Jesus says some surprising things in the Sermon on the Mount, but one of the most surprising comments he makes is found in Matthew 5:23-24.
“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.”
If you were to ask Christians whether worship or reconciliation is more important, I would suspect many of them would say worship. In this passage, Jesus commands that we practice reconciliation before we worship. Communing with the saints on the first day of the week is essential. We encounter God in the worship assembly (Hebrews 12:22-24). We meet Jesus at the table when we partake of the bread and wine. God set his people free in Egypt so that they could worship him. Worship is fundamental to who we are as Christians, but there are things that can hinder our worship.
We often come to worship with baggage. We had a bad week. We didn’t treat someone the way we should have. We lost our temper. We said something we shouldn’t have. We are a people of unclean lips, and we come to worship for forgiveness. We come to worship to be reminded of the kind of person we should be. We come to worship to be in the presence of a holy God who loves us and shows us mercy. Our hearts are transformed through worship, but there is one thing that can distort this transformational process. We cannot have hate in our heart. This is why Jesus commands we practice reconciliation before we worship. How we view other human beings is directly related to how we see God. If we hate people who are created in the image of God, then we have a distorted view of God.
“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20)
To worship God on Sunday and hate another human being on Monday is unacceptable. It is hypocritical. It goes against the God we serve, and we are misrepresenting him when others see us do this.
“No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” (James 3:8-10)
Before we ever come to worship, we must be reconciled to anyone we have something against or anyone who has something against us. We cannot have hate in our heart. We cannot speak evil against a person who we may end up spending eternity with. We must see Jesus in the people we encounter. We must serve them as if we were serving Jesus. We must speak to them as if we were speaking to Jesus. We must love them as if we were loving Jesus. When we are able to recognize the image of God in others, then we begin to see them as God sees them. When we rid our hearts of hate, we see God clearly, and we are transformed through the power of worship.
“The way to union with God in worship cannot lead away from your brother. It is impossible for me to be a child of God without being a brother of all those others for whom Christ died. I cannot love and adore God and at the same time hate and exclude God’s children from my life. I cannot at once love and hate Christ. Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection mean that he has become inseparable from those he came to redeem.” – Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis