The Towel That Wipes Away Grudges by Rick Burdette

Matthew 18:15-18:22

THE YEAR OF THE TOWEL – The Towel That Wipes Away Grudges
Matthew 18:15-22 (pg. 688) January 10, 2016


There’s the story of two men who appeared before a judge on charges of assault and disturbing the peace…

After the judge had listened to both sides and surmised that both men claimed to be church going “Christians” he said, “you know the Bible says you should have settle this matter out of court.”

And one of the two men who had a terrific shiner said to the judge “your honor, that’s exactly what we were trying to do when the cops showed up!”

Forgiveness is one of those things we talk a lot about in church and in our Sunday School classes and small groups but living it out in the real world gets a whole lot tougher!

When Jesus picked up the towel to wash His disciples’ feet…He humbled Himself…The Lord and Master put Himself in the place of a servant…and then very clearly said, “I did this as an example of how you should do the same.”

But His example of forgiveness…is an even harder towel to pick up than the one He picked up to wipe away the dirt from His disciples feet.

If you’ve ever had someone strike you on the cheek, either verbally or physically you know how hard it is to turn the other one.

When your child gets bullied in school and you call another parent to talk it out and instead of “I’m sorry this happened” you hear…“If your kid weren’t such a whimp he could take care of it himself.”

Or your co-worker throws you under the bus by telling him the order that wasn’t made was your fault…and it was his.

Or you hear someone has gossiped about your family…they talk about your child’s mistake, or your wife’s dress or your father’s drinking problem like it’s a funny joke.

Things get a lot dirtier don’t they? When things move from the sterile discussion in Sunday School to the real world pig pen.

[I had a friend in School that ended up owing the library about 5 dollars in late fees. He went to talk with Mrs. Lemon (yes that was her real name). He thought he could be forgiven the debt as a poor struggling college student. Uhhhh…nope! Even when he tried to explain he was getting ready for finals….no dice….He thought it was unfair…so he went to the bank…got 500 pennies…He put them in a big mason jar filled it with honey and took it to the library…Here’s your money!!! For the stupid late fee!]

I don’t know who originally said, “I don’t get mad, I get even.” But most of the time it’s our philosophy…not just for people in the world, but in the Church as well.

Maybe we don’t give someone a shiner, or put pennies in a jar of honey, but we quit speaking to them…make sure our comments about them are caustic and affirm to others how right it is we’re angry and hurt.

Instead of reconciliation we practice holding a grudge and avoidance…Instead of kneeling in humility to try and wipe the slate clean…we snap the towel at them like in a locker room.

There is no more raw or real subject than forgiveness, and each of us know:


Forgiveness is a matter of the heart….and it all has to do with anger.

Listen to Jesus’ words:

MATTHEW 5:21-24 (p. 678)

Jesus lets us know this has been talked about since Cain and Abel…people long ago have been told “Do not murder.”

Murder’s a horrible sin…Cain crossed a line when he invented it by getting angry…picking up a rock and killing his brother….a life ended. His brother’s blood cried out from the ground.

God’s Word says it all began with anger:

GENESIS 4:3-7 (p. 3)

I believe Cain’s offering wasn’t acceptable from the very beginning because his heart wasn’t right. Maybe he was a “one upper” that was in competition with his brother…but God always views the heart above the sacrifice…and God tells Cain…You can stop it…you can choose to do the right thing…it’s not too late…when did it cross the line…when his anger exploded into an action he couldn’t take back.

[I remember a young man I visited in Woodford County jail back in the mid 90’s. He’d shot and killed his stepmother with a 30.06 hunting rifle because they had an argument over a barbecue grill. When I went to see him they had him on suicide watch and severely medicated. It was useless for me to talk with him because he could barely keep his eyes open. They were afraid if he experienced the guilt for what he’d done he’d want to kill himself…I think they were right…they transferred him to Eddyville before I could see him again.]

But family said he didn’t arrive at that place of rage and anger overnight. He stored up every slight and injustice, perceived or real that his stepmother had done to him until it exploded from the muzzle of a hunting rifle.

Most people won’t get to that point…but Jesus makes it very clear unforgiveness begins in the heart.

“I tell you anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”

Cain was cursed and made to wander the earth. Eddyville awaited the young man from Versailles. A life of bitterness and disappointment are the judgment of the angry…at least here on earth.

Cursing others as “stupid fools” who can go to Hell is a dangerous heart place.

That’s why when it comes to forgiveness we should try to:


“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault…just between the two of you.”

Paul even tells us the attitude we should have as we go… “You who live by the spirit should seek restoration gently…watching yourself…” (Gal. 6:1)

The scriptures we’ve looked at deal with issues between fellow believers…and advisories (our enemies)…and in both circumstances God’s Word says it’s better for you to take the first step, with a gentle heart than to ignore it…or end up in court.

But this is real life…not a sermon or Sunday School…we’d rather ignore it and hope it goes away.

Have you ever noticed that sin that’s ignored, rather in a church…or in our lives, never gets better…it just gets more cancerous and deadly. More people get injured, hurt or killed…or killed spiritually?

Ignored sin destroys relationships, at the very least it destroys compassion at the very worst it threatens the very life of people and churches.

Don’t gather a team around you so you feel right in your anger…Pick up the towel and keep it just between the people involved…if it requires more people, get two or three spiritual leaders and bring them along…but only after you’ve tried personally.

I certainly don’t have all the answers…but anger and unforgiveness are like drinking Draino and hoping it poisons someone else.

Stormie Omartian said “Forgiveness doesn’t make the other person right…it makes you free.”

Phillip Yancy wrote in “What’s so Amazing About Grace?”

“At last I understand: in the final analysis, forgiveness is an act of faith. By forgiving another I am trusting that God is a better justice-maker than I am. By forgiving I release my own right to get even and leave all issues of fairness for God to work out. I leave in God’s hands the scales that must balance justice and mercy.”

Let me end with this final thought as we pick up the towel of forgiveness.


We are never more like Jesus than when we pursue forgiveness…it’s why He lived, died, and rose again.

Unity between brothers and sisters in His family was what He prayed for just before His cross…and on that cross He prayed for His enemies forgiveness.

I know we’re not Jesus…and I know without a doubt reconciliation isn’t always going to happen because we cannot choose what someone else does or how they respond.

But who do you think brings the remembrance that our brother or sister has something against us when we’re at the altar? Especially when you’re trying to worship God?

It’s the convicting work of the Holy Spirit right? Telling us. Our relationship with God virtually cannot be joyful, clean and free unless we are right with our brother or sister horizontally.

“You cannot love God who you have not seen unless you love your brother whom you have seen.” (1 John 4:20)

Forgiveness shows people God’s love like no other gift.

[I have an amazing friend who shows grace, love and forgiveness to almost everyone, especially those who don’t deserve it, but desperately need it.

And before you think she’s had some piece of cake life…Her first marriage was an escape but ended up with her beaten and abused, her daughter also…whose funeral I would have when she killed herself with a pistol in her bathroom a few years ago. She would remarry an amazing and loving man, but after a quarter century she would lose him to pancreatic cancer. I would have the privilege to baptize him during the last year of his life as he fell in love with Jesus.

But her first husband also got cancer…and this amazing woman took care of him, served him, nursed him through the final months of His life…I remember asking why would you do this…and she said, “It’s about Jesus, forgiveness, and the love of God.”

She had picked up the towel of Jesus and wiped all grudges away…and it allows her soul to fly…It always does.]

Let’s Pray.

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