Imprisoned by Our Own Decisions


Matthew 5:23–26: “If you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering . . .  first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.  Make friends quickly with your opponent at law . . . so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and you be thrown in prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.”


Observation: These verses are a basic treatise for forgiveness. Jesus was teaching that I cannot approach God if an offense exists between my “brother” and me. Its effect is as binding as any set of chains. I must first be reconciled to the offended (or to the offending) brother. The penalty for failure is profound: being thrown into prison until every cent of debt has been paid.


Application: This is a circular punishment, indeed. However justified one may feel as a result of being wronged, the punishment for nursing wounds is both chilling and lasting. For who among us, once having been thrown into prison, could ever hope to be financially productive enough to pay back a debt?  Productivity ceases in prison, so the judgment must be viewed as permanent. 


There is no reprieve for being “right.” Judgment is equally as binding on the one doing the judging as on the one being judged. Bitterness and unforgiveness, whether toward a perceived or an actual wrong, will land me in a prison from which no escape may be purchased. “For in the way you judge you will be judged, and by your standard of measure it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2).  Furthermore, forgiveness is not an emotion, but a legal act. If I choose to cancel a debt it is cancelled; I cannot later lay claim to collections on that debt. 


Ephesians 4:31 speaks to this issue in a passive voice:  “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” These are the emotional baggage that follows unforgiveness. If I will do my part to forthrightly cancel even the “just” debts I may hold against others, God promises to take care of the emotional residue of unforgiveness. But if I am unwilling to cancel debts by saying, “I can’t forgive; they have hurt me too much!” I find myself buried under a load of emotional detritus even as I am rightly imprisoned in a cell from which escape is impossible.  Mark 11:26 is a stark presentation of our options: “If you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.”  Thus I am imprisoned by my own decisions.


Prayer: Lord Jesus, You forfeited everything to win my release from bondage that would have otherwise meant my eternal death. Cause me to be quick to cancel debts, Lord, so I can enjoy Your sweet fellowship forever.