Matthew 5:23
Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
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(23) If thou bring thy gift to the altar.—Literally, If thou shouldst be offering. Our Lord was speaking to Jews as such, and paints, therefore, as it were, a scene in the Jewish Temple. The worshipper is about to offer a “gift” (the most generic term seems intentionally used to represent any kind of offering), and stands at the altar with the priest waiting to do his work. That is the right time for recollection and self-scrutiny. The worshipper is to ask himself, not whether he has a ground of complaint against any one, but whether any one has cause of complaint against him. This, and not the other, is the right question at such a moment—has he injured his neighbour by act, or spoken bitter words of him?

Matthew 5:23. Therefore, &c. — “Because men are very apt to fall into rash anger, and to express their anger by contemptuous speeches and abusive names, fancying that there is no sin in these things, or but little, and that the compensation may easily be made for them by acts of devotion, Jesus declares that atonement is not to be made for these offences by any offerings, how costly soever, and therefore prescribes immediate repentance and reparation as the only remedies of them. He insisted particularly on reparation, assuring us that, unless it be made, God will not accept the worship of such offenders, being infinitely better pleased with repentance than with sacrifices, or external worship of any kind, how specious soever those duties may appear in the eye of vulgar understandings. Vain, therefore, is their presumption, who fancy they can make amends for yet more gross acts of injustice, by acts of devotion.” — Macknight. If thou bring thy gift to the altar — However costly and free; and there rememberest — What thou didst not recollect before; that thy brother hath aught against thee — On any of the preceding accounts, for any reproachful or unkind word, or injurious action: do not content thyself with a secret, and, it may be, a deceitful purpose that thou wilt hereafter accommodate the affair, but bring it to an immediate issue. Leave there thy gift before the altar — In the hands of those that are ministering there: for neither thy gift nor thy prayer will atone for thy want of love and injurious conduct, but these will make thy devotions and oblations an abomination before God. Go thy way — Do not lay aside thoughts of worshipping God, because thou art not in a proper state, but prepare thyself for his worship without delay. Be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift — Which thou mayest then cheerfully hope God will accept at thy hand. Philo, (de Sacrif., p. 844,) explaining the law of the trespass- offering, tells us, “That when a man had injured his brother, and, repenting of his fault, voluntarily acknowledged it, (in which case, both restitution and sacrifice were required,) he was first to make restitution, and then to come into the temple, presenting his sacrifice, and asking pardon.” This greatly illustrates the text, especially considering that our Lord supposes, in this case, not a trespass-offering, but a voluntary gift, presented before the altar; and yet declares that this will not be accepted while there is a consciousness of having wronged a brother, and not made him reparation.

5:21-26 The Jewish teachers had taught, that nothing except actual murder was forbidden by the sixth commandment. Thus they explained away its spiritual meaning. Christ showed the full meaning of this commandment; according to which we must be judged hereafter, and therefore ought to be ruled now. All rash anger is heart murder. By our brother, here, we are to understand any person, though ever so much below us, for we are all made of one blood. Raca, is a scornful word, and comes from pride: Thou fool, is a spiteful word, and comes from hatred. Malicious slanders and censures are poison that kills secretly and slowly. Christ told them that how light soever they made of these sins, they would certainly be called into judgment for them. We ought carefully to preserve Christian love and peace with all our brethren; and if at any time there is a quarrel, we should confess our fault, humble ourselves to our brother, making or offering satisfaction for wrong done in word or deed: and we should do this quickly; because, till this is done, we are unfit for communion with God in holy ordinances. And when we are preparing for any religious exercises, it is good for us to make that an occasion of serious reflection and self-examination. What is here said is very applicable to our being reconciled to God through Christ. While we are alive, we are in the way to his judgement-seat; after death, it will be too late. When we consider the importance of the case, and the uncertainty of life, how needful it is to seek peace with God, without delay!Therefore, if thou bring thy gift to the altar ... - The Pharisees were intent only on the external act in worship. They looked not at all to the internal state of the mind. If a man conformed to the external rites of religion, however much envy, and malice, and secret hatred he might have, they thought he was doing well. Our Saviour taught a different doctrine. It was of more consequence to have the heart right than to perform the outward act. If, therefore, says he, a man has gone so far as to bring his gift to the very altar, and should remember that anyone had anything against him, it was his duty there to leave his offering and go and be reconciled. While a difference of this nature existed, his offering could not be acceptable. He was not to wait until the offended brother should come to him; he was to go and seek him out, and be reconciled. So now the worship of God will not be acceptable, however well performed externally, until we are at peace with those that we have injured. "To obey is better than sacrifice," 1 Samuel 15:22. He that comes to worship his Maker filled with malice, and hatred, and envy, and at war with his brethren, is a hypocritical worshipper, and must meet with God's displeasure. God is not deceived, and he will not be mocked.

Thy gift - Thy sacrifice. What thou art about to devote to God as an offering.

To the altar - The altar was situated in front of the temple, and was the place on which sacrifices were made. See the notes on plan, Matthew 21:12. To bring a gift to the altar was expressive of worshipping God, for this was the way in which he was formerly worshipped.

Thy brother - Any man, especially any fellow-worshipper. Anyone of the same religious society.

Hath aught - Is offended, or thinks he has been injured by you in any manner.

First be reconciled - This means to settle the difficulty; to make proper acknowledgment or satisfaction for the injury. If you have wronged him, make restitution. If you owe him a debt which ought to be paid, pay it. If you have injured his character, confess it and seek pardon. If he is under an erroneous impression, if your conduct has been such as to lead him to suspect that you have injured him, make an explanation. Do all in your power; and all you ought to do, to have the matter settled. From this we learn:

1. That, in order to worship God acceptably, we must do justice to our fellow-men.

2. Our worship will not be acceptable unless we do all we can to live peaceably with others.

3. It is our duty to seek reconciliation with others when we have injured them.

4. This should be done before we attempt to worship God.

5. This is often the reason why God does not accept our offerings, and we go empty away from our devotions. We do not do what we ought to others; we cherish improper feelings or refuse to make proper acknowledgments, and God will not accept such attempts to worship him.

23. Therefore—to apply the foregoing, and show its paramount importance.

if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught—of just complaint "against thee."

See Poole on "Matthew 5:24".

Therefore, if thou bring thy gift to the altar,.... The Jews obliged such who had done any damage to their neighbours, by stealing from them, to make satisfaction before they brought their offering; concerning which they say (c),

"he that brings what he has stolen, before he brings his trespass offering, is right; he that brings his trespass offering, before he brings that which he has stolen, is not right.''

Again (d),

"they do not bring the trespass offering before the sum of what is stolen is returned, either to the owners, or to the priests.''

Some have thought Christ refers to this; only what they restrained to pecuniary damages, he extends to all sorts of offences. But not a trespass offering, but a freewill offering, seems to be designed by "the gift": which, when a man either intended to bring, or was going to bring, or had already brought, as a voluntary sacrifice to be offered unto God; and it came into his mind, that he had offended any man by showing any undue passion, or by any reproachful words, then he was to do what is advised in the following verse: "and there", whilst going, or when at the altar,

rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee: hath anything to charge thee with; any just ground of complaint against thee; if thou hast done him any injury, or given him any offence: particularly, if he had at any time said Raca to him, or called him "fool" for those words have reference to what goes before, and are a corollary, or conclusion from them, as appears from the causal particle "therefore".

(c) Misn. Bava Kama, c. 9. sect. 12. (d) Maimon. Hilch. Gezela, c. 8. sect. 13.

{6} Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the {o} altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;

(6) The covetous Pharisees taught that God was appeased by the sacrifices appointed in the law, which they themselves devoured. But Christ on the contrary side denies that God accepts any man's offering, unless he makes satisfaction to his brother whom he has offended: and says moreover, that these stubborn and stiff-necked despisers of their brethren will never escape the wrath and curse of God before they have made full satisfaction to their brethren.

(o) He applies all this speech to the state of his time, when there was then an altar standing in Jerusalem, and therefore they are very foolish that gather from this that we must build altars and use sacrifices: but they are bigger fools who consider this to be purgatory, which is spoken of as peace making and atonement one with another.

Matthew 5:23 f. Ἐὰνπροσφέρῃς] If thou, then, art about to present thy sacrifice (δῶρον, Matthew 8:4, Matthew 15:5, Matthew 23:18, also in the LXX., Apocrypha, and Greek writers); consequently, art already occupied with the preparation of the same in the temple.[408] This explanation is required by the words ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ θυς. (ad aram), Matthew 5:24.

ἐπὶ τὸ θυσιαστ.] to the altar, in order that the priests may offer it upon the same.

κἀκεῖ μνησθῇς, κ.τ.λ.] “inter rem sacram magis subit recordatio offensarum, quam in strepitu negotiorum,” Bengel. The injured part is the ἀδελφός; differently in Mark 11:25, where forgiveness is required.

ἔμπροσθ. τοῦ θυσιαστ.] A closer definition added to ἐκεῖ.

πρῶτον] in the first place (Matthew 6:33), before everything else, what thou now hast to do. Compare τότε afterwards. It is to be connected with ὕπαγε (Luther, Erasmus, Castalio, Bengel, and many others; also Gersdorf, p. 107; de Wette, Ewald, Arnoldi, Bleek). Comp. Matthew 7:5, Matthew 13:30, Matthew 23:26. The connection with διαλλάγ. (Beza, Calvin, Er. Schmidt, and many others; also Kuinoel, Fritzsche, Tholuck, and others) overlooks the essential moment which is contained in the connection precisely by the ὕπαγε, the unavoidable, surprising, nay, repellent removal of oneself from the temple. For that ὕπαγε is not here merely an appeal, age, is shown by the context through the words ἄφες ἐκεῖ, etc. In Matthew 18:15, Matthew 19:21, also, it means abi.

διαλλάγηθι] be reconciled, deal so that a reconciliation may begin with him who has been injured by thee. Comp. 1 Samuel 29:4, and on the passage 1 Corinthians 7:11. In this way the act of sacrifice receives the moral foundation of a disposition pleasing to God, by which it is no mere external work, but is at the same time λογικὴ λατρεία, Romans 12:1. Flacius well remarks, s.v. munus: “Vult primam haberi rationem moralium, secundum ceremonialium.” Moreover, the distinction asserted by Tittmann to exist between διαλλάσσειν and καταλλάσσειν, that the former denotes the removal of mutual hostility, the latter that of one-sided enmity (Synon. p. 102), is decidedly erroneous. Fritzsche, ad Rom. I. p. 276 ff.

[408] The severance of the Jewish believers from the temple service was only to begin at a later time, John 4:21. The Catholic exegesis knows, indeed, how to find here the permanent sacrifice of the Eucharist, regarding which Christ is said in the passage before us to have given a law which is for ever valid, Döllinger, Christenthum und Kirche, p. 250 f., ed. 2.

Matthew 5:23-24. Holtzmann (H. C.) regards these verses, as well as the two following, as an addition by the evangelist. But the passage is at least in thorough harmony with what goes before, as well as with the whole discourse.—Ἐὰν οὖν προσφέρῃς, if thou art in the very act of presenting thine offering (present tense) at the altar.—κἀκεῖ μνησθῇςκατὰ σοῦ, and it suddenly flashes through thy mind there that thou hast done something to a brother man fitted to provoke angry feeling in him. What then? Get through with thy worship as fast as possible and go directly after and make peace with the offended? No, interrupt the religious action and go on that errand first.—ἄφες ἐκεῖ. Lay it down on the spur of the moment before the altar without handing it to the priest to be offered by him in thy stead.—καὶ ὕπαγε πρῶτον. The πρῶτον is to be joined to ὕπαγε, not to the following verb as in A. V[22] and R. V[23] (πρῶτον stands after the verb also in chaps. Matthew 6:33, Matthew 7:5). First go: remove thyself from the temple, break off thy worship, though it may seem profane to do so.—διαλλάγηθικαὶ τότεπρόσφερε: no contempt for religious service expressed or implied. Holtzmann (H. C.) asks, did Jesus offer sacrifice? and answers, hardly. In any case He respected the practice. But, reconciliation before sacrifice: morality before religion. Significant utterance, first announcement of a great principle often repeated, systematically neglected by the religion of the time. Placability before sacrifice, mercy before sacrifice, filial affection and duty before sacrifice; so always in Christ’s teaching (Matthew 9:13; Matthew 15:5). πρόσφερε: present; set about offering: plenty of time now for the sacred action.

[22] Authorised Version.

[23] Revised Version.

23. if thou bring thy gift to the altar] i. e. thy offering, such as a lamb or a pair of doves.

rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee] that thy brother hath cause of complaint against thee, just or unjust, if the quarrel is still not made up.

Matthew 5:23. Ἐὰν οὖν, κ.τ.λ., if therefore, etc.) Reconciliation is not said to be only then necessary, for the word ἐκεῖ, there) indicates that you ought to have remembered it before; but the meaning is, Whatever you are doing, even if you have already undertaken the best and most holy and most necessary matter, leave everything until you have been reconciled to your brother: see Ephesians 4:26. They sin who do not make it up with their brother, until they are just about to receive the Holy Supper. Yet reconciliation is especially necessary, and an examination of the conscience especially imperative on those who are about to perform the most solemn act of devotion.—ἐπὶ, to) For it was the part of the priest to offer on the altar, and afterwards occurs the expression, ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου, before the altar.—καὶ ἐκεῖ μνησθῇς, and there rememberest) The word of God portrays the most hidden secrets of the human heart. In the performance of a sacred rite, the remembrance of offences arises more naturally, than in the noise of human affairs.—ἔχει, hath) as having been offended [by thee].

Verse 23. - Therefore. Seeing that the consequences of an angry spirit are so terrible. For there is no thought here of an unforgiving spirit spoiling the acceptance of the gift (vide infra). Our Lord is insisting that it is so important to lose no time in seeking reconciliation with a person whom one has injured, that even the very holiest action must be put off for it. If thou bring; Revised Version, if... thou art offering; ἐὰν... προσφέρῃς (similarly, πρόσηερε, ver. 24), the technical word coming some sixty times in Leviticus alone. Christ implies that the action has already begun. Thy gift; a general word for any sacrifice. To the altar. Since those to whom he spoke were still Jews, Christ illustrates his meaning by Jewish practices. A perverse literalism has found here a direct reference to the Eucharist. For reasonable adaptations (cf. even in ' Didache,' § 14.) of these two verses to this, see Waterland, 'Doctrine of the Eucharist,' ch. 13. § 4 (pp. 359-362, Oxford, 1868). And there rememberest, etc. For the spirit of recollection may well culminate with the culminating action. Lightfoot ('Hor. Hebr.') shows that even the Jews taught such a postponement of the sacrifice if theft was remembered. He therefore thinks that the stress is on "ought" (τι): "For that which the Jews restrained only to pecuniary damages, Christ extends to all offences against our brother." But he overlooks the fact that, while the Jewish precept had reference to a sin (or even the neglect of some ceremonial rule, cf. Mishna, 'Pes.,' 3:7) vitiating the offering, there is no thought of this hero (vide supra). Thy brother (ver. 22, note). Ought. So from Tyndale downwards. Revised Version, aught, here and apparently always, after the spelling now preferred as marking the difference from the verb. Matthew 5:23
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