Please Explain Matthew 5:23-25.

bible-questionsThe text says: “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.”

The context of Matthew 5 is Jesus’ sermon on the mount.  In this sermon, Jesus is showing how the scribes and Pharisees had perverted God’s law in favor of their own traditions.  This is what he spends his time discussing starting in verse 21 to the end of the chapter and continuing in chapter six to verse 18.  Jesus speaks concerning their traditions regarding adultery, oath-taking, revenge, enemies, giving, prayer, and fasting.  In each of these instances, he points out how Jewish tradition had disregarded the spirit of God’s law and focused rather upon its letter.  So, while it was wrong to murder, it was “OK” to hate; it was wrong to commit adultery, but “OK” to lust; one had to love one’s neighbor, but it was “OK” to hate one’s enemy.  Jesus points out that the way that God’s law was being interpreted by the Pharisees was not what God had in mind.  This is the context out of which verses 23-25 come.

The law said, “Thou shalt not kill.”  The Pharisees interpreted this as meaning that if one did not kill, then one could freely despise his fellow Jew even to the point that he could bring suit in a public court against him for the purpose of sending him to prison. Debtor’s prison was a common place for the poor to end up if they couldn’t repay their debts. Jesus alluded to this fact in the parable of the wicked servant (Matthew 18:30). In contrast to the thought of acting so maliciously against your brother that you would cast him into prison, Jesus said, “No, don’t even hate your brother.” The person who so acts against his brother risks losing his salvation. This explains what it is that one’s brother has against him in verse 23. I don’t believe that this passage is speaking of any little personal offense, but rather, an offense of such magnitude that one might go to court to have it resolved. Remember that the Mosaic Law was a legal system used by the Jews of Jesus’ day to settle legal matters of state. Jesus was saying that for one to worship God appropriately, he needs to resolve such legal conflicts first. This is necessary prior to making offerings of peace toward God. One cannot be at odds with his brother and at peace with God. The best way to resolve such a situation, Jesus says, is to get it done at the time of the offense. Hence, one will not have to worry about being cast into prison due to such.

Some have interpreted this passage to mean that I can’t put my money in the plate if someone has personally offended me.  I don’t believe that this is the appropriate way to understand this passage.  While we certainly don’t want to intentionally offend anyone, and we should live to be free of offense toward all men (1 Corinthians 10:32), to so interpret this passage wouldn’t be limited to merely our contribution, but to all of our worship. Why would we think that we could declare fellowship with our brother by singing with him, praying with him, studying the word with him, and partaking of the Lord’s supper with him, yet withholding our contribution because he has offended us? No, this passage is not referring to that.  This passage is dealing with such offenses as would have a brother appear before another brother in public court.  Paul forbids such actions to Christians in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8.