Forgive Us Our Debts As We Forgive Our Debtors
In the next part of the Lord’s Prayer, we read, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Sometimes it is easier to see the wrongs that have been done to us than it is to see the wrongs which we have done. As Christ-followers, it is critical that we acknowledge and deal with both.
The first part of this sentence is about asking for forgiveness for wrongs we have done. Some translations use the word “trespass.” Others use “debt” or “sin.” All have the same meaning—they are talking about sin—actions that come as naturally to humans as breathing.
This concept of sin flies in the face of the humanists of our society who believe that human experience and rational thinking are the only source of knowledge and morality. “Do whatever makes you happy, as long as you don’t hurt someone else.” Their philosophy says there is no such thing as sin.
But that is dead wrong. Literally. To believe that you have no sin and that there is no sinful nature is to be dead in sin. So dead that you can’t see it.
Sins are not only what we do. Sin also includes not doing the right things. Paul said, “the things I want to do, I don’t do, and the things I do, I don’t want to do.” (Romans 7:15-16)
So not only do we need forgiveness for wrongs we have done, we also need forgiveness for right actions we have not done. Even trickier, sin can also include wrong motives. We can do the right things, but if we’re doing them with the wrong motives, it is sin. (Psalm 139:23)
I know that I need his forgiveness every day. Thankfully, he offers it freely. He has paid the price for our sins on the cross. We have only to acknowledge our sin and accept his forgiveness.
So, I think we have substantiated the fact that we are all sinners. As we agree on that, let’s also remind ourselves that the Lord’s prayer is a daily prayer. We know this because it says, “give us our daily bread.” So, if Jesus instructed his disciples to daily ask for forgiveness, that tells us that we likely sin every day.
The second part of this is probably the hardest part—we are to forgive others. As we have experienced the wonderful grace and mercy of God, we are to extend forgiveness to those who have done us wrong.
Our unforgiveness has terrible consequences. It does little to hurt the other person, but it does much to hurt us, leading to bitterness and all kinds of ugliness like anxiety, stress, and even illness. Research indicates that every time you feel unforgiveness, you are more likely to develop a health problem down the line.
Perhaps even more important, Jesus said that if we do not forgive others of the wrong they have done to us, we will not be forgiven our sins. Those are strong words, but they are not mine. They are Christ’s:
But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:15 NLT)
Jesus told the parable of the man who owed a big debt. I really like the way Chuck Smith paraphrased it:
“There was a certain man who owed his master $16 million. And the master called him in and said, “well, your time is up on this loan. Pay me what you owe me,” and this fella said, “oh, I just don’t have it to pay. I can’t do it right now. Give me a little more time.” The master said, “oh forget it, just cancel the debt,” and he crossed out his $16 million debt. This servant went out and got a fellow servant that owed him $25 and he took him by the throat and said, “all right, you pay me what you owe me.” The guy said, “oh, my wife’s been sick, and I’ve had to pay the doctor bills. I don’t have the money right now, but just give me a little time and I’ll pay ya.” “Oh no, you’ve had all the time you’re gonna get,” and he calls the sheriff, and he gets thrown in the debtors prison.
Now the Lord of that servant heard what he did, and he called him in and he said, “um, how much did you owe me?” and he said, “$16 million.” He said, “did I not forgive your debt?” “Yup.” “How is it then that I hear that you’ve had a fellow servant thrown into the debtors prison for a $25 debt?” And he called the sheriff and he said, “throw him in until he’s paid every last penny.” (Matthew 18:23-34)
This paraphrase makes me think about how much Jesus has forgiven me. The forgiveness that I have received is immense and incredible. If I have been forgiven so much, how can I hold unforgiveness for someone else? It’s the $16,000,000/$25 comparison. In light of the enormity of the sins which I have been forgiven, how can I hold unforgiveness for someone else?
“Oh, but my sins aren’t like his,” you say. Oh really? You may want to take another look. (Matthew 7:3)
While unforgiveness is ugly, forgiveness is as beautiful as the sunrise. In Lamentations we read that his mercies are “new every morning.” God gives each of us the ability to start fresh each day in our relationship with him and with each other.
The ability to forgive is a gift that God has given to each of us, but like a wrapped present, we have to tear off the paper and open the box. Until we open the gift, we can’t see it. We don’t know what’s in the box. We can’t use it. We can’t enjoy it or appreciate it in any way.
We have to open the box.
How do we open the box? We take it in our hands, tear off the paper, and pull the box open. It is an act of our will that begins with a conscious decision to open it.
In the same way, we make a conscious decision to forgive. We say the words, “Lord, I forgive him/her.” We can’t wait for feelings of forgiveness to come before speaking words of forgiveness. This is where faith and action meet. The Bible has countless examples of people stepping out in faith and as simple steps of obedience are taken, God arrives in power. As we extend forgiveness, by an act of the will, God can begin to dispense his mercy and grace in our hearts and healing can begin. It may come as a burst, or it may grow over time, but either way, the process begins when we take that step of faith.
Forgiveness is a gift. When we make the determination to forgive, we open the box. His power meets our weakness, transforming us and helping us to truly forgive as we ourselves have been forgiven.
Freely you have received. Freely give.
Everett Worthington, “A Campaign for Forgiveness Research”
Chuck Smith Commentaries, Blue Line Bible, C2000 Series on Matthew 6
9 In this manner, therefore, pray:
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.
(King James Version)
About Michelle Landsverk
I am passionate about the Word of God and believe wholeheartedly in the authenticity of scripture. I also believe that the Bible isn’t written in a secret code; God designed it to be read, understood, and lived out by everyday people. I gave my heart to Jesus when I was a child and strive everyday to live a life in which I “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God.” Micah 6:8