March 25, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Matthew 5:23-26 (NRSV)
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
Jesus’ stories restore our agency as human beings. Rather than viewing us as helpless victims of sin and circumstance, we are challenged to take the initiative.
Jesus warns about the lethal effects of irresponsible anger and speech. In today’s text, he reminds us that the goal of life is flourishing relationships. And Jesus does this using two stories that illustrate the importance of restoring broken ones.
As is often the case with Jesus, these stories offer direction and raise serious questions. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jesus wants to make us think. What if the person who has something against you doesn’t want to be reconciled with you? Does that mean you can’t offer your gift to God? What if your adversary is in the wrong and you are in the right? Does this mean we can’t pursue justice and must always reach some kind of accommodation with others?
Jesus’ own example – not to mention the rest of the canon of Scripture – suggest that we can disagree, even passionately, with others. But how we disagree matters. Both these stories suggest that, in our pursuit of righteousness and justice, we need to remember our own limitations and fallenness. In each story, there is a recognition of the possibility of our own culpability.
Instead of holding up some idealized behavior, these stories focus on something deeply practical. They restore our agency as human beings. Rather than viewing us as helpless victims of sin and circumstance, we are challenged to take the initiative. In the second story, the phrase “settle matters quickly” is elsewhere translated “make the first move” (The Message) and “make friends quickly” (NASB ’95). These alternate translations help bring out Jesus’ intentions. We each have the opportunity to take the initiative, to make the first move. And our intent should not be merely to reach a legal accommodation, but to see the image of God in our adversary, to make a friend out of an enemy. And we do this while recognizing our own brokenness and valuing human relationships above all, even above our own religious duties and legal rights.
But there are limits. Not everyone wants reconciliation or a flourishing mutual relationship. So, the Apostle Paul offers this practical guidance: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18, NIV). I know from both personal and business experience that some relationships are broken to the point that God alone can fix. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make an effort to reconcile, but it does mean that our efforts alone are not enough. And sometimes it takes a long time for the reconciliation to come to fruition.
Nevertheless, in an angry and deeply broken world, we are called to live as ambassadors of reconciliation—which means we are called to try, even when we fail. The Church is called to model this behavior, both within its community (“your brother or sister”) and to those who are its enemies (“your adversary”). Despite our considerable failures, we are called to follow our common Lord who has given us the model of how to live life this way (Philippians 2:5-11).
I want to end this reflection with a few practical suggestions:
- Anger is a gift, a sign that something is wrong. So it is good to pay attention to it. But paying attention requires care and discernment. Knowing whether the problem is “out there,” “in here,” or both is difficult. Therefore, “everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19, NIV).
- For those of us in leadership positions of privilege, we need to do two difficult things. We need to learn to hear the truth spoken by others to those of us who are in power. And we need to learn to speak the truth to others in power, with love, discernment, and courage, on behalf of the poor and the oppressed. Our task as leaders is to set people free into a life of flourishing, not be complicit in the opposite.
- In an angry and divisive culture, we need to navigate the twin seductions of denial and despair. In part we do that by focusing on the genuinely positive and not the merely negative reality. In a profoundly fallen world, there are always abundant negative examples to focus on in the Church and in the world (Philippians 4:8-9).
There’s plenty to be angry about in the Church and in the world. Remember that God is slow to anger. And he knows the depths of human evil and injustice far more than any of us ever will. How we respond to evil and injustice matters. And so do our words.
What are you angry about in the Church and in the world? Why are you angry? In the language of the devotion, is the problem “out there” or “in you” or both?
Journal about one issue that makes you angry and that affects you as a leader. Take the time to listen to what is going on inside of you. Find a trusted friend with whom you can process what you are thinking and feeling. And reflect on how God might be leading you to respond in attitude, word, and action.
Lord Jesus Christ,
You told us to ask when we lack wisdom. Frankly, we are at a loss at how to respond to the flood of angry and hate-filled words that fills our cultural consciousness and penetrates our most private communications. We see the effects of social media on our children, with some driven to depression and even suicide.
We ask you for help and deliverance. Teach us to use words well. Teach us to speak healing and freedom to others. Use our words to build flourishing relationships and communities.
We ask in your name.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: That’s a Little Over the Top.
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During his adult life, Uli Chi has lived and worked in the intersection between business, the academy and the church. He has had the privilege of serving as past Board Chair of Regent College in Vancouver, BC, as current Vice Chair of the Board of the Max De Pree Leadership Center at Fuller Seminary, and as current Chair of the Executive Committee of the Center for Integrity in Business at Seattle Pacific University. He has also been involved in all aspects of local church leadership, including as a member of the adult ministries team’s teaching faculty at John Knox Presbyterian Church in Seattle.
Click here to view Uli’s profile.