Pastor David B. Curtis


Forgive Us Our Debts

Matthew 6:12, 14-15

Delivered 01/26/2003

We have been talking about prayer for several weeks now. Jesus is telling us that prayer is worship, and it is not to be done for the purpose of pleasing men but for the purpose of pleasing God. Because of the importance of prayer, Jesus elaborates on it by giving the disciples a model of prayer. Last week we looked at:

Matthew 6:11 (NKJV) Give us this day our daily bread.

In this request, God is being acknowledged as the source and provider for all of our needs. He created us so He knows the needs we have. As we ask Him to provide for our daily needs, we are reminding ourselves of our dependence on God and asking Him to provide for those needs. When the needs are provided, that is a reminder to us that our needs have been met because of God's mercy and grace.

"Give us this day our daily bread" speaks to our need for God to supply our physical needs. We are totally dependant upon Him for all we have. This morning we move on to our spiritual need for forgiveness:

Matthew 6:12 (NKJV) And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.

Who is Jesus teaching this prayer to? Who was the Sermon on the Mount written for? Believers! This is a prayer that the Lord was teaching Christians. It is those who know God's forgiveness who are to pray, "Forgive us our debts".

Every human being is born in sin and on their way to Hell. Unless we receive God's forgiveness, we will all spend eternity in Hell. God's forgiveness is only given to those who put their faith in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ:

John 3:36 (NKJV) "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."

It is through faith in Christ that we receive God's forgiveness:

Acts 26:18 (NKJV) 'to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.'

It is to Christians who have experienced the forgiveness of God that Jesus teaches this prayer:

Matthew 6:12 (NKJV) And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors"

Notice the connecting word "And" that begins this verse. "Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors." The word which is translated daily in verse 11 is a unique word. This is the only time the word is used in the Scripture, and it is only found in one other place in Greek writing. The word indicates bread for the coming day. That indicates that we must look to God to provide, in a regular way, our needs for the day. The connecting word "and" teaches us that we also need this forgiveness daily. The "and" here means they are both needed on a daily basis.

Not only are we to look to God for the provision of our physical needs, but we are also to look to Him to meet our spiritual needs as well. There are many people today who are concerned about God's meeting their physical needs. When they face problems, they want to look to God to meet those needs, and He is supposed to come through! But we are to be looking to God to provide for our spiritual needs as well as our material needs. He is the One who provides forgiveness and cleansing.

The word "debts" is from the Greek word opheilema. It is used as a noun only twice in the New Testament - in Matthew 6:12 and Romans 4:4. So we are not very familiar with its precise meaning as a noun. But its verb form is used 28 times to refer to a moral debt and 7 times in reference to a monetary debt.

The word which is translated "debts" in this verse was a very common word for sin among Jews of biblical times. When we sin, we incur a debt; we become guilty and accountable before God.

Let me ask you a question, "Why do Christians need to pray for forgiveness when God has already forgiven them?"

Colossians 2:13 (NKJV) And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses,

The good news of the Bible is that believers' debts were paid in full by Jesus Christ. Jesus paid the debt of all our sins: past, present, and future.

So why should we pray, "Forgive us our debts"? I think that what is being referred to in this passage is relational forgiveness. Although our sins are forgiven, we don't stop sinning. When we sin and will not repent of that sin, it affects our relationship with God. We don't stop being His child, but we lose an intimacy, our communion is broken. The gospel brings judicial forgiveness. And obedience, along with confession of sin, will bring the joy that comes from relational forgiveness. Look with me at:

John 13:3-11 (NKJV) Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, 4 rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. 5 After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. 6 Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, "Lord, are You washing my feet?" 7 Jesus answered and said to him, "What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this." 8 Peter said to Him, "You shall never wash my feet!" Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me."9 Simon Peter said to Him, "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!" 10 Jesus said to him, "He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you." 11 For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, "You are not all clean."

Notice verse 8: "if I do not wash you, you have no part with me." The Greek word for "part" is meros, which means: "fellowship, relationship, or intimacy". With that statement, our Lord turned the physical act of washing the disciples feet into a tremendous spiritual truth. Verse 10 makes it clear that they had already been made righteous by faith. They didn't need another bath. How many times does God make a person righteous? Once! All that is necessary for me to do is keep the fullness of the relationship open by having my feet washed - which is a relational cleansing.

Notice that the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray has a stipulation to the petition for forgiveness. We pray for the forgiveness of God on the basis of how we also have forgiven our debtors. In other words, there is a relationship between whether we forgive and our forgiveness. To underscore the importance of this issue, Jesus revisits it at the end of the prayer:

Matthew 6:14-15 (NKJV) "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 "But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

What He is saying is absolutely clear. If we are a forgiving person, we will be forgiven. As we also have forgiven, we will experience the forgiveness of the Lord. But if our hearts are hard, and we refuse to forgive, we will not be forgiven.

To illustrate our necessity to forgive, the Lord gives us a parable on forgiveness and the consequences of not forgiving:

Matthew 18:23 (NKJV) "Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.

The parable deals with the importance of us forgiving one another. It is a very clear and powerful truth. The only question is whether we will choose to obey its application.

In this parable, Jesus is telling us how he wants the citizens in his kingdom to live. It could be said that the "kingdom of heaven" is illustrated by the following situation. Barns puts it this way: "God will deal with the members of his church as a certain king did with his servants." This parable is for us now; we are living in the kingdom of God.

The King, in this parable, represents God the Father. The servant is a picture of unsaved man. A servant was an attendant of a King. They were satraps or provincial governors whose duty it was to collect the royal taxes and to deliver these large sums to the king.

The king is settling his accounts. The servant is called before the king to give an account, to settle up financially. This would be an annual accounting. This pictures God calling into account unsaved man. This is not a final accounting, or the story would end here. This is picturing the conviction of sin as God calls the elect to Himself:

Matthew 18:24 (NKJV) "And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.

This man had been embezzling the king's money. The 10,000 talents that he owed is an incredible debt. Ten thousand talents would be the equivalent of 190,000 years work. This pictures the bankrupt sinner before God with nothing to pay. He has offended an infinitely Holy God. He is absolutely incapable of helping himself and is totally dependant upon God's grace:

Matthew 18:25 (NKJV) "But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made.

The selling into slavery of insolvent debtors was nothing unusual in those days. Top price for a slave brought about one talent, and one tenth of that amount was a more common price. The practice of being sold for debt was sanctioned by the Old Testament (Leviticus 25:39, 2 Kings 4:1).

Outside of Israel, the practice of selling those who were unable to pay their debts was common. The proceeds of their sale would go toward the paying of the debt. There were no bankruptcy laws in those days. You paid, one way or another.

The point of the parable is that the amount of this debt is unpayable, picturing eternal judgement. The unbeliever's sins are never paid for in the Lake of Fire, or it would end at some point. The Lake of Fire is everlasting; showing the debt is never paid. The duration and punishment should help show us how terrible sin is, it creates an unpayable debt:

Matthew 18:26 (NKJV) "The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, 'Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.'

Notice that he didn't deny the debt. He falls down before God; an attitude of humility. He knew what he was facing, and he was devastated. He was in the very attitude where God wants men to be when He shows them their sin. This man is pleading for mercy. He is convicted of his sin, though he probably doesn't understand the depth of his sin. No matter how much patience God has, we could never repay the debt.

Matthew 18:27 (NKJV) "Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.

It was out of sheer compassion that the master granted this servant far more than he had asked for, completely canceling the loan. That is salvation; free and total forgiveness.

Romans 3:24 (NKJV) being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

Before we can receive the forgiveness of God at salvation, we must see the debt of our sin. We must see it as a debt that we cannot pay. Before we come to Christ for forgiveness, we must come to a realization of our sinfulness and our helplessness.

People who don't see their sin, don't see their need for a savior.

Matthew 18:28 (NKJV) "But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, 'Pay me what you owe!'

It seems that he forgot very quickly just what had happened to him. This was no accident, he was looking for this guy. The Greek word for "fellow servant" is sundoulon, which means: "another man who has been forgiven, another believer". This man had been fully forgiven, yet he would not forgive others. If he wasn't a Christian, we wouldn't expect him to forgive.

Notice the comparison, 10,000 talents, which equals about 190,000 years work; and 100 pence, which equals about 3 months work. The 100 pence debt could have been carried in one pocket. The 10,000 talent debt would take an army to carry it of about 8,600 carriers, each carrying a sack of 60-80 pounds in weight, and they would form a line about five miles long. The contrast is staggering. Do you often forget what God has done for you?

This man grabs his brother around the throat and begins to choke him. Roman law allowed this. You might say, "This can't be a Christian." Really, do you think that Christians don't have problems forgiving each other? Have you ever read 1 Corinthians 6:1-8? The Christians at Corinth were dragging each other into court, trying to get justice. Have you ever done this to another believer, verbally or mentally? How many times have you wanted to do this to a Christian who hurt or wronged you? Be truthful. We are a lot like the man in this parable. We want justice from those who have wronged us, but we want mercy from those we have wronged.

Matthew 18:29 (NKJV) "So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.'

Does that sound familiar? The difference is that this guy could have paid him what he owed him. Compared to our debt against God, our sins against each other are minute. Our debt to God is unpayable. Our debts to each other are easily payable.

Matthew 18:30 (NKJV) "And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt.

He would not forgive his fellow servant. Because of the smallness of the debt, he was not legally permitted to sell his fellow servant into slavery. He went the legal limit and threw him into jail.

At times, we act just like this man in the parable and cast others into prison. Not literally of course, but we cast them into the prison of rejection, we isolate them through gossip. We want full payment. Aren't you glad that God didn't demand full payment from you? We couldn't pay Him, but our brothers could pay us.

Matthew 18:31 (NKJV) "So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done.

I think that this pictures other believers going to God in prayer about the situation. In light of the context (Matthew 18:15-17), let's assume that they have gone to this sinning brother and confronted him with his sin. Believers, I think that a very important aspect in our practical sanctification, our holiness, is us holding each other accountable. If I see you being unforgiving toward another believer, I am to bring it to your attention. And you are to do the same for me. I know what the Bible says, but often I am not aware that my actions are sinful until another believer brings that to my attention. If we truly love each other, we will help each other to walk in holiness.

Matthew 18:32 (NKJV) "Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me.

Could this man, who God refers to as a "wicked servant," be a Christian? Yes! He says this man has had his debt forgiven, that could only be a believer. "I forgave you all that debt" verifies that the transaction of forgiveness was actually made and was effective.

Matthew 18:33 (NKJV) 'Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?'

This is exactly what Paul teaches in:

Ephesians 4:32 (NKJV) And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.

God tells this servant that he should have had compassion and pity on his fellow servant, just as God did toward him.

Matthew 18:34 (NKJV) "And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him."

What punishment did this guy receive? Some read this, apply the analogy to us, and conclude that if we don't forgive, it proves we were never believers, thus never forgiven to begin with. It looks like the guy goes to hell for his failure to forgive. Others think this symbolizes true believers who once were forgiven, but because they were unmerciful, lose their salvation. I don't agree with either conclusion. This guy did pay a high price for his failure to forgive, but it wasn't hell or a loss of salvation.

The king represents God. When God forgives, he forgives completely. Our sins are all accounted as paid for:

Psalms 103:12 (NKJV) As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Jeremiah 31:34 (NKJV) "No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."

Just as we are completely forgiven, the servant's debt to his master was completely wiped out. It was legally canceled, never to be held against the man again.

Some would say that our forgiveness maintains our salvation, our status as forgiven people. This can't be true with relation to grace:

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NKJV) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.

If our forgiveness maintains our status with God, then it's not grace that saves us. It is works. This runs contrary to salvation by faith alone.

Notice what he says, "until he should pay all that was due him." He is not speaking here of the original debt, that was unpayable. He was to pay what was due for his sin of unforgiveness. Until he forgave, he would be turned over to the torturers. He was not sold as a slave but given over to the jailers to be tortured until he paid what he owed. The man was disciplined by the king. In the same way, when we fail to forgive, we'd better expect torturous discipline.

What does he mean by "delivered him to the torturers"? I believe that he is referring to the physical and mental pain that God brings upon his disobedient sinning children. To not be forgiving is to be disobedient - it is to sin.

Matthew 18:35 (NKJV) "So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses."

Here Jesus applies the principles of the parable to us. My father will do this same thing to you if you don't forgive each other. This parable teaches us that we should be willing to forgive any and all offenses, because we have been forgiven so much. It also teaches that if we don't forgive, we will not be forgiven. We won't lose our salvation, judicially we are forgiven forever. But relationally, we will be separated from fellowship, and put under chastening until we are willing to forgive. Is that how you want to spend your days on earth, a tormented believer? It's your choice!

If forgiveness is so important, we had better understand what it is. What does forgiveness look like? What isn't it? We have heard from Jesus that it is essential. It is not icing of the cake of Christianity. If we don't experience it and offer it to others, we will suffer the consequence in this life. So it is tremendously important to know what this is that is so essential to our spiritual welfare.

Thomas Watson, who wrote about 300 years ago, gave us a great definition of forgiveness. He is commenting on the Lord's model prayer, "Forgive us our debts as we for give our debtors," and asks, "When do we forgive others?" His answer is, "When we strive against all thoughts of revenge; when we will not do our enemies mischief, but wish well to them, grieve at their calamities, pray for them, seek reconciliation with them, and show ourselves ready on all occasions to relieve them." (Thomas Watson, Body of Divinity, p. 581)

This is a very Biblical definition of forgiveness. Each of its parts come from a passage of scripture.

1. Resist thoughts of revenge:

Romans 12:19 (NKJV) Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord.

2. Don't seek to do them mischief:

1 Thessalonians 5:15 (NKJV) See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.

3. Wish well to them:

Luke 6:28 (NKJV) "bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.

4. Grieve at their calamities:

Proverbs 24:17 (NKJV) Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles;

5. Pray for them:

Matthew 5:44 (NKJV) "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,

6. Seek reconciliation with them:

Romans 12:18 (NKJV) If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.

7. Be always willing to come to their relief:

Exodus 23:4 (NKJV) "If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again.

Here is forgiveness: when you feel that you or someone you care about has been wronged, forgiveness means resisting revenge, not returning evil for evil, wishing them well, grieving at their calamities, praying for their welfare, seeking reconciliation so far as it depends on you, and coming to their aid in distress.

Now that we know what forgiveness is, let's look at what it is not.

1. Forgiveness is not the absence of anger at sin. It is not feeling good about what was bad.

A pastor tells about a woman in his church whom he noticed, after he came to the church, never came to communion. He probed and found that 15 years earlier she had been separated from her husband, because he repeatedly beat her and sexually abused their children. She said that every time she came to communion, she would remember what he had done and feel so angry at what it cost her children that she felt unworthy to take communion. This was over a decade later.

The pastor said to her, "You are not expected to feel good about what happened. Anger against sin and its horrible consequences is fitting up to a point. But you don't need to hold on to that in a vindictive way that desires harm for your husband. You can hand it over to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23) again and again, and pray for the transformation of your husband. Forgiveness is not feeling good about horrible things." And he encouraged her to forgive him in this way, if she hadn't, and to take communion as she handed her anger over to God and prayed for her husband.

2. Forgiveness is not the absence of serious consequences for sin.

In other words, sending a person to jail does not mean you are unforgiving to him.

We may at times have to discipline a child in the home, or a person in the church, or a criminal in society. We may prescribe painful consequences in each case, and not have an unforgiving spirit. The Biblical evidence for this is found in numerous places.

One example, is found in the book of Hebrews. On the one hand, the book teaches that all Christians are forgiven for their sins; but on the other hand, it teaches that our heavenly Father disciplines us, sometimes severely:

Hebrews 12:6 (NKJV) For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives."
Hebrews 12:10 (NKJV) For they [Our earthly fathers] indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.

So our sins are forgiven and forgotten in the sense that they no longer bring down the wrath of a judge, but not in the sense that they no longer bring down the painful spanking of a Father. So forgiveness is not the absence of serious consequences for sin.

In closing, I'd like to share with you a true story that illustrates the necessity and power of forgiveness:

Elizabeth Morris had been sitting up late in the evening two days before Christmas in 1982, waiting for her son, Ted, to come home from his temporary job at a shopping mall. He had just completed his first semester at college and was working to get some extra money during the Christmas break.
But at 10:40 p.m., Elizabeth got the telephone call that all parents fear. 'Mrs. Morris, this is the hospital,' said the voice. 'Your son has been in an accident.'
As it turned out, another young man who had been driving drunk - in fact, whose blood-alcohol level was three times the legal limit - had crossed the highway's center line and smashed head-on into Ted's car. The drunk driver was only slightly injured, but before the night was over, eighteen-year-old Ted Morris was dead.
Elizabeth and her husband, Frank, were devastated. Ted was their only child, a well-behaved son with a bright future, and suddenly he was gone. The Morris' anger escalated when the twenty-four-year-old man who killed Ted was given probation for his crime. Elizabeth said that the hatred within her was like a wildfire sweeping down a dry canyon, consuming every part of her.
Elizabeth Morris began replaying the videotape of that night like a horror movie, over and over again. She ached for revenge. Sometimes she would fantasize about driving down the street and encountering Tommy Pigage, the man who killed her son. She would imagine hitting him with her car, pinning him up against a tree, and watching him suffer in agony as she slowly crushed him to death.
She spent a lot of her spare time actually tracking Tommy to see if she could catch him violating the terms of his probation, so he would be sent to prison. Over time, her bitterness and negative attitude began to drive a wedge between her and her husband. It began to chase away her friends. It drained away her ability to laugh and enjoy life.
Elizabeth described it as a cancer that was eating away at her from the inside. She desperately wanted help, but it was some time before she discovered the only cure. Elizabeth came to the realization that her heavenly Father also had lost his only Son. Any yet, when Jesus was suffering on the cross - before he died as payment for Elizabeth's own wrongdoing - he looked at the merciless soldiers who were in charge of torturing him and said, 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.'
That's when Elizabeth knew it was time for her - as an act of her will - to offer forgiveness to the man who killed her only son. So that's what she did. And over time, as her attitude began to change, not only was she rescued from her caustic bitterness, but she and her husband were actually to build a relationship with their son's killer. In fact, it was their friendship that influenced Tommy Pigage to begin following Jesus and turn his life around.
As unbelievable as it sounds, Elizabeth's husband, a part-time preacher, ended up baptizing Tommy, and as Tommy emerged from beneath the water, symbolizing the renewal of his life through Christ, they hugged and sobbed. Later he presided at Tommy's wedding. Today the Morrises ride to church every Sunday with Tommy and his wife, and together they worship the God of the second chance. (Lee Strobel, God's Outrageous Claims, pp. 13-14)
That true story vividly illustrates the truth of the parable we just looked at. Do you think that the Morris' attitude of forgiveness toward Tommy brings glory to God? Sure it does! Their forgiving spirit demonstrates the power of God to all who know them.

Believers, we stand daily in need of forgiveness. And we need to constantly pray, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors". A literal meaning of this is: "Forgive us our sins in proportion as we forgive those who have sinned against us." If we pray this petition with unforgiveness toward some, we are asking God not to forgive us. Think about that.

This prayer is a reminder to us that we daily need God's forgiveness and that if we are not forgiving to others, we will not be forgiven by God.

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