The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is hard to accept and even harder to follow. You can completely ignore it and still be considered a good person. Just be good to your friends, practice some form of religion, don’t break any major laws, and keep your private sins to yourself. This is about all your fellow man will ask of you.
A Holy God, however, requires a completely transformed life. God is just as offended by wicked thoughts as He is wicked behavior. External “righteousness” and religiosity just didn’t seem to impress Jesus at all. He was just like His Heavenly Father, looking into the very hearts of men. This is obvious in his instructions regarding an offended brother.
“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.”
Jesus’ words paint a vivid picture—a worshipper presenting his sacrifice before the priest. A broken relationship comes to mind. The worshipper could simply go through the religious motions and dismiss thoughts of his offended brother. Authentic worship, however, requires him to leave the altar and restore this relationship.
Here are a few of my reflections on this passage:
The transformed life does not separate our “vertical” relationship (God) with our “horizontal” relationships (the people in our lives).
Like it or not, the two are eternally linked—if I truly love God, it will change the way I relate to others. Perhaps we all know this, but great is the temptation to behave otherwise!
God, after all, is lovely, perfect, and always right. He is a perfect Father.
The people He requires me to love—now that’s a different story! Even my spiritual family, my brothers and sisters in Christ, can be unloving, unreasonable, grumpy, short-tempered, unappreciative, unwise, overly sensitive, and ill-mannered. In other words, sometimes they act just like me!
Like it or not, my ability to love imperfect people is a direct reflection of my love for a perfect God. A break in one relationship is a break in the other. This is especially true of my fellow believers.
The transformed life requires humility.
Notice that Jesus did not say “if you remember a sin you’ve done against your brother.” Action is required if I know someone has “something against” me. If I know I have offended someone (intentionally or unintentionally), it is my responsibility to approach him. I can’t wait for him to make the first move. The relationship repair must begin with me.
Why? Well, first and foremost, I rarely think conflicts are my own fault. It is much easier to see my brother’s oversensitive nature than to admit I’ve done something offensive. I would rather accuse him of not listening carefully—much easier than admitting my own words were poorly chosen.
Secondly, the true worshipper must always strive for the moral “high ground”–even if this requires him to humble himself. Those who are more mature in the faith should be the first to make apologies. Spiritual leaders can be examples of humility if they will drop their pride and admit mistakes. Sadly, the opposite seems to be true—the greater one’s power or leadership influence, the less likely he is to apologize to those he leads.
The transformed life requires me to take natural problems and deal with them in a supernatural way.
The Sermon on the Mount deals with the most basic of human struggles: anger, greed, worry, lust, etc. If Jesus is living in me, I must handle these issues in a distinctly Christ-like manner. Interpersonal conflicts are no exception. Disagreements can and will happen, even in the best of relationships. We can demonstrate the character of Christ in the way we handle such situations. The power and grace of Christ should permeate all of my life—from my vengeful anger down to my petty squabbles.
Have you offended anyone? If so, have you done your best to be reconciled?
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