By Allen White
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. Matthew 6:12
Some of us have faced that uncomfortable moment in a church service when the congregation recites the Lord’s Prayer in unison. Everything goes fine until we reach today’s verse. There’s a fork in the road – do we say “debts” or “trespasses”?
Even though many modern translations use “debts” here, most recitations go with “trespasses,” especially with our Catholic friends. The original word means “something owed” or morally “a fault.” The English translation is correct both ways.
Everyone who prays the Lord’s Prayer falls into both categories, except for the Lord. He never sinned. We have all wronged God, and we’ve all been wronged. The person who is wronged holds a debt over the offender.
If the debt was financial, it would be repaid with money. If the debt was a favor, it would be repaid with an act of service. If the debt resulted from property damage, it would be repaid with restitution. But, a trespass is a spiritual debt. A person can’t afford that payment.
Let’s say that you lie about me. I hear about the lie. I am hurt and offended. I might avoid you. I might not. I might confront you. I might do something to get you back. I said “might.” This is hypothetical.
What if I decide to seek revenge? If you lie about me, then I’m going to retaliate. The next time you mess up, I’m going to hit you like a ton of bricks, but indirectly, of course.
So, let’s look at the score: You offended me. I’ve offended you. We’ve both offended God. Everyone has lost. But, rather than repent, we proceed. We continue to add offense after offense until we’ve accumulated a debt that only an act of Congress could resolve (well, nevermind).
We wonder why we’re not closer to God. We wonder why people don’t like being around us. We wonder why we don’t have more friends. The debt of sin and unresolved conflict feeds our negativity. It isolates us. It torments us (Matthew 18:32-35).
Going back to Jesus’ prayer, we ask God to forgive our debts as we have forgiven our debtors. This is God’s economy. God forgives a debt that we cannot repay, and we forgive each other of debts that we cannot repay. The offended are equally offensive in other ways. We’re all in the same boat.
But, do we just let them off the hook? Yes, we do. Just like God let us off the hook. While reconciliation isn’t necessarily immediate, forgiveness should be offered ASAP, even if they don’t ask for it. Why?
To forgive is to relieve a burden from our hearts regardless of whether the offender deserves it. Granted, in many cases, it requires the help of God’s mighty power to do it, but He will help us.
The big question here is whether God is putting a condition on His forgiveness of us. If we don’t forgive someone, will God forgive us? I think the bigger question is whether God would put conditions on His unconditional love. That just doesn’t make sense, does it? (I know that Matthew 6:14-15 is coming up in a couple of days).
God is patient with us. He will work with us until we reach a place where we want to forgive. If we are deeply wounded, this is not a short path. But, forgiveness is the only path to our healing.
If we stubbornly refuse to forgive, then we don’t really understand God’s grace very well. God extended His grace to us when we were His enemies (Colossians 1:21-23). With God’s help, we can offer grace and forgiveness to our offenders as well.
Who seems impossible to forgive? How is unforgiveness harming you? How is bitterness interfering with your relationship with God? Ask God for His help. He’s willing to help you to forgive.