In Matthew 6, Jesus said, “Pray, then, in this way: …forgive us our debts, AS WE ALSO HAVE FORGIVEN OUR DEBTORS.” Wow. God’s impossible standard of forgiveness.
What a high calling that we have received from God. I’ll be honest with you: I want to be forgiven by God so much more than I am willing to forgive those who have hurt me or committed wrongs against me.
A couple of years ago while studying the book of Matthew, I kept looking for ways to get around this verse! I desperately wanted God’s forgiveness daily for my sins, but here in Matthew, Jesus says to pray that God would forgive us as we, too, have forgiven our debtors. I struggled to be able to honestly pray this prayer. Instead, I wanted to pray, “Father, forgive me MORE than I know how to forgive those who have sinned against me.”
I am reminded of a story later in the book of Matthew, in chapter 18. Peter asks Jesus how many times to forgive a brother that is continuing to offend him or sin against him. Peter asks if he should forgive “up to seven times.” It does seem like, after the 7th time, it’s time to call it quits! Peter may have been thinking, “Obviously, the one offending me doesn’t care, and he doesn’t deserve any more chances! I can’t continue to release him from ‘owing’ me if he sins against me again!” But Jesus ups the ante to a seemingly impossible standard: “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
Then, Jesus goes on to tell a parable about a king who is settling accounts with his slaves. One slave owed him a very large amount (he owed the king more money than could ever be repaid in a lifetime for a typical working man). The slave and all of his family would have to be sold in order to repay the debt. The slave entreated the king, and the king “felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.”
Thrilled and full of compassion and grace from this encounter with his king, this slave then went off and did likewise to all those who owed him anything! — he had been forgiven so! much! that his grateful heart could do nothing but have mercy on his fellow slaves who owed him not more than 4 months wages.
Ahem.. Waaaait a minute.
No. That’s not what happened. In this parable, the slave who had been forgiven more than a lifetime of debt went off and found a fellow slave who owed him a tiny amount in comparison to the debt that the king had forgiven him. He seized him and began to choke him, saying “Pay back what you owe me!!”
The fellow slave begged him to be patient, but he would not, and he had him thrown in prison for the offense he had committed against him. When the king heard what the slave had done to his fellow slave, he said:
“You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?” So the slave was handed over to the torturers until he could repay all his debts.
Jesus then brought this story back home to Peter and the disciples, saying, “My Heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”
Wow. How do we forgive one who offends us 7 times (or many more)? How do we forgive those who don’t deserve it? How do we release them when it seems that we are owed so much?
Friend, we remember this story, and we pray. We realize that we are the wicked slave upon whom God had mercy. While we were sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). While we were dead in our sins, under the authority and domain of Satan, indulging our flesh, a child of wrath, God made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:1-7). God forgave us, releasing us from the great debt that we owe.
As we trust and believe God and realize the depth and magnitude of our own sin and the price God paid in sending His own Son to the cross to forgive us our sin, God will heal our hearts to forgive our fellow slaves the wrongs they have committed against us.
Is God’s standard impossible? YES…in our own strength and by our own stamina, God’s impossible standard of forgiveness seems ludicrous. But, when His Spirit is alive and working within you to change your very heart DNA, then NO, God’s standard is not impossible.
This level of forgiveness and grace and love is the work of the Spirit of God. This is the same Spirit that brings to life that which was dead and makes the dried bones to live again. Through the power of this resurrection-God within you, you can live free and grant freedom; you can release your debtors. God will grant to you to forgive those who have taken from you and maimed you and kicked you again when you were down. You can be free to forgive others as you have been forgiven by the sinless, sacrificed God-man, Jesus Christ.
A friend may have hurt you terribly, or a stranger may have harmed you or your family. The church may have unwisely and foolishly withheld from you the love God had shown to them, or you may still hurt in your heart from the humiliating drama of junior high or a ruthless boyfriend in high school. Your debtor may have sinned against you in unspeakable ways. Whatever your pain and whatever sin has been committed against you, as you behold God’s love and forgiveness toward you, God will work in your heart to show mercy to others as He has shown you.
with much <3, amanda
Links and Resources
John MacArthur, “Answering the Hard Questions About Forgiveness.”
Forgiveness: Breaking the Power of the Past, by Kay Arthur of Precept Ministries. I have worked through this Bible study several times in the last few years — lots of truth and encouragement here from God’s word.
AWESOME teaching by Dr. David Jeremiah on Matthew 6:12.