This past Lenten season Jack Wisdom and I hosted a session on “Repentance” at our church. For six weeks we covered a variety of scriptural passages which talked about the damage done to ourselves and others by sin and the constant need we have for turning to God. We touched on a variety of scriptural themes and books such as Jonah, Joel, Psalms, and 1 John in order to reflect on what it truly means to change our ways and turn to God.
One evening we tackled a particularly difficult saying of Jesus from Matthew 5:23-24:
Therefore, if you are bringing an offering to God and you remember that your brother is angry with you or holds a grudge against you, then leave you gift before the altar, go to your brother, repent and forgive one another, be reconciled, and then return to the altar to offer your gift to God.
Jesus is illustrating what “deeper righteousness” means. Some might look at those who attend church often as being righteous (that is, in a right and proper relationship to God). Others might look at how much people give to the church as a measure of how right they are. But notice what Jesus says. Deeper righteousness means—among other things—that when we recall a broken or injured relationship, we leave the altar and our gifts, go to our offended brother or sister, and make it right. Then when things are right between you, come back to the altar and present your best to God. Regrettably, many continue to attend church, give their gifts, with the pain of broken relationships not far away.
Here is my concern. I have seen many Christians, some of whom are church leaders, with a series of relational disasters in their pasts. They have broken with friends, broken with family, and broken with co-workers. In other words they have left relational wreckage in their wakes all while pursuing their lives and ministry. They blame others and justify themselves. They were in the right; the other was in the wrong. They were reasonable; the other unreasonable. They may well celebrate God’s reconcilation of the world through Christ and yet, for reasons only they know, they refuse to pursue reconcilation in their own lives. My major concern here is not with the person who has an occasional break with someone—though that must be addressed–but with those who have bodies stacked deep and wide in their pasts.
Deeper righteousness means that we pursue reconciliation before we give a dime or attend worship. The way Jesus puts it and the priority he gives it, it is clear that we must do everything in our power to be reconciled. Notice. It doesn’t matter whether you are the offender or the offendee. It is not appropriate for you to wait until the other person makes the first move. You must be one to humble ourselves and seek forgiveness. It is hard to swallow your pride and “get low” in humility—as my friend Jack Wisdom puts it—especially if you are a leader. But it is important, especially for leaders, to be the example and show others how it must be done. If the other person fails to respond or rejects our repeated attempts to make things right, then we must mourn the loss and look forward to a day when God reconciles all things.