Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you … —Matt. 5:23
Outward acts of worship are unacceptable to God as long as we harbor internal sin. They are particularly offensive if we retain a hateful attitude toward a brother and yet attempt to come before God.
Worship is important for most religious people today. They can spend much time in places of worship, offering prayers, giving tithes, and doing all sorts of religious activities. But, as with the scribes and Pharisees, none of it is meaningful if carried out with the wrong attitude.
Presenting an offering at the altar was a familiar scene for Jesus’ listeners. On the Day of Atonement, for example, worshipers would bring animal sacrifices and give them to the priest as sin offerings. But that process must halt if the worshiper were to remember some hatred between himself and a brother. Unresolved conflict has priority over external ceremony and must be settled.
Sin between us and other brethren must be resolved before we can bridge the gap of sin between us and God. The Lord told Israel, “What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?… I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle; and I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats.… Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good” (Isa. 1:11, 16–17a).
Not to be at peace with someone else and yet to attempt worship of God is a hindrance to genuine fellowship.
|This is a call for worship to matter, and for relationship with God to be taken seriously. More than a Sunday morning verse, it’s a principle demanding conciliatory action in the days prior to the Lord’s day. Is there such a matter occurring in your life situation right now?|
The Effect on Our Worship of God
If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. (5:23–24)
Jesus’ teaching not only affects our view of ourselves by shattering all self-righteousness and showing that we are guilty and worthy of hell, but it also shows how the sins of anger and hatred affect our relationship to God,
Worship was a major concern of the scribes and Pharisees, directly or indirectly the focus of almost everything they did. They spent much time in the synagogues and in the Temple. They made sacrifices, offered prayers, gave tithes, and carried on religious activities of every sort. But it was all heartless external ceremony.
Therefore refers back to Jesus’ point that sin, just as righteousness, is first of all internal. As long as there is internal sin, outward acts of worship are not acceptable to God. Jesus continues to focus on the particular sin of hatred against someone else, a brother in the broadest sense. Reconciliation must precede worship.
Every Jew realized that sin caused a breach in one’s relationship with God, and that the sacrifices and offerings were intended to restore a right relationship with Him. In their reliance on rabbinical tradition and its misinterpretation of the Old Testament, however, they no longer gave much consideration to sins that could not be seen. Although they would not have called such things as hatred and lust good, they nevertheless did not think of them as true sins. But now Jesus said that anger and hatred are every bit as sinful as murder and adultery.
The scene of presenting your offering at the altar was a familiar one to Jews. The Lord may have had in mind here the sacrifice made on the Day of Atonement, when the worshiper brought an animal sacrifice for his sins. When he came to the court of the priests he would stop, because only priests were allowed to enter the altar area. He would then lay his hands on the animal to identify with it and present it to the priest to offer on his behalf. “But do not hand the sacrifice to the priest,” Jesus said, “if you remember that your brother has something against you.” Unresolved conflict has priority and must be settled. Leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Settle the breach between you and your brother before you try to settle the breach between you and God. Not to do that is to be a hypocrite by asking for forgiveness without repenting.
That has always been God’s requirement. He had told Israel, “ ‘What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?’ says the Lord. ‘I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of cattle. And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats … Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless; defend the orphan, plead for the widow’ ” (Isa. 1:11, 16–17; cf. 58:5–7). “Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and offer sacrifices to Baal, and walk after other gods that you have not known, then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered’ ”? (Jer. 7:9–10). The Jews knew, or should have known, that God demanded they be willing to forsake hatred and be made right with each other before they could be right with Him.
The phrase your brother has something against you could also refer to anger or hatred on the brother’s part. That is, even if we hold nothing against him, if he is angry with or hates us, we should do everything in our power to be reconciled to him. Obviously we cannot change another person’s heart or attitude, but our desire and effort should be to close the breach as much as is possible from our side and to hold no anger ourselves even if the other person does.
Regardless of who is responsible for the break in relationship-and often there is guilt on both sides-we should determine to make a reconciliation before we come before God to worship. True worship is not enhanced by better music, better prayers, better architecture, or even better preaching. True worship is enhanced by better relationships between those who come to worship. Worship may be improved by our staying away from church until we have made things right with those with whom we know our relationship is strained or broken.
When there is animosity or sin of any sort in our heart there cannot be integrity in our worship. Nearly a thousand years before Christ preached the Sermon on the Mount the psalmist had declared, “If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear” (Ps. 66:18). Even before that Samuel said, “Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22).
5:23, 24 If a person offends another, whether by anger or any other cause, there is no use in his bringing a gift to God. The Lord will not be pleased with it. The offender should first go and make the wrong right. Only then will the gift be acceptable.
Even though these words are written in a Jewish context, that does not mean there is no application today. Paul interprets this concept in relation to the Lord’s Supper (see 1 Cor. 11). God receives no worship from a believer who is not on speaking terms with another.
 MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 116). Chicago: Moody Publishers.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 296–298). Chicago: Moody Press.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1220). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.