STUDIES IN THE LORD'S PRAYER

Copyright © Rosemary Bardsley 2002

STUDY EIGHT: AS WE FORGIVE

'as we also have forgiven our debtors' - 'as we forgive everyone who sins against us'

A. WHAT THIS PRAYER DOES NOT MEAN

[1] This prayer does not mean that we have the authority to forgive sins . The text refers to our forgiving the person , not the sins. Only God has the authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:6). In other words, we do not cancel the sin that has, at the bottom line, been sinned against God; all we do is forgive the person for the offence they have caused us.

[2] This prayer does not mean that our eternal salvation is based on/caused by our forgiving those who sin against us . The Scripture makes it clear in many places that salvation is not because of anything that we have done, but grounded on and caused by the grace and mercy of our God through the sacrificial, substitutionary death of his Son, Jesus Christ.

[3] This prayer does not mean that we will lose our salvation if we have not forgiven everybody who sins against us. Romans 4:16 states that our salvation is 'guaranteed' because it comes by faith, and not by anything that we do.

[4] This prayer does not mean that God will only forgive our sins if we have verbally expressed forgiveness to each individual person who has hurt or wronged us. This would require constant verbal expressions of forgiveness for people are constantly doing things that, when viewed from a performance based, tit-for-tat mindset, give offence to us, or intrude on our 'rights', in some way or another.

B. AN EXAMPLE OF SOMEONE WHO FAILED TO FORGIVE - MATTHEW 18:21-35

[1] Peter raises the question of forgiveness: 'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?' (18:21).

[2] Jesus' reply indicates that Peter (contrary to his own perceived generosity) is totally on the wrong wave length, still stuck in a performance mindset, still mentally within the kingdom of this world and not thinking in the mindset of the kingdom of heaven: 'I do not say to you "up to seven times" but "up to seventy times seven" because in the kingdom of heaven this is what it is like ... ' (18:22,23a).

[3] To teach Peter of the operating principles of the kingdom of heaven, Jesus speaks of a servant's destitution: he owed his master 'millions of dollars' and he 'had nothing with which to pay'. In addition, the penalty is extreme (18:24,25). This refers to the position in which every human being stands in the presence of God: we are utterly destitute spiritually, and we owe an unpayable debt (incurred by our sins) to God. There is no way we can make good the debt. In addition, the penalty is extreme.

  • Romans 3:20 states: 'no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin'.
  • Romans 3:23:'all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God'.
  • Romans 5:6:'when we were powerless ... '
  • Galatians 3:10: 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law'.
  • Romans 6:23: 'the wages of sin is death

God knows how spiritually bankrupt we are. God knows the magnitude of our debt.

[4] The servant is blissfully unaware of the enormity of his debt and the desperation of his situation. He says: 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back everything.' (18:26). In his ignorance of his destitution, in his ignorance of the size of the debt, he asks for 'patience' - in other words, he asks the master to give him enough time and he will get the money - 'everything'. And he really believes he can do it. Millions of dollars - he has no idea what that much money means, so he makes this inane request for 'patience', for time, believing that he has the ability to make good the debt.

Here Jesus teaches us of our own ignorant and arrogant pride in which we think that we can merit the favour of God and by our own good deeds and obedience make up for our sins. Here we stand accused of all self-thinking in which we believe that we gain credit points with God by our works and that these will reduce the debit balance caused by our sin.

[5] The master, in an act of overwhelming compassion, cancels the debt (18:27). Knowing the absolute impossibility of the servant's ever paying the debt, the master, putting aside the servant's pitiful plea for 'patience', responds instead with deep compassion - the NIV word 'pity' completely fails to convey the power and depth of the word, which means to be moved from the very depths of one's being. He doesn't give the servant 'time' - still expecting the eventual payment of the debt, still maintaining the existence of the debt, still viewing the servant as a debtor - he cancels the debt. He writes it off. He no longer expects payment. He no longer exacts the penalty for non-payment. The servant, as far as the master is concerned, is free of debt, free of all the obligation that debt entailed.

Here the Lord Jesus teaches us of the nature of God's forgiveness of our sins: he knows, in a way we never will, the size of our offence. He knows, in a way we never will, the absolutely impossibility of our ever being 'good enough' to rule out the debt by our own righteousness. So he provides for us in Christ complete forgiveness of the debt: he cancels it, takes it out of the way, nailing it to the cross of Christ where it is paid in full (Read: Colossians 2:13-14; 1 Peter 2:24). As a result of the incredible action, we stand in his presence guilt free- with nothing to pay for, nothing to make amends for. In this great forgiveness nothing remains hanging over us, there is now no condemnation, no accusation (Read: John 3:18a; 5:24; Romans 8:1,31-34).

[6] The servant utterly failed to understand what the master had done. Immediately he goes out and tries to make good the debt (18:28-30). His mind is totally focused on his need to get 'millions of dollars', so, when the first person he sees is one who owes him a couple of dollars, he grabs him and demands payment, and when payment is not forthcoming, imposes the penalty for non-payment.

[7] His fellow servants, aware of what the master had just done for him, are instantly aware of the wrongness and incongruity of what he has done (18:31). It just does not fit. He has been forgiven millions of dollars, he has been released not only from ever having to pay the debt but also from the penalty for non-payment, and here he is holding a two dollar debt against his mate and exacting the penalty for non-payment. Surely, if his enormous debt has been cancelled, he should act with the same compassion and generosity to this man who owes him a pittance! Surely he should have gone out with exuberant joy and real peace, totally released from that tit-for-tat, I'll stand up for my rights, you-pay-me-what-you-owe-me mindset! He has totally failed to hear what the master has said, or, if he has heard it, he has not believed it. It has not entered his head that he actually does not have to pay the debt. Because he is still relating to his master as one who must still pay the debt, he relates to his neighbour with the same mindset. He has, in fact, not received the forgiveness that has been announced; he therefore cannot, and does not, pass it on. In his own mind and heart he still sees himself as one who has to pay the debt, and he acts accordingly.

[Revealed in the servant's actions is a failure/refusal to believe that the master really meant what he said; in other words, this servant does not believe the words of the master. His action towards the neighbour is an expression of his own disbelief.]

Here the Lord Jesus is teaching us that the mindset of the kingdom of heaven, of which every true believer is a member, stands in contrast to the mindset of this world and to the mindset of the kingdom from which we have been delivered. There is a whole new set of operating principles. As Paul states in Romans we have been set free from 'the law of sin and death' (8:2) by the 'law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus'. Sin and death no longer reign, rather 'grace reigns' (5:17-21). The performance mindset, in which we relate to God and others on the basis of what we and they are in ourselves, is not the mindset of the kingdom; rather, the mindset of the kingdom is to relate to God and each other always on the basis of who we are in Christ through the regenerating operation of the Spirit. (Read: 2 Corinthians 5:14-17; Romans 8:1-17 - be sure to read 'flesh' - which is what the Greek means - instead of 'sinful nature', which is an interpretation of the text. For extensive study on the mindsets of the two kingdoms check through the Studies on Romans on this website.)

[8] The master, recognizing by the actions and attitude of the servant that he has contemptuously despised and disbelieved the announced cancellation of the debt, treats him accordingly (18:32-34).

[9] Jesus closes off this parable with the words 'This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart' (18:35). Those who have really received forgiveness will forgive. Those who have really believed that God does not exact payment from them, will not exact payment from others. Those who, by the grace of God now live in the kingdom of grace where grace reigns, will be ruled by that grace in their attitudes to others. Those who, by the grace of God in Christ, have been set free of the penalty and obligations incurred by sin, will, because of that same grace, set their brother/sisters free, ceasing to pay them out with any sort of retribution, malice, vindictiveness or revenge.

Is Jesus here contradicting the gospel of grace? By no means. Rather he is identifying the unavoidable fruit of the gospel of grace. Forgiveness will bring forth the fruit of forgiveness. In the same way John tells us 'Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness ... whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness ... the darkness has blinded him' (1 John 2:9-11). The evidence that one is in the kingdom of light is that one lives according to the light. The evidence that one has received forgiveness is that one forgives. To have received and understood forgiveness from God and at the same time persistently and consistently refuse to forgive our neighbours is a Biblical impossibility.

For this reason Jesus, having given the disciples 'the Lord's prayer', added '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' (Matthew 6:14,15).

C. WHAT ARE WE PRAYING WHEN WE PRAY THIS PRAYER?

[1] We are acknowledging that the sum total of our sin against God, which he has forgiven through Christ, is so great that we have no idea of its size and the size of our spiritual destitution, and that compared to this great offence, the offence of our brother against us is so insignificant as to be ludicrous, and that for us to hold this insignificant sin against him, when God has forgiven us that, is totally contrary to the mindset of the Gospel.

[2] We are recognizing that the one who has sinned against us is, like ourselves, a sinner, whose only hope of salvation is the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. We do not hold over him the accusations and penalty of the law which God, for Christ's sake, has ceased to hold over us. Rather we consider all his offences against us to be nailed, along with our offences against God, to the cross of Christ, where their penalty has been paid in full (Colossians 2:13-14).

[3] We are acknowledging that, just as we are not rejected or punished by God for our sins, so we do not reject and punish the one who sins against us - that we are committed to relate to that person on the same basis as God relates to us, that is, on the basis of the cross-work of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:32-5:2; Colossians 3:13).

[4] That just as we relate to God only and always through the mediatorial, reconciling work of Jesus Christ, so we also relate to our brother always and only through that same mediatorial, reconciling work (2 Corinthians 5:14-6:2).

[5] Thus we are acknowledging in this prayer, that by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ we have been delivered from the dominion of darkness where the law of retribution was in place, and are now members of the kingdom of Jesus where there is freedom from that rule (Colossians 1:13-14). There the mindset was 'death'. Here the mindset is 'life and peace' (Romans 8:6).

[6] We are submitting to the command of the Scripture which says: 'Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus ... ' (Philippians 2:5), who 'when they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly' (1 Peter 2:23); so we are commanded: 'Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. ... Do not repay anyone evil for evil. ... Do not take revenge ... but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay." Says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. ... " Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good' (Romans 12:14,17,19-21).

[7] We are, as the previous reference indicates, trusting God with the justice or fairness of the matter. If the 'offending' person is a believer, then their sins have already been nailed to the cross, Christ has already taken the full punishment for them. If the person is a non-believer, then, if they never come to repentance, God will bring them to justice on the judgement day or before. We leave that in his hands. The justice aspect is not our responsibility: forgiving is, and we acknowledge that in this prayer.

PERSONAL CHALLENGE:

Identify key thoughts that block forgiveness and suggest contra thoughts that will overcome them:
Forgiveness blocker
Forgiveness motivator
Scripture

Focusing on 'my rights'

We are to display mind of Christ who gave up his 'rights'

Philippians 2:1-11

'It isn't fair'

  

'Why should he/she get away with it?'

  

Feeling sorry for myself

  

Standing up for someone I love

  

Felt need to pay back/retaliate

  

Anger

  

Feeling of personal hurt

  

Believing I am 'good'

  

Believing I merit God's acceptance