The Freedom of Reconciliation
The Freedom of Reconciliation
“First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”
Author Lewis Smedes wrote, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that prisoner was you.” In Matthew 5, Christ points to the importance of reconciliation. He begins by referring to the Mosaic law and the 6th command, prohibiting murder. Christ then takes it a step further by pointing out that murder is not just an act but an attitude. Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, he moves from the action to the attitude that leads to the action. We often view sin solely from the outward deeds we do. Yet Christ continually looks at the internal feelings and thoughts we have. When we are angry with others, when we hold resentment toward them, when we look down upon our neighbors, we are nursing the same attitudes that lead to the act of murder. In verse 22, Christ points out our inward attitudes. Murder is to disregard and devalue the life of another to the point that it is insignificant. It is to disregard the fact that they reflect the image of God. When we label people with derogatory words, we devalue them and disregard God’s character within them. This begins when we hold a grudge against another person, for in holding a grudge, we are essentially saying that they are unworthy of forgiveness. We are treating them as though they were nothing. “You good for nothing” means “numbskull or a fool.” It is to accuse the person of being low intelligence. The second term, “fool,” is to view the individual as vile and unlovable and not to be honored. It is to regard the other person as unredeemable. To hold a grudge against another is to ultimately express an attitude that devalues the other person to the point that they are beyond God’s redemption. Thus it is to place ourselves in the position of God and usurp his position as the righteous judge, which is the mark of rebellion against God.
Having confronted us with our attitudes, Christ provides the answer. Rather than judge and condemn the other person, we must strive to be reconciled with them. If we fail to be reconciled, we face imprisonment (figuratively and literally). The word reconcile is crucial. The word means “to be restored to a favorable or friendly relationship with them.” It does not mean “I forgive them and then ignore them and have nothing to do with them.” Instead, it means to regard them with favor. Furthermore, the verb “be reconciled” is an imperative that commands us to take the initiative. We are not to wait for the other person to act; we are to act. This point is further emphasized in verse 25, “Make friends quickly with your opponent.” The word means “think well” of them. One writer describes it this way “Compromise is better than prison where no principle is involved, but only personal interest. It is so easy to see principle where pride is involved.” In other words, we often confuse pride with principle and try to justify our hostility.
If we have problems with our neighbors and struggle to forgive someone with whom we have had a conflict, the answer lies in forgiveness and reconciliation. Instead of demanding our “rights,” we are to set aside our rights and forgive and seek to restore the relationship with them. For this is what Christ did for us. Paul writes, “ While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The perfect and innocent willingly bore the offense so that reconciliation might be possible. How much more should we, imperfect and guilty, be willing to take the insult of others so that reconciliation will be possible? Instead of demanding your rights, be ready to set them aside, forgive, and seek reconciliation. When we do this, we discover the joy and freedom of forgiveness. When we fail to forgive, we find ourselves imprisoned with bars of our creation.