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Posts Tagged ‘Matthew 5:23-24; pastors and forgiveness; pastors and reconciliation’

There are occasional verses in Scripture that I don’t fully understand.

And two of those verses are found in Matthew 5:23-24 in the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus says:

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”

Jesus seems to be saying, “If you’re in the act of worshiping God, and suddenly recall that a fellow believer is angry with you, suspend your worship, seek out your friend, make things right, and return to worship renewed.”

These two verses seemed simple to live out … until I became a pastor.  And then I ran into all kinds of scenarios where I tried to live out these verses but wasn’t sure how to apply them.

Some examples:

*How about when a pastor stands up to preach?

Some Sunday mornings, I would walk up to the stage … look out over the congregation … see several people who didn’t like me … and wonder, “Should I keep on preaching, or stop everything and find out why those people hate me?”

I kept on preaching … but did I violate Matthew 5:23-24 in the process?

*How about when people leave the church without telling you as pastor?

One time, a family had stopped coming on Sundays for several weeks, and someone told me they had left the church.  So I drove over to their house and knocked on their door, and the man of the house appeared.  When I asked if I could speak with him and his wife, he refused because his wife didn’t want to talk to me.  Although she later returned to the church for a brief time, the family ultimately left for good … and they never did tell me what I had done wrong.

I tried to apply Matthew 5:23-24 in that situation … so why didn’t it work?

*How about when someone continually asks if you are angry with them?

Years ago, a staff member came to me every few weeks and asked me, “Are you upset with me?  Have I done something to offend you?”  I wondered, “Am I giving off accidental signals that he’s displeased me?  Or is he just an overly-sensitive individual?”  Although he was trying to live out Matthew 5:23-24, in my view, he went way overboard.

Let’s reverse this situation.  How would you feel if your pastor came to you every few weeks and asked, “Have I done something to offend you?  Please tell me what I’ve done so I can make things right between us!”  Would you start to run every time he got near you?

*How about when someone comes to you and says, “So-and-So is really angry with you?”

This scenario happens to every pastor.  Whether they’re meddling or just want everybody to get along, some churchgoers seem to ferret out offenses that the pastor has committed against others … then come to the pastor to report the bad news.

If a pastor has preached his heart out at two services on Sunday morning, and a Christian ferret comes to him after the service and says, “There are four individuals in this congregation who are really upset with you, pastor,” should the pastor spend the rest of his Sunday contacting these people to make things right with them?

But most of the time, when I have approached people who were reportedly incensed at me, they denied that they felt that way at all … and sometimes, I felt like an idiot.

Is that a valid application of Matthew 5:23-24?

*How about when a pastor makes a decision that negatively impacts many people in the church?

I once attended a leadership conference at a prominent megachurch.  A well-known pastor told us that he once tried to impose a major change on his church, but because he didn’t handle things wisely, many people were either upset with him or stopped coming altogether.  In the spirit of Matthew 5:23-24, this pastor visited every home that he could identify where people were upset with him, and he apologized for his behavior personally.

While I have great admiration for any pastor who would humble himself like that, I also wonder if that was the best way to handle that situation.

I am not trying to evade what Jesus is saying in Matthew 5:23-24, but I am trying to understand His words so that pastors know when to apply them … and when not to do so.

What do you think Jesus was saying in those two verses?

I’ll have more to say on this topic next time.

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