What It Means To Pray "Forgive Us Our Debts"
What It Means To Pray "Forgive Us Our Debts"
Millions of Christians around the world recite the Lord’s Prayer regularly. It’s so familiar to many of us that it’s easy to mouth the words without comprehending their earth-shattering significance. “Forgive us our debts” can bear the same emotional weight as a friend who says “Don’t worry about it” when we say “Hey, don’t I owe you 10 bucks?”
Jesus wants to make sure we feel the full force of God’s forgiveness, so he tells a story to help it sink in:
The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. (Matt 18:23-24)
The word “servant” could be anyone who works for the king. Let’s say it’s the head of the IRS. He’s been collecting taxes from everyone in the land for decades. He’s supposed to pass them on to the king, but he’s been skimming money off the top the whole time.
A lot of money. In those days, a talent was a unit of money that was worth 20 years’ wages for a common day-laborer. Let’s say you make $10 an hour working full-time, that’s about $20,000 a year. One talent would equal $400,000 dollars today. So ten thousand talents is equal to about 4 billion dollars. This guy has embezzled an immeasurable amount of money. It’s a debt that can never be repaid.
￼That’s why Jesus says he’s “brought” to the king. He’s not coming voluntarily. He’s dragged in kicking and screaming. He never would have come if he wasn’t brought.
In spiritual terms, this is called conviction. There’s some point in life where we’re brought before God and confronted with our sin. And when it’s all in front of us, we can see how immeasurable it is. There’s so much that we can’t even count it all. It’s beyond comprehension. Every one of us has to come to this point before we can receive God’s forgiveness.
So when we pray “forgive us our debts,” here’s what we’re really praying:
1. Help us to see the enormity of our sin. That happens when we come face-to-face with God. When Isaiah saw God in the temple, he said, “Woe is me.” In other words, “Kill me now. I can’t live anymore.” Job said, “I abhor myself.” Ezra said, “I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens.”
We need to see how our sins have piled up to the heavens. That’s what the guy in the story is just starting to comprehend.
Since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. (Matt 18:25)
Since he owes $4 billion dollars and there are no bankruptcy laws in the ancient world, he has to be sold into slavery. This is the worst punishment you can imagine. He’ll probably be sold to one master, and his wife and kids will be sold to someone different. This is even worse than death. Whatever little amount he fetches will go toward his debt. What is he worth? $10,000? Maybe $20,000? Whatever it is, it’s not even going to make a dent in the debt that he owes.
Why is that? Because the king has allowed this guy to keep living it up while he skimmed more and more money from the king’s accounts. Every day he didn’t call this guy in was an opportunity for this guy to come clean and confess what he did. Every day that God allows sinners to keep living on this earth is a gift of his grace. But there’s a reckoning coming. Judgment day is coming. Our debt is coming due. So when we pray “forgive us our debts” here’s another thing we’re praying:
2. Help us to see the consequences of our sin. Being sold into slavery is a metaphor for hell. People are sent to hell to pay for their sins, and I need to understand the serious consequences that are coming if I keep racking up debt with God. If I keep sinning and sinning and sinning, apart from Jesus Christ, I’m going to be sold into slavery. I’ll spend an eternity in hell. But even an eternity in hell could never be enough to repay the debt. It’s like owing $4 billion dollars — you could never pay it back!
This guy knows that, so he falls down on the ground to beg for mercy:
The servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ (Matt 18:26)
He’s broken. Wrecked. Undone. As Martin Luther says, “Before the king drew him to account, he had no conscience, did not feel the debt, and would have gone right along, made more debt and cared nothing about it. But now that the king reckons with him, he begins to feel the weight of the debt. So it is with us. Most of us do not concern ourselves about sin, but go on securely, fearing not the wrath of God. Such people cannot come to the forgiveness of sin for they do not come to realize they have sins.”
This man knows how much he owes, so he’s begging for mercy. And, incredibly, the master listens:
Out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. (Matt 18:27)
He just … forgave … the debt. Four. Billion. Dollars. Just like that. Well, actually not just like that. It cost the king $4 billion from his own account to forgive this guy’s debt. And it’s the same with God. It cost him his one and only son. So when we pray “forgive us our debts,” we’re saying:
3. Help us to see the enormity of your forgiveness. God didn’t just wave a magic wand in the air to forgive us. Jesus had to go through the agony of being mocked, tortured and crucified. He had to experience the mind-blowing horror of getting run over by the cement truck of God’s wrath for the sin of the world. He had to suffer the soul-crushing loneliness of his heavenly father turning his back on him and abandoning him. The Father he’d had a loving relationship with for eternity was suddenly gone.
We need to comprehend all of that if we’re going to comprehend the forgiveness of God.