THE GOSPELS 50
FORGIVE US AS WE FORGIVE
We must keep in mind that this model prayer is being given by Jesus, the Son of God. This is significant, for it means that He knows the mind of God and therefore the words He uses reflect the “will” of God in every way. The next phrase indicates a condition of God’s forgiveness that should be in the mind of everyone who prays this prayer. When we pray, we are asking the Father to hear and attend our petition. However, if we expect Him to respond, our prayers must be in accordance with His will.
Let us take a moment to examine the true meaning of the words which Jesus uses here. Different translations of the Bible use different words to interpret the Greek word which is found here. Some translate it “transgressions”, others use “debts” and still others use the word “sins”. The literal translation of this word is “debts”, but here it does not mean monetary or physical debts, such as money that we owe for our purchases. Instead, it means “moral” obligations, or debts of a spiritual nature.
It has to do with the way we react to the behavior of our fellowman, and we are asking God to forgive us in the same way we forgive those who act badly toward us. It is a
scary thing to take these words into your mouth.
Clarke has observed that we are all constant debtors. God is the Creator and has given us life. Therefore, we must obey His will and conform to His eternally righteous nature. Of course, none of us can do that perfectly, and so we are all sinners and in constant need of His forgiveness. Therefore, we ask in our prayers for His mercy and grace. Thus, we are debtors to God for not giving Him the allegiance that we owe to Him. But there is no way we can pay for our sins…our debts. So God’s forgiveness must be freely given and thus we become debtors to Him for His grace. This debt is eternal and would be burdensome if it were not for the fact that the One to whom we are indebted is the One who loves us most. Our indebtedness for His mercy and grace keeps us in a constant relationship with Him. This makes our indebtedness an eternal blessing, but only if it is a debt for His love and mercy and not a debt for violating His will.
This part of the Lord’s model prayer is the most difficult. The one who prays these words and fails to forgive those who have mistreated him, or those toward whom he is antagonistic, is asking God not to forgive him. The condition is clearly stated: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”. Again, I want to emphasize that this is not a debt for someone who is not repaying us for some market transaction. This is a debt of concern and responsibility to my fellowman. It is a debt of love in that it involves our desire of nothing but the highest good for others. It makes it very clear that God will treat us the same way we treat our fellowman, no matter who he is.
One final observation on this vital subject. We have established that it is necessary for us to forgive those who mistreat or revile us. However, that is easier said than done. The obvious question is, “How do I accomplish this?” The answer is not easy but is very necessary if our prayer is to be answered in the way we desire.
First and foremost, in order for us to be in a position to forgive we must realize that we are, ourselves, sinners. We are all standing in the need of forgiveness. This should put us in the humble attitude necessary to forgive others. Secondly, we must realize that our knowledge is always imperfect. We do not know the other person’s circumstances, and so we cannot know what motivates them to act as they do. Finally, we must realize that harboring resentment and anger is damaging to our peace of mind and to our spiritual life. To forgive does more for our own peace and happiness than it does for the object of our resentment. It opens our secure relationship with God, and we cannot afford to ever have that door closed.