The Prison of Offense
Some years ago I learned that the parable of the debtor at the end of Matthew 18 had a radically different meaning than the typical interpretation that nearly everyone gave to it. The implications were very powerful and very liberating for those who grasped its true meaning. But for some reason it was not until now that I began to apply what I have learned from my new perspective of that story to the other similar places where Jesus talked about ending up in prison.
But as this seemed to be pressed into my consciousness recently, I decided to explore the effects of my current realization of what this prison really is to the other passages and now am beginning to see that they had much to add to my understanding. For I now realize that the prison that God talks about is not one that He places us in but is one of our own making. It is a prison walled in by the offenses that we allow to remain in our hearts against others as well as potentially offenses that we have caused others but have failed to take responsibility for properly.
But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty (liable, in danger, subject to) before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty (in danger) before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty (in danger) enough to go into the fiery hell. 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. Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent (accuser, Satan) may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer (servant, subordinate), and you be thrown into prison (guarding). Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent. (Matthew 5:22-26)
And when you see a south wind blowing, you say, 'It will be a hot day,' and it turns out that way. You hypocrites! You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but why do you not analyze this present time? And why do you not even on your own initiative judge what is right? For while you are going with your opponent to appear before the magistrate, on your way there make an effort to settle with him, so that he may not drag you before the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. I say to you, you will not get out of there until you have paid the very last cent. (Luke 12:55-59)
For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.' And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe.' So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you.' But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?' And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart." (Matthew 18:23-35)
I suspect that the reason this is coming to my attention right now is because just a day or two ago I had a short and very painful conversation with someone who is holding a very deep grudge against me that I was totally unaware of until now. After I recovered from the initial shock of their intense bitterness on the phone, I began to remember possibly why they may feel so angry with me. It had to do with some business dealings that took place many years ago. And while I never had any intention of hurting them in any way, their perception of that exchange must have created an enormous amount of bitterness in their hearts and they have held it close to them for all of these years.
My initial reaction was simply to withdraw from ever talking to them again and leave them to stew in their resentment against me to avoid any further discomfort. But I am not allowed to get off that easy with the Holy Spirit ever hanging around keeping me reminded of the words of Jesus on a regular basis. It was not long before the above passages were pressed onto my consciousness and I had to go face them and allow them to convict me that I needed to act quickly to attempt some sort of reconciliation even if they decided to keep themselves in their own prison of offense. No matter what they choose to do, my responsibility is to make an effort to settle with them at least emotionally as much as possible and to not put it off.
I felt so strong about this that I decided I needed to call them this morning. They did not answer the phone which didn't surprise me a great deal, but I decided to leave a message apologizing for any pain I may have caused them and letting them know I feel a need to address this issue if possible. I don't know what they will do with this message or if that is as far as I can take this or need to take it, but it did relieve the pressure I was feeling from the Spirit to act quickly according to these verses.
I have started praying for them, realizing that they have kept themselves needlessly in a prison of their own making for many years just as my own father did most of his life. I also began to realize that their prison is one that seems to run in their extended family and has been noticeable for many years now that I think of it. With new eyes and new understanding of what kind of prison this really is, I now am starting to feel compassion and sympathy for people locked in this jail instead of feeling threatened or intimidated by them.
As I further studied this out this morning and began collecting related texts to open my eyes even more, I realized that the word used in these parables describing the act of turning one over to the prison is the very same word used to describe what God does to sinners who insist on hanging onto lies about God in the face of overwhelming truth.
Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. (Romans 1:24)
For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural... (Romans 1:26)
And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper... (Romans 1:28)
These verses are actually the most explicit descriptions of the wrath of God recorded in the Bible. In verse 18 it explicitly states that this chapter is the revealing of the wrath of God, and these repeated statements about God giving them over to the natural results of their choices is what God's wrath is really all about. The very same principle applies to all of us when we hang onto offenses; God finally has to give us over to the results of living in Satan's trap, the prison of being offended and refusing to forgive those we feel have offended us.
But the very core of the plan of salvation is that God did the very same thing to Jesus to make a way for us to make a prison break out of this prison of offense. The same word that describes the wrath of God in Romans 1 where God gives sinners over to the consequences of their choices is the word Paul uses to describe what God did to Jesus when He suffered and died for our sins on the cross.
Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification. (Romans 4:23-25)
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32)
Very interestingly, I came across a verse in Revelation that directly connects this prison with the great deceiver who seeks to get everyone possible into this prison with him.
And he cried out with a mighty voice, saying, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird. (Revelation 18:2)
Very briefly, the prison of offense and its sequential results are described in the following verses.
And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. (Matthew 24:10-13 NKJV)
And the Lord's servant must not strive, but be gentle towards all, apt to teach, forbearing, in meekness correcting them that oppose themselves; if peradventure God may give them repentance unto the knowledge of the truth, and they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him unto his will. (2 Timothy 2:24-26 ASV)
This last verse is the best description of how we are to relate to offenses which try to entice us into this prison of offense. Jesus met every temptation to be offended and gave us the model of how we are to remain free or get free of from this prison.
For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. (1 Peter 2:21-24)