Bible Question:

Why did Jesus say leave your gift at the altar and go away?

Bible Answer:

Matthew 5:23-24 is a passage that Christians often forget about. Some Christians have offended others and do not care that the person is offended. Other believers do not want to apologize because of pride or embarrassment. They blame the person(s) they have offended. Maybe they justify the offense. Some want the person to just forgive and just “love them as God would.” Unfortunately, they do not understand that when they attend church their worship is not acceptable to God. Now you may ask, “Why?” The answer is found in the reply to the question, “Why did Jesus say leave your gift at the altar and go away?” Doesn’t Jesus always want our worship?

Why did Jesus say leave your gift at the altar and go away?

The New American Standard Bible (NASB) and the KJV translate Matthew 5:23-24 differently.

Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Matthew 5:23-24 (NASB)

Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought 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. Matthew 5:23-24 (KJV)

There are four important points in this passage. First, the Greek word for “offering” in the NASB and “gift” in the KJV translation is doron. It can mean gift, a votive gift, or an offering. It is usually translated as an “offering.”  Therefore, the NASB’s translation of the Greek is best.

Second, the word “brother” refers to anyone. The Greek word for brother, adelphos, is used in many different ways in the New Testament. It can refer to one’s brother in a family, someone within the church, someone in the nation of Israel or all of humanity. Here are a few examples of how it is used:

Matthew 1:2 — brother in the family
Matthew 5:47 — brother in a broad sense
Matthew 18:15 — context of the church. It refers to more than a brother in a family.
Acts 1:16 — context of the church. It refers to more than a brother in a family.
Acts 9:17 — It refers to more than a brother in a family.
Acts 22:1, 5 — this was spoken to a crowd. The composition of the crowd could have included anyone.
Acts 23:1, 5-6 — spoken to the Sanhedrin Council
Hebrews 2:11, 12, 17 — brethren is clearly used in the widest sense possible to include humans.
The context of Matthew 5:23-24 reveals that Jesus was speaking to His disciples. But it is an error to conclude that the word brother applies only to believers. It is best to conclude that it has a wide meaning as illustrated above.

Third, the Greek word tis is translated as “something” in the NASB and “ought” in the KJV. The Greek word has the meaning of “anything” or “any.” That is someone has something against you because of something you did. When Jesus says that you offended someone for some reason, whatever it was. You did it and you remember.

Fourth, the word “reconciled,” dialassomai, means “to make peace.” This means that someone is not at peace with the brother. The person is upset with you because of what you did. There is conflict with the person. Jesus’ point is that peace does not exist between the believer and the offended person.

The fourth and final point is that God does not want a believer’s worship if they have offended someone and were so self-centered that they do not care that they had offended the other person’s feelings. Believers who are too self-centered to go to the person and apologize have a hard heart. Their heart is callous. Their heart is like stone. They only care about themselves and not others. They are in violation of Jesus’ command,

For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:46-48 (NASB)

And 1 Corinthians 13:5 states that love “does not seek its own.” These passages help us understand why God does not accept a believer’s worship if they are unwilling to go to someone and apologize and seek forgiveness for something they did to them.

Jesus does not tell believers to demand that they also apologize or forgive. Jesus does not say demand that they forgive you. The believer is pictured as one who goes seeking peace and not demanding peace.

Should we think that God would want our worship if we do not care enough about another person so as to make peace? If a believer does not care enough about the other person to undo the offense, then that believer is a hypocrite before God. How can a believer worship and rejoice in God’s love when they are unloving? Maybe the believer robbed, slandered, hurt, lied, or violated the trust of the offended person. Will God accept the brother’s worship? Jesus’ answer is, “No!”

So, God said the offending believer is to go and be reconciled—make peace! Then the believer’s worship will be accepted by God.


Today, we do not offer sacrifices when we worship God. Therefore, Jesus would say that a believer is to leave the worship service, first make peace and then return. Jesus’ statement assumes the believer knows they have offended the person. But it is possible that a believer has apologized to the offended individual(s), but the individual(s) rejected their apology. If that occurs, then the believer has fulfilled their obligation. What more can that believer do? We cannot force others to accept our apologies. But we can attempt to make peace with someone whom we know that we offended.

You are encouraged to explore “Anger in the Heart” for more information,


Suggested Links:

Anger in the Heart
Sermon on the Mount
How can I make her realize that her attitude is wrong?