I once heard unforgiveness described as,
"Drinking poison, hoping the other person will die."
The "matters" that Jesus is telling people to settle quickly in His Sermon on the Mount have to do with unforgiveness. Issues of the heart. It could certainly include legal matters, such as taking someone to court. But looking at the previous verses, the heart and its condition are what Jesus is addressing.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)
Unforgiveness and the bitterness that accompany it, are a self-imposed prison, that you will never be freed from, until you choose to forgive someone who you feel has wronged you.
Jesus makes this principle of forgiveness clear by saying, "If you there remember that your brother or sister has something against you...Go and be reconciled to them."
You can go and seek to be reconciled to someone, but unless that other person chooses to forgive you, there will be no reconciliation. I have learned that over the last 60 years.
You can't make someone forgive you.
They have to choose to forgive you from the heart. It can't just be begrudging, obligatory lip service. Like when you and your little brother got into a fight and your mom told you, "Now tell your brother that you're sorry!" And you hesitantly, and in resentment say, "Sorry!" But inside you didn't really mean it. That was not a sincere apology. You only said it because your mom made you do it.
Reconciled means repairing something that has been torn in two—such as two pieces of fabric sewn back together by a tailor. Mending the breach.
Think back to a time in your life when you were really bitter toward someone who had hurt you. Eventually they came to you and apologized. Or tried to. But your heart was still so hard and bitter, you refused to forgive them. And it ate you up inside. It's like a slow, terminal cancer destroying you piece by piece, a little at a time, making your heart harder and more bitter.
Reconciliation takes two forgivers because it takes two to make any relationship work.
In a marriage it always takes two to make it work. Always. One person can't do all the giving and compromising and do all the work and do all the communicating and forgiving. That's not a marriage. That's a cold, lonely existence, that will only end in resentment and the death of the marriage.
A friendship is the same. It takes two. Same in a parent/child relationship.
Perhaps the most destructive thing in a relationship, or in an individuals life is the "blame game." For some people it seems easier to blame others for our own failures and unhappiness in life, rather than take responsibility for our own mistakes and choices. And one of those choices is choosing to forgive others for how they have wronged us, or our perception of how we feel we have been wronged.
People can go through practically an entire lifetime with a false narrative in their head blaming others that says, "It's your fault! You ruined my life!" But that's not true.
No one can ruin your life but you.
From Jesus' words in His Sermon on the Mount, we see that we ourselves are the only ones that can truly ruin our own life, when we choose to forgive others. That self-imposed prison of our own bitterness and unforgiveness can indeed ruin our life. I know. I lived in that prison for many years.
I blamed my wife for years for not doing what I wanted her to do. For not agreeing with my way. Everything was her fault in my twisted, selfish way of thinking. I thought she was totally selfish and stubborn. But God showed me I was the problem. Eventually, at a men's retreat in the mountains, He clearly corrected me and said, "Why don't you stop praying that I will change her, and start praying that I will change you!" And I did. That day.
That was a pivotal moment in my marriage and in my walk with the Lord.
And as I humbled myself, and began loving my wife unconditionally, all the while praying that God would change my heart and make me the husband and man He called me to be, I did began to change. And our marriage improved. God gave me the love and grace to lead in love. To let Him work in my wife's heart and life. That is His job. Not mine. I couldn't make her do anything anyway. I've had to ask myself more than a few times, "Hey dumb ass, how's that workin' for ya?"
Seeking to make reconciliation with others sometimes takes many years of patience and grace. Someone can carry a bitter grudge and unforgiveness against you their entire life. You may have apologized to them several times and tried to show them love and kindness for years. And for the most part you thought that they had moved on and didn't still harbor that resentment. But one day all those years of built up bitterness and unforgiveness can explode and they lash out at you with a vengeance.
I have experienced this too.
All we can do is try.
We're not responsible for people's response. We're only responsible to be faithful.
Again, you can't change someone else's heart. You can try to be reconciled to them. But they have to choose to forgive you and be reconciled with you.
Forgiveness is a choice.
And it works both ways. Be faithful to love that person, even if it takes years, or an entire lifetime to bring about true forgiveness and reconciliation. The only true reconciliation is made possible by a person's heart changing by being born again by the Spirit of God.
Jesus is the true mender of the breach.
Pray for those in your life that they will hear the voice of Jesus calling them to repentance. To come home to His love and healing.
That's the only way my wife and I have forgiven each other and the people in our lives that have hurt us.
All of us are imperfect people, who have made lots of mistakes. We have failed many times. We have unintentionally hurt the ones we love the most. And try as we might, we let each other down constantly. We can't fix ourselves or make ourselves perfect people. We can't save ourselves. And that's the whole point...
That is why we need the Savior, Jesus.
—God is Love and Love Never Fails.