The Lord’s Prayer: Forgive Us Matthew 6:9-15
3/27/2019 5:21:58 AM
March 24, 2019
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: Matthew 6:9-15
Does anybody here have credit card debt? Or a line of credit? What about a mortgage? Student debt? Imagine calling up your credit card company, or mortgage holder, whomever; imagine calling them up and just asking them to cancel your debt. How ludicrous would that be? What kind of gall would you have to have to just ask your lender to cancel your debt? Wouldn’t that be crazy?!?
Wouldn’t it be even crazier if they said yes?!?
We’re working through a series on the Lord’s Prayer. Today we are looking at the 5th petition, the one about forgiveness. This petition has also caused a lot of angst, hand wringing and confusion too, but we’ll get to that.
What It Says
What does this passage say? Let’s consider a couple terms in the text that we might too easily take for granted. In Matthew’s version, we have the words “debt” and “debtors.” In Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, we have the word “trespasses” – “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those indebted to us.” What’s the difference?
The Aramaic word for “sin” indicates a monetary debt. The usual Greek word indicates a “false step.” Thus we get “debts” and “trespasses.” So in their Greek writing, Matthew maintains the idea of a debt and Luke indicates a false step. [France, p. 136] In either language, the idea is our sins, our wrong doing. Matthew’s word emphasises those things we’ve failed to do, Luke’s emphasises actual wrongs done. [Bruner, p. 251] When we sin against someone, whether an overt act or a failure to act when we should, we owe that person a debt.
But sin is something much deeper than that too. Sin is about our broken relationship with God that is then reflected in our relationships with one another. Sin is the fallen state of our nature, our inner disposition of rebellion against God and his lordship reflected in our thoughts, desires, will, feelings and actions.
This definition is a bit of a mouthful, but a helpful, robust definition of sin. Because sin isn’t just about what we do! That’s the mistake the Pharisees made in Jesus’ day. They did all the right things, they avoided all the bad things, but their hearts were still in rebellion against God as demonstrated in their pride, conceit, self-righteousness, etc. They may cross the street to avoid contact with a woman, but they lusted after women in their hearts- their thoughts and imaginations were in rebellion against God.
Think about this in light of the Lord’s Prayer- we owe God a debt- not only for our wrong actions, but also for our general rebellion against him! He is our rightful lord, we owe him our allegiance but we rebel against him, committing treason. We owe God a debt, even if we are “good people.” This is the problem of sin that runs so deep throughout humanity!
That’s what we need to think about when it comes to sin- but what about forgiveness? Forgiveness means giving up our right to retribution. This is really helpful as a definition for a couple of reasons. First, it identifies that a wrong has been done! There is a retribution owed. Or, working with our text, there is a debt owed. This is very different than saying, “It’s ok.” Saying “It’s ok” means there was nothing wrong done, there is no debt owed, no right to retribution, whether that retribution is as mild as an apology or something more serious.
Also, this definition identifies that the offended party has a right to that retribution or debt. Sometimes we struggle with forgiveness because we actually do have a right! The right is “mine” so it is up to me to give it up. And giving up our rights can be hard.
“Forgive us… as we also have forgiven” can mean “in the present moment.” [France, p. 136] A lot of ink has been spilled over this one word “as.” Does it mean we have to have already forgiven? Is this some kind of works righteousness? Does it mean we earn our forgiveness by forgiving others first? We’ll get into this more in a few minutes, but for now it’s enough to know that the grammar here can mean that we are forgiving others
even as we pray for forgiveness ourselves. What really matters is that we see that forgiveness cannot be a one-way process.
This is the importance of v. 14-15! The order of forgiveness, “as we have forgiven,” is less important than the “insincerity of a prayer for forgiveness for an unforgiving disciple.” [France, p. 136] If we are holding on to the debts others owe us, it is hypocritical to then ask God to let go of the debts we owe him!
What It Means
What does this mean, then, when we ask God for forgiveness, “as we forgive those who sin against us”? We must remember this prayer begins with “Our Father.” – Not all people can call God “Father.” This is a prayer for people who have made a life-altering decision to follow Jesus and be transformed to be more like him in character. This decision, this life-altering change really begins when we, ourselves, come to God and ask him to forgive our sins on account of Jesus’ death on the cross. When we come to God as our loving Dad, the Dad we wish our earthly dads could be, it is in the context of already having turned away from our rebellion and seeking forgiveness for our sin through Jesus.
Our forgiveness of others is built on the foundation of having already been forgiven by Jesus. This prayer is not a “one time” prayer, but a daily prayer for Christians, for followers of Jesus to pray. The “bulk” of our sin has already been forgiven in Christ Jesus. But we continue to fall into sin, our hearts still rebel against God, so we continue to need forgiveness. Therefore, it is in light of our sins having been forgiven that we then forgive others. So this is also a daily prayer to forgive others, being reminded of the forgiveness we have already received!
It is radical to see Jesus teach us to merely ask for forgiveness. We must not take this for granted! In Jesus’ day, Jews thought of sin in terms of “debts” owed. Rabbis taught that ever sin created a debt owed to God. Accumulation of this debt creates a barrier between us and God. So far so good! This is accurate. BUT they also taught that righteous deeds (following the OT Law) formed a bridge over this barrier between us and God. [Bruner, p. 251] So imagine the surprise in the ears of Jesus’ listeners to “just” ask God “Forgive us our debts…” It’s like where we started- imagine calling your credit card company, or mortgage lender and just asking them to cancel your debt…. And they do it!
Prior massive forgiveness of sin is what makes the Lord’s Prayer possible to pray at all. Sin is such a huge problem. We cannot overcome it on our own, no matter the righteous works we do! It takes an outside party to pay the debt we owe. It required Jesus coming to earth, living a sinless life, dying on a cross and being resurrected for the problem of sin to be solved. This is WELL beyond what we can do on our own. It is an act of grace by God. It is an act of self-giving love primarily concerned with our well-being.
Since we cannot earn forgiveness of our sin, God must offer it to us for the asking if we are to be saved. It is in light of God’s massive forgiveness of us that we are called to forgive others. This is what we must be reminded of as we pray this prayer. As we review our own sins and that we can be forgiven by God, what we are owed takes on a new light and we forgive others.
Our forgiveness of others is a consequence of our having been forgiven. [Bruner, p. 253] Note, too, that it is in prayer that we forgive others. We need divine help to forgive others because it goes against our selfish, sinful nature to forgive. It takes the Holy spirit’s work in us to forgive others consistently and fully.
Jesus is teaching that failure to forgive others shows that one has not felt the saving touch of God. This is why Jesus continues with v. 14-15. This is also the meaning of the parable of the unforgiving servant- who has been forgiven greatly, but refuses to forgive a fellow servant, and his own debt is returned to him!
The saving grace of God is so radical that it not only changes our relationship with God but with other people too. This is what our experience of salvation in Christ should be like. This is God’s goal for salvation because our alienation from him, our rebellion against him affects all of our relationships, and so the salvation God provides for our sin must also affect all of our relationships.
And the Lord’s Prayer serves as a daily prayer containing a daily reminder of our need for forgiveness and our need to forgive others! Remember “our” Father, forgive “our” sins- this is a prayer for the individual and for the Christian community! Pray that all our relationships be restored and that as a body of believers our relationships would be examples of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Ravi Zacharias, in his book “Can Man Live Without God?” shares a poem from an unknown elementary school teacher:
He came to my desk with a quivering lip,
the lesson was done.
“Have you a new sheet for me, dear teacher?
I’ve spoiled this one.”
I took his sheet, all soiled and blotted
and gave him a new one all unspotted.
And into his tired heart I cried,
“Do better now, my child.”
I went came to the throne with a trembling heart;
the day was done.
“Have you a new day for me, dear Master?
I’ve spoiled this one.”
He took my day, all soiled and blotted
and gave me a new one all unspotted.
And into my tired heart he cried,
“Do better now, my child.”
Jesus invites us to come to God daily in prayer seeking forgiveness. Asking God for forgiveness is part of repentance- part of adjusting our trajectory so that we are headed straight toward God. We are invited to daily practice repentance, seeking forgiveness but ALSO practicing forgiveness in our other relationships too.
Just as in the poem, we are not told we must earn the forgiveness. It is granted for the asking. But ongoing forgiveness means cooperating with the Holy Spirit to become more like Jesus, offering forgiveness to others and being transformed in our character to be more like Jesus.
What about forgiveness and injustice? This is where the definition of forgiveness is so helpful- giving up our right to retribution- not saying what happened is ok! When we forgive, we can still fight for justice, but in a dramatically different way. Many times, when people fight for justice, when they get justice, when the tables are turned, the formerly oppressed become oppressors themselves! Forgiveness breaks the cycle of oppression and injustice.
We see the cycle around us in the world all the time. When people seek to collect on the debt they are owed, when they’re given the power to do that, they collect in such a way that they then incur a debt themselves! Those on the bottom get to be on top and take revenge on those who used to be on top. That’s the cycle! Forgiveness breaks the cycle of revenge. It still fights for justice, but in a non-vengeful way. Forgiveness actually goes a long way to justice for all!
Ask yourself: For what have I been forgiven? Examine your heart. Examine your life. What has God forgiven you for? This should be both humbling and encouraging! When we know what we’ve been forgiven for, it reminds us of God’s grace, his merciful character and his love for us.
For what do I need forgiveness? Some here are not Christians. Some here have not yet asked Jesus to forgive their sins. You haven’t surrendered to Jesus as the master of your life. Examine your life. Examine your heart. What debt do you owe God? In what ways are you in rebellion against him? You owe him a debt you cannot hope to pay! But Jesus has paid that debt for you! Will you accept that forgiveness?
For those of us who know Jesus, what do you need forgiveness for this week? What do you need forgiveness for today? Bring it to Jesus.
What do I need to forgive? What have others done to me, or failed to do for me that has created a debt? What am I holding on to? It’s OK to name the debt you are owed! You have a right to retribution, to repayment, to having that debt paid. Forgiveness is not saying what happened to you is ok. It doesn’t even “let the other person off the hook.” You can still confront and seek reconciliation.
But God chose to give up his right to retribution on you. In fact, he not only gave it up, he took that retribution on himself! And, as Martin Luther pointed out, when we practice forgiving others, it is an encouraging sign that the Spirit of God is at work within us! It is tangible evidence of God’s forgiveness of us! [Bruner, p. 253]
Jesus invites us to daily ask God to pick up the broken pieces of our lives and restore to us the joy of our salvation. Incorporate repentance into your daily prayer life. Ask for forgiveness and as you realign your life with Jesus, realign your heart towards those who owe you a debt, who have trespassed against you. As you realign
your heart this way, God will restore to you the joy of salvation!
Let us pray together:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,Your kingdom come,Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
In Jesus name, amen!
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