The Power of Reconciliation (revisited)
Robert Wurtz II
Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. (Matthew 5:24)
There is an ancient story found on an old decayed papyrus fragment, of a prodigal Egyptian boy named Antonius Longus who had quarreled with his dear widowed mother. He left from the house and embarked on a life of prodigal living. The mother longed for her son to return home for a while and even went looking for him in strange cities. You will know that in ancient times when a person was lost, it was very difficult to find them as one had to almost see them face to face in order to identify them. This mother searched and searched for her lost son longing to reestablish communication. In time she happened upon a family acqaintance named Postumus that recounted to the disappointed mother every last offense of her son that he knew, including some of the troubles he had gotten into since their estrangement. This scandal monger would call to remembrance every debt the mother had tried to forget, down to the last nickel. The two parted and she apparently went back home. Over the course of time this Postumus happened upon Antonius Longus, the prodigal son. He told him of how he had saw his mother some time ago and had reminded her of how bad a boy he really was (as it were). Perhaps Postumus rationalized that it is better in these circumstances to be mad at a person than mourning over them. But Antonius was deeply hurt by this news and angered by what this man had done. He was moved to know that his dear mother had been looking for him so desperately, but this sower of discord had driven an already deep wedge between him and his mother, almost to the point of hopelessness. It was this occasion that gave rise to this hastily written letter, “I beseech thee, mother, be reconciled with me.” He had referred to himself using his mother’s childhood endearing name for him “Longinus”. The poor boy was a bad speller, but he used the same construction Jesus used when he said, “prōton diallagēthi” (get reconciled). The sentence, “I beseech thee, mother, be reconciled (dialagēti) with me” uses a verb that denotes mutual concession after mutual hostility. The crumbling old paper ends with the words of this woman’s dear son begging, “I beseech thee… I beseech thee…”. In more modern language we would read the words, “Mother, I’m begging you… I’m begging you…!” (Light from the Ancient East, pp 187-192)
The Starting Point
As a young boy I would read the words of Jesus and take them to heart, but until I had been changed into a New Creature by the power of the Holy Spirit I cannot recall one time that I ever followed through with them. I was real good at making and keeping enemies, but I never sought reconciliation unless there was something to be gained by it. Just being honest. Adam Clarke spells out the jest of this passage when he writes, “Do not attempt to bring any offering to God while thou art in a spirit of enmity against any person; or hast any difference with thy neighbor, which thou hast not used thy diligence to get adjusted.” It is our duty and interest, both to bring our gift, and offer it too; but God will not accept of any act of religious worship from us, while any enmity subsists in our hearts towards any soul of man; or while any subsists in our neighbor’s heart towards us, which we have not used the proper means to remove. A religion, the very essence of which is love, cannot suffer at its altars a heart that is revengeful and uncharitable, or which does not use its utmost endeavors to revive love in the heart of another. The original word, δωρον, which we translate gift, is used by the rabbins in Hebrew letters דורון doron, which signifies not only a gift, but a sacrifice offered to God. See several proofs in Schoettgen.” (Adam Clarke) There is no road forward for any person that ignores this rule.
Clearing the air
Some may make excuses here as if God does not expect them to search their own hearts for names of individuals that they know they are not on good terms with; people whom in the past you and I may have had disagreements and there is need of clearing the air. Another word for this is a ‘rift’. This is a break in friendly relations. Rifts among family, rifts among believers and rifts among leaders are stifling any hope of a move of God in our times. “Leaving thy gift, go – For neither thy gift nor thy prayer will atone for thy want of love: but this will make them both an abomination before God.” (Wesley) This means everyone, but especially leaders. A river will never run down any wider than it’s source. How will the people reconcile with those to whom they know they have a controversy if the leaders will not? Nothing stinks more in the nostrils of God than when his people refuse to be reconciled to each other in a way that restores a brotherly and sisterly affection. I have heard of sinners taking grudges down into the grave even whilst the one of them begged the other to be reconciled. That is the devilish nature in fallen man; but it ought not so to be as Saints. The single greatest hindrance to any move of God within the churches of God is this refusal to be reconciled. Again, the Greek phrase is prōton diallagēthi (ingressive aorist). It is the most important thing to do in terms of priority and is to be done first.
Making the phone call or sending the letter
When I first received the Holy Spirit about 20 years ago my immediate objective was to be reconciled with my enemies. I recall writing a letter to a dear woman that I had been feuding with. I am told by women that men forgive, but women often won’t forgive or forget. I hope this is not true, because if it is there will be a disproportional amount of women in hell over men. Selah. And although this woman of whom I speak has passed from the stage of time, I will leave her unnamed. This letter I wrote out in all sincerity and love and then prayed over with a dear minister that had traveled to our church for a revival meeting. The letter was not well received at first, but it served to break the ice and the relationship we restored. But there is something I must tell you that you must prepare yourself for now. Sometimes you will seek to reconcile knowing that the other person was as much at fault in the relationship as you were, and yet they will offer no apology or admit any wrong. Some people will see your apology as an admission of guilt and then tell themselves that it was your fault, dismissing their own role in the situation. You have to be prepared to look past this and leave it in the hands of God. Your part is not to obtain an admission, but to achieve reconciliation. You may go to your grave never getting the apology you believe you deserved, but that is not for our concern. You do your part and leave the results in the hands of God.
Do I have a Grudge?
The great danger in speaking on this great subject is insensitivity to our own feelings and actions. But there is a way to flush ourselves from our hiding places, beating around every bush until we discover if we are holding grudges or ignoring estranged relationships. For example, I have known of people that are in leadership roles in the churches to harbor ill feelings towards their mother and father and they are not on speaking terms. They bring their offering every week to the meeting, but refuse to be reconciled to their parent. They believe they are justified in their anger or bitterness because of some ‘thing’ that happened to them as a child, etc. ad infinitum. Yet Jesus gave the parable of the man that owed a fortune to the king and was forgiven, but then went out and took his fellow man by the throat and throttled him demanding what he was owed. The man was cast into hell for it. Jesus closed the story with this passage, So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses. (Matthew 18:35)
I have taught my sons this throughout their lives as I speak plainly to them, but you can back a 53 foot tractor trailer of praise into a meeting and God is not hearing it if you have enmity and ill feelings in your heart towards somebody. It may as well be a 53 foot trailer of garbage. As John Wesley said, “an offering to God with ought in our hearts is an abomination to God.” Could this be why it is so difficult for folk to try to get through to God? We ought to walk in the very presence of God. We should not need to give God a 2 hour invite back every meeting. He should be mightily upon us at all times; but this requires us to live in such a way that He will dwell in us. He will not live with people long that hold grudges. Ask yourself a question, do I have ill feelings towards anyone? Don’t mask over it. Be serious with God. Do I know of anyone that has ought against me? Are there people in my life that I don’t get along with, especially fellow believers? Do bad feelings come up before me when I think of _________ or when I am around __________? Grudges are expressed in many different ways. Go down upon your knees while your conscience is as tender as it is and ask God to reveal any ought you may have against others or any that have ought against you. Your whole Christian life and ministry could depend on you doing just that.
What an offense is not.
If a person reaches out to you in reconciliation, that is enough in itself for you to lay down your grudge. Why? Because it always takes the better man or the better woman to apologize. Sometimes the issue was a matter of disagreement that went too far and we want the person to change their views about things or we will not forgive. That is the wrong attitude. What folly is it to take personally how someone else sees something? They don’t have to change their view before we forgive them. For example; if you had a spat over some issue that each of you feel strongly about, don’t expect that the apology is an admission that they were wrong about what they felt strongly about. Paul and Barnabas disagreed over John mark, but Paul never suggested that he was wrong, nor did Barnabas. They viewed the situation differently. Who was right? It doesn’t matter. Paul simply said later to ‘send John mark for he is profitable to me for the ministry.’ Just because someone disagrees with you, resists you or objects to something you and I are doing does not mean they are attacking us. Keep that clear. If we tie reconciliation to a change in the other person’s view then we may well never reconcile. Moreover, you may die harboring ill feelings towards the person. If the disagreement reaches a level that there is ought between the parties then reconciliation is in order. If it is a doctrinal issue, ecclesiastical issue (church related), music, money, etc., then we need to check ourselves to make sure our priorities are right. Zeal can kill. Make sure what you are harping on is worth losing a brother, losing your effectiveness in ministry or at worst going to hell for. Because God will not tolerate an unloving spirit.
The glory of reconciliation
There are few things more glorious than when two parties make amends and clear the air with one another. There is a load that comes off that is akin to the one described in Pilgrims Progress. That HUGE heavy pack that was weighing us down is now gone. We can breathe again. Our relationship with God gets a shot in the arm (so it feels). Why? Because any ought we have with our neighbor is a controversy we have with God. He is offended by our ill-feelings. But when reconciliation comes, what a difference! I cannot articulate the glory of reconciliation. Where once we resisted the person and tried to hinder them in some way, now we seek to help them. We go from obstructive to constructive! We go from wanting them to ‘get theirs’ to viewing them as a soul that deserves compassion and love. No more inward desire for evil upon their head, but a desire for Shalom, the very peace and blessing of God to be there.
I can say without hesitation that I have reconciled many times with folks over the last 20 years and when they would rightly reciprocate it was a glorious thing. Reluctant reconciliation usually left a mundane relationship in its wake. We have to reciprocate. How? Two people speak to each other in this way, “I’m sorry- I’m sorry too. I was wrong- I was wrong too. I want to clear the air- I want to clear the air too. I forgive you- I forgive you too. I want to put this behind us and go forward- I want to put this behind us and go forward too. I wish you the very best- and I wish you the very best too.” Maybe not just like that, but you get the idea. But reluctant reconciliation only desires to air their own grievance and waits for the person to show what they perceive to be enough contrition so they will forgive. If they don’t get what they want, the air is not cleared rightly. There is a lingering stench. A direct offense deserves an apology, but even if it does not come we are still called to love and forgive. Why? It is the Spirit and mind of Christ. While we were yet sinners He loved us, and He expects us to do the same.