At some point, every one of us has held a grudge or remained angry at a brother or sister in Christ for petty reasons or for far longer than necessary. Our reasons vary, but the underlying issue is the same. God recognizes this and, based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:23-24, doesn’t approve: “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”
We may not have literal altars on which we offer sacrifices anymore, but the concept behind this verse holds true. We should never let our conflict with a brother to come between us and the Lord. But how far does this verse extend? As Christians, we may be asking ourselves “Who is my brother?” Let’s take a look at what it means to leave your gift at the altar.
Conflict with another believer can cause conflict between you and God if you aren’t careful. If we have anger toward another Christian, we are instructed to leave our gift at the altar until we’re reconciled. #ORBC #biblestudy Click To Tweet
Who Is My Brother?
According to the online concordance Blue Letter Bible, the Greek word translated as “brother” can mean a literal sibling, a fellow countryman, a fellow believer (“brother in Christ”), or even any random person. Referencing the verses in which this word appears shows that the Bible tends to favor the first three translations rather than the fourth. Thus, when Jesus mentions a conflict with a brother, He is specifically addressing a blood relation or a fellow believer, not any random person (though you should still treat strangers with respect!). This helps narrow the focus of the verse down a bit.
Forgiveness vs. Reconciliation
So when Jesus says to be reconciled to your brother, what does reconciliation mean? It is a simple case of hugging and making up? Not exactly–the Greek word translated as “reconcile” refers to changing your mind, changing the other’s mind, or rekindling a friendship. This may be as simple as apologizing, but it also may require a difficult conversation in which one or both parties are confronted with what they did wrong. This kind of soul-searching and forgiveness is what Jesus has in view here.
However, it’s also important to note what Jesus doesn’t say. Referring to the other party as your brother and the end goal as reconciliation indicates that this is a damaged relationship with another believer. In other words, this is sinful conflict in the body of Christ. This doesn’t require Christians to never have civil disagreements and never be embroiled in severe conflict with anyone–it just means we need to know how to handle being at odds with another believer, not that we avoid conflict at all costs even when it’s justified.
Grow Deeper: Christians are called to put others first, but not to be doormats. Resolving conflicts should never involve humiliating yourself.
Don’t Let Anger Win
Constant conflict with another person can damage someone’s relationship with their spouse, friends, and loved ones as they spend an inordinate amount of energy focused on their frustration. Likewise, ongoing and unjustified conflict with other believers can and will damage your relationship with God. Christ instructs us here to not let anyone or anything come between us and Him. A healthy relationship with God matters far more than winning an argument.
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