In Matthew 6: 9-13 “The Lord’s Prayer” we are taught a powerful lesson in forgiveness.
Matthew 6:9-13 (KJV)
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.
The 12th verse tells us that we do not have a right to ask God for forgiveness of debts unless we have forgiven those who are indebted to us. Let’s look at the definition of the two key words “forgive” and “debt”. To forgive means to grant relief from payment or to give up resentment or claim to reimbursement; to pardon. It means that you no longer hold an individual or persons responsible for something that you are legitimately owed. A debt is a state of being under obligation to pay someone or something in return for something received. It is a state of owing, usually associated with money, but it could be something else. When the debt does relate to money or goods that an individual promised to repay, what do you do when they prove that they are absolutely unable to repay? Of course, you forgive the debt. How can you ask God to forgive your debt to others when you are holding a debt against someone who cannot repay you? Matthew 18:21-35 tells of a King who forgave a large debt owed him by one of his servants when that servant was unable to repay what was owed. However, when that servant refused to forgive a smaller debt to his own peer who was unable to repay him, the King withdrew his forgiveness and had the servant thrown into prison and punished.
Matthew 18:21-35 King James Version (KJV)
21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
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.
Some may say that forgiveness is easier said than done. How do you know that you have truly forgiven a person? People often speak of forgiving and forgetting, but how does one do that? Someone else might say, “I have a strong mind and I will be lying if I say that I forgot a thing when I haven’t”. Here’s how you do it. You simply no longer speak of it or allow it to come up in your spirit. If it tries to come to your memory you stomp it down. No! I forgave that just as my Heavenly Father forgave me of so many things. Since He does not pull my sin out of the trash barrel periodically, in the same manner, I will not let my mind (or the devil) drag some situation out of the trash barrel when I have forgiven a person. It is an act of my will that I have forgiven, so that situation is as good as dead. It’s as though it never happened. Eventually, your memory will realize that you mean business about forgiveness and the situation will stop trying to re-surface. By the way, this forgiving is done, even if the person involved never asks for forgiveness.
A synonym for the word debt, as used in our passage, is trespass. Immediately following the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6: 14-15, we find an expansion of the word debt to include trespass.
14 For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you
15 But if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
What does it mean to trespass? It means to go beyond a boundary or limit; to cross a line. It is the breaking of a moral or legal code. Someone might say, “You crossed the line of human decency when you flirted with my husband, but, I forgive you.” “Wife, I know that you have repented of your infidelity to both God and to me. You betrayed my trust in you and you broke my heart. But, I forgive you”. “You and I can get through this together.” “Friend, you really hurt my feelings when you told my personal business to your other friend. That was not right, but I forgive you”.
For even further clarity, let us look at the Lord’s Prayer according to the Gospel of Luke. It is found in Luke 11:2-4. Interestingly enough, verse 4 is the companion verse to verse 12 in Matthew 6.
4 And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.
According to Luke, even if we expect God to forgive our sins, we should be willing to forgive anyone who is indebted to us. (It is interesting that Luke used the word “sin” rather than “debts”. Whether this “indebtedness” that he uses also includes “pecuniary” or “money matters” is not clear, but I’m certain that God would have no difficulty in making it clear to you if you ask Him.). In order for us to receive forgiveness from God, forgiveness must be given to others. That is the bottom line.
Some of you may be asking God to cancel or pay your debts to others because you are simply unable to repay. The debt may be legitimate, large and a heavy burden. Yet, in spite of your prayers, your tears, and your faith, nothing has changed. Others of you may be crying out for forgiveness for some wrong that you have committed. God is saying to you that you must first forgive those who have offended you, hurt your feelings, done you wrong or otherwise sinned against you. If you want forgiveness of your debts, your sins or your trespasses, forgive others. That forgiveness includes those who owe you money and cannot repay, those who insulted you or even killed your cat. Forgive them. You are not to feed them out of a long-handled spoon, avoid them or talk about the offense to others ever again. Forgive them and God will take care of your needs, bring peace where there once was hostility, and overcome the evil effect of sin in your life as well as the life of your debtor. Forgive. It’s a powerful weapon.