The Significance Of Reconciliation
Scripture: Matthew 5:21-26
In the passage before us today, Jesus gives the first of six brief expositions on what obedience to God looks like. In each section, Jesus addresses misunderstandings of the Law and provides the correct interpretation of it. By addressing misunderstandings of the Law in the first century, Jesus also addresses problems that are common in our own culture today. Issues like anger, lust, divorce, and retaliation are still prevalent parts of 21st century American culture. We would do best to listen to and obey what Jesus says on these topics. After all, Jesus is God in the flesh. What he says should be final and authoritative for all of us.
In order to find ourselves in obedience to God in these areas (or in any area of our lives, for that matter), we need grace. An inward change must take place before we can truly begin to live in obedience to God. None of us can accomplish the internal change necessary to obey God. That is entirely a work of God himself. The Holy Spirit is who effects that change in our lives. The Holy Spirit empowers us to live in obedience. Sanctification is truly synergistic.
Jesus begins this section of his Sermon by addressing what the people had been told. Of course they knew the command not to murder. It was one of the Ten Commandments. Presumably, they all knew this by heart. Also presumably, none of them were guilty of killing an innocent person. Why would Jesus bring this up? Jesus brings it up because, if we interpret the commandment as merely prohibiting the actual killing of an innocent individual, then we have missed the point of the commandment. Our anger at others, as well as our harsh words toward them, make us guilty before God in the same way that actual murder would make us guilty before God. These sins, which seem minor to us, are placed on par with murder, which we think of as the worst of crimes. In God's eyes, they are all equally horrible.
Notice what Jesus is prohibiting here. He is prohibiting anger against a person. Not against sin. Not against injustice. We do well to become upset when sin and injustice are seen around us, thus stirring us to action. In fact, God himself is upset with injustice. If you don't believe me, pick some of the minor prophets at random and read them. No, it is not anger in general that God is prohibiting. It is anger at our brothers and sisters that is prohibited. The natural question that arises from this question is this: "Who is my brother?" This sounds incredibly similar to a question asked to Jesus in Luke 10:25-37. However, there are a couple of considerations when understanding this passage. While some may try to understand the term "brother" here as referring only to a brother, this is probably only half true. The first part of this passage (v. 23-24) likely involves reconciliation to a fellow believer. However, our reconciliation does not stop there. We are called to settle matters quickly with those people who are our adversaries. In the event that we commit an offense against those who hate us, we must reconcile.
Notice also that Jesus places the responsibility for reconciliation squarely on the shoulders of the Christian. If we commit an offense against someone, it is our job to seek reconciliation with that person. It is not their job to seek reconciliation with us. This passage goes so far as to indicate that we are to leave our offering at the altar and go be reconciled with our brothers and sisters that we have offended. This is significant, because it implies that reconciliation is more important than our offerings. This does not diminish the importance of making offerings to God. Rather, it elevates the importance of reconciliation. All the offerings in the world mean little if we are not actively living out what Jesus teaches in this passage. There may be an allusion here to 1 Samuel 15:22.
These passages, when taken together as a whole, show us that it is the responsibility of the Christian to reconcile to both Christians and non-Christians who have been harmed by our attitudes or our words. We are to be active in watching what we say and do, as well as reconciling with those who have been hurt by our words and actions. Who do you need to reconcile with today?