First Things First


Matthew 5:23-24 “Therefore, 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.”

Worship wasn’t as easy in Jesus’ day as it is in ours. Your offering weighs little more than a piece of paper. Those who came to the temple to offer sacrifices may have had a lamb or calf to try to steer through the crowds and noise. When Jesus says, “Leave your gift at the altar,” he is making a huge statement about his regard for proactive love. Not only was this a higher priority than the worship service in which you were currently sitting. How were you going to leave your sacrifice behind? With whom? This was so important Jesus urged a great inconvenience upon the disciples whom he was teaching.

But the question on the other side would be this: How can we worship in a good relationship with God when we aren’t doing all we can to live in a good relationship with each other? Those sacrifices were more than support for the temple. They preached a message. They foreshadowed Jesus’ work on the cross. They preached God’s forgiveness. They promised a restored relationship with God. How could those temple worshipers watch a sacrifice, a preaching of payment for sin and sins forgiven– how could they watch that while all the time they were not living in the forgiveness of a brother, or neighbor, or fellow believer? If we know God’s forgiveness and love others, can we be content to let others be mad at us? Can we be satisfied to let them resent us? Is that compatible with love?

No, Jesus tells us, love is proactive, not passive. “First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” It doesn’t matter that this is their problem, their fault, not ours. It doesn’t matter that they started it. It doesn’t matter that I am in the right. It doesn’t matter that I don’t think they are going to listen. “First, go and be reconciled,” or at least do all you can on your part to try. Jesus isn’t saying that we should stay away from church indefinitely if our brother or sister resists our attempts. But faith born love cannot be satisfied to leave the strained relationship as it is. Love takes the initiative.

Isn’t that how our Lord has dealt with us? His love was proactive, not passive. The guilt was all on our side. We started it. We don’t want to listen. We had made ourselves his enemies and resented his demands.

But he has always loved us. He took the first step, and every step, to reconcile us to himself. He gave us his Son. He paid for our sins. He sought us with his word. He gave us our faith. He has shown us his grace, and that inspires our love to be proactive in seeking to be reconciled to others.

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