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Matthew 6 v 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

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Please read Luke chapter 16 v 19 to chapter 17 v 6

Matthew 6 v 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

The next petition in the Disciples’ Prayer is to do with forgiveness.

Next to our need for PROVISIONS, food, clothing, housing and everything else necessary to life, we have a need for PARDON. And this need is expressed in verse 12, the fifth petition in the Pattern prayer. But which is the most important? What do we need most as human beings? Food or forgiveness?

People have different ways of expressing their deep needs. Refugees express their need for a better life and express it by going to great lengths to get to where they want.

1000’s of students demonstrated a need this week demanding and shouting for something – education. “Do not make us or our parents pay for our education.”

Firemen gather together to ask for more money in the pay packets.

Anxious anti-war pacifists gather to ask that the powerful nations of the world decline from war.

Anti hunt protesters clamour for the abolition of blood sports.

BUT – would it not be an amazing thing if people marched through the centres of our towns and cities calling for forgiveness? With banners waving and whistles blowing and chanting out loud – we want forgiveness. What do we want – forgiveness! – When do we want it – NOW!

Is that possible? Could it ever happen? No – it is totally unlikely – and the reason? Because pardon and forgiveness are not priorities with most people. They do not see it as important enough to go on a protest march to obtain it.

Physically hungry needy people ask for bread and will march for it. Where are the SPIRITUALLY HUNGRY people who will ask for forgiveness? And get on to their knees to ask for it?

Our text this morning is unique amongst the others – it begins with the word AND.

This effectively joins the thoughts of verse 12 to the previous thoughts of verse 11.

And forgive us our debts

– Is this just a literary device to give variety to the Lord’s words here? No.

Why is the “and” here? It is to continue the thought of DAILY application for what was asked for in verse 11. There we noticed that we had to come every day for our daily needs and ask for only enough at a time that will keep us going for one day.

The word AND continues that thought - in the same way we must ask every day for forgiveness of our debts which we owe to God. It is a daily activity – seeking forgiveness and pardon. Forgiveness is our greatest need – now and in the future – greater even than for food and the other things.

On what basis does any Christian have a relationship with the Sovereign, thrice Holy, Lord God Almighty?

Indeed how can a sinful man or woman have anything to do with a God who is perfect, pure and sinless? He is the one who is described by the prophet Habakkuk in 1 v 13

Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity:

The only way that a holy separate God can have a relationship with sinful man is that there is forgiveness – forgiveness of sin, pardon for the debt that humans owe to their creator.

And just as verse 11 says GIVE US every day our daily bread, so verse 12 says FORGIVE US every day our daily breakages of your law.

Now before we look at this section of the prayer in more detail let me respond to a question that one of the members put to me a couple of weeks ago. Why do some recitations of the Disciple’s Prayer use at this point of the prayer TRESPASSES instead of DEBTS? What are trespasses and why have we become used to saying and forgive us our trespasses and we forgive those that trespass against us?

The short answer is that Archbishop Cranmer in his wisdom chose to render debts as trespasses in the Book of Common Prayer. So when worshippers are using their Prayer Books rather than their Bibles to recite passages of scripture one becomes more familiar than the other. The churches in Scotland have for centuries used the Biblical rendering of the Disciples’ Prayer including “debts” rather than “trespasses”, so some have thought that is was a Scottish habit. In this case it was more of sticking to the Scriptures in the absence of the English Prayer Book.

But there is a longer answer. The word trespasses is in our Authorised version of the Bible but not in the verses covering the Disciples’ Prayer. It occurs later in the passage that we have before us – in Matthew 6 – look down at verses 14 and 15.

14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: 15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

From this occurrence alone we can see what the compiler of the Prayer Book was doing – harmonising the text of scripture to enable people to understand what they were saying as they recited the prayer. It must have been entirely logical a move.

The word trespasses also occurs in Matt 18 v 35

So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.

Mark 11 v 25 and 26 are Mark’s parallel rendering of Matthew 6 v 14 and 15;

2 Corinthians 5 v 19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.

Ephesians 2 v 1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;

Colossians 2 v 13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; 14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;

Trespasses are offences, faults, sins or falls into lawbreaking. Fall here means a false step or a blunder. Trespasses mean a deviation from uprightness and truth. Are TRESPASSES any different from DEBTS?

The Greek word for debt is OPHILAYMAH and only occurs in two verses – our text in Matthew 6 v 12 and Romans 4:4

Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.

A debt is something which is owed, something that is legally or justly due to someone else. What is it then that we owe and to whom?

We have undischarged obligations to God. We have failed to render to God what is due to Him. We as creatures are under an obligation to render complete obedience and sincere worship to the Lord God – that is the nature of the creator creature relationship.

But to a person we have failed – and we are therefore in debt! And we have nothing with which to pay our debt. Debtors who owe money go to prison. We who are sinners and are guilty debtors are exposed to God’s curse of damnation – the eternal prison for debtors to God. Paul says in Romans 8 v 12

Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.

Positively we are debtors to God, to live unto Him. We were not created to gratify the flesh but to glorify God.

Our failure in these things has brought about guilt and we are debtors to Divine justice. We can pay neither the principal nor the interest – Adam has made us all bankrupts.

Sin is the worst debt to have. It is a debt against the infinite majestic God, is an infinite offence and wrongs the Lord God.

Sin is the worst debt that we could owe because it is a multiplied debt. We do not only owe God for ONE sin – but we have sinned hundreds of times and have run up hundreds of debts. David knew the truth of this in his own soul when he said in Psalm 40 v 12

For innumerable evils have compassed me about: mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of mine head: therefore my heart faileth me.

My friends – none of us can ever deny the debt that we owe to the Lord God. We cannot blame someone else for our sins; and if we say that we have no sin, we lie and do not the truth. God knows all about our debts.

Psalm 50 v 21 These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes.

God even has a book of debts that he keeps – we cannot deny our sins – in fact the book of our consciences agree exactly with God’s book. We know ourselves only too well. We are debtors!

Having understood that, let us ask

1. What are we asking for when we pray “forgive us our debts?”

Are we asking to be discharged from the duties that we owe God? Are we asking that we can get out of our obligations to worship and serve Him perfectly?

Not at all – even if He were to somehow change our responsibility there would still be a problem. The problem would be this – we need to be acquitted from our guilt and to have the punishment due to us, as debtors, we need to be FORGIVEN.

In this world there are good debtors and bad debtors.

Bad debtors are those who hate being brought to account for their debts. And sinners like this despise those who bring them to account for their debt of sin. They will steer clear of the Christian believer because their lives tend to be shown up in contrast to the Christian. They will scoff at and deride the preacher when he faithfully denounces sin and wickedness. They will seek to hide their debt by looking around and identifying other debtors who are in the same position taking comfort that they are not the only ones.

Bad debtors are those who are unwilling to confess their debt. They will put off facing the awful truth and will carry on spending (or sinning) without a care. They rather like to excuse their debts than face them. Have you ever tried lovingly to talk to a sinner about his sins? Does he welcome the discussion? No – he prefers to make all kinds of excuses.

Bad debtors have the habit of hating the one to whom they owe the debt. And so sinners find themselves hating the Lord God, wishing that He was dead so that they can continue in their sins without any hindrance or conscience.

When we ask, “Forgive us our sins” we are asking God to wipe our slate clean, a slate on which is written all our sins – and discharging us from our debt that we owe to him. We come to God and ask Him to forgive us in accordance with His own word – such as Micah 7 v 18

Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy.

We ask for forgiveness of our debt of sin in the following ways -

1. Forgiveness of sin is the taking away of the burden of sin and iniquity.

John Bunyan pictured the Christian Pilgrim as one who came to the foot of the cross after years of bearing an intolerable burden on his back, that he could not himself get rid of - he was a debtor. Hear how Bunyan puts it –

“Now I saw in my dream, that the highway up which Christian was to go, was fenced on either side with a wall, and that wall was called salvation. Up this way therefore did the burdened Christian run, but not without great difficulty, because of the load on his back. He ran thus till he came to a place ascending up; and upon that place stood a cross, and a little below, at the bottom, a sepulchre.
“So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up to the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders and fell from off his back and began to tumble, and so continued until it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more! The sight of the cross eased him of his burden, he looked and he looked again at the cross until the springs that were in his head sent their waters running down his cheeks. Then Christian gave three leaps for joy and began to sing, “Blessed cross! Blessed sepulchre! Blessed rather be, The MAN THAT THERE WAS PUT TO SHAME FOR ME.”

Christian’s debt, pictured by his burden, was taken away! Because God hath laid on Him, the Lord Jesus Christ the iniquity of us all. Forgiveness takes our sin away.

2. Forgiveness covers our sins.

God made skins for Adam and Eve. The mercy seat covered the Ark of the Covenant in the Tabernacle. And God covered our sins through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Psalm 85 v 2 Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, thou hast covered all their sin.

3. Forgiveness blots out our sins.

Isaiah 43 v 25 I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.

How appropriate is this verse, speaking of the blotting out of our sins by God. This phrase was used in Hebrew terms alluding to the creditor. When the debtor had paid him he blotted his debt out of the Book of Debts, and gave him a certificate of discharge. So it is with God – when He forgives us then He blots out the debt of sin and draws the red-lines of Christ’s precious blood over the entry in his debt book. FORGIVEN!

4. Forgiveness is the Lord God casting our sins into the depths of the sea

– Never to be remembered any more.

Micah 7 v 19 He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.

“Gone, Gone, Gone, Gone!
Yes, my sins are gone.
Now my soul is free, and in my heart's a song;
Buried in the deepest sea;
Yes, that's good enough for me;
I shall live eternally,
Praise God! My sins are GONE!
(Helen Griggs)

5. Forgiveness is an act of God’s free grace.

We cannot buy forgiveness with our tears, prayers or good deeds. God displays the banner of His love to us when he freely forgives us our sins – He does it out of love for us His children.

6. Forgiveness is through the Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 1 v 7 In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;

The blood of Christ is of infinite value – and nothing other than that blood could obtain pardon for the infinite guilt of my sin and yours. So we are praying in this prayer that GOD WILL ACCEPT THE Lord Jesus’ work on the cross as a payment for us.

7. Forgiveness is asking God to send our sins away.

This is not just the experience of conversion – this is an everyday experience. Daily repentance of sin and asking for God’s forgiveness is the reality of the Christian life.

Some weeks ago we were studying in the midweek Bible study, Matthew chapter 18. In verse 21 – 22 we read this –

21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? 22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

The disciple Peter thought that there was a limit to how much a repentant, confessing sinner could be forgiven. Jesus said that there was no limit – not absolutes as far as God was concerned.

However before anyone gets the idea that God’s forgiveness is UNIVERSAL and Unconditional – let us think again Consider these scriptures –

1 John 1 v 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Psalms 32 v 5 I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.

Proverbs 28:13 He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.

We cannot expect forgiveness from God without our acknowledgment, confession and forsaking of our sins first. We are all sinners and all need to repent every day. Forgive us our debts brings this home to us day after day – and daily forgive us our sins – because daily we sin and let the Lord down.

What a marvellous thing it is to be forgiven! What a tremendous thing it is to have guilt removed and peace obtained between us and God!

Oh my friend is this your experience this morning? Are you a forgiven person?

I didn’t ask whether you were a church attender, a reformed character or a helpful neighbour.

I ask again – have you been forgiven today? Are you cleansed from your sins today? Have you been to the Lord God today to ask Him to forgive you your sins? And are you truly aware that He has forgiven all your sins because you have been to Him with those sins, and confessed them to Him, and told Him that you have forsaken them for ever – and that you really intend not to sin those sins again?

The Lord God by His Holy Spirit gives us such a peace when we know our sins are forgiven that we are never the same again. And then, because we know where to go to get a daily cleansing and the ministry of forgiveness to our souls – then we are filled with utter joy and peace.

My friend if you do not experience this every day, having come to a point in your life that this whole area of forgiveness started in your soul – then you are not yet a Christian – and you need to go to the Lord as soon as you can and plead for His pardon and forgiveness.

Forgive us our debts – forgive us what is wrong with us – forgive us Sovereign Lord – send away our sins. This is our prayer in this verse.

And the second part of the verse leads on from it –

2. As we forgive our debtors.

What does this mean?

Let me say first what it does NOT mean. It does not mean that to obtain forgiveness for ourselves from God that we have to forgive someone else first. It is not that you have to forgive someone else before you can be converted. In fact there is no way that you can truly and genuinely forgive someone else UNLESS you have been converted. How can you do a righteous act before you have a righteous nature? Later in Matthew Chapter 6 there are some verses explaining that principle. (14 and 15)

Forgiving our debtors mean forgiving those who owe a personal debt to us. Someone has offended us and injured us in some way. We feel hurt and upset. To forgive means that we do not give him the cold shoulder – neither do we show him hostility or contempt.

We are to forgive him – the Lord Jesus says so. Usually we should be able to expect that the person should acknowledge his wrong and express regret. On many occasions a person is unaware that he has wronged us – and we are obliged to tenderly point it out in a spirit of love and forbearance.

Forgiveness must always be extended when the other person asks you for it. We are obliged to forgive –

Ephesians 4 v 32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.

If the matter is small then we can extend forgiveness unasked because love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4 v 8)

Furthermore if we ourselves are responsible for the provoking of another believer so that he or she sins against us, offending us – then we are to forgive without requiring repentance from the other person.

What about those people who sin against God? Should we take it upon ourselves to be forgiving towards them? The answer is this – it is God’s prerogative to forgive such people – He is the offended party. And if He has forgiven that person then we can rejoice.

If someone falls and becomes subject to church discipline we are not to say, “I will ignore the judgments of the church and forgive him, forgive her.”

The bottom line of this morning’s text is this.
In this section of the prayer we are asking God to:–
Forgive us our sins.
Help us to repent on a daily basis.
Help us to forgive others as God forgives us.

St Augustine labelled this part of the prayer “the Terrible Petition” – he called it that because he reasoned that if we pray forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors and at the same time harbour an unforgiving spirit in our hearts, then we are actually asking God not to forgive us. Treat us as we are prepared to treat others. Forgive us in the same way that we forgive others!

That is awesome my friends.

Someone who was known for his pride and harshness once said to John Wesley, “I never forgive.” Wesley’s reply was, “Then sir, I hope you never sin.”

Forgiveness is so important my friends – both to us who need it every day from God – and it is important to those with whom we have contact.

May we know the true reality of genuine forgiveness, remembering our precious Lord’s tender words from the cross at Calvary,

“Father, forgive them!”



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