Best of Daily Reflections: When Getting Right With God Isn’t Enough
If you have sinned in any of these ways, you are guilty. You must give back whatever you stole, or the money you took by extortion, or the security deposit, or the lost property you found, or anything obtained by swearing falsely.
The sacrifices described in the first chapters of Leviticus serve as a powerful reminder of the priority of getting right with God. Nothing is more important in life than experiencing intimate fellowship with God. This not only gives us a sense of well-being, but also empowers us to live fully and faithfully each day.
But sometimes getting right with God isn't enough. Yes, it is necessary. Yes, it is a top priority. But when our sins have hurt others, we need to get right with them too. In fact, Leviticus teaches that there are times when we need to make things right with our neighbor even before we make things right with God. Or, to put it differently and more accurately, getting right with God often includes getting right with the people we have wronged through our sin.
Leviticus 6 begins by mentioning a variety of sinful actions that hurt others in addition to the Lord: cheating in a deal, stealing, committing fraud, lying about someone's property that we have found, lying in general, among other similar sins. The motivation for these sins appears to be greed. The one who engages in any of these actions is required to bring a special guilt offering to be sacrificed so that a right relationship with God can be restored (6:6-7). But, before offenders bring a guilt offering to the Lord, they "must give back whatever [they] stole, or the money [they] took by extortion, or the security deposit, or the lost property [they] found, or anything obtained by swearing falsely" (6:4-5a). Moreover, the guilty part must "make restitution by paying the full price plus an additional 20 percent to the person" who was harmed. The act of making things right with the person who was wrong must happen "on the same day" as the making of a guilt offering, apparently before the sacrifice is presented to the priest. The 20-percent penalty would make sure the offender felt some pain and the wronged party was fairly compensated for any financial loss.
Jesus underscores the significance of making getting right with people in addition to God in the Sermon on the Mount: "So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God" (Matt 5:23-24). Though we no longer offer literal sacrifices in the Temple, the teaching of Jesus challenges us to make sure our relationships with other people are healthy and honoring to God. As important as it is for us to offer worship to God through our songs and prayers, we need to worship him by making sure that our relationships are right as well.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you ever done anything like what is commended in Leviticus and in the Sermon on the Mount? Why do we allow our relationships with others to be in disarray? Are there people in your life whom you need to approach even before the next time you "present your sacrifice at the altar"?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, today I am struck by the priority of making things right with people. It is so easy for me to think (rightly) that getting right with you is most important. But then I can procrastinate on the other part, leaving my relationships undone and conflicted. Forgive me, Lord, when I fail to work on reconciliation in my relationships with others. Help me to pursue righteousness in all dimensions, in faithfulness to your directives in Scripture. May my relationships honor you. Amen.