Forgive us our Debts
Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors…
My first introduction to a “Loan Shark” was in Junior High. Students with loose cash usually hung out around the vending machines while the rest of us were limited to the prepaid and budget-friendly option: the school cafeteria. The food was respectable and nutritious but occasionally, just occasionally, that twin pack of frosted and strawberry filled Pop-Tarts on the top row of the vending machine seemed just seemed to call to you. (This may have had something to do with growing up in a family of 6 when Pop-Tarts came in a package of just that many…. meaning we only ever got one each before the box was empty!) The only challenge was the pesky requirement of cash-only vending machines for the student whose lunches were funded at the beginning of the month by check!
That’s where Chip entered into the equation. Chip was the nickname of an entrepreneurial student who always seemed to have an abundant supply of cash. Chip offered easy money at extraordinary interest rates that didn’t seem to bother any of us at the time. Borrow a dollar today, and simply bring back a buck fifty tomorrow. Forget? No problem, but it’ll be $2 on Thursday, and $3 on Friday, and so on till the debt was paid!
This week’s prayer “Forgives us our debts as we forgive our debtors” presents a condition for forgiveness of sins: that we would repent. You might say, “Wait, I thought the condition was forgiving those who sinned against us”? Well, yes, that’s how it’s expressed, but what I hope we will recognize is that forgiving others is, as John the Baptist said, a “fruit of repentance.” Repent means to turn around; it is a change of mind which naturally results in a change of behavior. It is acting out what we believe or living out our faith. The belief that calls for the forgiveness of others is that I am a great sinner.
In Matthew 18, Jesus encourages us to compare ourselves with the servant of a rich landowner. He had gotten himself into a considerable debt with his master to the tune of 7.1 BILLION dollars in today’s money!
We are told “forasmuch as he had not the money to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold and his wife and his children and lal that he had and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down and worshipped him, saying, Lord have patience with me and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.” (Matthew 18:25-27)
The word debt doesn’t really seem like a big deal to us anymore.
The average consumer has:
· $8k in credit card debt
· $21k auto loan balance
· $40k in student loans
· Not to mention mortgages, home equity loans, or personal lines of credit.
Nevertheless, debt is still a good word to communicate the nature of sin, because we all owe God something. By virtue of his granting us life, we owe him glory. It is his due and is paid through love for the creator and his creation, and through trusting obedience. This debt is not a burden, or at least wouldn’t be if we were still as Adam and Eve were at their start. Unfortunately, the presence of a sin nature makes the task impossible at best and odious at worst. Sin is withholding what is due through disobedience and self-determination. Failure to pay this original debt has left each man and woman’s account in the red and I.O.U’s just won’t cut it. Hopefully, the mind-boggling debt of the slave in Matthew 18 paints a helpful picture of our own sin-debt.
There is, thankfully, a way to deal with this debt. The Lord himself acts as our personally debt counsellor. He doesn’t suggest we declare spiritual bankruptcy because that kind of loan forgiveness is the opposite of justice. Instead, he meets the debt of the spiritually bankrupt through means of a benefactor: The Lord Jesus Christ whose righteousness more than covers our debt. Our sins can be cancelled and our accounts flush with righteousness on one condition: repentant faith. The result is the same as we saw in Matthew 18:27- complete forgiveness!
But real faith affects our actions. In this case, recognizing that we are forgiven debtors, we respond with forgiveness… unlike the forgiven servant in Jesus’ parable.
But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. 29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. (Matthew 18:28-30)
This parable was prompted when Peter asked Jesus how many times he ought to forgive a brother who sinned against him. He suggests that he, noble as he was, might be willing to extend forgiveness a full seven times! The servant story backs up the Lord’s response that seventy-times-seven, or four hundred ninety times later, Peter should still be willing to forgive the one who sins against him. The forgiveness is only enabled by understanding that we are the greater debtor to God than they are to us. Believing that fact is evidenced by forgiveness.
Perhaps unwillingness to forgive has not been the particular debt that hinders your relationship with God. When Matthew 6 tells us that we will be forgiven as we forgive those who sin against us, it seems to be using forgiveness as an example of a multitude of sins we ought to repent of. We might say:
“Forgive us our thieving as we understand what you have given us and labor that we might give to others.”
“Forgive us our lust as we believe the love you have for individuals and begin to honor them as such.”
“Forgive us our laziness as we recognize the work you have for us to do and dedicate ourselves to it.”
And the answer we’ll find, of course, when “we confess our sins,” is that He is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)