How Shall We Pray?
Forgive Us Our Debts, as We Forgive Our Debtors
9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. KJV
We come today to one of the most challenging issues in the Model Prayer, the forgiveness of others. The idea itself is fairly simple, but the outworking of it can become extremely complex and it is essential that we think carefully concerning the matter.
We pointed out in the last lesson from this text that the issue of ‘debts’ here is the issue of sin. We compared this text with Luke 11:1-4 and determined that the structure of the two model prayers is so close that there can be no doubt concerning the matter. The issue of sin between two individuals whether they be man and God or man and man is similar to the issue of debt. We have an obligation both to God and to man not to sin against either of them. When we sin against another person, we rob him of what is due him: obedience on the part of God and common decency on the part of man. We have created a debt. When we come to deal with the sin and ask for forgiveness, we are in a very similar position to the person asking to have a debt forgiven. We are asking to be released from the debt we owe, to have it canceled and taken away.
Here is one of the difficult parts of the matter. If the sin is a legitimate sin, we have no real right to ask to have the debt removed, not in an of ourselves. The matter depends entirely upon the good graces and mercy of the one against whom we have sinned.
Forgiveness is discussed in scripture under two great categories: free forgiveness and forgiveness/reconciliation.
In terms of dealing with God, forgiveness and reconciliation are always linked to genuine repentance; the honest owning and confessing of the sin, the adoption of a godly and righteous attitude toward our own sin, condemning and rejecting it, a good faith effort to correct and amend the damage that we have caused, and the turning from it, putting the action or behavior away from us completely. Without and apart from true repentance, there is not one promise of forgiveness held out in scripture.
In dealing with other human beings, the model we use with God becomes a good pattern for dealing with people. Unlike with God, there are sometimes real and genuine things that we can do to ‘make amends’ with another person. If we have stolen from them, we can return what was stolen or repay the person the value of the item. If we have injured them, we can find some way to express our sorrow for the action and some way to be of help in the matter. If we have lied about them, we can go to the person(s) to whom we told the lie and confess, replacing the lie with the truth. If we have failed to keep an agreement, we can restore whatever injury or loss that occurred. Hurtful words cannot be reeled back in like a fishing lure. The only hope we might have there is to establish a pattern going forward in which the goodness and kindness we show overmatches and overwhelms the one we have hurt until the memory fades away.
The discussion today will fall into two parts. First, we will discuss our duty and obligation to forgive those who sin against us and, secondly, we will examine how that issue may play out in real life.
Before we do that, let us remind ourselves of a very powerful parable that Jesus would use on another occasion to illustrate how the issue is to play out.
23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.
24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.
25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.
26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.
28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.
29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.
31 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.
32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:
33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?
34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.
35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses. KJV
There is an element to the story that is hidden at the first. The forgiveness which was granted by the king was dependent upon the servant have an honest and contrite heart. When his heart was shown to be evil, all supposed forgiveness was rescinded. This will play important into our lesson today.
The lesson is that forgiveness from God is provided only to those who have a genuine change of heart. One of the greatest and surest tests of that change is the willingness to release others from their debts to us.
There is no question but that Jesus laid before His disciples, both then and forever after, an absolute duty to forgive those who sin against them.
I am required, based on the mercy of God shown to me, to forgive those who sin against me
Here is the picture.
I come to God under the realization of my sins. I am completely broken (or seem to be) over my debt and inability to pay. So, I cast myself upon His mercy without one shred of anything to recommend me to him. I have no good deeds to offer and no real worth. In grace and mercy, God does what the king did in the parable, He releases me completely, forgiving me of all of my sins, past, present and future.
However, there is much more to the story than that. Long before the human race had been created, in fact, long before the universe was made, God had already planned for this moment in my life. Way back there somewhere in the dim reaches of eternity past, God had taken notice of me, loved me, chosen me for Himself and had resolved to bring me to the moment of forgiveness.
When the Person of the Godhead known as The Word (Jesus Christ to us) left heaven He had in mind to accomplish and finish every thing required for me to be saved, forgiven of my sins.
In a few days we will be celebrating Easter, commemorating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Of course, the reason He needed to be raised from the dead was that He had been crucified three days before. And the night before His crucifixion, He had spent in agonizing prayer in the Garden of Gethesemane, just outside the gates of Old Jerusalem. There, He has looked at what it would require to forgive me. He would need to take me and my sins into union with Himself and then suffer until the debt of those sins was paid fully and completely. To leave anything undone would mean to fail to provide what I needed.
There, as His disciples slept and Judas plotted with the priests to have Him arrested, Jesus contemplated the act of fully identifying Himself with me so that my sins would become his sins and my guilt His guilt. He could not bear the thought of it and cried out to the Father, “if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” Or, as I hear those words, “Father, if it be possible to save Larry in some other way, let this cup pass from me….” Of course, we know that there was no other way. For me to be saved, someone would have to bear my sins to death and He was the Only One Who could do that. So, He submitted, “nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.”
Then, He gave Himself into the hands of man to suffer on my behalf.
He was wounded for my transgressions,
He was bruised for my iniquities,
The chastisement that secured my peace with God was laid on Him.
He suffered until the Entire Godhead (Himself included) was satisfied that the debt of my sins had been paid, and then yielded up His spirit.
A little over 1900 years later I was born. When I became old enough to understand that I am a sinner, He provoked my heart to cry out to Him for forgiveness.
The Work had already been done. My debt had already been paid. So, He officially released me from it and confirmed to my soul that I was and am forgiven.
And, now, He has placed a great test in my life which will constatnly either prove or disprove whether that Work in my life was a True Work. Was I truly converted? Did I repent from my sins? And, the test is, itself, a question. Would I (will I) consistently forgive those who sin against me?
Jesus directly linked the matter here in our text just as He finished the Model Prayer.
14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:
15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. KJV
One of the greatest tests and proofs of a regenerate heart is the willingness to forgive, to release those who sin against us from any debt to us, to hold no bitterness or harshness in our souls toward them, to be free and clear of all of the effects of unforgiveness.
31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:
32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. KJV
1 Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children;
2 And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour. KJV
You will notice in the model prayer that we are to do this universally and unilaterally, freely and apart from any efforts on the part of the ones who have sinned against us to make amends.
It is not the prayer, “Please help me forgive them when they repent,” or “I commit to forgive them if they repent,” but, “I forgive them.” It is a universal releasing of all those who have sinned against us from their debt to us as an act of worship to God and an expression of our appreciation for His forgiveness of our many and enormous sins. It is a testimony of our trust in Him to take care of us and forgive us of our transgressions of His laws.
You will recall that the steward in our parable refused to forgive small debts and vigorously demanded payment for them. His master call he back and reinstated his debt, demanding full and immediate payment. Now this is not given to tell us that God will forgive and then ‘un-forgive’ us if we fail to model His example. He certainly knows when one comes to Him for forgiveness whether there has been any real change of heart.
This text reminds us that those who sin against us do far smaller things than we do when we sin against Him. It calls on us to keep things in perspective, to see the big picture and to see our sins against Him as larger than the sins of others against us. Surely if we are going to ask for and receive pardon for massive debt, we can muster a little for others.
The reality is that it is only an unregenerate heart that would ask for enormous things while refusing to give even a little to others. Zacchaeus understood this when he received forgiveness from the Lord. “The half of my goods I give to the poor.” Or, as Jesus said in another place, “freely ye have received, freely give.”
So, here is the great question raised by this text, “Have you been forgiven of your sins?” Are you right with God? Do you have any sense of the great debt that Jesus Christ paid on your behalf?
If so, then, will you forgive, release from any debt to you, those who have sinned against you?
There is no doubt but that Jesus Christ places an inseparable link between those issues.
How this plays out in real life.
I would put before you here a word of caution. This great duty that Jesus places before us, if wrongly used and applied, with create an unbiblical approach to those who sin, an approach that is hurtful, destructive, and even, at times, dangerous.
In scripture, the word ‘forgive’ is used in two different ways. Sometimes it means to forgive the sins and be completely reconciled to the sinner. This example is demonstrated in the story of the Prodigal Son. His father, you will recall, completely forgave him, welcomed him home, and fully restored him to the place of ‘son.’
There are other instances in which godly people, behaving in a godly fashion, stood unreconciled to sinners. Consider the adulterer at Corinth, mentioned in the First Letter. Both Paul and the church put the man away from them, refusing to interact with him and maintained that position for a while. Or, you might think of Alexander the Coppersmith whom Paul denounced in 2 Tim. 4:14, or Diotrephes who was condemned by John, 3 John 9,10.
Did the Christians in these stories forgive the sinners? If they did not, then the apostles are refusing to obey Christ. We assume, therefore, that there was forgiveness.
But there was no reconciliation attached to the forgiveness. Why not? What is the difference between these stories and the story of the Prodigal? The answer should be obvious. The Prodigal repented, owned and confessed his sins, while the others did not, at least not at first. The adulterer at Corinth eventually did and was not only forgiven but reconciled with Paul and with the church.
What we are taught here is that there can be forgiveness which also holds an unrepentant person accountable, even puts distance in the relationship, even sometimes severely and publicly criticizing the one in sin. How can this be? What is the difference between this and getting angry and refusing to have anything to do with the offender?
The difference is that the offender is held accountable from a place of forgiveness, not bitterness, a place where he/she is prayed for, not cursed, a place of love, not hatred.
I have heard the saying, “Our Constitution is not a suicide pact.” What is mean is that the rights and privileges that it grants and recognizes are not recognized nor granted to those who would destroy either the Constitution or the country.
In similar terms, we must understand that our duty to forgive is not a suicide commitment. We are not bound to continually put ourselves at the mercy of wicked, hurtful and destructive people. We can, at one and the same time, forgive them and pull back from them, denounce their wicked deeds, and protect ourselves from further injury. This is the example and testimony of scripture.
Our duty to forgive is absolute. We have been forgiven a massive debt and the price of that forgiveness was the shed blood of the Son of God. The mercy extended to us is massive, completely beyond the capacity of the human mind to compute it. As we ask God to forgive us, we are to forgive those who have sinned against us.
Reconciliation, on the other hand, is tied to real, provable and demonstrable repentance.
There are two real issues. Be forgiving. Be Wise.