No matter how hard you try to get along, you’re going to have conflicts with people. Relationships are like cars—they break down. And for when they do, Jesus gave a strong command in Matthew 5:24. Go and be reconciled to your brother.
Very often, that’s the last things we want to do. So Jesus gave us some motives—big ones, like avoiding hell (Mt.5) and making sure God doesn’t reject your worship (Mt.5).
Then Jesus added further wise counsel. Go and reconcile before things turn ugly.
“Settle matters quickly with your enemy who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny. (Mt.5:25-26 NIV)
When you have a falling out, reconcile immediately because if you wait, things will usually get a lot worse.
Prevent Extensive Damage by Acting Quickly
In this scenario, you’ve offended someone and Jesus urges you to settle out of court. Do what you can to work it out, because if it goes to trial, you could end up with a much bigger mess than you had to start with.
Most of the time our disputes aren’t legal ones, but the principle applies to any conflict.
When a person gets mad at you or is offended or hurt, if you deal with it right away, in many cases the whole thing can be done with forever with a ten-minute conversation.
But if you wait, the anger festers. Then something else happens that the person interprets it through a grid of anger so they take offense again. Then they talk to someone else about it, and that gets someone else down on you, and the whole thing snowballs until finally the person has so many complaints against you and his attitude has become so embittered that there is no way out. Repairing that kind of relationship can take years or even decades.
And it all could have been avoided if you had just been willing to humble yourself, go to the person, and make an effort to reconcile.
Since you have fallen into your neighbor’s hands: Go and humble yourself; press your plea with your neighbor! Allow no sleep to your eyes, no slumber to your eyelids. Free yourself. (Proverbs 6:3-5 NIV)
More Than a Truce
When Jesus tells us to reconcile, the point isn’t to just smooth things over. The point is the restore the closeness of the relationship. The word translated settle matters in verse 25 literally means “make friends.” It’s more than just settling up. It’s an effort to win that person’s friendship back and place the relationship in good order.
The reason Jesus gives for why you must win the person’s friendship back as quickly as possible is that if you don’t, the person might turn you over to the judge (verse 25).
Who is that? The context is talking about the heavenly court, so the judge is God. When you sin against a brother or sister in Christ, what if that person cries out to God for justice?
What if God answers that prayer? Then you’re in real trouble. You’ll face chastisement from which no one will be able to rescue you.
You do not want that to happen.
God tends to listen to the prayers of people who have been treated poorly, and so you take steps to win back that person’s friendship before they take their case to God and you find yourself in real trouble.
Imagine you are part of a large, loving family. Tonight after a wonderful evening with them, you’re tired and hit the sack. Soon the rest of your family turns in and the house is quiet.
Just as you start drifting off, you smell something. You spring out of bed and see there’s a fire in the kitchen. Right next to you is the fire extinguisher. It’s just a small fire at this point—easily put out, but you think to yourself, I’m not responsible for this fire. It didn’t start it, and it’s not my fault. Are you going to just go back to bed and let it burn down the house and destroy your whole family including you?
All Jesus is saying in this text is this: “Just grab the fire extinguisher and put it out. Do it because I don’t like fires in my house. Do it because as long as you let my house burn down, you’re going to be at odds with me. And do it immediately because if you don’t, the damage will increase exponentially for as long as you put it off.”
Question for Reflection
We get into bad habits with the people we live with. One of them is to have an “acceptable” time gap between a conflict and reconciling. Examine your life. Do you have a time gap like that? If so, take Jesus’ words seriously and eliminate it. Reconcile immediately.
Of course, if the other person refuses, you are only responsible “as far as it depends on you” (Romans 12:18). If you try to reconcile and it doesn’t work, that’s not on you. The question is, how much of a time gap is there between the conflict and your first effort to reconcile? The shorter, the better.