“First make peace with your brother…” – Matthew 5:24
I have watched numerous situations now where people have wronged or wounded someone and done nothing about it. They have not pursued reconciliation in any meaningful and honest way. They haven’t expressed remorse or changed their ways. They simply wrecked another person’s life and kept on going as if nothing ever happened. Responsibility evaded them.
Or so they thought.
As I’ve watched time pass I’ve seen a very interesting pattern take shape in the lives of unrepentant hearts. These people that I’ve personally known live in different parts of the world, are completely different ages, work entirely different careers and do not know each other in any way and yet their behaviors and lives mirror each other so similarly it’s shocking. It taught me that there isn’t a lot of psychological or spiritual variation when running from our actions. It gets pretty simple. When we run from repairing our mistakes or misdeeds, it’s as if we enter a world of chaos. We can do our best to make sense of it and make life work inside of it, but something feels perpetually wrong.
I’ve watched these people create entire personalities and belief systems formed out of their unreconciled actions. I’ve watched them continue to destroy others to keep themselves from humility. Their relationships are shallow. Their actions are erratic. They surround themselves with people who either don’t know who they’ve been or people who can’t see through them and won’t ask real questions. They seem to have an air of ‘manicness’ for lack of a better term. It’s like they can’t sit still. They can’t slow their speech. They can’t calm down. They heap up narratives and spin stories to keep their heads above water. Anything to avoid the truth. Anything to avoid personal responsibility.
But the fact remains that the enemy has successfully led them to shipwreck their life. They have gotten completely off track. And even if they can make the outside world around them appear sensible and “normal” the inside of them screams a different truth.” A double minded man [or woman] is unstable in all their ways” (James 1:8). The stress and tension between who they appear as on the outside compared to who they really are on the inside will eventually lead them to a complete break. And what they do with that break will determine whether the chaos stops or not. For many, they break but only wait for time to pass enough for things to become stitched up and tolerable again, then they carry on. Personal responsibility is still successfully avoided.
The thing is, we can’t destroy other people’s lives and suffer no consequences. We can’t disobey God and remain unscathed. It simply doesn’t work that way. It would be to deny all the natural laws for any action to be left without consequences. It would be to deny the laws of God. Newton’s Third Law of Motion says “for every action there is an equal but opposite reaction”. The Bible says, “we reap what we sow” (Galatians 6:7). In layman’s terms, whatever we put out into the world will come back on us. There is no outrunning the good or evil we do in this life. The longer you wait to course correct or repair a wound done to another the longer you allow unknown amounts of suffering into your own life and a lack of peace into your soul.
Peace is a currency I could never live without. In the few periods where I have been without peace it has felt like hell on earth. I can’t imagine living months or years without it. The opposite of peace is torment. When I think of torment, I think of the story of Saul, the King of Israel. Saul was chosen by God to lead the Israelites and for a period of time God was close to him. But Saul made a pivotal mistake and turned away from following the Lord. He leaned on his own wisdom and judgment and that led God to say that He regretted making Saul king. Wow. Saul was told by the Prophet Samuel that “because you have rejected the word of the Lord, [God] has rejected you as king”. In 1 Samuel 16:14 the Bible says, “Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented and terrified him.” And we know as the story goes on that the only relief Saul could find from this torment came in the form of the shepherd boy, David, who ministered to him in song and would one day become his replacement as king. Saul never repaired his mistake. At first he justified what he’d done. Then he came to a place of acknowledging that it was wrong, but he never actually fixed it. Torment later followed.
The New Testament expounds on this idea but offers us peace in knowing that there is salvation available to us when we have turned from God with our actions. Our destiny doesn’t have to be the torment of Saul. But there are things required of us when we have done wrong in order to re-enter the place of peace we left (or maybe never had at all). In Matthew 5:23-26 it says this, [Jesus is speaking] “If you are presenting your offering at the altar, and while there you remember that your brother has something [such as a grievance or legitimate complaint] against you, leave your offering there at the altar and go. First make peace with your brother, and then come and present your offering. Come to terms quickly [at the earliest opportunity] with your opponent while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent does not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you are thrown into prison. I assure you and most solemnly say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid the last cent.”
These are tough words but an honest truth. These are the laws of God. Jesus considers it far more important to be reconciled to a brother/sister in Christ than to perform religious duty. He literally said first be reconciled to your brother. We can’t think that our service towards God or any service we do at all justifies bad relationships with others. Jesus then commands that we quickly settle our issue. If we ignore, deny, or run from it it will genuinely imprison us. And it has the potential to imprison us for our entire lives, which we understand from Jesus saying, “you will not come out of there until you have paid the last cent” that you owe the person or situation. This is the reality we welcome when we run from our obligation to fix our wrongdoings.
And notice what that teaching doesn’t say: It isn’t the responsibility of the person(s) wronged to come to the wrongdoer and ask for an apology or seek the reconciliation. It is the responsibility of the person who has done the wrong, the person who knows that someone has something against them. I’m sure that if every person who has been wronged by another were treated in the way that Jesus expects and reconciliation was quickly pursued that the world would be SUCH a different place than we see today. There are so many walking around deeply hurt and broken by the actions of others; left untreated by those responsible. Unrepentant hearts and prideful minds continue to wreak havoc on the world.
But I write this as a cautionary observation. The truth is, both people (or all people) involved in a shady circumstance get slimed by the experience. No one walks away unscathed. Oftentimes the person on the receiving end of the offense is pitied the most because it is easy to feel compassion for someone who has been treated unjustly. But as I’ve matured I see now that both parties hurt deeply, but in different ways and face different options in their path to healing. The victim of the offense has the option to forgive, which can take quite a lot of time to achieve in a genuine way depending on the intensity of the offense. The offender has the option to own their mistake(s) directly with the victim, take responsibility for it often by expressing genuine remorse and apology, and as Jesus put it, “make peace”. When we refuse to settle up our accounts we invite torment or spiritual imprisonment. Why would we ever choose that over reconciliation?
Here is one final thought: I have heard people who know they’ve wounded others but have done nothing about it say something along these lines: “I’ve made my peace with God. I’ve worked it out with Him and I know I’m forgiven.” Ok….well, that’s a part of the process for sure. But where in the story above do you see Jesus say “If you are presenting your offering at the altar, and while there you remember that your brother has something against you, pray and make peace with God and leave the issue unsettled with your brother/sister”….? Pro tip, it doesn’t say that. The entire moral of the story is that to keep yourself from going down a very slippery slope of torment brought on by pride you must go to the person you’ve wronged directly and repair things FIRST. Then return to God. Of course you should definitely seek His forgiveness and love. But you can’t disregard the order and rules of the game created by God Himself! That would just be silly.
Humility brings peace and release. Pride brings fear and imprisonment. When I think of these people who are still very presently trying to outrun the consequences of their actions I genuinely feel compassion and a deep sadness for them. I wish they would stop running. I wish they could see their way out. I wish they had as much compassion for the people they’ve hurt as they undoubtedly have for themselves. I wish they could understand how much good they could do for themselves, the person(s) they hurt, and maybe even generations to come if they just reconciled the situation. I wish. I wish. Maybe they do see it but for a thousand reasons they just can’t bring themselves to fix it. Who knows…
I pray that if you are one of those people who knows that they are imprisoned by the wounds they’ve inflicted on others. Maybe you feel guilt and shame covering you even now. I want you to know that YES, God forgives you and has so much peace and restoration for you! But He still expects you to make right the situations you’ve created. He expects you to go to your spiritual brother/sister and genuinely pursue peace with them. If they are no longer living on this earth, then you will work it out between you and God. But as long as people are alive, we owe them the pursuit of genuine reconciliation. And you deserve to live free. Free of the torment, free of shame and guilt, free of chaos, and restored to a sound mind and a sound life. May you claim what’s yours through bold acts of restoration and personal responsibility.