Cheap Cheater forgiveness teaching addressed - Divorce Minister
Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
-Matthew 5:23-24, NKJV
“God forgives me. So what’s your problem?!”
Does an un-reconciled human relationship impact our relationship with God?
Yes! That is what this verse quoted above tell us. Jesus teaches us through these words that it matters to God when we knowingly are avoiding making amends–i.e. avoiding reconciliation with someone that we have wronged.
The order is first reconcile and then come to God in worship giving your offering.
Something has gone awfully wrong in our pastoral teaching when this godly order is ignored when it comes to cheaters. The imperative to forgive is often cited to faithful spouse (e.g. Mt. 6:14-15). However, people citing that command ignore these verses insisting on the wrongdoer reconciling first in chapter five. In other words, the forgiveness command context is lost.
I am going to reflect on these two verses a little more:
1) Notice that Jesus talks about the perpetrator noticing and acknowledging–to themselves first–that their “brother” is legitimately a victim of their actions.
That is what “has something against you” means (vv. 23). It means the religious person understands that they wronged their “brother” (and by “brother” I mean both genders). They start from a place of humility. It is an acknowledgement that they themselves are the perpetrator and their “brother” is their victim.
2) Jesus is crystal clear hear that everything is not “a’right” in the church for the perpetrator. No cheap forgiveness here!
What floors me is hearing of situation(s) where churches, pastors, or even other “Christians” will embrace a cheater after he or she has discarded their spouse for the adultery partner. They may even justify their embrace with phrases about “God forgives [the cheaters], and so must we.”
This is not a picture of reconciliation.
Cheating on and chucking your spouse are clearly examples of wronging your “brother.” And that means the cheater must seek reconciliation prior to presenting their “offering” at church. That is what Jesus says.
Their relationship with God is in the breach. Jesus discourages pretending something is fine when it clearly is not.
Doubling down on one’s treachery does not fool God.
3) Reconciling with the wronged party is an urgent matter for faithful followers of Christ.
Jesus does not teach a easy forgiveness piece here. He does not instruct us to go along with our religious activity while our human relationship is in the breach. Jesus says that the breached human relationship needs addressing first and foremost prior to continuing in worship.
4) The responsibility to initiate reconciliation is placed squarely on the perpetrator and not the wronged party.
This last point is often missed.
While I totally believe Christians ought to be about reconciliation regardless of victim/perpetrator status (see 2 Cor. 5:18), I do think this passage teaches us who the initiator of reconciliation ought to be among Christians.
In their selfish arrogance, the adulterous spouse wronged the faithful spouse and made a horrific mess. By being called to initiate reconciliation, it says the cheater recognizes that they did their spouse wrong as well as means they are starting to take responsibility for sinning against him/her. It is an act of humility to seek forgiveness and reconciliation from that place.
Somehow church leaders have got this last point so backwards as to insist the reconciliation initiation come from the wronged spouse. Then they put the wronged spouse’s reconciliation efforts under a microscope. This is absolutely wrong.
If the cheating spouse is unwilling to lead the charge in this area of reconciliation, they are not willing to repent of their sins. And pretending God is fine with them short of insisting on this being done is promoting a lie. God is not fine with them. He calls them to seek reconciliation with their wronged spouse.
Finally, I am a firm believer that our actions have consequences that do not go away even with perfect forgiveness. The innocence of the marriage is forever lost after one spouse has violated the covenant through committing adultery. Reconciliation may simply mean the end of enmity between the parties. It does not necessarily mean remaining married.
I suspect a reason why some Christian counselors/pastors pressure faithful spouses to initiate reconciliation is because they realize the cheating partner is not going to do that. They settle for something less than repentance in the cheating spouse, in other words. This serves no one spiritually.
Jesus does not peddle cheap forgiveness.
He calls us to the hard road of humility and reconciliation.
God is not to be used a cover to avoid repentance.
*A version of this post ran previously.