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The Lord's Prayer (Lesson 8)
Forgive Us Our Debts | Matthew 6:12
"Forgive us our debts."
Forgiveness sounds easy, doesn’t it?
I mean, how hard is it to ask someone, “Will you forgive me?”
No big deal.
In fact, if they’re slow to forgive or struggle with the idea, we may call into question the legitimacy of their faith.
“You are a Christian, right? You are supposed to forgive. What’s wrong with you?”
What this kind of “easy-forgivism” reveals is a lack of awareness concerning what’s required to pay down a debt.
In the Lord’s Prayer, when Jesus invites us to pray for God to forgive, he uses the Greek word opheilēma, which in practically every English version of the Bible is translated “debt.”
NOTE: In the prayer’s post-script in verses 14-15, he uses a word that is correctly translated trespass (paraptōma) to put a nuance on sin’s criminality. We can’t stand before the law and say, “Oops. I didn’t see the sign.” And as we’d expect, trespassers will be prosecuted.
The term debt concerns an obligation owed to someone, usually in the form of currency.
For example, when I use my credit card, I have an obligation to pay the credit card company the amount charged.
In fact, it may help is we called them “debt” cards (unless you’re using a debit card), because that is what we are doing when we use them.
For every swipe or tap at check out, we take on debt we’re obligated to pay back.
If we do not pay our debts, not only do interest charges accrue, but there could be legal consequences.
The New Living Translation of the Bible helps make the debt terminology a bit clearer for the first-time reader, translating opheilēma as sins.
When we ask God to forgive, the plea is to remove a sin-debt that has been accruing for a lifetime with compound interest.
Easy-forgivism assumes debts can just be waived.
But in not one biblical context is this the case.
Even when a debt is canceled, someone pays.
If a friend loans me $20 and I don’t pay him back. He either may demand I pay or he can “forgive” the debt.
But in forgiving the debt, he doesn’t just wink at it. Not at all. He’s out twenty bucks.
My friend made a conscious decision to absorb my debt himself–freeing me of the obligation.
In Matthew 18, Jesus told a story about the extent to which God is willing and able to forgive.
Traditionally, it is called the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. But we may want to retitle it to the Parable of the Merciful King—putting an emphasis on where the focus belongs.
As the story goes, there is a debtor to the king who owes 10,000 talents.
A talent was a unit of weight equaling approximately seventy-five pounds. By the New Testament, a talent was a unit of currency valued at about 6,000 drachmas, the equivalent of about 20 years’ wages, as the common laborer earned about one denarius per day. In modern terms, if a laborer earns $15 per hour, at 2,000 hours per year he would earn $30,000 per year, and a talent would equal $600,000. Therefore, in today’s calculations, “ten thousand talents” represents about six billion dollars—an impossible debt to repay.
Although the debtor ridiculously begs for more time to pay it off, the merciful king forgives the entirety of the man’s unpayable debt.
Did the king just wink, “Oh, it’s okay.”
No, there is no winking with forgiveness.
The king made a conscious decision to absorb the debt himself.
This is the message of the cross.
Jesus has absorbed the eternal sin-debt of anyone who will recognize their need and ask for the merciful king to do what only he can do.
He forgives it all, paying my past sin-debt, my present sin-debt, and my future sin-debt.
I think you can see that it’s no small thing to pray, “Forgive us our debts.”
Rather than an easy-forgivism, the gospel calls us to believingly fix our eyes on the costly but all-sufficient blood of Jesus, and in faith hold fast our confession that Jesus is not only able but willing to forgive freely and fully.
Because he is the merciful King who not only pays our debts in full, he allows himself to be prosecuted for our trespasses.
Now, in him, we are able to experience the wonder, beauty, and transforming power of debt-free living.
Why is it so hard to fully and truly forgive someone?
What is the difference between easy-forgivism and the biblical concept of forgiveness as presented in this lesson?
Why is forgiveness described as a debt that needs to be paid down, and what are the implications of this understanding for our relationship with God and others?
How does the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant illustrate the concept of forgiveness as absorbing a debt? What is the significance of the king's decision to forgive the debtor's unpayable debt?
How is forgiveness grace in action, and a way to preach the gospel to someone else?
Dear Father in heaven,
We know that forgiveness is not a simple matter of asking for it and having it instantly granted, but rather it’s a debt that needs to be paid down. We thank you for sending Jesus to absorb our sin-debt and to pay the price for our sins on the cross.
We pray for the humility and moral honesty to confess our own sins and for the grace to forgive others who have wronged us, just as you have forgiven us.
May we always fix our eyes on Jesus, holding fast to our confession that he is the merciful King who is able and willing to forgive us freely and fully.
In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.
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