Forgive us Our Debts

As We Forgive Our Debtors


Dr. John Hoole – May 14, 2017




In our continued study of the Lord’s Prayer, we have come to the request – Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.  In our previous lesson, we looked at that which is good for our body – Bread (food).  Now we look at that which is good for our soul – Forgiveness.


Have you ever noticed when praying the Lord’s Prayer in a group setting, that everybody does good until you get to the line “Forgive us our…”?  At that point in the prayer cacophony breaks out as some people say “debts,” and others say “trespasses,” or maybe some will say “sins.”


Look at whatever translation you have.  Most of them say “debts.”


It is translated “debt” in: KJV, NKJV, NASB, NIV, ASV, ESV NJ. RSV, NRSV, NET, Young’s Literal Trans., Darby, Noah Webster, World English Bible, Amplified, Holman’s Christian Standard Bible.


The Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) reads: “Forgive us what we have done wrong.”


It is translated as “sins” in:  NLT, New Century Version,


         None of the 28 translations that I have available to me on my Bible software use the word “Trespasses.”


So, this makes me wonder: Where in the world did “Trespasses” come from?  There is a publication called “Book of Common Prayer,” that has been around for centuries.  The word “trespasses” is found in that publication.  The question then should be: Has it always been in this publication.?  This publication has been since 1549.  And if you go back to the original copy, it says “trespasses.”  This is back prior to the 1611 King James Bible.


In the 1549 BCP, the Lord’s prayer is written (in Old English)


OURE father, whiche arte in heaven, hallowed by thy name, Thy Kyngdom come.  Thy wyll be done in earth as it is in heaven,  Geve us this daye oure dayly bread.  And forgeve us oure trespasses, as we forgeve them that trespasse agaynst us.  And leade us not into temptacion.  But deliver us from evell.  Amen.


So now you might ask: Where did the BCP get its information.  Where did it come up with this translation?  If you do a little sleuthing, you will learn that the 1549 edition of the BCP used the Tyndale Bible (1526).  And checking the Tyndale Bible, it reads, “Forgeve us oure trespasses eve as we forgeve oure trespacers.”  So, it becomes a Tyndale versus King James thing.


Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.

Sin is depicted here as a debt – a spiritual debt.  How do we know that the word, debt, is referring to sin?  We always are to compare Scripture with Scripture.  Is the same event mentioned elsewhere among the Gospels?  We also find the Lord’s Prayer recorded in Luke 11:4.  It reads, in the NKJV, “And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.”  And almost all the translations I have begins this verse as: “Forgive us our sins.”  But also notice that the second half of this verse still keeps the thought of a debt.  The word “indebted” retains a root from the Greek, Opheilema.  But the word translated “sin” is Hamartia.


There are five Greek words in the New Testament which are terms for “sin”.  And Luke uses a different word in the Lord’s Prayer than does Matthew.  The Greek word used by Matthew in the first half of this line is OPHIELEMA.  The most common Greek word for sin is HAMARTIA, and is used in Luke 11:4 and carries the idea of missing the mark.  Sin misses the mark of God’s standard of righteousness.


Briefly, here are the words sometimes translated, “sin.”


PARAPTOMA is often rendered “trespass.”  It is the sin of slipping or fall, and results more from carelessness than from intentional disobedience.


PARABASIS refers to stepping across a line, going beyond the limits prescribed by God.  It is often translated as “transgression.”  This sin is more conscious and intentional than HAMARTIA and PARAPTOMA.


ANOMIA means “lawlessness,” and is still more intentional and flagrant sin.  It is direct and open rebellion against God and His ways.


Let’s look at OPHEILEMA, used by Matthew in the Lord’s Prayer.  This noun is used but a very few time, but its verb form is found often.  Of the 35 times it is used, 25 times it refers to moral or spiritual debts.  Sin is a moral and spiritual debt to God that must be paid.


Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.


So important are these words in the Sermon on the Mount, that immediately after Christ gives us the Model Prayer, called the Lord’s Prayer, Christ visits this topic again.


Matthew 6:14-15 NIV


14     For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

15     But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.


This makes the understanding of forgiveness a bit more complicated.  Both in the Lord’s Prayer and here, any forgiveness of us by God is tied to our forgiveness of others.  This is the only part of the Lord’s Prayer that is tied to a condition.  What does it mean that God will not forgive us?


If a person were to walk into any Bible believing church in Renton, WA, or anywhere else, and stop the average Christian (making sure you were indeed talking with a Christian) and ask him/her how a person is forgiven by God, they would probably say something like this: “In order to be forgiven by God, all one needs to do is to believe on Christ.”  And if you were to ask them another question, namely, “Is my forgiveness in Christ conditional or unconditional? – that is, is it based on my doing anything good to become worthy?” they would probably say, “No! God forgives when we simply trust in Christ.”


If you were press them further and ask them one more question (providing they were still listening to you,) “Does God condition my forgiveness as a believer before Him on how well I forgive others?  And, Will God send me to Hell if I die having not forgiven someone?”  To this, they would also say “No” as well.


The problem with what Christ says in Matthew 6 is that it seems to imply that God’s forgiveness of me is conditional on how I forgive others.  He only forgives me according to the degree to which I forgive others.


Before continuing, let me provide one verse to make sure we know that  our salvation is given to us simply by belief in Christ Jesus,


Acts 10:43 NKJV


43     To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins."


Beyond believing in Him, there is nothing I have to do to gain eternal life.


This echoes our well-known passage in John 3:16.


         “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him  should not perish but have everlasting life.,


I have read many commentaries by godly men and women whom I respect, so I could gain some understanding of what it is that God will not forgive.  Without exception, they all steer clear of saying that Jesus is here referring to the judicial state of forgiveness which God bestows upon a believing sinner at the time of conversion.


These verses do not teach that our eternal destiny is based on our forgiving other people.  Rather, once a person has a relationship with God, in order to continue close fellowship, we must forgive others who sin against us.  Some of those that get enmeshed in theology-speak, would say, “Christ is speaking more about our Sanctification, rather than Justification.”  Christ is teaching us that our relationship with God will be damaged if we refuse to pardon those who have offended us.  Never will I or anyone else be able to stand before God demanding that his sins be forgotten simply because he has forgiven others.


What Christ is talking about is the day-to-day cleansing we obtain when we confess our sins in order to restore fellowship with our heavenly Father, the fellowship which is interrupted by the daily tarnishing of sin that affects us all.  To be sure, an unforgiving spirit is a serious sin and should be confessed to God.  If we have unforgiveness in our hearts against someone else, then we are acting in a way that is not pleasing to God.  And this causes our own prayers for forgiveness to go unheeded.


Forgiveness is of the essence of the Christian life.  It is of extreme importance for God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.  So important is forgiveness that the Lord Jesus devoted an entire parable to help us to understand it.  I think it may help our understanding by looking at the one parable Christ gave of forgiveness.  The parable is found in Matthew 18:21-35.  And to save time, we are not going to read it.  I will just tell you the story.


The parable speaks of a king who has a servant.  The servant in the story is not a slave, but a high government official, who is responsible to the king for the administration of his kingdom.  This means that large amounts of money passed through his hands.  We are told that this servant is in big trouble.  He had mismanaged the money of the king to the point that he now owes the king 10,000 talents.  This was a huge amount of money.  By comparison, Josephus, a 1st century Jewish historian, writes, the annual revenue of Herod the Great for his entire kingdom was about 900 talents.  Compare that with the 10,000 talents of the parable.


So the king calls his servant in to make an accounting.  This poor fellow had to give an account to the king of 10,000 talents.  And of course, there is no way he could produce that much money from anywhere.  Therefore, the king commanded that he would be sold off, as well as his whole family, to slavery.  This was a custom in Eastern nations of the time – to be sold because of debt.


So, this poor man, in desperation, fell upon his face before the king and begs for time.  He said that he would do everything necessary to earn back his money.  This was of course a totally unrealistic promise.  How could he ever earn back 10,000 talents?  But the king had mercy on him.  He saw his desperate condition and forgave him.  The debt was cleared – totally.  What a joy!  What a tremendous act of mercy.


Then the parable goes on to say that this forgiven servant goes out and sees a fellow servant who owed him 100 denarii.  This was nothing compared with the 10,000 talents that he had owed the king.  That man said, “please, have patience with me.  I will pay you back every dollar (denarii).”  But the servant forgiven by the king refused to wait and had the man thrown into jail, until the debt could be paid.


The news came back to the king and the king called back his servant.  “I forgave you all your debt” the king said, “when you asked me to forgive you.  I freely forgave you.  Should you not (notice the word), as I forgave you, forgive him?  Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just AS I had pity on you?”  The king was angry with his minister.  This man he put in jail until he should pay off the last penny of the 10,000 talents.  In other words, he would never be able to come out of jail.


The Jesus concludes this parable with these words.


Matthew 18:35 NKJV


35     “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses." 


When it comes to forgiveness from God, I want to see if any of you have considered this thought-provoking statement:


         So far as the Scriptures tell us, no one ever came to Jesus and asked to be forgiven.


Jesus, the very fountainhead of forgiveness, never had a person come to him and say, “Lord, forgave me.”  And yet, He did forgive people.  On many occasions, Christ took the initiative to forgive without waiting for the other person to come and ask for forgiveness.


Four men brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus.  Jesus looked at him, and before they ever said a word, He said, “My son, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2).  The man did not ask for it.  It went out from the Forgiver without any request being made.  Jesus forgave the man unilaterally.


Jesus was visiting in the house of Simon the Pharisee.  A woman who had a reputation as a sinner came it.  She washed His feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  Jesus said, “Go in peace, your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48).  She did not ask to be forgiven.  The forgiveness went out from Jesus unilaterally.


The most gripping example of all comes as Jesus is hanging on the cross.  He says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Those Roman soldiers did not beg, saying: “Jesus of Nazareth, forgive us.  We know You are a just and good man, but we have to do our duty, we have our orders.”  Yet, the forgiveness went out to them from Jesus unilaterally.


This brings us to the last half of Matthew 6:12. Forgive us our debts as we forgive out debtors.


Forgiveness is not an elective in the curriculum of a follower of God.  It is a required course, and the exams are always tough to pass.  As we follow Christ, it is not long before anyone who gets serious about serving God must come to terms with forgiving others.  Yes, it is a must.  As I said earlier, this is a required course in being a follower of Christ.


When wrong has been done, there are only two possibilities.  Whether we are responsible for the offense or are the recipient of it, the first move is always ours.  The general principle is set forth in the book of Ephesians by the apostle Paul.


Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:31-32 (NKJV):


31     Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.

32     And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.


And how did God in Christ forgive us?


Romans 5:8 NKJV


8       But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.


Christ’s act of paying the debt of sin came before we asked to be forgiven.  Oh, how He loves you and me.


Christ forgave unilaterally – we must do the same.  Unilateral forgiveness was experienced by Corrie ten Boom who had been imprisoned in a German concentration camp.  Ten years after her ordeal in prison, she came face to face with the woman who had been a nurse in the hospital barracks where she and her sister Betsie were prisoners.  Betsie was dying and this nurse had been cruel to her in her helplessness.  Corrie ten Boom says, “At that moment of recognition, hatred came into my heart.  I thought I had overcome it, but now I saw her again after all these years, and great bitterness was in my heart.  “Ashamed, I confessed my guilt, ‘Forgive me for my hatred, O Lord. Teach me to love my enemies.’”


She goes on to tell of praying for this enemy, finally of phoning her and inviting her to a meeting.  She concludes: “The whole evening she listened and looked straight into my eyes.  “I knew that she listened with her heart.  After the meeting, I read with her from the Bible the way of salvation, and 1 John 4:9 clinched the matter:”


         In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.


She made the decision that causes angels to rejoice.  Not only was my hatred gone, but I could shine into her dark heart.


Forgiveness is something all of us want to receive but most of us hesitate to give.  We all need forgiveness and we all need to grant forgiveness, because we all sin and we all have been sinned against.


But most of us assume that if we forgive our offender, they are let off the hook, scot-free, and get to go about their merry ways while we unfairly suffer from their actions.  We also may think we have to be friendly with them again, back to the old relationship.  While God commands us to forgive others, he never told us to keep trusting those who violate our trust.  We don’t even have to enjoy being around them.


Forgiveness is returning to God the right to take care of justice.  Forgiveness is not letting the offense recur again and again.  Forgiveness does not mean we have to revert to being the victim.  Forgiveness is not saying, “What you did was okay, so go ahead and walk all over me.”  Forgiveness is not letting the offender off the hook.


Forgiveness is not condoning the behavior.  When we realize we do not have to compromise our moral standard by condoning the offense, we are then in the position to forgive even the worst of sins.  When we forgive, we transfer the person from our system of justice to God’s.  It may be difficult, but we are to forgive even those who remain unrepentant.  That is because forgiving someone is beneficial to you.


It isn’t that the people don’t need to be judged, but judgment belongs to God, not to us.  God has not made us judges.  He has made us forgivers – and there is great power in forgiveness.  The exercise of that power makes changes for all eternity.


Forgiving others may seem to be a choice, and in once sense it is a choice, but God has been very clear about forgiveness.  He has given us specific direction in numerous Scriptures, all of which can be summed up in just one word – forgive!


God is saying that it is in our own best interest to forgive.  He is not talking about what is in the best interest of the person who needs to be forgiven.  We are the ones who God is trying to protect.  We are the ones who received the most benefit when we forgive, not the other person.  A spirit of unforgiveness complicates and compromises our daily walk with God.  Forgiving others releases us from anger and allows us to receive the healing we need.  The whole reason God has given us specific direction is because He does not want anything to stand between us and Him.  God’s love for us is beyond our comprehension.  Forgiving others spares us from the consequences of living out of an unforgiving heart.


Unforgiveness robs us of the full life God intends for us.  Rather than promote justice, our unforgiveness festers into bitterness.  2 Corinthians 2:5-11 warns that unforgiveness can be an opening for Satan to derail us.


The world can never break the Church.


         The power of hell cannot break the Church.


                   The only thing that can break the Church is her own unwillingness to live in forgiveness.


                            She must exercise this power that Christ Himself demonstrated toward us.