Read Matthew 18:23-35
Yesterday we read Jesus' parable of the king who forgave his servant—who then refused to forgive a fellow servant. (You may want to read it again from Matthew 18:23-25) From this parable, we learned that to refuse to forgive is hypocritical. But there's a second lesson: to refuse to forgive inflicts inner torment upon us. Remember how the story ends? It is exceedingly significant. "And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him" (Matthew 18:34).
"Well," you say, "that was just a parable. We can't press every point and say each little detail applies to us." Granted, but in this case, it's not a little detail. It's the punchline, the climax of the whole story. How can I say that? Because verse 35 is not part of the parable. It is a statement Jesus makes after the story ends. It is His penetrating application of the whole parable on forgiving others:
My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart." (Matthew 18:35)
Frankly, this is one of the most important truths God ever revealed to me on the consequences of an unforgiving spirit. When Jesus said, "My heavenly Father will also do the same to you," He was referring back to the closing words of the parable, which says: "And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him."
This is no fictitious tale, like some pirate who tortured people behind a secret door. No, Jesus says God personally will allow those who refuse to forgive others to be tortured.
What in the world does that mean? The Greek term from which torturers is translated is a verb meaning "to torment"—a frightening thought. When I first saw the thing begin to take shape in my mind, I resisted it. I thought, "No, that's too harsh!" But the further I probed, the clearer it became.
The same term is used to describe a person suffering "terrible anguish" (Matthew 8:6 NET). And it is used to describe the misery of a man being "in agony" in Hades as he pleads for relief (Luke 16:23-24). When we read of a man named Lot, who was surrounded and oppressed by the conduct of unprincipled men, we read "his righteous soul [was] tormented day after day" (2 Peter 2:8). Again the same term is used. Pain, agony, and torment are all a part of this torturous experience.
But here in Matthew 18:34-35, Jesus refers to tormentors—a noun, not a verb. He is saying the one who refuses to forgive, the Christian who harbours grudges, bitter feelings toward another, will be turned over to torturous thoughts, feelings of misery, and agonizing unrest within.
And who hasn't endured such feelings? It is one of the horrible consequences of not forgiving those who offend us. It makes no difference who it is—one of your parents or in-laws, your pastor or former pastor, a close friend who turned against you, some teacher who was unfair, or a business partner who ripped you off...even your former partner in marriage. I meet many divorcees who have been "handed over to the torturers" for this very reason.
Believe me; it is not worth the misery. We are to forgive as we have been forgiven! Release the poison of all that bitterness...let it gush out before God, and declare the sincere desire to be free.
Excerpted from Improving Your Serve: The Art of Unselfish Living, Copyright 1981 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. (Thomas Nelson Publishers). All rights reserved worldwide. Used by permission.