Forgive us Our Debts – Matthew 6:12

For the small time farmers and day laborers who listened to Jesus in Galilee, forgiveness of debt was a serious issue. Just like today, farmers often need to take loans in order to plant a crop; fishermen may have need to take a loan in order to finance new equipment. Even though the Law forbid charging interest on loans, this applied only to the Jews. If a Galilean worker owed money at interest, he may have been in debt to a Gentile landowner. A prayer for debt-relief would have been very attractive indeed!

However, debt is often associated with the debt of sin. Jesus’s followers are a movement characterized by forgiveness. Many experienced radical forgiveness from Jesus. Those who followed Jesus were reformed tax-collectors, prostitutes, outsiders, etc. (Luke 7:36-50). People who had experienced healing also represent a form of forgiven since there was an association of sin with major disease for some in the Second Temple period (Mark 2:1-12).

Is Jesus saying “confess your sins to God and you will be forgiven”? Does this imply if you are not confessing your sins they will not be forgiven? First, Jesus is not talking about “how to get saved” here, so the confession of sin in Matthew 6:12 is a requirement for salvation. The original audience are the inner-circle disciples of Jesus, the very people he has chosen as his closest followers. The person praying a prayer of confession already has a relationship with God.

Second, if the person praying is already right with God, why must they confess their offenses? Confession of sin allows a person to recognize they are falling short of the glory of God and are still in need of God’s forgiveness.

Third, nothing in the Bible suggests the follower of Christ must confess every sin along with all of the gory details. The point is acknowledgement of God’s grace and mercy for our daily offenses.

Fourth, the person praying a prayer of confession is “in their closet.” This is not a public confession before the whole congregation. I recall a prayer meeting I was leading many years ago when a person began to publicly confess some rather specific sins during a prayer. In that case, the person was more gossipy about what they had done, looking for some sort of public affirmation they were “not all that bad.” The true disciple of Jesus should not draw attention to themselves even in their confession of sin!

I suggest that the true disciple of Jesus has a healthy understanding of sin and how it affects their relationship with God. This is not some sort of self-flagellation nor should confession of sin lead to extreme low self-esteem (“such a worm as I”). Healthy confession of sin reflects an honest and open relationship with God.

The second part of the line is important too: we are to forgive others. Jesus will return to the theme of forgiveness in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18:21-44). The focus in that parable is on forgiving those who have wronged us even if they are unable to “pay their debt.” Forgiveness of others is based on the common Old Testament theme that God is the avenger. In Matthew 5:43-48 Jesus reversed the popular view that one can hate their enemy and seek revenge when wronged. Rather than seeking revenge, Jesus says, pray for your enemy and allow God to avenge you.

Forgiveness was an important part of the Judaism of the first century. The Jewish people knew that they had to be forgiven by God, and that they too needed to forgive their neighbors of their offenses against them. Sirach 28:1-7 is remarkably similar to Jesus’s call to forgive others.

Sirach 28:1–2 (NRSV) The vengeful will face the Lord’s vengeance, for he keeps a strict account of their sins. 2 Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray.

If Jesus’ followers are forgiven, they too must be forgiving people. But this is much harder to do than say. Contemporary (western) culture tends to glorify revenge, but so did the Romans. The Bible, however, consistently describes God as the avenger of the weak. Forgiving people who have wronged you is difficult because we have to let go of a lot of pain, hurt, anger, most of which we really enjoy!

Most people are aware of some great act of forgiveness, perhaps a person deeply hurt forgives the criminal who wronged them. Sometimes it is easier for a Christian to forgive someone of a crime than to live out the ideal model of forgiveness described in the Sermon on the Mount by daily forgiving the little offenses against us.

The forgiveness Jesus describes in this line frees us from the chains of our debt. Most people know what it is like to be freed from a debt of money (paying off a loan, for example). If you owe a friend money, that debt can do serious damage to your relationship. By forgiving debts of offense against us, by accepting forgiveness when it is offered, we can be free from the weight of the debt. The true disciple of Jesus lives out the forgiveness they have received in their relationships with their brothers and sisters in Christ.

14 thoughts on “Forgive us Our Debts – Matthew 6:12

  1. Personally, when I think of debt, I think of money. I think this is the norm when the word debt is brought up, but it also could be because of my background and interest in business. As your post mentions above, this is not at all what Jesus is talking about when he talks about debt. He is talking about sin (Long, 2018). There was something extremely interesting that McKnight said in the reading. He said that Judaism looks at debt as a language, but it is not a work-based religion (McKnight, 2013). The work-based religion is not the aspect that caught me off guard, but how they look at it as a language. So, they do believe heavily in giving and rejoicing in this.
    This section was strictly about forgiveness and McKnight gives the order that is implied by Jesus:
    1. God has graciously forgiven us.
    2. Therefore, we are to forgive others and to extend God’s grace.
    3. If we don’t forgive others, we show we are not forgiven.
    4. Forgiven people forgive others.
    5. But our forgiveness does not earn God’s forgiveness.
    These 5 points that McKnight mentioned were extremely accurate. Number 5 is the one that hit me though. We can forgive someone, but we have still sinned, so we have to ask for forgiveness from God. I think that this is one of the most important things that Christians need to realize. Not only do we need to forgive, but we need to live our lives in a way that is pleasing to God.

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    • I love this post, Chris. Ultimately we live to please God, that’s why we were created. Sin corrupted that, but grace replaced it so that we could live in eternity with Jesus Christ because of what He did for us. Like you said, forgiveness wasn’t earned, it was given. God graciously forgave us because of His unfailing love for us and gave us the opportunity of a lifetime to live for Him.

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    • Great post Chris! I have the same mindset when it comes to debt, it always brings me to finances. However, he also talks about our sin. One of the ideas that struck me the most about McKnight’s statement on forgiveness is that “if we don’t forgive others, we show were are not forgiven” (McKnight, 2013). As Christians we ought to show others the grace that has been shown to us. By denying this grace to others, we are clearly giving the wrong message to non-believers, and even to other believers. We ought to forgive others, not only as a duty, but as an act of thankfulness for God’s mercy towards us. After all, God was the one forgiving what we did not deserve to be forgiven.

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  2. We have more than enough debt to go around and unfortunately, we owe it all to God. Thankfully though, Jesus Christ came to take away our debt and pay it for us. Our sins, short comings and failures have dug us a deep hole and there is nothing we could do to fix it. But Jesus forgave us because of His grace and gave us new life because of His desire to be with us and promised us a place in Heaven because of His unchanging love for us. We didn’t deserve it but we were given it anyways, we didn’t earn it because we were sinful but instead God extended us grace to set us free from sin and gave us the opportunity to start a brand new life living in His love. Ultimately we live to please God, that’s why we were created, sin corrupted that but grace came like a wave and covered our sins for eternity so that we could start over and live the life we were meant to live which is found only in Jesus Christ because of what He did for us.

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  3. As I mention my assignment #3 paper, , if you take the time out really invest yourself in the things that the master (God) is giving you than you’ll have the opportunity to get yourself out of debt. (Tankard, 2018) The word debt is used to remind us that our sinful nature and behavior is holding us back from having the things we will like to have. Like a man that owes the IRS over a million dollars and it hinders him from the financial freedom he may desires to maybe invest, shop for things, etc. because to take care of his debt. Now once he pay off the IRS, then it allows him to have a little bit more freedom to do what he wants with his money. Now this can go good for him or bad because if he take advantage of the chance that are given, then he will stay out of debt and help to others do the same. The same way McKnight explains it in the Sermon on the Mount. God has graciously forgiven us. Therefore, we have to forgive others and to extend God’s grace. If we don’t forgive others, we show we are not forgiven. Forgiven people forgive others. You can find the best example of this in the Matthew 18:21-35, a servant had a great debt to pay and the king decided to forgive his debt. Later on the King found that the servant was being very brutal toward a man that owed him and the amount was much last than what he owed the King. Therefore, the King took it upon himself to punish that man because of the actions of not forgiving after he forgave.

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  4. I see where this issue can get confusing, the issue of confessing ones sins, is something that people don’t like to do, but the Catholics require this to be a regular part of their lives. I liked what you said about it not being necessary for salvation, but it is important to confess with your mouth the sins that you have committed. However, like you said in the blog, that does not mean that we have to write down every sin we think do and say so that we can confess it. It is more along the lines of realizing where you are weak and asking God to help you in that area. As for forgiveness of debt, I agree that it is more of a talk of sins than actual debt. My question is does this verse apply to actual debt or is it only talking about forgiving sins?

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  5. If the ‘debts’ referred to in this verse truly is addressing the issue of owing or holding a debt to sin, then the implications for the verse are very different. I particularly like the part about confessing the sin. As anyone who has ever watched a Italian mob movie knows, Catholics take the practice of confessions very seriously and the practice is steeped in traditions that are not supported Biblically. It is because of this that ever non-catholic distances themselves with the practice so much. However I believe that confession is a significantly overlooked part of prayer in the lives of modern American Christians. Now I am not saying to climb into a wooden box and confess to a guy you call ‘father’, dressed in a robe. I am saying to come before God and acknowledge the fact that you did sin and state you ‘repent’, as in you are making a conscious decision and proclamation that you have no intention of repeating the sin. This makes the prayer process so much more personal with God.

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  6. I really liked how this article really focused on the confession aspect of this. We are always told that it is oh so important to outwardly confess your sins. That is completely true. I am happy that you addressed the fact that we are not going to remember every little detail to ask God for forgiveness for. Rather, he knows our daily offenses. I have always had the conviction as since becoming a Christian that I need to keep track of every little sin I have ever committed and make a list so I can ask for forgiveness at the end of the day. When I first became a Christian I thought this was the only way I would be able to maintain a good and healthy relationship with God. But I was wrong. That weighed me down more than anything. I just started grasping the concept that God sees our daily mistakes and forgives us anyway rather than me needing to make a list and remind myself of how terrible I am. I also liked that you pointed out that while it is good to talk to others about your sin, it is good to do that alone too. McKnight addresses our prayer life in the book as well and reminds us how prayer is important and that we do get it wrong sometimes. God does forgive. Confession is important. those were the two main points I picked up from this article.

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  7. Forgiving us of our debts when I first saw this article I was thinking of money but it has a bigger focus on confession. Mcknight says “In the simplest terms this theory teaches that we fast in order to gain some benefit. The most commonly promised benefits of spiritual growth, suppression of sins, improved health, and a much better chance of answers to our prayers.” (Mcknight 2013). I think it is important that we confess our sins at the end of the day like you said in the article the focus of confessing our sin is to recognize that we have fallen short to the glory of God and are in need of God’s forgiveness. The importance for confessing is also to recognize how yourself has fallen short to the glory of God. The second piece of the article that I picked up I thought was important is being able to forgive others. This is not always something that is easy to do depending on the situation but it is important and best to forgive others no matter what the situation is. God forgives us for all of our sins.

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  8. When I think of debt, I also think of Money. I always think about the future and when I am done with school how much debt, I will be in or when I make a payment on my car. My mindset is always on not being in debt. I am reminded that God does not look at the money aspect of debt. I realize that when Jesus died on the cross he took care of my debt (sin). At times I forget that, that was a debt that was not taken lightly. God forgave us because his son died for us. Why is it that we forget to forgive others when our debt to God was the same. We look at sin as a bar graph and tend to forget that all sin is the same in God’s eyes. It does not matter the sin, sin is sin. Yet we as the flesh make it big deal that people have sinned against God, and we look at at the spec in our neighbors eye, we do not worry about the log in our own. ” We are to forgive others. If we don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive us”. ( Mcknight, 182) In order to forgive others, we must forgive ourselves and realize that God also forgave us. He did not have to do that but he did.

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  9. I agree with the first part of your blog. When I first think of debt, I think of money, I do not always associate it with sin. although this is what it is referring to in this passage, is a sin. when you sin you start creating these little pockets of bad things like anger, jealousy, and everything that comes along with sin, and that builds up your debt in Gods sight, and that is not a good place to be. In this part of the McNight chapter, and in the post it takes about how the verse says confess your sins to God and you will be forgiven that it is implying that you have to do something to get to heaven, but towards the end of both of the blog, and McNight it seems as though the conclusion is that it is not forgiving that gets you to heaven, it is more than because you are a Child of God you forgive. McNight puts it well when he says “we need to know how connected Gods forgiveness, and our forgiveness is — not so we will go about trying to earn our forgiveness by forgiving others but so we will see the utter importance of being people who forgive”. (183)

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  10. When the word debt comes up, my mind instantly goes to a money debt. That is what the world tends to be so focused on. There are classes and things that you can do to get rid of money debt that the world spends a lot of time on. But if we look at debt from a biblical viewpoint, the spectrum widens and debt becomes any sin that has been done. Jesus is able to give the people of that time a real life example and is able to help them understand the weight that sin can carry by simply comparing it to the weight of money debt. In order for these debts to be cleared, Jesus states that they must be forgiven (Matthew 6:12). He also states the importance of forgiving one another so that our heavenly father may forgive us (Matthew 6:14-15). McKnight says that “for most of us this seems backward because it seems to make God’s forgiveness conditioned on our forgiving others” (182). Jesus claims this in order to show the importance of forgiveness as well as the power that it brings forth.

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