What to Do When Someone’s Mad at You

Matthew 5:23-24

November 19, 2006 | Brian Bill

I had the honor of hearing the Messiah give an amazing message on the side of a mountain last year near my hometown of Capernaum.  I was very moved by His words and at the same time was troubled by what He taught.  Actually that’s what a sermon should do in our lives – it should comfort and convict us.  I liked how he gave it to the hypocrites, but as you heard last week, we all have pieces of timber protruding from our eyeballs [hold up 2×4].  I was in agony when Jesus described how being angry with someone is tantamount to an act of terrorism against them.  

Just when I was reeling from this revelation, Jesus added these words in the next two verses: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”  I immediately thought of some people who are mad at me but then I just shook it off.  I mean, if they’re mad, it’s their problem, right?  Well, not really.  Let me tell you what happened.

It was expected that men would make the journey to Jerusalem three different times a year.  I took a trip a short while ago so I could be there on the Day of Atonement.  This was not easy to do since I live up north in Capernaum and the capital is down south.  It’s approximately the distance between Pontiac and Springfield.  This trip took several days but I was pretty pumped to come and worship, especially since my heart was so full after hearing Jesus preach.  I was hoping that I might run into Him again.  Other years I just purchased a sacrifice outside the Temple but this time I brought a lamb with me.  I really wanted to offer my best to the Lord.  Jerusalem was very congested when I arrived and I knew I had a long wait in front of me before I could enter the Temple with my offering.  After walking for three long days, I was fine with standing in line because it gave me a chance to rest and to prepare myself for worship.  

I’ve heard that in your culture some people don’t bring anything to church with them.  I don’t really get this because we were expected to bring something of value as a way to show how much we value God.  Listen to what God says in Exodus 25:2: “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering.  You are to receive the offering for me from each man whose heart prompts him to give.”  May I encourage you to come with something to offer?  You don’t have to bring a lamb but God is pleased when His people give their tithes, their time, and their talents to Him.  Romans 12:1 teaches that the best worship is the offering of ourselves.  This is not a burden but actually a blessing.  The words of Psalm 66:13-15 were ringing in my ears as I eagerly anticipated approaching the Almighty: “I will come to your temple with burnt offerings and fulfill my vows to you — vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke when I was in trouble.  I will sacrifice fat animals to you and an offering of rams; I will offer bulls and goats.”

Finally, after waiting so long, it was my turn to worship!  Just as I’m about to offer my little lamb to the priest, for some reason my former friend Levi comes to mind.  I try to shake it off but I can’t do it.  Why is this coming up now?  I’m ready to make my offering!  The people behind me are getting impatient and some are beginning to sigh.  The priest is looking at me with a quizzical look.  I take another step forward but I can’t seem to take another one.  Then the words of Jesus come back to me and I know what I’m supposed to do and yet I begin to bargain with God.  

Have you ever done that?  “God, why can’t I just offer my sacrifice now since I’m here and I’ll make it right with Levi when I get back home?  Do I really have to do this?  I don’t have a problem with him; he’s got a problem with me.  He should be the one to seek me out since he has the grudge.”

Realizing that this is my opportunity to live out the words of my Lord, I picked up my lamb and put it on layaway, asking the priest to hold it until I returned.  I then turned around, made my way out of the Temple, going against the flow of people coming to worship, and headed back on the road to Capernaum.  Because I loved the Lord so much I wanted to do what He said, irregardless of the cost and the inconvenience.  As I made my way back home, I remembered that Levi must really have been upset with me because he had basically unplugged from corporate worship and had stopped fellowshipping with others.  

When I arrived three days later, I owned up for what I had done and asked for forgiveness.  By granting me grace, he set both of us free and we then traveled together to the Temple where I was able to come and offer my gift, and he his.  As we walked together we worshipped together, quoting Psalm 42:4: “These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng.”

You’ve probably never heard a pastor say this before but if you know someone is mad at you and he or she is in this room right now please get up and make it right.  If you need to leave here and drive somewhere do it right now.  God wants us to be at peace more than He wants our praise.  He’d rather you live it out than just listen to another sermon and do nothing.  I love how Max Lucado puts it: “As far as I know, this is the only time God tells you to slip out of church early.  Apparently he’d rather have you give your olive branch than your tithe.”  As someone has said, “An offense against your neighbor builds a fence between you and God.”

Let’s summarize what we’ve learned so far.

  • Every Conflict is an Opportunity.  When we’re faced with friction, look for ways to glorify God, seek the good of the other, and then get ready to grow.
  • Get the Log out of Your Eye.  We can’t judge someone’s heart or motives because we all have sin sticking out of our eye balls.  
any pain we feel is designed to motivate us to be biblical peacemakers

The message today is called “What to Do When Someone’s Mad at You” and when we’re done it might feel like you’ve been beaned with a beam [pick up 2×4].  But remember that any pain we feel is designed to motivate us to be biblical peacemakers.  Making peace is possible if we determine to resolve conflict now.  But we must first learn how to live in peace.  Pastor Jeff told me that he asked around 40 students if they had ever been taught biblical peace making principles.  Only two of them raised their hands.  My guess is that they aren’t learning about it from their parents because we haven’t been taught either.  I’m excited about how this series can be used by God to literally transform our church and usher in a culture of peace at PBC.

Let’s look more closely at Matthew 5:23-24“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”  Let’s notice a few things before we dive in.

  • Anger can annul our adoration.  The context of this passage has to with anger: “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”  We must be watchful of our words or else wrath will decimate us and destroy others.  When we bring anger to the altar we can’t adore God.  Isaiah 1:15: “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen.  Your hands are full of blood…” And Isaiah 58:4: “Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists.  You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.”  Psalm 66:18 says, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.”  
  • Peacemaking is very personal.  The verb tenses change in this passage from the plural “you all” (or ‘y’all’ if you’re from the south) to “you” singular: “You have heard it said…but I tell you.”  This message is not for the masses but for me.
  • Friction in the family must be dealt with.  The word “brother” is used four times in verses 22-24.  As sons and daughters of the Father He desires holy harmony in His family.  How I treat my brother or sister is emblematic of my relationship to my Father.  I know when there’s friction in our family, I want to get it resolved right away.  If someone’s not getting along, they’re going to straighten it out before they go to sleep.  If I feel that way about my family, imagine how God feels about relationships within His family.  1 Peter 4:17: “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God…”  Galatians 6:10: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” 
  • Internal attitude is more important than external offering.  As long as there is internal sin, outward acts of worship are not acceptable to God.  1 John 2:11: “But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.” 

The Setting for Peace

Verse 23 describes the setting, which I just acted out: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you.”   Let me mention a couple additional points.  

1. Make it right when God reminds you.

It’s no accident that you are thinking about a person right now.  Don’t dismiss the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit at work in your memory.  Remembering is the first step to reconciliation.  It’s God’s way of prompting you to be a peacemaker.  

2. Initiate reconciliation whether it’s your fault or not.

It could be a legitimate gripe, or maybe it’s unfounded.  It doesn’t really matter.  If someone has a grudge against you, follow God’s nudge and do what you can to make it right.

Steps to Peace

Peacemaking is messy business, isn’t it?   Even when it doesn’t work, it’s always worthwhile to do what God says.  Verse 24 lays out four steps for us to take when we have tension in a relationship.  These steps can by summarized by four words from this verse.

1. Leave…even when it’s inconvenient. 

“…leave your gift there in front of the altar…”  We need to pause in our praise until we’re at peace.  1 Samuel 15:22 says that God is more impressed with our obedience than He with what we may have to offer Him: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD?  To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” David figured this out as well in Psalm 51:16-17: “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”  God would rather have a broken life than a beautiful lamb.  He would rather have a surrendered man or a woman than scads of money.  He would rather have us leave and make peace than lift our hands in praise when we’re in conflict with someone.  

Peacemaking takes precedent over praising.  Listen to these strong words from Amos 5:21-24: “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies.  Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.  Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.  Away with the noise of your songs!  I will not listen to the music of your harps.  But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”  Here’s the principle: gifts derive their value from the heart of the giver.

2. Go…even when you don’t want to initiate. 

reconciliation is always my responsibility

“…First go…” We’re to leave the place of reverence and go find the place of reconciliation with the one we’ve wronged.  The verb tense here suggests an intense effort.  It’s so easy to think that the other person should take the first step.  Notice the word “first” before the word “go.”  This means first in order of importance.  The priority in peacemaking is to resolve everything right away.  And, as we will see next week, whether you have been wronged, or you’re in the wrong, it’s always right to go.  Ideally, we should run into the person we’re in conflict with, because if they’re doing it right, they’ll be coming to us.  But even when they don’t show, we are still required to go.  In this passage, Jesus does not mention the responsibility of the other person to restore the relationship.  He puts it squarely on you and on me.  Why?  Because our relationships test our righteousness.  Let’s personalize the priority of peacemaking by saying this phrase together: reconciliation is always my responsibility.

In the movie called “Straight Story,” based on an actual event, a 73-year-old man named Alvin Straight decided it was time to end the silence and break down the wall of anger between him and his brother that had been up for ten long years.  Because he was too impaired to drive a car, he decided to drive his riding lawn mower 300 miles from Iowa to Wisconsin to make things right with his brother.  It took him six weeks to get to his brother.  Question.  How far are you willing to go to live at peace with someone?

Here’s why this is such a big deal to God: He cares about you and the person you’re in conflict with and wants to use you to lift the load of hatred from your brother or sister.

3. Be…even when you feel innocent. 

“…and be reconciled to your brother…”  First, leave it.  Second, go.  Third, be reconciled.  The word “reconcile” means to change one’s feelings towards another.  And often the only way to make things right is to admit that you’ve been wrong.  This information called “The Seven A’s” from the Peacemaker website is very helpful

  • Address everyone involved (All those whom you affected) 
  • Avoid if, but, and maybe (Do not try to excuse your wrongs) 
  • Admit specifically (Both attitudes and actions) 
  • Acknowledge the hurt (Express sorrow for hurting someone) 
  • Accept the consequences (Such as making restitution) 
  • Alter your behavior (Change your attitudes and actions) 
  • Ask for forgiveness (Request release from the debt)

4. Come…even when it’s an interruption. 

“…then come and offer your gift.” Leave.  Go.  Be.  Come.  Reconciliation is important enough to interrupt our worship of God because unresolved conflict has already interrupted our worship.  A right relationship with God depends on our willingness to maintain a right relationship with one another.  John MacArthur says: “True worship is enhanced by better relationships…worship may be improved by our staying away from church until we have made things right with those with whom we know our relationship is strained or broken.”  I would add that too many people stay away from church for way too long because of conflict.  The missing of corporate worship should motivate us to be reconciled just as skipping communion because we’re in conflict should compel us to make things right before we celebrate the Lord’s Supper again.  The purpose behind this is peace, not punishment.  We should love worship so much that the very thought of having to unplug for a bit should propel us to make peace.  Don’t stay away.  Come and offer the gift of yourself.

Step one is unfortunately pretty easy and way too many have stopped here.  It’s simple to leave because of conflict.  The challenge is to complete steps two through four so that you can come back and worship once again.

One of my sisters called me a few weeks ago because she realized that she had to take some steps toward reconciliation with a co-worker.  I’m not sure how much I helped her but I know I learned a lot from her.  I asked her to write down what happened in the hopes that you will be encouraged by her example.  I’ve changed the names and left out some details because I don’t want my sharing of this to cause any more conflict since our sermons go out on the Internet.

A woman was hired to join our team.  I knew at the interview that her personality could possibly drive me nuts.  I was right; she was very emotional, moody, had no sense of personal space, hyper, was passive-aggressive and controlling in a sneaky way…I had very little patience for her and treated her rudely for many years.  If she asked if I wanted to go out for dinner, I said no.  Did I want to work together on a project?  No.  Did I want to get our kids together for a play date?  No.  I participated in social events with other staff and never included her.  Why did I care if her feelings were hurt?  She drove me crazy and she deserved to suffer a bit. 

As I grew in my faith, and learned what the true meaning of loving one another meant, I started to second guess how I had been treating her.  I tried to befriend her a bit, but she had already moved on to new friends on staff, and she made sure to organize many events with her new friends, and to not include me.  I tried complimenting her.  Didn’t work.  I invited her to lunch.  She said no.  I gave her chocolate.  It didn’t matter.  

This sat heavy on my heart for years and years.  I knew it was time to confess to her what I had done and to ask her for her forgiveness.  I prayed and asked for courage for three years!  Finally, late in the summer of this year, a peace came over me and I knew it was time.  I called her and asked to meet her…so I could share what was on my heart.  She agreed.  We met and I apologized for everything I had done and asked if she could ever trust me again and if she could forgive me.

That’s when she pulled out the ‘knife’!!  She went through a laundry list of reasons why I am a bad person, how I have no social skills, and how she is afraid to be in the same room with me.  She told me she had no respect for me as a person and would never consider doing anything social with me…EVER.  I asked her again if she would forgive me.  She said nothing.   

When I walked out…that night, I felt like I had been punched in the gut.  She had kicked me when I was down.  I felt worthless and alone.  However, despite all of these feelings, I knew I had done the right thing, and although I wept for two days after we talked, I felt a burden had been lifted.  I did what I needed to do.  I said my apologies with love, and if I had to do it over again, I would change nothing.  

How is it now?  [She] says hello to me when she wants to.  She continues to hold a grudge and she clearly doesn’t like me.  It bothers me and I wish it would go away, but when I’m silent and I reflect, that same peace comes to me again.  I did what God wanted me to do, and although I can’t change her feelings, I can change how I treat the next person who comes into my life who is emotional, moody, and hyper.  Actually, many people have come into my life that drive me nuts.  I am patient, kind, and try to speak to them with love.  When I simply can’t take them anymore, I walk away in silence, knowing I don’t ever want to hurt anyone like I hurt [her].

After talking to my sister, I sent this email to her, quoting from Ken Sande’s book “The Peacemaker.”

“Faithfulness is not a matter of results; it is a matter of dependent obedience.  God knows that you cannot control other people, so he will not hold you responsible for the ultimate outcome of a conflict…If you have depended on Him and done your best to resolve a conflict in a loving and biblical manner, no matter how the situation turns out, you will have earned that marvelous commendation: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’ (Matthew 25:21a).”

These words from Romans 12:18 are both convicting and comforting: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  We must make sure we’ve done everything that depends on us to do and yet we cannot control how the other person responds.  Have you done everything you can do to be at peace?  Maybe there’s still something that you need to do.  If you have, then you’ve done your responsibility.

Action Steps

1. Assess the mess you’re in. 

During our Dive Deep class this week, we took a “fellowship inventory”.  There were ten questions but I’d like to list just five this morning.  Give yourself a grade of 1 to 10 in each area.

I forgive others when their actions harm me.

I admit my wrongs in relationships and humbly seek forgiveness.

I seek to be in harmony with other members of my family.

I place the interests of others above my self-interest.

I am gentle and kind in my interactions with others.

2. Resolve conflict quickly. 

Drop down to the next two verses in Matthew 5:25: “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court.  Do it while you are still with him on the way…”  The time for reconciliation is always today.  Ephesians 4:26: “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”  Loose ends make for tight knots.  Who do you need to see today?

3. Make harmony during the holidays. 

With Thanksgiving on Thursday and Christmas right around the corner, my guess is that you have friction with someone in your family, or you will have before the Packers win the Super Bowl.  Practice biblical peacemaking as you eat your pumpkin pie.  In a 1994 article, “Wars’ Lethal Leftovers Threaten Europeans,” a reporter writes: “The bombs of World War II are still killing in Europe.  They turn up–and sometimes blow up–at construction sites, in fishing nets, or on beaches fifty years after the guns fell silent…Unexploded bombs become more dangerous with time.  With the corrosion inside, the weapon becomes more unstable, and the detonator can be exposed.” What is true of lingering bombs is also true of lingering anger.  Buried anger will explode when we least expect it because it’s been corroding our insides.  There are always leftovers after Thanksgiving; let’s make sure there’s no unresolved conflict left over.

4. Do your part to improve worship. 

We’ve been meeting as a leadership team to make sure our worship services are filled with reverence and rejoicing.  We’ve talked about song selection, microphones, energy level, eye contact and the words on the screen.  Those are all important elements but the most effective avenue to improve our worship as a congregation is to make sure we’re following the biblical mandate to be peacemakers.  The best way to improve the quality of our worship is to make sure conflict is resolved between worshippers.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes we get angry and remain bitter with people and actually forget what initially made us angry in the first place?  Take, for example, the notorious Hatfield-McCoy feud.  It hit newspaper front pages in the 1880’s, when the Hatfield clan feuded with the McCoy clan.  Historians disagree on the cause of the conflict, which captured the imagination of the nation during a 10-year run.  Some cite Civil War tensions and others say it began when the McCoy’s blamed the Hatfield’s for stealing some hogs.  Sadly, as many as 100 men, women and children died as a result of this conflict.  In 1976, the last two survivors, Jim McCoy and Willis Hatfield, shook hands at a public ceremony dedicating a monument to six of the victims.  McCoy died in 1984, at age 99.  He had gotten over all his grudges and the two families had fully forgiven each other.  We know that because his burial was handled by the Hatfield Funeral Home.

Deal with conflict before it kills you!  Have you had tension for 10 years?  It won’t get better on its own.  Get rid of it so you can let it go.  Leave.  Go.  Be.  Come.  Making peace is possible.  It’s time to shake hands.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?