And Forgive Us Our Debts As We Forgive Our Debtors

Most of us have recited The Lord’s Prayer since childhood. We’ve memorized it, aided perhaps by its poetic cadences and by reciting it Sunday after Sunday in church and as part of our bedtime prayers. Matthew quotes Jesus as He teaches this model for prayer during the Sermon on the Mount:

“Pray, then, in this way:

‘Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
10 ‘Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
11 ‘Give us this day our daily bread.
12 ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’] ~~Matthew 6:9-13 (NASB95)

For all the times you’ve prayed this beloved prayer, do you remember what Jesus said immediately afterwards?

14For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. ~~Matthew 6:14-15 (NASB95)

The Lord’s Prayer contains several elements, but Jesus chose to highlight the topic of forgiveness (verse 12). I can’t help wondering if He did so because forgiveness doesn’t come easily for us. When others hurt us, we instinctively want to hold them accountable for their actions. More often than we care to admit — even to ourselves — we demand vengeance. Forgiveness is the last thing we want to extend. Let me illustrate this point by telling you about a dear friend of mine.

My friend had Biblical reasons for divorcing her husband. Years after he assured her that he had repented of the adultery, she found a new letter from the same woman. Clearly, the affair had never ended, despite moving to another state (which meant uprooting their school age children). Once she found that letter, she knew that he had no intention of being faithful to her.

Her life went on after the divorce. She got a job. She made her children her priority. When her youngest reached college age, she met a wonderful man who only had eyes for her, and they had a beautiful wedding (which I missed only because I’d moved to Massachusetts by then). Despite the enormous pain her first husband had put her through, she was finally having a life filled with love and happiness. Even her blog reflected her joy in her new life.

So I did a double take when I opened her blog one afternoon and read the words, “I will never forgive my ex-husband!” Yes, he had put her and the children through terrible suffering, but so much healing had happened since the divorce that I’d assumed she’d moved past the anger. Yet I knew her well enough to realize that those words on the computer screen were much deeper than a transitory emotional outburst. She’d made a commitment to withholding forgiveness from that man! Nothing would soften her heart, and nothing would change her mind. She’d decided the hurt she’d experienced gave her an exemption from Matthew 6:15.

I think all of us can sympathize with my friend’s anger, can’t we? Maybe not many of us have suffered such a deep betrayal, but we’ve all been hurt on some level. And I suspect that few of us find the idea of forgiving someone who has hurt us to be appealing. We may recite the Lord’s Prayer, but we let our minds disengage a bit when we reach the phrase, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Sure, we want God to forgive us, but not in the way we practice forgiveness toward those who have hurt us. We want Him to be more forgiving than we are.

Jesus addressed that unforgiving attitude in a parable that I alwavs seem to come across when I’m harboring anger against someone.

23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. 26 So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ 27 And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ 30 But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. 31 So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. 32 Then summoning him, his lord *said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ 34 And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35 My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” ~~Matthew 18:23-35 (NASB95)

As I read this parable, I remember how much I’ve sinned against the Lord, even as a Christian. Nearing my 70th birthday, I’m all too aware that I’ve accumulated an astronomical amount of debt! Praise God that Jesus willingly paid my debt by shedding His innocent blood on the cross. I will alwavs be thankful for His forgiveness, knowing that I did nothing to deserve His mercy. In that light, I’m forced to admit that no one can sin against me anywhere near as greatly as I’ve sinned against Him. Therefore, when I’m arrogant enough to withhold forgiveness from another person, I become exactly like the slave in Jesus’ parable.

Christ’s mercy motivates Christians to forgive those who hurt us. We may not feel forgiving, granted, but Biblical forgiveness is less of an emotion and more of a decision put into action. Think of the government forgiving student loans as an illustration (not that I favor student loan forgiveness). The government doesn’t have any particular feelings toward the individual students they forgive. Government officials merely carry out the policies set by the legislature. Quite possibly, a few people processing those loan forgiveness claims may even feel some resentment that their tax dollars have given someone a free college and graduate school education. But the loan forgiveness is issued in obedience to government mandates. Feelings have no bearing on the action taken.

I think Christians find it hard to forgive because we forget how much the Lord has forgiven us, and also because we think forgiveness comes from our emotions. Scripture never asks us to feel forgiving, however; it simply reminds us of how bountifully God has forgiven us through Christ’s shed blood. And so, may we forgive our debtors as He forgives our debts.

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