And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
Forgive. This word, this idea is so central to the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) that Jesus felt it necessary to elaborate on it even after He said “Amen.”
14 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
15 “But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Please note that Jesus uses two different words here. In verse 12, the Lord says “debts” but in verse 14 He says “trespasses.” In the prayer, Jesus tells us to ask forgiveness for the debt of our sin. The Greek word used in verse 12 is “οφειληματα” (“opheilemata”), which comes from a root that means “to pile up” – e.g. a heaping pile of debt. But after the prayer, Jesus uses the word “παραπτωματα” (“paraptomata”), which literally means “side slips” – i.e. deviations, mistakes, or faults. We’ll come back to these words in a moment, but for now let us focus on forgiveness.
One of the things for which Jesus became notorious is His forgiving of sins. From His earliest healings and miracles, He was always forgiving people their sins, often telling them “Go and sin no more” or similar commands. The Pharisees were especially offended, because their view was that holiness came from strict adherence to esoteric rules and expansions of God’s laws. The forgiveness of sins simply wasn’t part of their world-view, it wasn’t found anywhere in their philosophy. The Jews as a whole clamored for a Messiah, crying out for an heir to the throne of David, and yet they did not pay much attention to what David, the friend of God, had written.
16 For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;
You do not delight in burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart –
These, O God, You will not despise.
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
3 Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
4 Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
5 Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
God forgives! Did they not remember that? Did they not see how God relented from Israel’s destruction time and again? Did they not see how David was blessed despite his great sins? Did they not hope for a Messiah from the line of David and Jacob and Abraham, who had ALL offended God and yet been forgiven by Him? Did they not listen when Solomon shared the words of God at the dedication of the Temple?
2 Chronicles 7:12-14
12 Then the LORD appeared to Solomon by night, and said to him: “I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice.
13 “When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people,
14 “if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
God forgives! God wants to forgive! How could they return from captivity in Babylon and then forget the words of the prophet Jeremiah?
“No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
Why were they so opposed to forgiveness? Why are WE so opposed to forgiveness? I am sure there are many who wallow in their sin while believing that there is no way God could ever truly forgive their sin, that their transgressions are too great, that the heaping pile of sin debt is too huge for a holy God to overlook. And yet that is exactly what God does. Is the arm of the Lord too short to get past our sins and pluck us from fiery death into glorious life? NO! In fact, just to be sure that His own righteousness was satisfied, He sent His only Son to pay our debt, to buy our forgiveness, to sweep away the giant mound of our sin so we could stand clean and whole before Him.
44 “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,
45 “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
48 “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
You see, if our holy and perfect God can love us and forgive our sins, forgive our debt, our spitefully using Him, our defiance and denial, then why cannot we also forgive? “Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2 King James Version) How can we be holy like God if we are not both forgiven AND forgiving?
We stumble, we fall, we slip to the side and have hidden faults which we do not know. Like David, we need to ask God to cleanse us of those things that cause us to stumble. (Psalm 19:12) We need God to overlook our mistakes and help us to stay focused on Him. God does that through His unending mercies, which are renewed every morning. (Lamentations 3:22-23) When we repent and seek His forgiveness, He hears our prayer and forgets our debt. He watches and listens to our hearts, and He knows we seek His face even when we don’t know what to say. And if we seek His Son, if we cry out to Jesus as our Lord and Savior, then He hears, He knows, He forgives.
Forgive: that is the plea, that the commandment. God loves and forgives. We also ought to love and forgive. If we can pray this Lord’s Prayer – glorifying God through exalting His name, calling for His kingdom to be living and vital among us, seeking His providence of spiritual power to enact His will alone – then we need also to be holy like the Father to whom we pray. We need to be wholly forgiven and wholly forgiving. That is our prayer.
Our Father in heaven, forgive us. Forgive this wayward land and heal it. Forgive this wayward city and revive us. Forgive me, O Lord, for the sins I fall into every day. Thank You, Lord God, for the priceless gift of Your Son, who alone paid my debt, who alone removed the heaping pile and stench of my sin. Teach me, Father, to be holy as You are, and bring me the daily bread of Your Word to empower me to forgive and to do only Your will on the earth. Amen.