So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. [Matthew 5:23-24 ESV]
Jesus continues illustrating the characteristics of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven by stressing the thinking of the heart in right relationship with God. If we are right with God then we are right with those around us. They may not be right with God or us. Jesus tells us to focus on the thinking of our hearts and not theirs. If someone has something against us it is because of something we have done to offend them, not because our position before God in Christ as righteous offends them.
Do not read these verses thinking Jesus is speaking only about a touchable sacrifice on a solid altar. When Abel and Cain offered their sacrifices is was not the physical sacrifice God cared about but the thinking of their hearts. We know Cain was “angry” and his face was downcast or fallen. We know God did not accept his sacrifice. Sin had bent him toward anger and wanted to control his whole being. We know God warned him to not allow sin control. Death and separation followed Cain’s refusal to heed God’s warning and discipline. Cain’s thinking held murderous intent and contempt for both God and those created in the image of God.
Pride and covetousness stops any capacity to worship. If pride and covetousness does not immediately kill worship then it strangles it. Even a little pride, a little covetousness, completely robs love from any act declared worship.
We are given His Spirit so we might worship Him in spirit and truth. “God is sprit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” [John 4:24 ESV]. When we give to God our gift is an act of love because we give that which is most valuable to us just as He gave what was most valuable to Him to redeem us. Our gift must be nothing less than our selves. Our giving must be done with the thinking of our hearts devoted to the One who has redeemed us. We love our God “with heart and with all your soul and with all your might” [Deuteronomy 6:5 ESV]. We show our love for Him not only through sacrifice but through obedience which is sacrifice.
Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. [1 Samuel 15:22-23 ESV]
Our gifts or sacrifices are not prescribed by law but by the indwelling Spirit. Our altar is not made of stone but of living flesh. Our gift has eternal value and encompasses the whole self. Our attitude, the thinking of our hearts, our whole person, must show love for God for the gift of ourselves to be acceptable. Our worship is a spiritual gift. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” [Romans 12:1 ESV].
Knowing this further helps understand what Jesus is proclaiming in Matthew 5:22-23. His illustration pierces to the center of the thinking of my heart. I am undone. According to Paul and my own experience my body is a slave to sin while my spirit is a slave to righteousness. If my gift to Him is pure and acceptable it is only because I have been enabled to give, to offer worship in spirit and truth, by the One receiving the gift.
I still sin. And I must continue baring responsibility for the immediate, temporal consequences of my sin. Though my relationship with God can never be severed it can be momentarily compromised. In addition, my sin frustrates and obstructs my relationship with my “brother.”
Though the eternal consequences of my sin the sentence of death and eternal separation from God has been lifted and placed on Christ, I still have a body of sin and I will still physically die. I still suffer the immediate and temporal consequences of my sin and the sin of the world. My sin affects the Body of Christ, the Church, and those around me.
Never does God say He will not accept my gift or sacrifice. However, He demands obedience. We love Him by obeying Him. We love Him by loving those created by Him. When I sin my brother is affected and my person is compromised and my gift or sacrifice is not given in love.
God will not leave such sin unknown.