Is it not odd that this man could have his fellow servant thrown into prison for a relatively small debt (as little as $20 in today's money)? We should be thankful to live in a more forgiving culture!
Today, however, there is another way that a fellow-servant can be cast into prison regardless of the laws of the culture. We can easily incarcerate someone within the confines of our own hearts and even throw away the key. It is likely that each of us has someone confined within our own heart's prison even today.
The late Lewis B. Smedes, a professor of theology at Fuller Seminary, is credited with saying: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
When we imprison someone in this manner, we subject ourselves to the burdensome duty of keeping him there. So instead of one, we now have two prisoners that keep each other imprisoned day in and day out, but only one of them has the key.
We have the offender as well as the offended. Assuming that most people do not purposefully look to offend, particularly within the church, the offender was probably clumsy or foolishly inconsiderate in his approach to the offended. Or perhaps he possesses, or has displayed, a character flaw that the offended feels is completely unacceptable (e.g., a betrayal of some sort).
Or maybe the offender disregarded the direction given in Galatians 6:1: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (emphasis ours).
To avoid offense, we must remember our humility and our place whenever we are inclined to point out a fault to a brother or sister. The same advice holds for the giver as well as the receiver of a rebuke. Criticism is always difficult to give without offending or to receive without taking offense. Be always mindful that our Creator received rebuke without retaliating. No one has ever been imprisoned in His heart!
When we do offend a brother, we are tempted to approach him and immediately ask for forgiveness because we dislike being regarded unfavorably. Remember, our godly purpose is to restore the relationship, if possible, because that is what God wants to see. If we pressure our friend into forgiveness, have we accomplished God's will? Consider well the adage: “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”
This is why God should be the very first from whom we ask forgiveness. We can ask Him to help us understand the severity of the damage we have caused and for the proper level of contrition, humility, and patience to help repair and restore the relationship. We can ask God to open the heart of our offended brother so that he willingly accept our apology and readily extend his forgiveness.
We can liken this request for the opening of our brother's heart to a request for the opening of his heart's prison doors, too easily slammed shut by an unforgiving attitude. Instead of having two (or even more) persons confined behind the doors of an intractable grudge, we experience the joy and the freedom of reconciliation. The relationship is restored, a good witness has been made, growth has occurred, and God is glorified.
On the other hand, if we have been offended, instead of giving into the temptation to strike immediately back—to seek vindication—we should also begin by going to God in prayer for humility, empathy, and mercy. We can ask God to help us understand why the unfortunate deed was done and how we can find a pathway to forgiveness. We can ask for clarity of thought, which is so often missing when anger and offense are present.
If a rebuke was the cause of offense, we should consider Solomon's words in Proverbs 27:5-6: “Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” We should always ask God to enable us to give our offending brother the benefit of the doubt at a time when it would be easy to doubt his loyalty. Chances are, the offender feels as pained as the offended.
In these troubled and emotionally charged times, a true friend may feel a need to risk a special friendship for the good of the other. We should always be mindful that God may send us a vital message of correction or rebuke through someone other than our minister or someone we regard as having legitimate authority. We should be prepared to accept criticism, legitimate or not, from any person that God sends across our path. And perhaps, only a true friend would, could, or should point out to us a weakness or fault that no one else might even see or care about.
Whenever we are wronged, especially by a brother, we should strive to avoid becoming so inflexible that we slam shut the doors of animosity against him. The consequences of such a decision—to withhold forgiveness—particularly from a brother who sincerely asks for absolution and reconciliation, can be both devastating and eternal in scope for us. The wrong mindset can lead to a sinful attitude that is in opposition to God, keeping us locked inside a bitter prison of enmity and preventing our entrance into His Kingdom.
Therefore, regardless of whether we are the offender or the offended, let us never forget our constant need to first be forgiven and reconciled with God.
Austin Del Castillo