Yesterday I talked a little about the importance of reconciling with others as taught in Matt. 5:23-25a. Today I want to finish the passage by looking at 25b-26:
“Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”
I find it so interesting that the end consequence here is that the judge will find me guilty if I do not settle with my brother on the way. Even if I have a seemingly legitimate case, the verse says I will be ‘thrown into prison.’
The plain in simple reason for this is that I’m guilty. Regardless of what the other person has done, no matter how justified my anger feels, I’m the one who will be put into prison.
There is no such thing as a one-sided argument. In a fight, both people are guilty, even if it’s 99.9% the other person’s fault. James 2:10 says:
“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”
So as soon as I indulge a bitter thought, I’m just as guilty as the other person.
Will the judge be throwing the other person into prison as well? That’s between them and the judge, their heart and God. My job is to love and forgive them and to do what I can to reconcile the situation (Rom. 12:18).
I can’t keep them out of prison; that has to be their choice. But I can love them on either side of the bars.
At the end of the last verse, I noticed something else: ‘you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.’
The trouble with a debtor’s prison is that there’s no way to earn money and pay off your debts. You’re stuck. On your own.
This is what happens when I try to win justice for myself. When I try to step out of God’s will and purposely disobey Him so I can hold onto my rights to get justice for myself, God lets me. But I’m on my own. He will not help me in my vendetta. Vengeance is His (12:19) and He’s not going to hop aboard the ‘Leah Gets Even Express.’
When I refuse to forgive and strike out on my own to settle the score, I’m essentially saying that God’s forgiveness is not good enough for that person. And if it’s not good enough for them, it’s not good enough for me. Without God’s forgiveness in my life, I’m left to ‘pay every penny’ myself.
Also, I’m not trusting God to make things right. He has the situation under control and He knows where that person is headed. If I have been wronged, I can trust God to be faithful and help me, whether I ever get my idea of justice in this life or not.
Jesus’ message through these four verses is really very simple. And He has these commands in place for our benefit just as much, if not more so, than for the other person.
We are called to forgive so that we can enjoy close fellowship with the Lord, live a fruitful life, enjoy peace, stay out of prison, have someone else (Jesus) pay ‘the last penny’ for us, and generally just love and be loved. It shouldn’t be as hard as it is. And with Jesus’ help, it really isn’t.