“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” (Matthew 6: 9-13)
“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”
Like the preceding cry to God for daily bread, our prayer to God for forgiveness of our sins should also be on a daily basis. According to Dr Peter Masters, we should take note of the opening word of the petition, “And”. This little word is particularly significant as it links this petition with the previous one – “Give us this day our daily bread”. Hence, even as we pray daily for the provision of our physical needs, we must also pray for our debts to be forgiven.
The word, “debts” refers to something we owe, that must be repaid. In Luke’s Gospel, the petition varies slightly – “Forgive us our sins”. The term, “sin” means “missing the mark”. Whichever word is used – whether “debts” or “sins” – both are burdens that bring untold misery upon those who find themselves in their grip.
o The need to repent daily
This fifth petition – “And forgive us our debts” – calls for daily repentance. Having inherited the depravity of our first parents when they fell in the Garden of Eden, we all possess that same sin nature: “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51: 5). As sinners, we must rightly face God’s judgment: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3: 23). But our Saviour gave His life at Calvary and paid the debt of sin on our behalf: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6: 23). By His atoning sacrifice, Jesus justified us and cleansed us from all our sin (Rom. 4: 25; I Pet. 2: 24; Rev. 1: 5). Now we stand righteous before the holy God (Rom. 5: 18-19).
We may ask – “Through Christ’s mediatorial work, all our sins have been forgiven. Why then must we still come before God each day to confess our sins?” Though Christ has paid our debt, we continue to sin daily, resulting in the accruing of our “debts”. The word “debts” is in the plural, reflecting our innumerable sins.
We sin many times a day – both in word and deed. We also sin in many different ways. Dr Peter Masters elaborates: “We are guilty of sins of omission and sins of commission. Some sins are unplanned, as when we respond to an impulse. Other sins are cunningly planned. There are all kinds of sins. Some sins are cruel, others are flattering. There are sins of envy, sins of hate, and sins of injury to others …There are so many sins that if we do not seek cleansing every day the mountain of guilt will get so high, that we may well be swept away from Christian experience and delivered up for punishment” (Sword & Trowel 1998 No. 3).
Brethren, as we come before God each day, let us be conscious of our many sins. Examine our heart for sins of pride, anger, bitterness, malice, envy and a self-seeking or self-exalting spirit. Like the psalmist, let us pray: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: 24 And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139: 23-24). Take some time to reflect on our day and think about our weaknesses, our heart’s motives and our actions. Then, ask the Lord to help us overcome specific sins. Determine, on our part, to put away all sinful tendencies from our lives.
o The need to forgive others
When we ask our Heavenly Father to forgive us, we also tell Him that we have forgiven those who are indebted to us or who have sinned against us: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”. Forgiving our debtors means that we show no hatred, resentment, hostility or coldness towards them. It also means we will not retaliate or seek their hurt.
We cannot pray the first part of this petition – asking our Heavenly Father to forgive us – without following through with the second – declaring that we have forgiven all our “debtors”. Forgiving others is not an option but a command from the Lord: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6: 14-15); “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses” (Matt. 18: 35). The phrase, “… neither will your father forgive your trespasses” is a grim message to all who withhold forgiveness from others.
What happens if we “forgive not men their trespasses”? Dr Peter Masters answers with some strong warnings: “Clearly we have no forgiveness from God. Assurance of salvation will be surrendered (only false presumption will take its place). Blessing will be withdrawn. Conscience will become hard. Instrumentality and spiritual usefulness will die. Spiritual experience will end. Guidance will be denied. Pride will grow. Spiritual desires and tastes will fade. Character blemishes will be increased. We will see the faults of other rather than faults of our own selves, and personal repentance will be abandoned. Love for God and fellow Christians will soon disappear” (ibid).
But some may say: “I have been grievously hurt. No one will ever know the anguish and pain I’ve suffered. After all that I have been through, how can I ever forgive?” We will find it hard to forgive when we continue to nurse the grudge or dwell on the gravity of the offence. These negative feelings embitter our hearts. It is possible that as a result of the offender’s wrongdoing, we suffer losses, or even deep humiliation and hurt. But no matter how grievously we have been wronged, we must still obey God and forgive.
The fifth petition, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” requires us to repent daily of our sins as well as to forgive our debtors. Whatever the offences against us, we, as God’s children, must forgive and forget, even as God has forgiven us. Forgetting is a process. It is not easy to forget a deep hurt. But when we are willing to forgive, God heals us and helps us to forget, thus removing the pain and anguish. The relationship with the offending party is restored and we have peace with God and with man. God’s name is honoured and we are blessed because we have obeyed His command to forgive our debtors.
(… to be continued)