RECROSSING THE LINE
“Therefore, if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; 24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”
One of the challenges of the Christian life is how to implement the idealized teaching of Jesus. I must confess that after 60 years of being a Christian, sometimes I still struggle to know what to do. There are situations that catch me off guard, and I find myself wondering what to do, and afterward, if I did the right thing. I read the Lord saying, “Leave thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Matt. 5:24). I do understand this Royal Command to mean that before there can be a time of fellowship, and acceptable worship before God, some personal matters must be taken care of, if possible.
Therein is the tension, because we learn from other parts of Scripture, that true reconciliation is contingent on gospel principles and practices being honored. God’s people are to seek to be reconciled one to another; however, the reconciliation must take place according to gospel terms.
What are the gospel terms for reconciliation?
First, there must be repentance. A person who will not confess the harm they have done, will soon learn the person they have hurt, will have an instinctive desire to keep them at a distance. It is a matter of self-preservation. The unjustified pain, inflicted by an offender, is sometimes too serious to dismiss lightly. It is too emotionally painful.
The Bible teaches the Church to mark, or identify, those who cause division, and deal with them in a specific way. ¶”Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. 18 For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly [seat of emotion]; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple [i.e., the uninformed, by pretending to be the victim]” (Romans 16:17-18). Apart from gospel repentance, where the repentance is as deep and wide as the transgression, a biblical separation is not only justified, but commanded.
A second gospel principle for reconciliation, is agreement. The prophet asked, “Can two walk together except they be in agreement?” (Amos 3:3) The rhetorical question needs no answer, for the answer is in the question. The answer is, “No! Two people cannot walk together except there is agreement.”
This is why the Bible commands Christians not to be unequally yoked. For example, a Christian is not to marry a non-Christian. Opposites may attract, but not for long.
Nor is a Christian to be a friend of the world. “Ye [spiritual] adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4-5).
A person may not understand they are becoming God’s enemy by a careless association with the people who do not love Jesus. The heart does not feel any different. Nevertheless, the Divine revelation is that any man, woman, young person, or child who will be an intimate friend of the world will inevitably become the enemy of God
The word wicked is used 119 times in the KJV. The term refers to an individual who has
“a mental disregard for justice, God’s righteousness, Biblical truth, or personal honor, and integrity.”
In the matter of salvation, a person must agree with God if there is to be any reconciliation with Him. The Bible says that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
But there must be confession of sin. There must be agreement on the specific transgression committed. Only then will God forgive, and cleanse from all unrighteousness.
In like manner, a person who has attacked someone without cause, must agree that a transgression has taken place, if there is to be restoration to fellowship and reconciliation. The Prodigal Son, of whom Jesus spoke came home, was received with open arms and tears of joy, but only after he “came to himself” and said, “I have sinned” (Luke 15:21).
A third principle of Biblical reconciliation is a change in behavior. There are individuals who think they have a right to say, write, or whisper about anything they want, without accountability, and without changing their behavior. When confronted with objective evidence of the harm they have done, and the untruth they have told, they are determined not to change their behavior.
In contrast, the Bible says, “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).
God gives His people a new heart. The new heart is a heart of tenderness that, when touched, loves, and when wounded, quivers, and hurts. The new heart which God gives is in contrast with a heart of stone, which is insensitive to the pain it inflicts, because it has no tender emotions. Psychologist labels a personality, psychopathic, if there is no conscience, no sense of right and wrong, and no sorrow or remorse after inflicting pain.
The Bible identifies this same personality disorder as one having a defiled conscience (Titus 1:15),
“who, being past feeling, have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. “But ye have not so learned Christ; 21 If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus” (Eph. 4:19-21).
As we examine the Royal Commandment of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount concerning reconciliation, other Scripture, and life itself, teaches reconciliation will never take place as long as the philosophy of this world is embraced, and a person justifies in themselves that which is unjustifiable in the sight of God, or in a righteous society, meaning, the Church.
If we as Christian individuals, accept hatred and hostility in the sanctuary, if slander, injustice, and verbal injury becomes acceptable behavior within the body of Christ, then there is no purpose for existing, and the ministry will be shut down by God in due time.
If Christians in a local assembly, begin to think it is acceptable behavior to violate the known will of Jesus, about how to treat one another, then that local Church is no different from any secular social institution.
The gospel trumpet will sound, and, like the walls of Jericho, the defective religious structure will come tumbling down, to the amazement of many.
Some will wonder, and ask,
“What in the world happened?”
It does not matter if the ministry is a Church, a Christian School, a Christian publishing company, a Bible class, a worldwide religious radio station, or a television ministry. The evidence that God will close ministries in holy judgment where people continue to hurt, rather than help one another is established in two ways.
First, there is the teaching of the Bible. In the Revelation, we are told of seven churches in Asia Minor. To these churches the Lord Jesus gave a word of commendation, a word of condemnation, and a word of warning. For example, to the church of Ephesus, which had lost its initial love for Jesus, the Lord said, “I will come unto thee quickly and will remove thy candlestick out of this place, except thou repent” (Rev. 2:5).
To the church of Smyrna, which had blasphemers in its midst the Lord said, “Behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried” (Rev. 2:10).
To the church of Pergamos, which had embraced idolatry, and immorality the Lord said, “Repent or else I will come into thee quickly and will fight against thee with the sword of my mouth” (Rev. 2:16).
In addition to these strong warnings, there is visible evidence all around that God will close a ministry that does not engage in biblical acts of accountability, with a view towards reconciliation.
Today, the doors of former sanctuaries set aside for prayer and worship, are rusted shut. The windows are not washed. The tiles on the roofs are falling off. The church signs have faded, and there are no cars in the parking lot when the hour of worship arrives. Why?
Sometimes the answer is this.
Open sin in the sanctuary was allowed to go unchallenged. What happened? There was division among God’s people that was not dealt with according to gospel terms. The wrong that was done was suppressed. God does leave such places of worship. God does stamp “ICHOBOD” upon doors!
The declining congregations of churches North, South, East, and West are visible reminders that God’s work must be done in God’s way. Yes, there is to be reconciliation, but it must take place according to gospel principles.
According to Matthew, Jesus set forth a high principle for Christian behavior, which is to seek to be at peace with one another. But, again, how is this possible? There are two options.
A church can stay the course, and allow inappropriate behavior in individuals that will lead to open conflict, division, and an ultimate closing of its doors, or, a gospel line can be recrossed through the process of repentance, confession, and behavior change.
The act of reconciliation can begin when individuals remember what the local church use to be, and what the will of Jesus is said to be.
Reconciliation will conclude when the Lord grants grace to a person to repent.
The line of broken fellowship is re-crossed when there is a return to the basics of Christian belief and behavior, and a first love for Jesus Christ, and others, is cultivated.
Is this possible?
The answer is, “Yes!”
Is it easy?
That answer is, “No!”
But it is possible for any individual to change for all that has been said characterized people in the church in Corinth in the first century.
We tend to idolize the early churches, but the problems they face are the same problems Christians face today, in any congregation, large or small. In 1 Corinthians we find the Apostle Paul writing to give counsel concerning food that had been offered to idols, and to answer questions about marriage. But beyond that, Paul was compelled by the Holy Spirit, to deal with other situations that had been brought to his attention. There were signs in the lives of the saints that have been enumerated by the Holy Spirit for our example and instruction.
Paul knew, that unless the church at Corinth took a hard look at itself, and admitted how people were treating one another, from the youngest to the oldest, from the weakest to the most mature, it would not survive. What would the church of Corinth do? History records the answer, for there is a second letter to the church at Corinth. In that letter, we discover the people were brought under godly conviction. The guilty confessed that what Paul had written was right.
There were divisions.
There were factions.
One pastoral leader was preferred to another.
There was spiritual pride.
There was the abuse of spiritual gifts, and the absence of common grace.
There was deep distrust.
There was a fundamental disrespect for the Word of God.
The church was bringing disgrace upon itself, and the Lord Jesus Christ, despite a flurry of ministry activity.
And yet, despite the sin in the sanctuary, the love of God was still available, because the gift of repentance was prayed for.
In marvelous mercy, God granted grace to His people.
Hearts were changed
Reconciliation was made, and peace was restored.
Respect replaced distrust.
Honesty discovered truth.
Love conquered hatred; honor returned.
All cover-ups ended.
Deceitful behavior died.
Homes were opened for authentic fellowship.
Hearts were ready for friendship.
Humility reached out for help.
People found a fresh hunger for righteousness.
The Word of God was desired, and all the Messengers of the Word were valued once more. When the church was cleansed, Jesus Christ was glorified.
I tell you it is possible to re-cross the line, to rediscover lost love.
What does it take to re-cross the line and walk once more in the Spirit?
First, it takes divine love.
A church can ask God to shed His love abroad in hearts (Billy Graham, God In The Garden).
Second, we can realize how great sinners we are ourselves.
Since we want to be forgiven, and be shown much grace, we must be willing to forgive and show much grace to others.
Third, a church can lift its eyes to see the souls of lost men and women, and children.
There are still multitudes who are dying and going to hell. The church must seek to share the gospel.
Fourth, we must open our hearts in humility, to ask for help and counsel from one another.
Fifth, we can sacrificially spend more moments speaking to one another about topic agreed on.
In healthy churches people share a fellowship meal together.
Time and effort are required for reconciliation, but then, that is what makes it so special – because it takes an effort.
Sixth, a congregation can see afresh the value of the Christian way of life. To any Church that finds itself with the same concerns as the Church of Corinth, this word of exhortation comes, re-cross the line. Be reconciled one to another, and enter the glorious liberty of Jesus Christ, free from the tyranny of sin.