be proactive peacemakers [Matthew 5:9; Romans 12:18; Hebrews 12:14]. Having peaceful relationships with each other is the responsibility of every human being.
Jesus uses a legal illustration to command us that we are to come to terms quickly with those who have something against us. The time to reconcile is not tomorrow but today. It’s best to resolve our personal issues on our own (while you are going with him to court) rather than having to face the judge, who is Jesus [2 Timothy 4:1].
The message is clear. When we come face-to-face with Jesus after death we will have to answer for every strained and broken earthly relationship.
The point of this passage, and the entire Sermon on the Mount, is that God’s standard for righteousness is incredibly high. We may think nothing of anger and broken relationships. But in so doing we are only hurting ourselves. God considers such things to be sin.
Jesus’ goal is to shatter any notions of self-righteousness we may have. None of us are good [Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:10 et. al]. We are up to our eyes in sin. But we ignore and/or justify much of it. As a result of sin none of us are qualified to be in heaven – a perfectly pure place in the presence of a perfectly pure God.
The only way in to heaven, therefore, is by the righteousness of Jesus. If we simply repent (change our thinking about ourselves) and accept Jesus’ death as complete and necessary as the payment for the debt we owe for our sin, He will impart His own perfect righteousness to us [Jeremiah 23:6; 1 Corinthians 1:30]. Then we will be eligible to enter heaven.
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