So far in our series on relationships, offenses, and how to respond to them, we’ve talked about overlooking offenses and what to do when we can’t overlook an offense. This time, I want to side-step and look at the responsibilities of the offender instead of the responsibilities of the offended. Whereas, in my last post we looked at Matthew 18:15 and the Christ-given duty of the offender to talk to, to have a conversation with, the offender about the offense, in this post I’d like to look at the responsibility of the offender to the offended.
In Matthew 5:23-24 Jesus says this, “23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Jesus proposes a situation in which a person is about to engage in a solemn act of worship (offering a gift) and remembers that he or she may have done something that offended another person. It’s important to read the passage carefully. And there are a few things I’d like to draw out in particular.
Get ahead of it.
Your going does not depend on an actual sin being committed, it depends on the state of the brother (or sister). Notice It does not say “leave your gift there before the alter and go” if you actually committed a sin. It does not say “leave your gift there before the alter and go” if you actually committed a sin worthy of them being offended by. It says “leave your gift there before the alter and go” if your brother has something against you.
Let me clarify. The duty to go to the offended does not hinge on whether or not an actual sin was committed. The duty to go to the offended also does not hinge on whether or not you are offended.1 The duty to go to the offended hinges on the state of the offended—the very fact that they are offended. Further, it does not really matter if you did anything actually sinful. If you did anything, and you are aware that what you did offended someone, it is your duty to go to them and work through it. The idea is to get ahead of conflict, anger, resentment, or any kind of relational distance that may arise because of your action and the offended state of the other person. The goal is for brothers (and sisters) to “dwell in unity” (Ps. 133:1) and not in animosity against one another. It’s important to be proactive in resolving relational problems rather than reactive.
When should we go to the offended person? We go as soon as we become aware that the other person may be offended. It’s obvious that we can’t go to people that we don’t even know we’ve offended, hence the need for Matthew 18:15. However, if we realize someone may be upset with us, we are commanded to go to them not wait for them to come to us. As Pastor Jason has pointed out to me before, Matthew 5:23-24 and Matthew 18:15 ought to have these two parties meeting in the middle—both coming to the other to resolve the wrinkle in their relationship.
So, maybe we realize a certain person won’t look at us during worship. Maybe we realize we haven’t talked to someone in a while, and they haven’t talked to us either. Maybe someone else tells us we should go talk to someone. Or maybe the Spirit reminds us of something we did that had potential to offend someone else. Whatever the case, once we realize another person may be offended, we should go—immediately! The worshiper in Matthew 5:23-24 is commanded to “go” and “be reconciled” even before they offer their gift at the alter. Go as soon as possible—time is capital for the building up of anger and resentment.
The goal of going: “be reconciled.”2
Why do we go? Jesus states the goal of our going plainly: “be reconciled.” The need to “be reconciled” implies the need to bring together two parties that have otherwise been separated. This is a gospel principle: the Scriptures speak of the need for us to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:18-21). We have sinned against him in thought, word, and deed. He is holy. We are not. We need to ‘be reconciled to him’—a work that Christ does for us by being our perfect righteousness and dying for our sins. Christ has reconciled us—brought us back to, restored our relationship with—God. Christ satisfied the righteous wrath of God against us so that we could enjoy fellowship with God. When we speak of Christ’s reconciling us to God, we are not primarily talking about our being clothed with the righteousness of Christ (justification), but we are primarily talking about Christ appeasing the righteous wrath of God on our behalf. Christ satisfied the wrath of God against us. He did away with it for us. God had reason to be angry with us (our sin). Christ did away with that anger in his life and death on the cross. He reconciled us to God. He brought us back in.
So when we think about being reconciled with others, we need to think of how Christ has reconciled us to God—that’s the reason we seek reconciliation and why we have the ability to be reconciled. But also, he has given us the pattern for reconciliation unto others: appeasing, doing away with, or working through any problem or offended-ness someone may harbor against us. We are not primarily going to them for our own good but so that our relationship might be restored. Now, it may be in the course of that conversation we discover actual sin that we committed against them. In that case, the process is the same as always: as the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin and we become truly sorrowful over it (Godly sorrow), we confess our sin (both to God and to the person we sinned against) and ask forgiveness for that sin (from both God and from the other person).
We fit in both categories.
Some of you, perhaps, would have preferred for me to write this installment in the third person, using pronouns such as “them, they, he, and she”—primarily talking about other people. However, the reality is that all of us fit into both categories—sometimes we are the offended (see this post) and other times we are the offender as I’ve described above. It is just as much our responsibility to go to someone if we may have sinned against them as it is for us to go to someone if they may have sinned against us. And it’s at this point we realize that we not only need boldness and courage, gentleness and grace to go to others when they sin against us. But we need humility, that we might go to someone when we may have sinned against them. So, that’s why we need both Matthew 5:23-24 and Matthew 18:15 in the first person (I, me, we)—because it is likely that we are the offender just as often as the offended.
1 See John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (2015), page 31.
2 Ibid, 29-39.