Matthew 5:23-26

Setting and Overview
Verses 23 through 26 of Matthew 5 complete the section that began in verse 21 of the danger and relation of anger to murder. After laying out His main point for the section in verses 21-22, it is not surprising that Jesus then follows that with practical application and examples related to His exhortation. What is surprising is that in the two examples He gives, He puts the listeners not in the role of the one who is made angry, but rather in the role of someone who has wronged another. While this would seem to be a change in topic from the first two verses, it is in fact a very powerful example of His larger point. While we may be more likely to remember when someone else has made us angry than when we have made someone else angry, we must remember that worldly anger at all times is destructive and dangerous to both the holder and the target of the anger, and we should strive to neither hold on to such anger nor to cause it in another. How we avoid that will be the focus of these four verses.
Jesus gets more personal and direct in verse 23 by transitioning from a reference to “anyone” in the previous verses to the more direct “you” in verse 23. In the first example, He gives a scenario where the listener is going to the temple to offer a sacrifice and remembers that he has wronged someone. The closest parallel to us would be going to church or engaging in worship. Jesus’s exhortation here is to seek reconciliation, which reflects a complete changing of mind (Colossians 1:21-22.) This ties back into peacemaking as commended in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:9, Ephesians 2:14-18, Colossians 1:19-20), which in turn includes both a willingness to forgive (Colossians 3:13, Luke 17:3-4) and a willingness to make restitution (Leviticus 6:2-5.) Jesus emphasizes His point with pointing out the urgency that this must be done – before engaging in worship (Leviticus 6:6-7.) This isn’t because worshipping God is less important than getting along with others, but rather because willfully failing to correct wrongs that we have done would indicate an insincere worship which is detestable to God (Amos 5:21-24, Isaiah 1:13-17.)
In the second scenario, the listener is going to court to resolve a debt or claim that someone rightfully has against them. Here the exhortation is to reach agreement quickly, or literally, to make friends, with the accuser. He then emphasizes His point with an extended warning of being thrown into debtors’ prison, which probably reflects a Gentile setting but is used elsewhere in Scripture and would have been familiar to all listeners (Luke 12:57-59, Matthew 18:34-35.) In such a situation, the debtor is dependent on others paying their debts, which was often impossible, and was a situation to be avoided at all cost. Jesus’s point is that we must make things right now before it is too late, as both the earthly and spiritual costs may be more than we can bear.

Examination and Application
To follow Jesus’s exhortations here, we must have a sense of urgency, taking His warnings seriously. We too often focus on the wrongs that others do to us, and ignore the wrongs that we have done to others, overlooking the pain and damage that we may have incurred. We must first desire reconciliation, especially with other Christians, but not to the exclusion of others (Matthew 5:24-25, Romans 12:18.) We should then recognize and accept where we have wronged others (James 3:17-18), address and correct that wrong (II Corinthians 13:11), and finally take urgent and eager action (Romans 14:19.) In doing so, we have a hope to be able to restore proper relationships with others, opening the door for us to evangelize and disciple effectively and to return to worship alongside with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
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