So, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember
that your brother has something against you,
leave your gift there before the altar
and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother
and then come offer your gift.
Virtually every religion on earth teaches repentance, in one form or another. That’s not surprising, for there are some real benefits to be had by ceasing to do bad deeds and starting to do good deeds. So, if you repent, you are going to feel better, maybe even much better. But the revelation contained in the scriptures above, is that genuine repentance is not about how you feel.
Whenever sin happens, it hurts people. It is impossible for anyone to do wrong without causing someone else to suffer. What Jesus revealed about God was that until the transgressor has repented, personally, to the people he has harmed, God does not accept his worship, no matter how much better he feels. Our repentance, when it is perfect, is not about us; it is about restoring damaged relationships. Jesus said that God demands that we do more than repent in our hearts. He demands that we also go to anyone whom He brings to our mind who “has something against you”.
Remember this! True repentance is not about you; it is about those you have wronged. True repentance focuses on repairing relationships damaged by ungodly behavior.
“Having Something Against”
Many people think that “having something against” someone means holding a grudge or being angry with someone, but that is not the case. There were many in Israel who thought they had something against Jesus, but they did not have something against Jesus because he had done no evil to them. They thought they had something against him only because they did not like what he taught, not because he had done wrong to anyone. And because they did not really have something against him, Jesus never went to such people to say, “I am so sorry if I have done anything to upset you.” He knew better.
We are never to try to repent to people who have nothing real against us; to do so only emboldens them in their error, and it will not bring peace and joy to anyone. In fact, for a godly person to humble himself like that to an ungodly person confuses and harms everyone concerned. Solomon said it this way:
26. A righteous man falling down before the wicked is as a troubled fountain, and a corrupt spring.
Everyone who goes astray goes astray because they prefer self over God and others. At some point, they chose to “go it alone”. Genuine repentance is a changing course; it is the opposite of self importance. It is to deny self for the sake of others, to choose the will of God, and to prefer others.
Self-willed people who repent are completely content with the joy that God gives them when they turn from their own ways and begin to seek to please Him. But God is not content with that. And He is not satisfied because He doesn’t just love the person who is repenting; He also loves the ones who have been wronged. This is an absolutely critical point: If those who have been wronged do not feel good about the worship of the one who wronged them, God will not accept that worship! That is what Jesus was saying in Matthew 5:23-24. Read it again:
23. So, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,
24. leave your gift there before the altar and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother and then come offer your gift.
God is so good, and He cares so much about us all, that when one of us repents before Him, as happy as that makes Him and the angels, He insists that we go to those whom we have wronged and who, therefore, have something against us, and that we humble ourselves to them first. Then, the worship we offer God will be acceptable to Him. Fellowship is the goal; it is not that one of us repents and is happy all by himself.
Get in the Spirit, and get the heart of God in what you are doing! Think about it. If God were a loner, if self was what He cared about most, He would accept the worship of everyone who repented, regardless of their relationships with anyone else. But God is not a loner; He loves people and wants to be close to them. He began creation by creating a Son to love, and everybody who has been created since then has been created to be loved, too. It is only when we feel that way, the way God does, that we are able to repent the way Jesus said God demands.
There is another important point I should make that is, it is much more likely that one’s repentance will last if he does what God says and reconciles with those whom he has wronged. There is something that happens in our soul when we humble ourselves to a wronged brother or sister and confess our fault. Nothing can take the place of that simple, godly act, for, as Jesus said, it makes our repentance truly complete and our worship acceptable to God.
May God help us to do His will quickly and not miss the golden opportunities God gives us to do the things that “make for peace and joy”. If we love the fellowship of Christ enough to pursue it, we will reap the benefits that are promised to the faithful children of God.