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Yesterday, I was preaching on the subject, “When Love Breaks Down.” Believing the Bible gives a roadmap for pursuing reconcilation of broken relationships, I planned to do an exposition of Matt 5:23-24

If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

Here is the snag – How can Focus on the Family president, Dr. James Dobson, worship? After all, at any one time, thousands of people are offended by him or his actions. How can he possibly go to each one and pursue reconciliation before attending a worship service?

The same is true of presidents and other elected officials, coaches, heads of corporations – even pastors of large churches.

This was a very personal question for me as well – more than a few folks in a church I formerly served hold something against me, in spite of my efforts to privately go to each one I personally offended. How could I preach this text with integrity?

I found real help in a message by John Piper – Here is the excerpt that clarified the text:

Am I Responsible for Someone’s Grudge Against Me?

Here is a key question: When coming to give, are we responsible for all the grudges and anger and enmity that people may feel against us?

This question is utterly urgent for all of us, but especially for those in prominent, public positions where strong viewpoints are expressed as part of one’s calling—positions like President of the United States, or Speaker of the House, or Governor of Minnesota, or network news commentator or host of a radio show like Focus on the Family or preacher in a local church. In every one of these roles, the moment one opens his mouth someone disagrees. And if the issue is hot enough, that disagreement can be felt as anger and alienation. At any given moment, for example, the President of the United States has millions of people calling him a hero and millions calling him a jerk. And it is true of every other public role. So, are all these people responsible, before they worship, to contact every person who has something against them? That would be impossible, it seems.

But it’s not our inability to see how it would work that raises the question. It’s the context. Go back 14 verses to verse 9. There Jesus says,

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

That is what this text is about too. Be a peacemaker before you worship.

But then notice what comes next in Matthew 5:10–12:

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness [not sin, but righteousness], for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely [not truly], on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad [that is, don’t let your conscience be troubled as if you were guilty of their hostility], for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Now this is remarkable. What Jesus says is that sometimes people will hold something against you when they shouldn’t—insulting you, persecuting you, saying all kinds of evil against you falsely. What do you do in such circumstances? Do you stop worshiping as long as someone feels like this about you?

If so, Jesus would never have been able to worship in the latter years of his life. He was constantly opposed. They sought to trip him up in his speech. They tried to kill him. They tried to shame him. Was he responsible for this? Not only that, he said that the same would be true for his disciples. In Matthew 24:9 he said,

“You will be hated by all nations on account of my name.”

In other words, “If you are faithful to me, somebody will always have something against you.”

“So Far as It Depends on You”

So what does Jesus mean in Matthew 5:23–24? I think he means,

“If you remember in this week that someone has something against you because you have wronged them, then as much as it depends on you, try to be reconciled.”

Humble yourself. Reach out.

You can hear two qualifications of Jesus’ words that I see in the context.

We are only responsible for what others hold against us when it is owing to real sin or blundering on our part.

We are responsible to pursue reconciliation, but live with the pain if it does not succeed. In other words, we are not responsible to make reconciliation happen.
Paul says in Romans 12:18, ”

If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”

So far as it depends on you. Jesus took every step required of a human being to make matters right with his enemies (he never sinned), and still they had things against him and were not reconciled to him.

Once again, the Spirit has used anointed exposition to speak clearly and specifically into my life.

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4 Comments

  1. Boy does this hit home today for me.

    I remember being a part of a church many years ago that was very much at odds with me personally from the leadership side of things. There were a couple of very influencial people who were at the core of the situation. After three years of pursuing every avenue of reconcilliation meetings there was no progress made.

    Each Sunday as I went to worship I felt deeply hindered by the breach in relationship and hopelessness regarding any reconcilliation. After a serious meeting with the lead pastor seeking his support to secure a final attempt to reconcile I left once again doubtful that anything would occur. In my meeting with him I spoke of the hinderance on my worship that this problem had become.

    After on more year and no progress I chose to move to another church. I recognized that I had done everything that I believed I could to meet them where they were but to no avail so leaving and putting it behind me was the only option I felt that I had.

    In retrospect, I think it was the right thing to do. I did so with respect, full communication with the lead pastor of my heart, motives, and my blessing on the church and his ministry. I have had no regrets about this.

    Today, there remains no reconcilliation with those few that were so at odds with me but I really feel free. Even though my heart has never left the desire to reconcile, the burden lies with them and only with me in the event that God would lead me into further action.

    In my position as a leader of a internationally recognized ministry I am faced with much opposition. Most of it goes unrecognized since they do not come to me to share their reactions. I certainly feel the opposition often but day by day must learn where to draw the line of responsibility. While I do fail in this often, I cannot run from the biblical truth of reconcilliation being at the core of Jesus’ heart.

  2. Brother, thank you for sharing that! It is personally current and useful. God is good all the time!

  3. Sam,
    I try to keep in mind that we live in a fallen world. Relationships are always affected by sin and when pride, fear, misunderstandings, control issues and prejudices come into play then many things can unravel. I fully agree and appreciate that while we should do all we can personally for reconcilation only in Heaven will there be a complete reconcilation between all of God’s people. I have in my spiriutal journey come to see Heaven not as a place of just rest, but also the land of God’s great dynamic of full reconcilation and restoration. If there is coming a time when the lion will lay down with the lamb, then we should have hope for the time when all of us Christians will actually get along with each other.

  4. Dear Pastor Sam,

    I don’t know if you’ll read this or not since I am just now replying, but you and your family are still so very much loved back here in Memphis. Your comments on this matter hit home because our family watched it happen to your family and we learned so much about Jesus and his love and forgiveness and faithfulness, just by watching you. You handled it so well, and God has so much reward in store for you. I am provoked to jealousy by your new church’s earthly gain by your serving there, but I rejoice always for having had your service then and for God leading us to worship with Dana Key and the staff at TLC. Come see us again when you and Ruthie are in town at TLC, and come get your haircut so Margee and I can hug your neck! In Jesus, Peggy & Kent Redding


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