“Therefore if you are offering your gift at the altar..." (Matthew 5:23-24)

“Therefore if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember 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." (Matthew 5:23-24)

What does 'offering your gift' mean?

This part of Jesus’ sermon clearly indicates that Jesus taught his students to follow the tradition of making offerings - "offering your gift" - to the Supreme Being.

The altar is the representation of God in the temple. Making offerings at the altar of God has been practiced within the lineage of Prophets and Priests for thousands of years as evidenced in the Old Testament.

Why has this important practice been abandoned by those who claim to be followers of Jesus?

Offering to the altar, according to various texts of the Bible, was especially important when it came to food. Offering the first grains after harvest, and offering meals before eating was an important ceremony taught by the prophets including Moses, Abraham, and Solomon. Did Jesus teach anything different? No.

His teachings were founded upon the teachings of this lineage of Prophets. Jesus supported the practice of offering before the altar of God. As is noted here, the offering Jesus is speaking of is not the ceremonial offerings of farmers or townships. Jesus is speaking of a personal offering by an individual: A gift. By this, we know that Jesus taught that each of his followers should make regular personal offerings to the altar of God.

How are offerings done?

As recommended by the prophets and confirmed by Jesus, making an offering to God can and should be done not only daily, but prior to each meal. This was demonstrated by Jesus at every meal including the last supper, when Jesus was said to have "blessed" the food. 

But what is this "blessing?" Is it simply 'giving thanks'? These descriptions fall short of the offering suggested here by Jesus. Prior to any meal, the food should first be offered to God, with love and devotion, as a gift.

This act of giving an offering to God is confirmed by David in 1 Chronicles 16:29:
“Bring an offering and come before Him; worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness.”
An offering does not have to be grand or extravagant. As long as it is made with sincerity. Offerings can be made quietly in private even amongst a group. Or they can be made in the same way that “giving thanks” is often made, with all attending holding hands in prayer. 

But instead of just thanking, we can pray: "Oh God, please accept this meal, by the grace of your son, Lord Jesus Christ, as our offering to you.”

We can also “give thanks” following this prayer—as we can do throughout our lives. However, the result of offering one's food prior to eating it is fundamentally different than the effect of merely thanking God for the meal. Offering gifts to God develops a different relationship with God. 

The “giving thanks” relationship with God is the relationship where we are the recipients and God is the order supplier. It is like we are thanking God for all the stuff He has delivered to us. It is like we are focused on the material things we have, rather than our relationship with Him.

Making an offering to God, on the other hand, develops a completely different relationship. Making an offering develops the relationship where we give of ourselves to God in a loving way. To give someone a gift out of freedom is to express to that person first that we want to have a relationship with them. Secondly, it expresses that we care about that person. 

To offer God any sort of gift of our temporary possessions is telling Him that we value Him more than the possessions. This is an act of love.

As Jesus teaches here, worshipping God at the altar is an important activity for developing our relationship with the Supreme Being.

Not only was this an ancient practice among the Prophets and ancient teachers of the Bible. This same practice, of offering before God’s altar, is also followed in practically every religious tradition throughout the world. Is this a coincidence?

How does offering help our spiritual growth?

The reality is that this activity is pleasing to the Supreme Being. This is because the Supreme Being wants us to be happy. And we will only be happy when we are exchanging love with the Supreme Being.

Today many sectarian teachers preach approaching the Supreme Being with prayer requests. In other words, asking Him for stuff.

This is treating the Supreme Being as some sort of waiter - as if He is just waiting around to fulfill our requests.

As though His job is to serve us.

Actually, we are His servants. Our relationship with the Supreme Being is subordinate. We were created to love and serve Him.

Making offerings to the Supreme Being fulfills our nature. It allows us to embrace our true nature as His loving servants.

Are offerings to God important?

Offering a gift is an act of love. When a person loves someone, they will bring them gifts and do things for them. This is called loving service, and it is a natural part of our constitution.

Everyone is looking for love and loving relationships within this physical world. We seek fulfillment by exchanging a loving relationship with someone.

Why? Because this is our nature. We are lovers by nature. We are loving servants by nature. And when we fulfill this part of our nature we feel joy.

But this part of our nature is not completely fulfilled when we are loving another person of this world. Yes, it does give us a glimpse of joy to love and lovingly serve another peer of this world. But this joy is not completely fulfilling.

This is because this is not our natural position. Our natural position is that we are each a loving servant and subordinate companion of the Supreme Being. As such, we can only be completely fulfilled when we are rendering loving service to the Supreme Being.

And as we are rendering loving service to the Supreme Being, we will automatically also render loving service to others. 

What does Jesus mean by 'be reconciled with your brother'?

Jesus' is instructing his students to "reconcile with your brother." What is he saying?

Jesus is indicating that reconciliation with those around us is connected with our ability to make offerings to God. Jesus said:
"First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift."
This indicates that to have a clear relationship with the Supreme Being we must have honest clarity with others. This means not holding grudges and forgiving others, and asking others to forgive us if we have done something to slight them. Why is this important?

Remember Jesus' other statement in this regard, part of his suggested prayer (The Lord's Prayer):
"And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." (Matt. 6:12)
Jesus is teaching that we need to forgive others if we expect to be forgiven ourselves.

This is all about relationship-building with the Supreme Being. The Supreme Being is not alone. He is surrounded by innumerable associates, and those of us who have fallen away from Him due to our misuse of our independence must be willing to appreciate that others - even if they are fallen as we are - are also to be counted among His associates.

Thus we must always be willing to forgive others and reconcile with others.

But notice that Jesus wants his students to leave the offering before leaving to reconcile:
"...leave your gift there in front of the altar."
This indicates priority. Jesus was teaching that one should be focused on developing our relationship with the Supreme Being as the highest priority.

But he is also clearly stating that our relationship with the Supreme Being is not separate from our relationship with others. There is a link and that link relates to the fact that we are all God's children.

This is why Jesus said:
 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matt. 33:37-40)