Debt Collecting

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.' (Matthew 18:24-26)

Why did the debtor's wife and children become threatened when the king said the slave would have to go to prison? This raises serious issues in many minds, particularly in children's. And Jesus did say we must become like little children and children are not nearly so afraid to broach questions like this. It is the intimidated adults who are afraid God might get upset if we ask about such things.

One reason I can see is that Jesus wants us to perceive that everything and everyone that is the least bit connected to our perceived value or that is under our authority is in danger of suffering from the consequences of the debts of our making. Just as citizens of a country suffer under the poverty imposed by the excesses of their leaders, so too family members and possessions will be caught up in the complications and pain when debt-collecting begins to take place. It may not seem fair, but fairness is not the only issue involved and our choices and sins cause unfair hardships on those connected to us.

If we are among those suffering 'collateral damage' from the sins of others like this wife and the slaves children were, how should we relate to such a king? Well, that throws us right back into the body of the this chapter. If we take offense we will find ourselves becoming disconnected from the life-giving body, breaking away from the vine and we will begin to atrophy as a result. Each of us faces our own choices of whether we will take and hold onto offenses or will choose to release and forgive.

When we dwell on the unfairness of our suffering because of other people's bad choices, we will experience increasing bitterness as a result and bitterness is a deadly counterfeit of the life-giving sap we need to be receiving from the vine. We plunge ourselves into the blame game and get trapped in the vicious cycle of fault-finding, criticism and accusations while seeking to justify ourselves. Pride quickly blinds us to our own contributions to our situation and in our blaming and fault-finding of others we actually enhance those same negative character traits in ourselves.

Earnest workers have no time for dwelling upon the faults of others. We cannot afford to live on the husks of others' faults or failings. Evil-speaking is a twofold curse, falling more heavily upon the speaker than upon the hearer. He who scatters the seeds of dissension and strife, reaps in his own soul the deadly fruits. The very act of looking for evil in others develops evil in those who look. By dwelling upon the faults of others, we are changed into the same image. But by beholding Jesus, talking of His love and perfection of character, we become changed into His image. By contemplating the lofty ideal He has placed before us, we shall be uplifted into a pure and holy atmosphere, even the presence of God. When we abide here, there goes forth from us a light that irradiates all who are connected with us. {GW 479}

So, how do we need to respond if we find ourselves the victims of apparently bad choices by a spouse or parent? We begin to see how easy it can be to become bitter and resentful. But taking that path only increases our own complicity in the offense rather than distancing ourselves as we had hoped. Taking offense when we suffer for the sins of others actually creates our own liability and we ourselves become debtors headed for prison for our own debts then.

I believe one of the most vital things we must learn is to begin knowing and trusting the true character of the king and not be so quick to assume negative things about him. This story is a classic case of that very thing. On the surface it appears this king was intent on imprisoning debtors both at the beginning and the end of this story. But embracing that presumption actually sends us down the same road as this debtor who consequently went out and did likewise. So we can see from the example of this slave that that is a very dangerous conclusion to make.

Notice the direction of focus of this slave. His stated purpose was to pay off the debt himself and all he needed was an extension of time and he was sure he could achieve that goal somehow. Because he failed to change his focus from his own plans and efforts to extricate himself from his dilemma and turn his attention toward appreciating and embracing the truth about the unconditional forgiveness freely given him, he continued with his own course of attempted debt repayment. This resulted in not only an intensified obsession with working even harder to pay an impossibly enormous debt, but he also began using force, intimidation, fear and punishments to impose his own belief system of others. He wanted those in debt to him to feel the same fear that he was feeling. But in the process he was projecting a false image of the king to those in debt to him and leading them to entertain the same reservations about the king as those blinding his own heart.

This man insisted on clinging to his slave mentality and rejected, even disdained, the reconciliation offered him by the king that would have elevated him above his slave status. As a result he felt compelled to misrepresent the king's character to others and further damage the king's reputation – which ironically was part of what constituted the original debt to start with. Remember that the word for accounts really means words.

When we indulge in debt-collecting from those who have offended us we exponentially increase our own debt by our misrepresentation of our king to them. When we grab others around the throat by our criticism, blaming and fault-finding, we are declaring to them that this is how God feels about them too. Because we have just come from the king's presence ourselves, what else are they to assume? After all, this was the same scenario the angels experienced when Lucifer, the God-appointed representative who was supposed to explain the secrets and intricacies of the Most High to them began spreading false ideas and insinuations about Him. If the main messenger designated by God to represent and explain Him couldn't be trusted, then who could they trust?

When we misrepresent our King in the way we treat our spouse, our children – the very ones who trust us to demonstrate superior understanding of spiritual matters, we only further the schemes of the first originator of lies about God and strengthen their misapprehensions about Him instead of countering them. I'm afraid many of us, myself included, are far closer to finding ourselves in the character of this slave debtor than we are willing to believe yet.

You see, forgiveness and payments are mutually exclusive. It is impossible to merge the two. Either a debt is paid or it is forgiven. You cannot forgive and still demand payment. That is immoral and reprehensible even in our society. And you cannot claim to believe in forgiveness while going about trying to repay a debt. Both are endorsements of a lie, a misrepresentation of reason and reality. As soon as one begins to exert energy in attempts to repay a forgiven debt they are asserting that the one who forgave the debt is a liar and cannot be fully trusted.

The only viable and authentic response possible for one who has genuinely believed in and experienced forgiveness is heart-felt gratitude, humility and movement toward reconciliation. They will reflect toward others the very same disposition as well. Anything else is a counterfeit and a charade.

I am beginning to see a little more why it is so hard for us to make real spiritual progress. We are keen on working out formulas and knowing the right facts. But deep in our hearts we still cannot believe in this thing called forgiveness. Because we so often feel condemned and afraid of punishment we run and hide from the One who we think is ready to throw us into prison. But in the end we discover that the prison is of our own making and He never desired any such thing for us. He was full of forgiveness all along – even while externally He talked about punishments. We assumed that punishment was His idea, not knowing that He only used those terms because we could not respond to anything better. His desire all along was to sweep aside all the offenses that were keeping us apart so that we could be restored into a full trusting relationship with Him.

But we assume His motives are mixed and remain suspicious of Him. But our fears are really just unbelief and in our unbelief we continue to spread the accuser's lies that in turn keep others afraid of Him too. Oh the intensity of this trap of Satan that sucks us in so easily. And it is all a house of cards built of false assumptions about God that in reality have been subtle fabricated in the brilliant mind of the great deceiver. We are not smart enough to unmask these lies and we are riddled with far more of them deep in our hearts more than we can imagine. Our only hope is to allow the Spirit to continue to invade our minds with greater light so that these lies will become exposed for what they really are.

It matters not whether our beliefs about God are deeply rooted in centuries of established doctrines or can be defended with endless verses and quotations. The enemy knows far better than we how to weave together inspired writings to further his diabolic schemes to discredit the original author. We must have the Holy Spirit, the only one capable of releasing us from prison to deliver us from this trap of Satan and cause us to reflect the truth about our loving, forgiving Father to those around us that are separated from us by offenses. Our greatest need is for a fresh revelation of the real truth about God – even those of us that have already begun to catch a glimpse of it. We have only scratched the surface, and to the extent that we still malfunction in our relationship with those around us we see the sure evidence that there still remain false ideas that must be purged from our hearts about how God feels about us.

We have not yet touched the greatest surprise in this story. For at the end where it appears to present the most incriminating evidence against a God of unconditional forgiveness, we will discover that in reality the very opposite is exposed.


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