As a pastor, I have no doubt you are very familiar with and quote often what Jesus said concerning forgiveness after He taught His disciples how to pray: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:14).
And certainly multiple sermons of yours have dug into Jesus’ explanation of unlimited forgiveness for others who have sinned against us: “I do not say to you [to forgive him] seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22).
Though no one is perfect, I am confident that you as a pastor, leader, and servant of Christ are aware when you are harboring unforgiveness toward another and need to forgive that person, in response to what Jesus is commanding His followers in these and other scriptures.
But may I ask, how often do you spend praying through and dwelling on the message of Matthew 5:23–24, and asking God if there is anyone in your church or your life that you need to at least attempt seeking reconciliation with? In this passage, Jesus shared with us, “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.”
Notice what Jesus isn’t saying here. First, He isn’t saying that if you unequivocally did something wrong and need to ask forgiveness, then go immediately to seek that forgiveness. Perhaps you knowingly offended someone in your congregation with an ill-advised joke during your sermon. Obviously, that is an instance in which you need to seek forgiveness. But that isn’t what Jesus is referring to here in this passage.
Second, He isn’t saying that if you are the one at fault, or are at least at fault as much as someone else, to why there is a broken relationship, then the onus is on you to repair that relationship. Maybe you and another church leader got into a heated discussion when the topic of worship music style came up for the umpteenth time. If you took part in a poor choice of words, just as much as the other leader, then obviously you know that there is forgiveness and reconciliation to seek. But again, that isn’t what Jesus is referring to here.
Jesus simply says, “If you . . . remember that your brother has something against you . . .” Something against you—that’s all. Any little thing. Any type of disagreement, no matter who was at fault. No matter if you have already forgiven or asked for forgiveness. If anyone has anything against you, whether you believe they have reason to or not . . . “leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother.”
In other words, before you clap your hands along to “Build Your Kingdom Here” this Sunday . . . before you cry out how great our God is with the rest of your congregation as they respond to your next sermon . . . before you present to God and your church the next Spirit-inspired sermon from the Gospel of John you have prepared . . . “leave your gift there before the altar and . . . be reconciled to your brother.”
As a pastor, you may be the most recognizable person in your church, especially if it’s a larger church. You also may be the most vocal person and the one whose opinions and thoughts are shared the most. But one thing you will never be is the most popular person in the church. That’s simply part of the burden of leading a flock. Ministry is not about winning a popularity contest. In fact, if you feel that you would win one, then you’re probably doing something wrong.
But not making the most popular decisions on worship music or service times or staff positions needed or outreaches or hospital visits or . . . the list goes on and on . . . does not mean you have a free pass at not pursuing reconciliation with those not happy with your decisions. Sometimes you may need to forgive. Other times you may need to seek forgiveness. But all times you are to seek reconciliation with your brothers and sisters.
Who has something against you? Who is not your biggest fan right now because of something you said or did? Who in your local body of believers do you need to seek reconciliation with so that the body may once again act as a whole in serving and worship our heavenly Father?
Do not hesitate. Stop what you are doing. Drop your sermon notes right where you are. And “be reconciled to your brother.”
Kevin Harvey is the author of two books, which can both be found here at Amazon. You can also read about his family’s ongoing journey of adoption through foster care at www.OrphanToOrphan.com. Find him on Twitter at @PopCultureKevin.