Part 6 / Matt. 6:9-13
We have been studying the Lord’s Prayer as it is recorded in Matthew 6:9-13. We have also referenced Luke’s version of the prayer in Luke 11:1-4, which differs slightly from the Matthew’s version. This difference does not mean that Luke somehow got it wrong, but rather that Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer (or versions of it) on multiple occasions.
Why is it called the Lord’s Prayer? I’m not suggesting that we change the name. This is the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples after all. Yet, in one sense this is not the prayer that Jesus himself would have prayed. Notice the next petition: “forgive us our debts” (v. 12). This is not something that Jesus would have prayed, because Jesus did not have any debts to forgive. We, however, are a different story. We have debts, and they are debts that we could not possibly repay. So we join the disciples as we plead: “forgive us our debts”.
Debts and sins
You may have noticed that Jesus used different terms when he instructed his disciples to pray for forgiveness. In Matthew’s version we ask for the forgiveness of our “debts”, while in Luke’s version we ask for the forgiveness of our “sins”. Why the difference?
In Matthew’s version the word translated as “debts” refers to a financial or moral obligation. We have the moral obligation to worship, honour, and obey God. Listen to how it is phrased in Deut. 10:12: “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul”. Israel’s obedience and worship are things that God “requires” of them. In the same way, Eccl. 12:13 says that fearing God and keeping his commandments is “the whole duty of man.” In the New Testament we are told that we should “do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
When we do not render to God the worship and obedience that he is due, we owe him a debt. Can you see the problem? We have never fully rendered to God the praise, love, worship and obedience that he is due – that he is worthy of. We are in his debt and this is a debt that we could not possibly repay. In the parable of the unforgiving servant, Jesus describes a man who owed the king an unpayable debt. He pleaded with the king for more time to repay him. The king knew that he could not possibly pay of his debt, but had mercy on him and forgave him – he wrote it off (Matt. 18:21-27). We’ll get back to the rest of the parable in a moment. For now, it is important to understand that we owe God a moral debt that we cannot pay. Our only hope is that our debt would be forgiven.
Luke’s version does not refer to a debt, but to sin (Luke 11:4). Sin is a transgression of God’s law (1 John 3:4 says that sin is “lawlessness”). This is also sometimes described as rebellion (Joshua 1:18). We know that the “wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). This is the price we must pay for our rebellion against God’s revealed will.
Luke’s version does not leave out the idea of debt, however. The petition in Luke 11:4 continues: “forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” Here we see that, because of our sin, we are indebted to God and to one another. Something must be done about the debt that we owe. Sin cannot be brushed off or overlooked. Only fools “mock at sin” (Prov. 14:9, NASB).
Forgiving and being forgiven
Remember the parable of the ungrateful servant? After being forgiven by the king, the servant went out and found a fellow servant who owed him some money. The amount was much smaller than the amount he had owed the king. Instead of showing mercy, as he had been shown mercy, he seized the man, and “he began to choke him, saying, 'Pay what you owe.' So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.” (Matthew 18:28-30).
This did not sit well with his co-workers and they reported him to the king. Jesus describes the scene like this: “Then his master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?' And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.” (Matt. 18:32-34). His response revealed that he did not appreciate what the king had done for him. He did not understand the seriousness of the debt that he had been forgiven. By refusing to forgive his fellow servant, the ungrateful servant revealed a heart that made light of his sin and was filled with contempt for his master.
Forgiveness is one of the most glorious gifts of the gospel. A Christian is someone who understands the crushing weight of the law, and who knows what it means to be weighed down by the burden of his sin. In his book, The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan describes it like this: “I saw a man clothed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back. I looked, and saw him open the book, and read therein; and as he read, he wept and trembled: and not being able longer to contain, he brake out with a lamentable cry; saying, ‘What shall I do?’”
The gospel meets us in our despair and points us to the cross of Christ, where we can be freed from our burden and forgiven our debt. In the words of The Pilgrim’s Progress: “He ran thus till he came to a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a cross, and little below in the bottom, a sepulchre. So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back; and began to tumble, and so continued to do so until it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.”
If you’ve experienced the joy of forgiveness, you cannot withhold it from others. That is the point of Christ’s parable. Peter asked Jesus: “’Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.’” (Matt. 18:21-22). Why so many times? Because God has forgiven us our unpayable debt against him, we can forgive others their small debt against us.
We owe God a debt that we could not possibly repay. Our only hope is for that debt to be forgiven. Praise the Lord, for he is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.” (Ps. 103:8-13). As we have been forgiven, let us forgive others also.
Let us pray: “Forgive us our debts.”