Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors
Matthew 18:21-35; Matthew 6:5-15
Spot the common theme in all these sayings:
– I owe you an apology.
– How can I ever repay you?
– Give credit where it’s due.
– I’m forever in your debt.
– You robbed me of my dignity.
– You cost me my reputation.
– It’s pay-back time.
All of these statements use money language to talk about our relationships. When we speak of the ups and downs of our relationships we talk about “owing” and “repayment” and “credit” and “debt” and “robbing” and “costing” and “pay-back”.
And it rings true doesn’t it? When we are wronged, we feel robbed. It feels like we are owed, and if we don’t go after pay-back, it’s costly.
Think of a hurt that someone has caused you. One way you can think of it is that this person has stolen from you. Maybe they stole money, but maybe they stole your good name, or your trust, or your dignity, or the best years of your life. But when we’re wronged we feel robbed. And we feel like we want pay-back. If we don’t go after pay-back it’s costly.
And right at the heart of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus confirms all of this. He teaches us to pray: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
According to Jesus, we owe God. And at some point in our praying, that needs acknowledging.
Interestingly Jesus doesn’t put it first on the agenda. No, first of all we approach our Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus. And in Jesus we know His love and acceptance. We are His children. But we are His sinful children. And at some point in our prayers we acknowledge that. We acknowledge our debts. Just as we pray for daily provision, so we pray for daily pardon.
Through our sins we owe God and we could never pay it off. We are in over our heads. But Christ Himself has paid off our debts. That’s the meaning of redemption – the paying of a debt. And through the cross, Christ has paid what we owe. It was costly for Him, but He offers forgiveness for free. Therefore we should write off the debts of others.
Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
Jesus’ words here remind us of the parable He tells in Matthew 18. A servant owes a king billions of pounds. The king takes pity on the servant, forgives the debt and lets him go. It’s wonderful news. But this servant goes out and sees a colleague who owes him £5000.
Now £5000 is not nothing. If someone owed me £5000 I would feel the cost of it very deeply. But when compared to the billions, £5000 is nothing.
Yet this isn’t how the servant feels. He throttles his colleague and says “Pay back the £5000.” We read of his reaction and think to ourselves, How ridiculous! Well yes, How ridiculous! But that’s every one of us if we don’t forgive our brothers and sisters.
We have been forgiven billions. Christ has taken pity on us, absorbed the debt, paid it off in full and let us go. Therefore we can forgive others the £5000, can’t we? Shouldn’t we? We must.
If we don’t forgive others their debts, have we really received the billion pound forgiveness? But if we have received God’s forgiveness we can do no other than pass it on.
It’s always costly to forgive. It was costly for Christ, it will be costly for us. But perhaps more than anything, these verses inspire us to pray for a sense of proportion. Do we realize the magnitude of the debt which Christ has paid off? Have we appreciated how spiritually bankrupt we are without Jesus? And can we put the hurts of others into their proper perspective?
Perhaps today, someone will cause me thousands of pounds worth of heart-ache. Perhaps this month, someone will cost me tens of thousands worth of emotional trauma. Perhaps this year, someone will cost me a million pounds worth of hurt. If I just look at that debt it will overwhelm me, I will throttle them and demand pay-back. But Jesus teaches me to return daily to the cross and see there my debts paid off in full. And, as He’ll say later in Matthew, “freely ye have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8)
This life of overflowing grace does not come easy to us grudge-keepers. But that’s why Jesus tells us to pray it in to our hearts every single day: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”