Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, “Pay what you owe.” So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart. (Matthew 18:23-35)

I imagine very few, if any, reading these words have spent time behind bars. I imagine it is even less likely that we have experienced torture in prison. And yet, maybe we have…

The stern yet redemptive words of Jesus in Matthew 18:35 recently struck me like never before. Serious jail time as well as torture await us if we don’t forgive! Not the iron bars of a local prison (although in extreme cases that could also happen) but something much worse—we become incarcerated within a cell of toxic bitterness and anger that handcuffs our soul and gradually robs us of joy and freedom in Christ.

After the servant in the parable was relieved of an enormous debt by a gracious master, the same servant refused to forgive the relatively minor debt of another servant and mercilessly forced him into jail until the account was settled. Subsequently the gracious master had the unkind servant handed over to the jailer for torture until all his debt had been paid back.

How awful the cost of unforgiveness! Our mind gradually becomes imprisoned within the bars of hate and anger. Thoughts of revenge shackle and torture us, which can trigger vengeance ranging from the silent treatment and cold shoulder to actual verbal and physical abuse. Our poor soul is robbed of freedom and liberty and our body is robbed of sleep and experiences accelerated decay—ulcers, for instance—as the toxic poison of unforgiveness seeps into the pores of our innermost being. And as the smile on our face increasingly turns down, something even sadder happens: We unwittingly begin to drag others into jail.

“See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:15 NIV).

There is always unlimited grace flowing from the fountain of our gracious heavenly Father, who freely forgave us. Let’s avail ourselves of the healing water to break the chains that bind—and where the battle is particularly severe, conscript a brother or sister for the prayer battle.

Unforgiveness jail is a nasty place to be.