It is not difficult for someone to fake sincerity in a prayer to God. We can pray for God’s will to be done while privately hoping our will prevails. We can pray that God’s kingdom comes soon, while secretly reveling in the cares of this world. But there’s one prayer that requires a public attitude; one prayer that demands public accountability. As Jesus teaches His disciples, and us, to forgive as we have been forgiven, He challenges us that words are not enough. God requires a lifestyle of forgiveness from His chosen people.
When Prayer is Proven in the Public Square
In Kent Hughes commentary on Luke’s gospel, he told the story of two sisters who lived together their entire lives in a small apartment.
And as anyone living in close quarters can attest – offenses can easily mount up.
Eventually, something was said or done that caused a break in their fellowship. But this time, rather than work together to resolve it, they both allowed it to harden like cement, over time.
They eventually agreed to take a piece of chalk and draw a line down their living quarters. They drew a line that divided the living room in half; they divided the kitchen in half and separated their cooking utensils; they even drew a line that divided the fireplace in half. One sister was responsible for one side and the other sister the other side.
Still, every Sunday they attended the same church, although sitting on different pews. And according to their church liturgy, every Sunday, they stood and recited “The Lord’s Prayer”. (Adapted from R. Kent Hughes, Luke: Volume One (Crossway Books, 1998), p. 413)
Kent Hughes did not include any information as to whether, or not they settled the matter between them.
When I read that, I wondered what would have been going through their minds when they got to that line in the prayer – “Forgive us our debts as we forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” Or, their translation may have read; “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
I quoted a little girl in our last study who didn’t quite understand what trespasses were and when she quoted the prayer, she said it wrong, but really got it right, when she said: “Forgive us our trash baskets as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets.”
That’s one of the most profound questions you will ever work at answering: what do you do when people put trash in the basket of your life?
As we return again today to the 11th chapter of Luke’s gospel – Jesus is teaching his disciples how to pray this pattern prayer – a model prayer. And we arrive at what Augustine, the 4th century church leader, called the “terrible petition”. (Ibid, p. 414)
He called it terrible because of its implications to our own peace of mind should we refuse it; the implications it delivered on the maintenance of our soul and heart before the Lord that would be hindered if we rejected it.
We are now at verse 4 where the Lord teaches His disciples to pray:
And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. Luke 11:4
As we’ve emphasized before, this prayer is for believers. It began by addressing “Our Father” – and that’s because we have a family relationship with Him, through His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
So when you read this line in verse 4;
And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. Luke 11:4
Or as the Lord taught it, recorded in Matthew chapter 6;
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. Matthew 6:12
You need to remember, this is not a prayer for salvation. The Bible says that we are saved by faith alone – not as a result of our own good works (Ephesians 2:8); not even good works like forgiving other people, can save us.
As Al Mohler pointed out in his book on this prayer; we have to be careful not to make this mean something that Jesus would not affirm.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. Matthew 6:12
Jesus is not saying that we are forgiven by God because we have forgiven others; he’s saying we should forgive other people just like we’ve been forgiven. Forgiven people should become forgiving people. (Adapted from R. Albert Mohler, Jr. The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down (Nelson Books, 2018), p. 134)
This prayer then isn’t how we become believers, this is how we should behave as believers.
Now so far, every prayer request we’ve covered so far as we’ve gone through this text – every prayer request or statement we might stand and recite might never be proven as true or false in our hearts and lives; we might just be saying words.
And it might never be revealed whether or not these words are our true feelings and intentions!
- “Father, hallowed be your name – we want your name to be reverenced; maybe we do and maybe we don’t - really.
- Your kingdom come – Father, we want your kingly rule in our lives right now and your future kingdom to arrive soon! Maybe we really do, but maybe we don’t – who would really know;
- Give us each day our daily bread – “Lord, we’re trusting you in humility to provide for our daily needs – maybe we are and maybe we aren’t.
- And lead us not into temptation.” Maybe we want that . . . and maybe we don’t.
But this little phrase – “Forgive us as we forgive others” – takes this prayer public!
This prayer invites accountability. All of a sudden, this prayer drags us out into the public square and demands a demonstration.
It suddenly becomes especially convicting to the believer.
Like a mirror, James 1:23 says, the word of God sends us an accurate reflection of our attitude and spirit and we start reaching around for some spiritual windex and a paper towel, because the reflection is dirty – it needs cleaning – if not repairing.
Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
Now the Lord is using here the concept of indebtedness.
The Aramaic word for sin can be translated debt, which is why some translations use debts and others use sins. They both refer to legal obligations to the Lord that demand repayment. (Warren W. Wiersbe, On Earth as It Is in Heaven (Baker Books, 2010), p. 105)
Sin is a debt – and we owe God. But the truth is, our sins are so many we will never be able to pay God off – the debt is too great.
Which is why the Lord Jesus came to die, on our behalf. He alone could pay the penalty of our sin – and as we learned in our last study, the apostle Paul put it this way:
He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. Colossians 2:13-14
So now Jesus teaches us to pray, with an understanding of the indebtedness that has been paid off by Christ.
Now to the audiences our Lord addressed, they would have immediately shuddered with this concept of indebtedness.
One author commented that for most Americans, debt is annoying, but not life-threatening. However, in the ancient world, debt was punishable by prison sentence. In the Roman empire, during the days of Christ, the prisons were filled with as many debtors as criminals. (Adapted from Mohler, p. 122)
Debtors would be thrown into prisons, which were often state-run milling houses. Debtors would be chained to a grinding stone which they turn for hours every day.
More dangerous criminals would not only be chained to the grinding stone but blinded in order to prevent their escape. You might remember this is exactly what happened to Samson – the jail was a mill house – we’re told in Judges 16 that when Samson was finally captured by the Philistines that they:
Seized him and gouged out his eyes . . . and bound him with bronze shackles. And he ground at the mill in the prison. Judges 16:21
Debtors were often put into prison to motivate family members to pay off their liabilities.
One document was discovered dating back to Old Testament times in Babylon where two family members – a mother and a daughter – were being held for unpaid debts – the implication was the husband was not paying his debt and they’d been arrested and imprisoned. The document read, “Come here before your wife and daughter die grinding barley in prison.” (Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical and Post-Biblical Antiquity p. 1404)
All that underscores the fact that during the days of Christ, you didn’t declare bankruptcy if you couldn’t pay your debts – you couldn’t get another credit card and spread out your debt – you couldn’t take out a loan to consolidate debt to make payment more manageable.
In those days, if you couldn’t pay your debts, you more than likely went to jail – and it was possible you never got out again.
Back then, debt wasn’t just annoying – it was a matter of life and death. (Adapted from Mohler, p. 122)
You need to understand that when the Lord was teaching the disciples this particular prayer request, He was using the language of canceling debt – and of responding to debtors. (Adapted from David E. Garland, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Luke (Zondervan, 2011), p. 464)
Lord, forgive us our debts against You – and how grateful we are for this daily opportunity – but that isn’t all.
Now in a very personal, convicting manner, the Lord turns it around and teaches His disciples to effectively pray, “Oh, and Father, teach us to treat other people’s debts like You’ve treated ours.”
Now I don’t know about that part . . . that’s a bit of a stretch. God forgives our sin against Him, but we’re not God – surely He’s not expecting the same from us.
But He evidently is. And so far, in this prayer, I believe this is the most difficult phrase to pray – because it delivers to us the most difficult assignment.
Now, if we compare scripture with scripture, there are at least two principle that will allow us to handle this assignment from the Lord, as we genuinely pray this prayer.
And the first principle is:
The Principle of Recalculation
Now I didn’t come up with that word because my next point begins with the letter “R”, and I want to alliterate like they taught me in seminary; actually, I only have one other principle in this outline, and it begins with the letter “I”.
The reason I chose this word is simply because this is exactly what we’ve got to do every single time we’re confronted with the issue of forgiveness – we’ve got to recalculate everything according to divine math.
You’ve heard of new math – which I never understood – I didn’t get the old math either. I graduated from high school with an empty diploma – I had to take Algebra 1 again in summer school in order to graduate from high school. I barely passed, and as a result was admitted into college on academic probation. Math and I have never been close friends.
I had a lady came up to me after church one day and she said; “You always give good illustrations from history; why don’t you ever give any good illustrations from math?” Because I can’t think of any good illustrations from math. Until – today. Let me show you.
In Matthew’s gospel, Peter comes to the Lord and he asks the Lord this honest question – chapter 18 and verse 21.
“Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” And that was a legitimate question because that’s what the rabbi’s of his day were teaching. If you were a super-spiritual person – in the running for Pharisee of the Year – you would forgive somebody 7 times.
But Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” In other words, Peter, take your number and multiply it by 11. Which basically means, “forgive him an unlimited amount of times.”
Which is why, after the Lord teaches them this, they respond by saying, “Lord, increase our faith.” In other words, we can’t do this unless something radical happens in our hearts.
And that’s true to this day. This prayer request isn’t possible; it isn’t even natural – it is supernatural.
Now with that, the Lord goes on to give a parable that illustrates this principle of recalculation – verse 23:
Therefore 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. And 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. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. Matthew 18:23-27
Now to put it into perspective, we need to understand theses financial terms, which the Lord’s audience would have understood.
In the Lord’s culture, 1 denarius equaled 1 day’s salary; 6,000 denarii equaled 1 talent. The average person would have to work 16 years to earn 6,000 denarii which equals 1 talent. So during someone’s career, they might earn 3 or 4 talents.
None of you are writing any of this down.
Did you notice here in verse 24 that this servant owes ten thousand talents – that’s 164,000 years of salary. He obviously isn’t gonna live long enough to pay off this debt.
But how much money was it? Well, to put it into today’s economy, if this man was earning $50,000 dollars a year, he would owe his master $8.2 billion dollars.
Obviously, the Lord is using terms to express the absolute impossibility of this man ever paying off his debt.
It was out of the question – He isn't gonna live long enough, he would never make enough. This is mathematically, physically, financially impossible! He’s $8.2 billion dollars in debt.
Now with that in mind, notice verse 28.
But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii … Matthew18:28a
Now remember – even though none of you wrote anything down – 1 denarius was equal to 1 day’s salary; so this debt represents 3 month’s salary.
Jesus says in verse 28:
And seizing him, 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 18:28b-30
Now the Lord’s audience is going to immediately recognize how unkind and unforgiving this man was, having been freed of his incredible billion dollar debt.
And by the way, the amount his fellow employee owed him was no small matter either. Based on the same comparison,
he was owed around $14,000 dollars to this other man.
That’s not pocket change.
But the Lord’s point is that you’re only going to be able to forgive someone’s offense if you recalculate the enormity of your offense toward God.
Our problem is that we forget how utterly indebted we are to God – who has forgiven us!
Praying this prayer demands the principle of recalculation.
Yes, somebody out there is indebted to you – it’s significant. They really do owe you something: an apology; money; restitution; kindness; gratitude; they owe you that! And it isn’t pocket change! It hurts . . . you feel it.
And God brings them to a recognition of their offense, and they come to you and ask you for forgiveness. Now what will you do?
Jesus is teaching us to stop calculating their offenses and recalculate our offenses to God.
That’s humbling . . . and that puts everything into a proper perspective.
Now the second principle that makes this prayer assignment possible is:
The Principle of Imitation
The apostle Paul delivered this principle to the Ephesian church when he wrote:
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32
Forgive one another just like God the Father through God the Son forgives you.
Have you ever thought about the fact that you are perhaps never more like your Heavenly Father than when you choose to forgive someone else?
In the parable the Lord taught of the King forgiving his servant 8.2 billion dollars in debt, the king was God the Father and the indebted servant was a repentant sinner.
The parallel point was clear: if that’s how God treats a sinner, then how ought forgiven sinners treat other sinners who repent? (Adapted from Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Matthew (Crossway, 2013), p. 526)
And by the way, that’s a key point here that leads to full and joyful reconciliation – the person who sinned against you is brought to repentance.
Jesus will teach His disciples later on in Luke’s gospel – and we’ll deal with it at length when we get to chapter 17 – Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you 7 times, and repents 7 times, forgive him.”
So now, in that text, we’re down to forgiving someone who apologizes only 7 times. But that still isn’t easy – in fact, as we’ll learn, Jesus says that it’s 7 times in the same day.
Peter and the disciples all have their calculators out, “Lord, how many times do we forgive somebody . . . seven times?”.
Jesus effectively commands them to stop counting and start forgiving. (Ibid, p. 522)
And the disciples follow up this instruction by saying, “Lord increase our faith!” We can’t do this unless you increase our faith – which effectively means, “unless you change our hearts!”
We don’t just need more faith – we need new math – divine math:
- spirit-changing forgiveness.
The benefits of living by the principle of divine recalculation . . . and divine imitation.
In J.I. Packers little commentary on this prayer, he closes his chapter on this text by including a poem.
“Forgive our sins as we forgive,”
––you taught us, Lord, to pray;
But You alone can grant us grace
To live the words we say.
How can your pardon reach and bless
The unforgiving heart
That broods on wrongs,
And will not let old bitterness depart?
In blazing light, your cross reveals
The truth we dimly knew,
How small the debts men owe to us,
How great our debt to you.
Lord, cleanse the depths within our souls,
And bid resentment cease;
Then, reconciled to God and man,
Our lives will spread your peace.
(J.I. Packer, Praying the Lord’s Prayer (Crossway, 2007), p. 82)
As I said before, this prayer request is deeply personal and convicting – to me – how about you? You see, the Lord isn’t just giving us information about prayer; He’s leading us to transformation through prayer.
And this isn’t just for praying . . . this is for living, one day, one difficulty – one offense at a time.
As we prayerfully live by the principle of recalculation . . . and the principle of imitation. And we become a little bit more like our Father, who is in Heaven.