When You Pray
By Edgar Jones
5. The Lord's Prayer: the Fourth Petition
The simplicity and brevity of the Prayer continues to be fully conserved in this Fourth Petition. Many of us have quoted it so much and so often, in unison with others (and in disobedience to the Lord) that we likely have not taken in its significance. Whatever we repeat in unison with others seldom has much meaning to us, for it becomes a mere exercise. In so repeating it we become so involved in the timing and the acoustics that we ignore the message. In any case, here is the Fourth Petition:And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors; (Matthew 6:12)This is the only petition of the Prayer that is provisional! We haven't asked for a thing when we offer this petition unless we have complied with the provision. If we have not complied, the entire thing is vain. If we have complied, then we are asking for much, much more than is immediately evident.
The provision is, of course, that we must have forgiven our debtors before this petition has any effect on forgiveness. Indeed, if we have not complied with the provision, we are asking the Father not to forgive us. It is as if we were to say to the Father, "Do not forgive us our debts, as we have not forgiven our debtors."
Are we certain we want to offer up this petition? For, if we have not forgiven others, he will surely not forgive us, and we will certainly hear of this prayer again inasmuch as we will doubtless receive that which we ask -- no forgiveness. I tell you, this word of our Lord is loaded . . . big time!
How Much More?
I stated above, "If we have complied, then we are asking for much, much more than is immediately evident." When we offered the Third Petition, "Give us this day our daily bread" we were asking for much more than bread, but for all our daily needs truncated into this one word, bread. We are asking for more -- much more -- than we say by the word "bread." So here also we are asking for much more than the words at first imply. We are asking not only for the forgiveness of our "debts" but also for the full package of eternal salvation. Never has any petitioner asked for more in so few words, or in many. Those who are astute will know immediately that this is true, but for others I offer an explanation in what follows.
Look at the critical words, debt(s), debt(ors). The New Testament Greek is opheilemata. The definition (from Thayer) is "That which is justly or legally due; a debt." "Debt" in turn carries the following English dictionary definitions:1. Something owed, such as money, goods, or services.Our word "debt" can and does represent a wide range of things, including monetary debts, offenses of any kind, and trespasses of any kind. Jesus provides further insight when he immediately explained the reason for this petition in the verses following the Prayer:
2. a. An obligation or liability to pay or render something to someone else.
b. The condition of owing: a young family always in debt.
3. An offense requiring forgiveness or reparation; a trespass
(Excerpted from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition © 1996 by Houghton Mifflin Company. )For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14, 15, Mark 11:25, 26)The word here is "trespasses" (paraptomata) rather than "debts" (opheilemata). A trespass is an offense, therefore the word "offenses" is also allowable here as being the definition of "trespass".
Later, Jesus told the "Parable of the Unmerciful Servant" to make the significance of the principle that is at work here unmistakable. Only Matthew recorded it:21 Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?"Jesus introduced this parable as part of his answer to Peter's question, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin (amartano) against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?"
22 Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.
23 "Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.
24 When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents;
25 and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.
26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, 'Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.'
27 And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.
28 But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, 'Pay what you owe.'
29 So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you.'
30 He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt.
31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place.
32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me;
33 and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?'
34 And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt.
35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart."
We must therefore allow the word "sin" to stand as implicit in this petition.
Now we are in a position to know what we are asking when petitioning the Lord to forgive us as we forgive others. We are asking that:1. Our debts be forgiven as we forgive the debts of others.We are clearly involved here with a comprehensive principle that omits nothing. Let us examine each of these four categories briefly.
2. Our trespasses be forgiven as we forgive the trespasses of others.
3. Our offenses be forgiven as we forgive the offenses of others.
4. Our sins be forgiven, as we forgive others when they sin against us.
What about our debts? In the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, Jesus specifically chose a monetary debt (ten thousand talents- a huge sum) to illustrate the principle in the parable. Therefore, when we offer up this petition to the Father, we are asking that he forgive us, as we forgive all debts of others, including the monetary debts. Does someone owe you a monetary sum, a legal debt that he cannot pay? You must forgive him. If you do not, the Father will not forgive you whatever debts you owe to him. From a certain point of view, do you not own to him absolutely everything you possess?
What about trespasses? Someone is trespassing your person, your property, or whatever it may be. You must forgive him. If you do not, the Father will not forgive you whatever trespasses you have committed against him. Think of the many times you have trespassed his laws!
What about offenses? Someone has offended you by either word or deed. You must forgive that person. If you do not, the Father will not forgive you whatever offenses you have committed against him. Have you uttered his name profanely?
What about sins? Someone has transgressed a law of the Father in a manner that offends you. Has someone lied about you? You must forgive that person. If you do not, the Father will not forgive you the many sins you have committed against him through the transgression of his law.
Now do you understand what I said above, that this petition asks for much more than the words at first imply? Are you quite certain this is a prayer for you?
The Single Limit
Indeed, this principle, "The Forgiveness Principle" has only one limitation. Let us examine Jesus' statement of it before we get into the details:For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew i6:14,15)We know that its limitation is not in the numbers, which was the immediate point of Peter's question, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus' answer is plain enough. There is no numerical limit. What is it then?
We need to consult Luke to get this clearly stated from the mouth of Jesus of Nazareth:And he said to his disciples, Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, 'I repent,' you must forgive him." (Luke 17:1- 4)"Repentance" is the limiting provision. That is, the Father does not require us to forgive anyone -- anything -- until that one turns to us in repentance and seeks forgiveness. But when one repents, without limit as to the number of times, and we fail to forgive that one, we have not complied with the provision of the petition, and we can expect the Father to respond to us exactly as we respond to the offender. So it was that the "king" in the above parable first forgave his servant the huge debt. The servant was repentant, acknowledging the debt and seeking earnestly that it might be forgiven, for he could in no way pay it. Then, when that servant failed to forgive the debt of his pleading and repentant debtor, the king reversed his forgiveness and held the servant accountable for every talent. Repentance then is an essential component of the Forgiveness Principle we are here discussing. That is, the practice of forgiveness that the Lord requires of anyone is limited to forgiving those who have repented. That is the sole limitation.
But whenever anyone repents and asks us to forgive a debt, offense, transgression, or sin, and when we do not forgive, we can be sure the Father will never forgive us our debts, transgressions, offenses, and sins against him.
There is yet one more provision to be applied. That is the act of rebuking, according to Jesus' instruction:Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents,So, in the parable above, the king first set out to "settle accounts" with his servants. This amounted to a rebuke, and required that the king initiate the action. Then, the forgiven servant went out and demanded debt payment from his fellow servant. This served as a rebuke to initiate the action. Therefore, when we petition the Father for forgiveness, we must first forgive others who have repented of their sins against us. So, the fact that your brother or sister has not repented so as to be forgiven by you is not relevant until you have rebuked him or her, demanding payment. Then, if that one is repentant ("have patience, and I will pay you all"), you must forgive. We have then this simple sequence: you rebuke, he repents, you forgive.
forgive him; (Luke 17:3)
Jesus expressed the same sequence of responsibility in giving practical advice on reconciliation:If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17)We see that the responsibility for seeking a reconciliation first comes to the offended one. The offender may be completely unaware of the offense. So,1. You go to the offender and tell that one about the offense. Rebuke the offender!You rebuke, they repent, your forgive. It is that simple!
2. The offender listens to you. He or she repents! You have gained your brother. If the offender will not hear you, try a second time, with others, or a third time, with the assembly.
3. Finally, you must forgive, but only if he or she repents. Without his repentance, there is no forgiveness, and no reconciliation.
Then, you go into your room, close the door, and pray to the Father in secret,And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors;
The Petition that Never Fails
This petition never fails simply because it is provisional. The Father always responds affirmatively by forgiving us exactly as we forgive others. It's only fair! He will forgive/not forgive us exactly as we forgive/not forgive.
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