“Forgive Us Our Debts” Matthew 6:12 August 8, 2010
INTRO: Jay Adams is an influential Christian counselor. In one of his books
he quotes the administrator of a large psychiatric hospital who told him,
“Half of my patients could be released tomorrow,
if they could be assured that they are forgiven.”
Try to imagine all of the troubled minds that psychiatrist encountered in his
work over the years. How he must have probed and questioned to try to
understand why this or that person was unable to cope with life.
And time and time again, at least half of the time,
when he got down to the very bottom, he discovered guilt.
I imagine that for many it was guilt over the way they had treated people—
their children, or their parents, or maybe their spouse.
Perhaps guilt over some act of cruelty or sexual deviance.
Guilt over their betrayals and broken promises.
Guilt over opportunities squandered away.
How did our confession put it this morning?
Things undone that we ought to have done
And things done that we ought not to have done.”
And for these troubled souls, there is only one cure for guilt—
to be forgiven and to be assured of that forgiveness.
Guilt doesn’t send most people to the psychiatric hospital.
Most people learn to repress it.
Remember that great line in Gone With the Wind when Scarlet says:
“I guess I’ve done murder, but I’ll think about that tomorrow.
But that guilt is still there. It can influence the way you parent your children,
the way you spend your money, the way you relate to your spouse.
Guilt drives some people to alcoholism and gluttony.
It drives others to compulsive work and concern for body image.
Guilt has a terrible power. Nothing can rob it of that power except forgiveness.
And not only is being forgiven a matter of life and death—
extending forgiveness is as well.
There are many, many people who have been wronged by another—
truly wronged and hurt very badly.
Like the betrayed spouse, or the neglected child,
or the cheated business partner.
But after that hurt they make things worse by poisoning their own souls
with bitterness and fantasies of revenge.
They refuse to forgive. And that can harm and twist a person
just as much as the guilt over not being forgiven.
It turns them cynical and angry and unable to open their hearts to love.
I’m sure every one of us knows at least one person who has
hurt themselves by refusing to forgive a wrong done to them.
We noted last week that the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are about God.
Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done.
Then the last three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are about us.
Give us our daily bread. Forgive us our debts. Lead us not into temptation.
The Lord Jesus is teaching us the importance of praying for ourselves.
First, he says, pray for your daily bread.
Ask your heavenly Father to supply all your needs.
Bring to him daily your concerns about the things of life.
Then second, Jesus says, pray for forgiveness.
Calvin says that in this second half of the Lord’s Prayer,
these three petitions that Jesus tells us to pray for ourselves,
are ascending in importance.
He teaches us to start with the needs of the body,
and then move on to the needs of the soul.
If that’s right, then being forgiven by God is more important than daily bread.
And not just being forgiven—extending forgiveness.
It’s not just “Forgive us our debts.”
It’s “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
And that takes on even more importance when you read the words of Jesus right
after the Lord’s Prayer when he very clearly suspends our forgiveness by God
on whether or not we forgive other people from the heart.
Are you are forgiven and forgiving person? Is this a matter of daily prayer?
Let’s look at this under three points:
1. Understanding forgiveness 2. Asking forgiveness 3. Extending forgiveness
And hopefully see how this relates to
MP#1 Understanding forgiveness
I’m sure you’ve noticed that when some churches say the Lord’s Prayer
they say, “Forgive us our debts” and others say, “Forgive us our trespasses.”
In Luke 11 the word trespasses is used. Here in Matthew 6 it’s the word debts.
Those are just two different ways of talking about the same thing—
sin against God and other people.
But the word debts does give insight into the nature of sin and forgiveness.
Suppose some kids are playing ball in your neighborhood—
one puts a baseball through your living room window.
He’s in your debt. He owes you for that broken window.
You can make him pay—or you can forgive him.
If you forgive him, the debt doesn’t disappear. The window still has to be fixed.
But who pays it? You do. You absorb the cost.
Let’s go a step deeper: What if someone has not just broken a window—
what if he has broken something much more precious?
What if he has broken your happiness by his cruelty?
Or shattered your dreams with lies?
Or damaged your good name, or hurt people you love?
When a person wrongs you deeply, he’s in your debt. He owes you.
It’s not a monetary debt, but it’s still a real debt. It’s a moral debt.
It’s the price of very precious things that often can never be recovered.
What if a child is abused? His innocence and happiness taken from him.
There is no way to put a price on that in dollars but there is clearly a debt owed.
What does it mean to forgive someone who has wronged you like that?
What’s the cost that has to be paid? We’re going to answer that a bit later.
Before we get there, we need to go one step deeper.
What’s the debt of your sin against God? He gave you life and breath.
He commands you to love him and love your neighbor as yourself.
And instead you’ve lived a selfish life. Look at the Ten Commandments.
You’ve broken every one of them in thought, word or deed.
When the law is broken, somebody has to pay.
The Bible makes it clear that the debt for breaking God’s law is death.
Are you going to pay that? How?
By trying to be a good person? Even if you could be perfect from this moment
(which you can’t!), that wouldn’t pay the debt for your past sins.
The good news is that God paid. God paid by sending his own Son to the cross.
And Jesus paid. He willingly suffered the hell on the cross to pay the debt
for all your sins—past, present, and future.
The way that payment is applied to your debt is by faith in Jesus Christ.
But believing in him. Trusting him. When you do, you become united with him.
Are you personally trusting in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only
payment for your sins? Or are you trying to pay for your sins by being good?
Jesus paid it all, and you can have complete forgiveness in him alone.
That brings us to the Lord’s Prayer. If we’ve been forgiven by the cross,
then why does Jesus teach us to pray daily for forgiveness?
Because our salvation is both justification and adoption.
If you trust Jesus, you are already forgiven of all your sins—past, present, future.
That completed forgiveness is called justification.
Justification is a judicial act of God whereby he pardons all of our sins
on account of what Jesus Christ has done on our behalf.
God acts as a judge and says: You deserve to die and go to hell for your sins.
But if you have faith in my Son, I declare that his death on the cross counts as
your death and perfect life counts as your life.
When God looks at you through Christ, it is just as if you had never sinned.
In fact, he sees you clothed in the perfection of his Son.
But your salvation is also adoption. In adoption God relates to us as a father.
That’s where you live the Christian life day by day—
in the family of God, as his sons and daughters.
And as your Father, God expects you to obey him and love him.
When you don’t, when you sin, you break fellowship with your Father.
You incur his displeasure, and suffer the guilt of that.
If you let wrongs and hurts and pile up in a family what happens?
In the popular terminology of the day—you have a dysfunctional family.
Unhappiness at every level. Lack of communication. Distrust. Selfishness.
What happens when Christian let wrongs pile up against their heavenly Father,
and against other people—you develop a dysfunctional soul and suffer guilt.
So in one sense, forgiveness is the way you get into the Christian life.
The debt has been paid by Christ and you receive compete forgiveness
of all your sins by faith.
But in another sense, forgiveness is the way we live the Christian life.
Daily confession, repentance, and asking our Father for forgiveness.
That brings us to the second point
MP#2 Asking forgiveness
How do you ask for forgiveness from your heavenly Father?
Do you just say—Dear God, Forgive me of all my sins. Amen.
That’s often what we do in prayer.
Just a general request to God to bless us and forgive us of all of our sins,
before we drift off to sleep.
But is that how you would ask for forgiveness from another person,
especially a person very close to you?
Just a short, general request. Please forgive me for all I’ve done to you.
No. You have to be much more specific than that. And you have to humble
yourself before that person and open yourself up to his or her questions.
I’ve told several of you this story. A few years ago I had some chest pains and
Dr. Lee recommended a stress test. I had to go to the hospital for the test
and I didn’t want anybody to know. So I parked in the back and slipped in.
For the test they put monitors on your chest and then you have to run on a treadmill
for about 15 minutes. I was in bad shape and so by the end of the test I was
flushed and sweating. But I got back in my shirt and blazer to leave.
And who should I bump into on the way out but Gloria Edwards!
She said: Andrew, what are you doing here?
I lied. “I’m a volunteer chaplain at the hospital.”
She said: Well, who are you visiting?
That required another lie. “Sometimes I have to come out here for meetings.”
I could feel sweat running down my face and Gloria was looking at me funny.
Somehow I made my escape.
But my conscience was bothering me so I called her the next day and said:
Gloria, I have a confession to make. I wasn’t at the hospital on chaplain business.
She said: I knew you lying! I said: Will you forgive me for lying to you?
Of course, she wasn’t going to let me off that easy. Why were you there?
Why didn’t you want to tell me about the test? When will you get results?
Promise me you won’t lie to me again.
Ok. Now, will you forgive me? I already have.
That’s a humorous example. And honestly, it wasn’t very painful.
I’ve had to make much harder confessions that I would never share from the pulpit.
But I think it’s a good illustration of the necessary parts of confession.
First, confession to our heavenly Father must be specific.
We have a general confession of sin in the worship service.
The church has done that since the days of Moses.
But when it comes to your private prayer with God—he wants specific confession.
He wants you to ask for forgiveness for specific sins of your thought,
words, and deeds. Specific things you have done that you ought not to have done.
And thing you have left undone that you ought to have done.
For example, if you have said mean things to your spouse—confess that.
And second, as you confess, listen for God’s questions that lead you to deeper
repentance. He’s going to probe through your conscience and the Holy Spirit.
Why did you do that? Why did you talk to your wife that way?
God, I’m arrogant. I’m selfish and I want things my way.
I so often follow the desires of my sinful nature. Forgive me of that too.
Don’t you know that you are supposed to love your wife as Christ loves church?
Yes, Lord, forgive me for that too. I was such a total failure in reflecting
the love of Christ. And I can see that this was not just a sin against her—
it was a sin against you, Lord.
Do you see how much more real that is? A wise Christian said:
“Far better that you confess some sins particularly than all sins generally,
if you would have your confessions to God be sincere.”
Third thing is that real, specific confession to your heavenly Father
will sometimes require you to confess to another person.
If you have wronged someone, you can’t just confess to God.
In order to receive full forgiveness, have to ask that person for forgiveness.
The Holy Spirit is going to prompt you: What unfinished business do you have?
You’ve asked God for forgiveness, but now you have to ask your wife.
You have to go to her and say: The way I spoke to you was wrong, please forgive.
If you ignore those promptings of the Holy Spirit, and say to yourself—
I don’t have to ask that person for forgiveness, I just have to ask God.
This is just between me and God—you’re fooling yourself.
You haven’t really confessed your sin to God, you’ve been talking to yourself—
and you will not enjoy the blessings of forgiveness.
You won’t enjoy the restoration of fellowship with your Father,
and a sense of the smile of his favor.
God continues to forgive the sins of those who are justified,
you can’t become unjustified, you can’t fall away from grace.
But as an adopted son, you can fall under his fatherly displeasure and the light of
his face will no longer shine on you—until you humble yourself,
confess your sins, ask his forgiveness, and renew your faith and repentance.
And that brings us to the third point:
MP#3 Extending forgiveness
“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors . . . For if you forgive men when they sin
against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their
sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
It’s clear, isn’t it, that part of our prayer life has to be extending forgiveness.
Refusing to forgive other people can harm your walk with God
just as much as failing to repent and ask forgiveness yourself?
As Christians, we ought to be experts on forgiveness.
We are forgiven people—that’s our identity.
We’ve been forgiven by God through Jesus Christ.
So we ought to know how to apply the forgiveness we have received from God
to the people who have wronged us.
When someone wrongs you, it’s natural to want that person to pay.
He took something from you. He is truly in your debt.
But what is the payment for a moral debt?
Listen, if someone smashes your car or breaks your window, the payment
is clear—it’s monetary. But what’s the payment for moral wrongs? Suffering.
The only way the person can really pay for moral wrong is by suffering.
He has to suffer at least as much as you have suffered,
and he has to know he is suffering because of what he did to you.
But when you focus on how this person deserves to suffer for what he did,
it can take control of you. You start to fantasize.
You fantasize that he will lose his business and all his money.
You fantasize that she will fail in her new romance and be heartbroken.
You want a punishment to fit the crime.
Maybe you are prone to more theological fantasies.
You imagine the shock this person is going to get when he stands before God
and has to answer for what he did to you.
You might not admit it, but really fantasizing about this person going to hell.
These fantasies end up poisoning your soul.
When somebody wrongs you, you can try to make him pay, or you can forgive him.
When you forgive, the debt doesn’t go away—You pay it. You suffer.
You pay through a painful internal struggle that is like death.
You give up your desire for revenge, give up all your vengeful thoughts,
and replace them with prayers for God to bless the person who wronged you.
That’s what Jesus is teaching us in the Lord’s Prayer.
There are so many powerful examples of this in church history—
Christians who have been deeply wronged
and who have prayed blessings instead of curses.
I shared this example a few years ago from Darlene Deibler’s autobiography.
She and her missionary husband were put in a Japanese prison camp in
Indonesia at the start of World War II.
The women’s camp was run by a Japanese officer name Yamaji.
He had a violent temper and would beat the women for the slightest provocation.
Darlene describes the brutal beating he gave one young woman
named Elise because she had not come to roll call quickly enough.
First he broke her wrists with his cane, and then, when she fell to the ground
he kicked her until she was temporarily paralyzed.
This is what Darlene wrote about her prayer that night:
“In weariness of spirit and emotionally drained, I stretched out on my rack, reviewing what had happened, still seeing Elise’s battered body and bruised face. Phrases from the Gospel of Matthew were going through my mind: ‘Love your enemies.’ ‘Do good to those who despitefully use you.’ ‘Pray for your enemies.’ All right, Lord, I’ll pray for him. I sincerely don’t want the man to be lost eternally—but I really would like it if you would curdle the food in his stomach tonight. How very much easier it is to be philosophical about and forgive the wrongs done to oneself than to forgive the injustices done to the people we love. With sufficient provocation, there is within each of us the potential to violence—but for the grace of Almighty God. With a prayer for God to have mercy on the man, I drifted off to sleep.”
I like the honesty of her words.
Because they show that there is a cost for forgiveness.
It’s not easy to bless those who have wronged you.
So where does the power come from? Once again, it comes from the cross.
Not only does the cross show us our sin, and that we are really no different
from the person who has wronged us. And not only does the cross show us
the greatness of our forgiveness, and how we ought to extend that.
It shows us something else.
Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God.
The only man who lived a life of perfect love, spit upon, reviled,
and pierced looking at his tormenters and praying . . .
Do you remember what he prayed?
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Those mocking him said, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!”
He could have done it. He could have sent them all straight to hell.
And if he had done it, he would have been perfectly justified.
But as Peter says: “when they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate;
when He suffered He made no threats.”
Who do you need to forgive? Listen to the teaching of Jesus then look at the cross.
Look at forgiveness in action, and then bow your head and pray for God
to forgive your debtors. You’ll pay. It will be a fight with yourself.
But you’ll be blessed.
You’ll be blessed with forgiveness. With a deeper sense of God’s forgiveness—
and your unshakable position as his beloved son or daughter.
This is how you must pray:
Father, forgive us our debts—
specifically, openly, and willing to confess to the people you’ve wronged.
And Father, enable me to forgive that person just as you’ve forgiven me.