Summary: Whether you have been hurt or have hurt someone else, you seek reconciliation for the glory of God.
In Paul’s brief correspondence with the Philippians, as he drew his letter to a close, he mentioned an issue of some importance in his mind. There were two women in the church – dear women, women who had “labored side by side” with Paul in the gospel, women “whose names,” Paul said, “are in the book of life.” But something had happened between them. They were now crossways with each other. One of them, perhaps, had said something or failed to say something. One of them, perhaps, had done something or failed to do something. We are not told. Maybe they clashed on a matter of great importance, or, as is often the case, on a matter of little importance. We don’t know.
But we do know this. Their quarrel was having a harmful effect on the church. It always does, doesn’t it? Jesus himself said, “No…house divided against itself will stand” (Matt. 12:25). And that goes for the house of God – doesn’t it? – just as much as any other house. So what did Paul say to the two women in Philippi? He urged them. He appealed to them. He entreated them. He said, “I entreat [you both] to agree in the Lord” (Phil. 4:2). And so important was this that he even went on to enlist the help of the pastor there in Philippi to restore these two women to unity in Christ.
People hurt each other; there’s no doubt about that. Sometimes people in the church hurt each other. I grieve that it is so, but it is. We are all fallen creatures, and, as James says, “We all stumble in many ways” (Jas. 3:2). Sometimes it’s our mouths that do the damage. James goes on to say, “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire” (Jas. 3:5f.). Sometimes it’s not so much what we say as it is what we do. Sometimes it’s what we don’t do. It’s neglect; it’s what we forget – or fail – to do or say.
And feelings get hurt, and people get wounded. And often, as they say, hurt people hurt people. We lash out. We get back. We “repay…evil for evil” (Rom. 12:17). We forget that we are “one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rom. 12:5). We forget that our primary purpose in life is to glorify God and not to insist on or defend our own glory. There’s more at stake in our disagreements, you see, than who is right and who is wrong. If our divisions tarnish the glory of God – and they do! – then we are all wrong.
Here in Matthew, chapter 5, and later in Matthew, chapter 18, Jesus gives us instructions on what to do when we offend one another. Now, before we look at these two passages, I want to be sure that you understand something. What we’re about to read are the words of our Lord Jesus. Truth be told, we ought to submit to everything the Bible says – because it is all the Word of God – but, even if we find occasion to dismiss something the Bible tells us to do, let’s not excuse ourselves from compliance here. This is Jesus speaking, and Jesus is our Lord. We can hardly claim to be his disciples if we’re not serious about doing what he says.
So, what does he say? In Matthews’ Gospel, he tells us what to do when we have hurt others, and he tells us what to do when others have hurt us. Let’s start with what to do when the fault is ours, when it is we who have sinned against another. Jesus says in Matthew 5:23 and 24, “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 an offer your gift.”
What are we supposed to do when we have wronged another person? We’re to go to them. Right? We are to take the initiative in seeking to be reconciled. That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? If I have hurt someone else, it is my responsibility to seek them out and acknowledge it and ask for forgiveness.
But now look at the implications. The first one is urgency. This can’t wait. It needs to be done sooner rather than later. Why? Because, as long as this is the situation with your brother or sister, you are out of fellowship with God. You can’t even worship, because your worship doesn’t count. Why not? Because your heart is not right with God. If it’s not right with your neighbor, it can’t be right with God. That’s why Jesus says, “Give up on trying to worship. Leave your gift there before the altar and go. First, be reconciled to your brother, and then you can come and worship with a pure heart.”