The second step for those who wish to overcome their anger is to correct the injustice, for there is always injustice on both sides in any normal dispute. Thus, Jesus said, “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee: leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Matt. 5:23-24).
Now someone will always say at this point, “Oh, but didn’t the meaning of the sacrifice lie in the fact that it atoned for sin, that it covered up the guilt of the one presenting it?” Yes, but it was never supposed to excuse the necessity for restitution. We must never forget that King David was a saved man who is in heaven today because he looked for the Messiah he knew was coming to save men from their sin. But when he wrote of his daily relationship to God and of his sin he said, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Ps. 66:18). And Samuel said to King Saul on the occasion of Saul’s first great disobedience to the Lord after he was king, “Hath 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 hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22).
It is the same today. Men always find it easier to substitute the ceremonial aspects of religion for the demands of a clear conscience before God. And where in ancient times this meant the presentation of sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem, today it means the attendance of a Christian at church, his participation in a Bible study or prayer meeting, or his giving to the church or missionaries. These things are right in themselves. We should do them. But God says that they are worthless from his point of view as long as there is unconfessed sin in the life of the Christian and the failure on the Christian’s part to make the sin right. 1 John 3:18-20 says, “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth . . . For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.” Consequently, we are to confess those things and to make them right in so far as we are able.
The third step in Christ’s cure for anger is to do what we must do immediately. First, we must admit the wrong in our anger. Second, we must do what we can to correct it. Third, we must do what we can do immediately.
This is the point of the next two verses of this chapter, for Jesus speaks of agreeing with your adversary quickly lest the most terrible consequences follow. These verses do not teach, as some suppose, that God is the adversary and that you and I can lose our salvation if we continue in a course marked out for us by our anger. Jesus did not mean that. Actually, he was merely saying that sin has consequences, and if you want to avoid the consequences, confess and make right the sin as soon as you are able. In this sense the Lord Jesus Christ was only saying in other words what Paul later said to the Ephesians: “Be angry, but sin not; let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (Eph. 4:26). He was recognizing the great principle stated in the twelfth chapter of Hebrews, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness … lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and by it many be defiled” (Heb. 12:14-15).