Forgiven Much, but Can't Forgive | Matthew 18:23-35

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A Personal Testimony...

Mat 18:23 "Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him.
Mat 18:24 In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars.
Mat 18:25 He couldn't pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.
Mat 18:26 "But the man fell down before his master and begged him, 'Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.'
Mat 18:27 Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.
Mat 18:28 "But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.
Mat 18:29 "His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. 'Be patient with me, and I will pay it,' he pleaded.
Mat 18:30 But his creditor wouldn't wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.
Mat 18:31 "When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened.
Mat 18:32 Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, 'You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me.
Mat 18:33 Shouldn't you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?'
Mat 18:34 Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.
Mat 18:35 "That's what My heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart."

A Long Forgotten Enemy Returns

About 2 years ago an enemy walked back into my life uninvited and unwanted. He was a source of pain -  someone who had hurt me in the past - someone I didn't want to deal with ever again. I couldn't believe that he had the audacity to march into my world after 5 years of peace, quiet and safety.

When he first walked through the door, questions began bouncing around in my head like ricocheting bullets;

"Why now?" "Who invited him?" "What does he want?" "How should I act?" "What should I do or say?"

My world was my self-righteous life. My territory was my church and the friends I'd made in that church. My enemy was a previous close friend from that church. My so-called peace was my lack of understanding of God's character and how He really works with us.

The Back Story

Before we go on much further with this testimony, I should explain some of the back story. My enemy, Ken, was a very close friend prior to this event. We had done many things together. We shared a love for Jesus and studied the Bible together. We experienced a closeness that comes from mutual interests and spending time together. We did things for each other; celebrated birthdays and had many wonderful weekends camping, swimming, laughing, and at times even crying. We were good and close friends.

Then enters the mess called life...

Stress and painful circumstances splashed into the public swimming pool of our daily existence causing us both to feel out of control and on edge. I was going through a painful divorce and Ken was going though a stressful situation that he couldn't fully reveal to me. Forces unseen and heavy loads pushed us both over the edge - resulting in a huge explosion of emotion. At that time Ken had an anger control problem and it boiled over, mean and nasty, and I was hurt. Hurtful things were said by both and our friendship was damaged. Afterward, there was a weak attempt at reconciliation but the real enemy had already started weaving it's web.

The Real Enemy Strikes

Who is the real enemy you ask? It was self righteousness and it was strong and cunning. I had no idea that it was there waiting, coiled and full of tension, ready to strike at the perfect moment. The moment arrived and there I was ready and willing to receive the poison - at times I even asked for more.

Funny how poison so often tastes sweet...

I started telling my side of the drama to anyone that would listen and my side was pretty compelling. Here I was the poor man with an autistic son going through a divorce, having a low level job and with bankruptcy looming over my head - who wouldn't want to give me sympathy, right?

Everyone did...

My story of woe and despair was also one of chastisement toward Ken. How dare he! He broke my trust, he was mean and selfish in my time of need. How could anyone treat another person like that? I needed people to be on my side. He deserved to be punished and everyone needed to know how he hurt me.

Self righteousness is a slow acting poison, but when it reaches the heart it quickly affects the whole body, mind and spirit. The stories I told of personal hurt were slathered in false humility and concern for Ken. The reality of what I was really doing was hidden even to myself as self righteousness became my drink-of-choice fully toxifying my still beating heart. This left no room for Jesus - no room for Him to teach me. But God never gives up on us!

The Enemy Returns - The Savior is Pushing

Back to the beginning of the story. Here comes my enemy, the one I had spent so much time destroying in the minds of others. The one that I worked so hard to exorcise from my life; and here he was, daring to show his face to me again. The audacity!

The confusion...

"Why God? What does this mean? What do You want me to do with this? I thought this was taken care of? I mean, I did say the magic words, 'I forgive you', what more do You want?"

The questions were many, and the Holy Spirit was working on my heart. There had to be a reason that this was happening after 5+ years of peace. This was big news in my life. And again, I shared my sinful burden...with everyone. Really I was just trying to get them to pick sides. Why? Because reconciliation had never really happened. The poison was working well. 

There is an antidote...

What I didn't know is that the new pastor in our church had been praying for a couple that he didn't even know  from the moment he first heard their story. That couple was Ken and his wife. I had no idea God was at work behind the scenes, gently pushing us all in the right direction. Why did I have no idea? Because I couldn't hear His voice; I didn't know Him.

Next, the pastor entered into discussions with Ken and his wife; discussions that began a process I had little experience with...True Godly Reconciliation. The pastor started asking members of the church if they would be willing to share in this process. I was one of them. He came to my house and asked me how I felt about it. I, being full of poison, said, "Do you know what Ken did to me? "  He said no and so I launched into my story of woe and despair once again.

It was such an easy story to tell...

My story didn't seem to sway the pastor the same way it had others. He lightly commiserated with me and then reminded me of why he was there and what it would take for me to participate. He asked if I would be willing to write out truthfully all the ways that Ken had hurt me and be willing to face Ken, allowing him the opportunity to ask for forgiveness. I said I would have to pray about it and see what God wanted me to do. And I did pray...

Pushed - Over the Edge

Prayer became my time to reiterate to God all the questions that were bouncing around in my head. There were a lot of "Why's" and "How's" and "What's"; but now they were focused on the concept of forgiveness...

"Why do I have to forgive this man who hurt me?"

"What does forgiveness really look and feel like?"

"I can say I forgive him, but I don't have to like him or trust him, do I?"

"How can I forgive this man who hurt me?"

..and I sincerely wanted to know the answers. These questions led me to the Word of God. What better place to find the answers to your questions about forgiveness, right?

God very gently showed me His Wisdom in Matthew 18 through the story of the debtor. Then He showed me the story of the prodigal son and the lost sheep and the lost coin and Peter and, and, and...the stories were everywhere.

Not a single one justified my behavior...

No verse or story taught me that Ken was singularly wrong and I was right. Every single one was directly focused on my behavior and how I had treated Ken. It was personal and didn't give me permission to make my problem someone elses. I was led to self-reflection and what I saw was not righteousness, but a sin polluted self righteous heart.

Now I saw that I was the debtor who owed God 1 million dollars. I was baptized. I claimed and experienced God's forgiveness. I walked in the glory of knowing the Jesus had died for my sins and had forgiven me every wrong and every sin in my life.

I was free, or so I thought...

However, Matthew 18 reminded me that my behavior was not how someone who is forgiven so much should act. I was the one who "went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars, grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment." I had done this to Ken. I had held anger and resentment and, worst of all, self righteousness in my heart. God showed me, through the last few verses in Matthew 18...

Shouldn't you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?  Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt."That's what My heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart."

...that I didn't really get His forgiveness. I had brought the debt back onto myself by not showing the same mercy and love that I experienced from God to others.

God freely gives us forgiveness. It is there for the asking and the receiving. But, you can also give it back. You can decide that you really want to take care of that debt yourself by not returning the forgiveness of debt to someone else.

Luke 12:48  But someone who does not know, and then does something wrong, will be punished only lightly. When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required. 

Over the Edge but Climbing Up

With God's Grace and help from the Holy Spirit I saw my sin for what it was. He pointed out to me how I had spent so much time and energy damaging Ken. How I had spent so much time building up self, in my own heart and in the hearts of others. Then God asked me to share this with Ken in our reconciliation meeting.That was hard, really hard, but I told Ken the things he had done that hurt me and he sincerely asked for forgiveness; but then I also told Ken the things that I had done to hurt him and I sincerely asked him for forgiveness.

Hallelujah! This is what God wanted for me all along!

Now there was real forgiveness. Now there was full reconciliation. Now there was freedom. Now there was joy! Now I could trust in God's forgiveness and I could freely give it to others. What a blessing.

I praise God for this. He is so amazing! This is a testimony of the power in God's forgiveness, seven years in the making. Ken is now finding his way back into his church family. There are still some struggles but we are both the better for having gone through this process with God. I hate to think where my life might be if this had never happened.

I might still be asleep....... spiritually asleep under the poisoned blanket of self righteousness.