What does Jesus mean when he says in Matthew 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 before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift”?
He’s referring to bringing a sacrifice or an offering to the temple to present as a gift to God as an act of worship.
And he says that if while you are doing this you remember that someone has something against you, you must first go and make it right, or God will not find the act of worship acceptable.
Now, I suppose the question largely has to do with what Jesus means when he speaks of someone “having something against you”.
We should be very clear about this. He doesn’t mean that your worship is unacceptable to God just because your neighbor is upset with you, regardless of why he is upset. He means that your neighbor has a legitimate grievance against you because you have sinned against him. You have broken God’s law concerning him. Perhaps you have done this by defrauding him; or you have physically harmed him; or you have slandered him; but in one way or another you have sinned against your neighbor. And if you have not set things right with him and made proper amends by issuing apologies, making restitution, or in whatever way trying to undo the damage you have done to him, then God will not find your worship acceptable.
Now, we must emphasize two things here. First, Jesus has in mind actual sins—violations of God’s law—and not other kinds of offenses. Sometime people feel offended, or they become upset with you and you are not the one at fault. For example, suppose an employer fires an employee because the employee is frequently late to work, doesn’t do the work he’s assigned, and what work he does do isn’t done with the kind of quality that is expected. The employee is fired and he’s offended at his boss. He has no right to be offended. He holds a grudge, but he has no right to hold a grudge because he’s the one in the wrong. The employer is simply acting within his rights and for the good of his business.
Now suppose this employer goes to church and there has it come to mind that this (former) employee is upset with him—angry and offended at him—for firing him. Does this mean that God will not accept his worship until he goes and offers this guy a job? No, because he has not sinned against his employee by firing him for not doing the work he was hired to do.
Or suppose a mother disciplines a child in the car on the way to church and the child is upset with his mother. Will God refuse to accept her worship until the child is no longer angry with her? No, she has not sinned against him for disciplining his misbehavior.
When Jesus speaks of your neighbor having something against you, he means you have sinned against your neighbor.
The second thing that must be emphasized is the fact that once sincere apologies have been issued and proper amends have been made, your duty has been discharged regardless of whether or not your neighbor fully accepts it and is willing to live peaceably with you. Some people are quite uncharitable and unforgiving; and even though you have done everything necessary to make up for the damage done, they will not be pacified. But if you have made a sincere effort and have done everything God requires of you to make things right with your neighbor and it’s not received, you are not bound by their uncharitableness.
Now, I should perhaps add, that for some sins no amends are possible. If you have stolen money, you can restore it. But how can you make amends for murder? You can’t bring a dead person back to life. How can you make amends for adultery? You can’t undo the deed, or the effects of the deed. How careful we should be not to sin against our neighbor in word or deed! And when we do, how quickly and how fully we should seek to make amends!
This is what Jesus means.