Forgive Us Our Debts

  • Forgive Us Our Debts
  • Matthew 6:12, 14-15; 18:21-35
  • Brian Brownlow
  • January 28, 2018
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1-28-18 Sermon from LakeRidge UMC on Vimeo.

If you’ll forgive me, I need to take a point of personal privilege. I need to ask for your prayers. I made a very big mistake this week. Now, before I go on, I need to mention that I am a good steward. Now, that may sound like I’m bragging but it’s the truth. I’m very careful and wise with what God has entrusted to me. I’ll tell you right now, if you talk to my wife or children they will use terms like “cheap” or “tight.” That’s not true. I’m simply a good steward. As an example, we have a computer that is 11 years old. Just as an FYI, if your computer starts running slow, back up all of your files, and wipe out the hard drive. You can get two or three more years out of that sucker. I know – I’ve done it twice. I was able to get six more years out of a computer when everybody told me it was dead.
Well, after eleven years I did have to break down and buy new computer. That’s where my mistake came in. I thought everything was backed up, but I ended up losing two years of our photos. To make matters worse, the photos are really the only thing on our computer that Debbie particularly cares about. The two years I erased included our middle daughter Mickenzie’s High School graduation. Many of you know that we lost Debbie’s mom in May. Among those pictures where the last year we had with her. This was not good.
When I saw Debbie I asked her a question that I already knew the answer to, “Did you save the photos on both backup drives?” As I said, I already knew the answer to that. She frantically went in trying to find the files. After a few moments she came back and told me something that I already knew. They were gone. She said, “I’m going to go into the bedroom so I won’t cry.”
I spent the rest of the evening the living room and finally went in and quietly slipped into bed hoping she was already asleep. I quietly prayed William “The Refrigerator” Perry’s version of the Lord’s Prayer. My apologies to those of you who were not here three weeks ago but Refrigerator Perry’s version of the Lord’s Prayer goes like this: Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die (at the hands of my wife) before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Just as I was saying Amen, I felt Debbie’s hand, fortunately on my shoulder and not my neck, and she gently said, “It’s okay, I forgive you. But I’m never going to forget!” Please continue to pray for healing and restoration in our marriage.
Over the last three weeks, we’ve been looking at Matthew 6:8–13, the passage we refer to as the Lord’s Prayer. Here Jesus is giving his disciples a “model” prayer. While the specifics – the details – will change with our circumstances, the Lord’s Prayer, as a model, gives us the framework that we need to pray regardless of the situation. Today we’re going to look at verse 12, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
The word “debt” is variously translated trespasses or sins. I grew up in a trespassing church. You may have grown up a sinner or debtor. All three words are a faithful expression of what we would be forgiven of. I do want to mention this morning that the Greek word opheileœmata, has its primary meaning as something that is owed. Whatever word we use – trespasses, sins, debts – our sin has a price. Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin is death and when we ask for forgiveness we are asking God to cancel what we owe.
Jesus also makes it clear that there are two sides to the forgiveness coin. He says that we should ask to receive forgiveness just as we give forgiveness to other. Jesus seems to be saying that those two things are inseparable; you can’t have one without the other. I say that because at the end of His model prayer, He immediately emphasizes the importance of forgiveness. The Lord’s Prayer ends at verse 13. Let’s look at verses 14 and 15. For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. I’m not re-reading the passage from the Lord’s Prayer there. Jesus repeats it immediately after giving his instructions to the disciples. There are two sides to the forgiveness coin – receiving and giving. We can’t escape that. Jesus won’t let us escape that.
I think one of his parables may help shed some light on this for us. Take your Bibles and turn with me to Matt. 18:21–35.
Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!
“Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt. “But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.
“But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. “His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.
“When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.
“That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.” Matthew 18:21–35 NLT
The passage begins with Peter asking Jesus a question. It’s a question that all of us ask. We know we need to forgive but we want a cut off. We want to know how far we have to go. If we are honest, we don’t want to go any further than we have to so we want to know where the line is. Peter makes a suggestion. It’s almost like he’s negotiating. “How does seven sound?” I’m sure Peter thought that was more than generous. Of course, in typical Jesus fashion, He blows that out of the water. “No, Peter, not seven times – try seventy-seven times!”
Jesus then goes into another one of His kingdom parables. This is appropriate to our discussion of the Lord’s Prayer because Jesus has taught His disciples they are to pray that the kingdom of heaven would become a reality here on earth. So, once again, He gives His disciples (and us) a glimpse into what that would really look like.
A king gathers all of his servants to settle the accounts that they owed him. The first one to be brought in owed him millions of dollars. I intentionally chose to read this from the New Living Translation this morning because it uses modern language. In the original text, it is ten thousand talents. Conservatively, that would be millions in today’s dollars and could go as high as one billion. I say that because I want to encourage you not to focus on how many zeros are at the end of this amount. That is not the point. What Jesus is trying to say is that the man owed a debt that he could never repay. It was impossible.
It says that all that he had – including his wife and children – were to be sold in order to repay the debt. A person sold into slavery might bring one talent. If the man had two dozen children, he would still be in the hole about 9,970 talents. All of the information in this parable is coming to the same point. The man owed a debt that was utterly impossible to pay. As a result, all the man could do was fall on his knees and beg.
In His model prayer, Jesus tells us to ask for forgiveness of our debts. I think it’s interesting to note that this man doesn’t do that. Apparently, he still doesn’t realize that he can’t do it by himself. He asks for patience – more time. Out of desperation, he reassures the king that he will pay it all back. Of course, the king knows that the account can never be repaid and out of mercy and compassion, he cancels the man’s debt and lets him go. What a magnificent expression of grace and forgiveness. Does this remind you of something? This king sounds like someone we know. This servant sounds like someone we all know.
But then the story takes a turn at verse 28. The servant, who has been given this magnificent expression of grace and forgiveness, immediately goes and finds another servant who owes him a much smaller sum of money. Now, it is still a significant amount of money. It’s not a small amount but it is nothing compared to what the king has just erased on his behalf. Much like the first scenario, this servant doesn’t have the money to pay. Just like in the first scenario he begs for more time. He swears he’ll get the money. But this is where the two stories are very different. The servant who has just been given a magnificent expression of grace and forgiveness demands immediate payment and when he does not get it, he throws the man into prison.
Well, you know the rest of the story. When the king finds this out he takes that unfaithful servant and throws him into prison to be tortured until he can pay everything back. Of course, we already know he can never pay it back.
There are two sides to the forgiveness coin – receiving and giving. At first glance we might think one is easier than the other. Everyone wants to receive forgiveness. We all want to be free from the burden that comes with guilt. But often we find it very hard to receive forgiveness. Why? Because we feel like we don’t deserve it. We are unworthy. Of course we are right. We don’t deserve it and we are unworthy. I mentioned that the word Jesus uses in this model prayer means something that we owe. We all know that we owe a debt and we also know that we don’t deserve to be forgiven. That’s the beauty of grace. We don’t deserve it but we get it anyway.
If receiving forgiveness is hard, giving it seems almost impossible. Why? Because we feel like the other person doesn’t deserve it. If you feel that way, you’re right. A person who has truly harmed you, particularly if it was done intentionally, doesn’t deserve your forgiveness. They owe you and they deserve punishment. Now that deserves an Amen! I’m guessing I didn’t get one because you know where this is going. Anybody here not like where this is going? Yes, they deserve it just like we do. Giving forgiveness is one of the hardest things to do.
There is something else that is hard. It sure seems like the Lord’s Prayer and the parable of the unforgiving servant seem to indicate that we have to earn forgiveness. We won’t be forgiven unless we forgive. The very last thing Jesus says in this parable is that our heavenly father will treat us just like that wicked servant unless we forgive our brother from our heart. It sounds to me like we have to go out and find everyone who has ever wronged us and forgive them before we can receive any forgiveness.
Earlier I quoted Romans 6:23a, “The wages of sin is death.” I say 6:23a because that’s only the first half of that verse. For some reason we typically only quote the first part. The second half of that verse goes like this, “…but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ.” Having the whole verse makes a difference! The whole truth is the whole verse. Yes, we do owe a great debt. What we owe is a spiritual death and it is worse than anything that we can imagine. It’s almost like being thrown into prison to be tortured for eternity. Hmmm…where have we heard that before? But that’s not the whole story. What God did through His Son Jesus was to give us the opportunity to have all of that wiped out. All of our sins are destroyed in the power of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. All of this is a free gift from God. Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” God’s word is consistent. We do not have to earn anything.
All we have to do is ask for forgiveness and believe in faith that God will cancel our debts. The next step is to live into who we are as a new creation in Christ. As a forgiven and redeemed people we are going to live differently. A few months ago our lead pastor, Lyndol Lloyd, made a statement that sums this up very simply: forgiven people forgive. Offering forgiveness is not a requirement to be forgiven. It is the result of being forgiven.
I want to ask you today right here, right now to take the first of those steps. I’m going to lead us in a time of confession and a prayer of faith that God will do a miracle in us today. But before I go on I want to acknowledge that there are people sitting here today who have experienced deep wounds and I want you to know that I’m not making light of that. I am not saying to you this morning that you just need to “get over it”. I know that there are those who have experienced life-changing hurts at the hands of other people. I know that in many cases those have been intentional. I know that it’s going to take a work of God and not a sermon to do something in your heart.
I believe that today a miracle can happen. I believe God can give you freedom from the bondage of unforgiveness and he can throw off the burden that you’ve been carrying for so long. I also know that the victory I’m believing for this morning will need to be walked out in the coming days. If you aren’t already aware of it, this church has a fabulous healing prayer ministry. On Thursday nights at 7 PM they meet here in our chapel. They will walk this out with you and intercede before the throne on your behalf. That team consists of prayer warriors like you wouldn’t believe. Come see me or any of our pastoral staff and we can connect you with people in this church who will walk out this journey with you. I guarantee you it will be worth it.