First Things First: Brotherly Reconciliation


“So 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 and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).

There will always be differences that arise in our interpersonal relationships. Unjust actions or hurtful words have their impact. Such issues, if unresolved, can cause serious harm to our relationships with others.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches a lesson that is desperately needed in our world. Hate is a serious matter with grave consequences. Uncontrolled anger toward our brother should be avoided if possible, and corrected as speedily as possible whenever it arises (Matt. 5:21-25).

To make his point, the Lord offers an illustration that was sure to get the attention of his religious audience. He pictures a worshipper who, while taking his offering to God, remembers that his brother has a grievance against him. What should he do? Jesus says, leave the offering and go to your brother at once. First, make peace with your estranged brother, then return and present your offering. Postpone the worship until the matter is addressed.

As Christians, we would all agree that few things in life are more important than offering praise and thanksgiving to God in worship. It’s been said that worship is the activity that punctuates the life of a believer. The faithful look forward to the Lord’s Day, when we can remember the death and resurrection of Christ. Disciples understand the importance of drawing near to God in prayer, as well as assembling with fellow believers to engage in corporate worship. Yet, Jesus teaches that here is something that must take precedence.

“First be reconciled to your brother.” Restoring and maintaining relationships with our fellowman is a priority. Human relationships and pure religion are interwoven. Jesus taught that attitudes such as humility, gentleness, mercy, and peace-making are those we must have in our interpersonal relationships as well as in our relationship with God. They help define who we are as his disciples (Matt. 5:3-9). Bitterness, wrath, anger, and other hateful attitudes belie our claim to be imitators of Christ; while a forgiving, conciliatory spirit marks a person as belonging to him (Eph. 4:31-32; Col. 3:12-13).

James teaches that true religion involves practical aspects of living such as controlling the tongue, seeing to the needs of the helpless, and pursuing purity in life (Jas. 1:26-27). More to the point, our failure to be at peace in our personal relationships with others may well cause our own prayers to be hindered (1 Pet. 3:7). It may also expose a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of true worship and its purpose. In our desire to be religious, we dare not neglect the “weightier provisions” of the law, such as justice and mercy and faithfulness (Matt. 23:23). Worshipping God is no substitute for right attitudes and relationships with others. Nor is it a fix for broken ones.

It may be easier to “go to church” than to go to an aggrieved brother. But, as difficult as it may be, we should be ready to do the hard thing and seek peace. Brotherly reconciliation should be a priority. “First be reconciled to your brother.”

Dan Petty