Forgive Us Our Debts: Part II
Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:1-4
Key Verse 6:12
“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
We are going through a series of lectures regarding prayer. We acknowledge that prayer is a vital, if not the most vital part of our Christian lives. And that’s part of the reason we have devoted ourselves to learning about prayer. Here’s one good reason. We can find in the Bible a number of basic principles of truth, and one of them is the principle of prayer. We are amazed that the Bible even talks about prayer. Isn’t it true that God knows beforehand what we need? And if so, then why should we pray at all? Yet the Bible exhorts us to pray. Why? Because of the principle of prayer itself— and this is what it is: that God wants to do his work in us, in others, around us, in the church, in the world, everywhere. But he will not do it alone. He will wait until we have prayed, and then and only then will he do what he will do. We should not forget this principle of truth which God binds himself and us to. But why are we studying the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples in Matthew 6? Because we have asked the Lord to be our teacher in the school of prayer, and he has parted heaven and has come down to earth in order to teach us the kind of prayer that he wants us to pray. In it we find something magnificent; we find what God himself would have us pray. And the first prayer lesson he gives us is this: three prayers concerning God and three concerning ourselves. This is how God wants us to pray. This is what God wants us to pray for.
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, Jesus said: “This, then, is how you should pray.” (Matthew 6:9a) Then he proceeded to teach them the Lord’s People’s Prayer. And this is the prayer that most Christians know by heart. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:9b-13) Last week we took a close look at the first three topics of prayer our Lord tells us to pay attention to— that is, the first 3 topics relating to God: hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, and your will be done. This time we want to look at the last three prayer topics that Jesus tells us to pay attention to— that is, the topics relating to us.
The first prayer relating to us is this: “Give us today our daily bread.” We may wonder how the Lord of glory can teach us to pray for God’s name to be hallowed, for his kingdom to come, and for his will to be done, and then suddenly turn to an ordinary and mundane matter such as our daily bread. The plunge seems like falling from the height of a mountain to the depth of a valley. But there is nothing ordinary about this crucial prayer. Let me explain.
When we pray for the name of our Father to be hallowed, for his kingdom to come, and for his will to be done, God’s ears are upon us. In other words, there is no prayer that draws heaven’s attention more than such prayer topics that concern God’s heavenly affairs. We should then not be surprised to know that when prayers of this caliber and magnitude draw heaven’s attention, they invariably will also draw the devil’s attention as well. Consequently, the payer that hallows God’s name, longs for his kingdom to come and for his will to be done will invite the devil’s attack on us. And where do you think his attack might be directed at? Naturally, the issue of daily bread is of such importance to us in our daily lives that the devil is certain to attack us right there— where it hurts. Surely Jesus knew that the reality of our daily bread will become to us a focus for the devil’s attack.
Our daily bread, or our need for food, or even more fundamentally the matter of our physical survival is our very basic human necessity and need. More than that, they create for us a great source of temptation. And who is not tempted or is beyond temptation when it comes to their source of food or their daily bread and ultimately their very future security and physical survival! When a person’s daily bread is threatened or becomes a problem for them, it brings about a very great temptation in our lives— a temptation to worry or to be anxious about or even to focus our attention entirely on basic survival rather than on God and his glory . Consider how many have buckled and even collapsed under the pressure of securing their daily needs, devoting effort and even their very lives to run after daily bread, and in the process completely ignoring God and his purpose and will in their lives. Many have even sold their soul to the devil in order to secure for themselves the material things needed for every day life and survival.
Our day to day survival is not a small issue for us. The moment we were cast out of Eden, the survival instinct kicked in, and our daily bread problem became for us the most urgent life problem. In an effort to survive, people have not only abandoned their honor and dignity in securing bread for tomorrow, but they have put aside the truth of God. Abraham was a man of faith and integrity. But no sooner did he make a decision to follow the Lord, a famine arose in the land and the devil tempted him with daily bread. And Abraham cast aside his faith and integrity and went as far as selling his own wife, in order to secure his daily bread and to insure his own survival. God finally rescued Abraham from this folly. But you cannot ignore the daily bread problem, especially when you are walking by faith with the Lord and learning how to serve his purpose and glory. Our Lord Jesus warned us saying: “Do not work for food that spoils but for food that endures to eternal life…” (John 6:23) What Jesus meant was not that we shouldn’t work for a living, but that our daily bread must not be our priority of life. Man has a tendency towards wasting his life running after his daily bread and making it the object and priority of his life.
On one hand you desire that God’s name be hallowed, that his kingdom come, and his will be done, and you pray about it with all your heart. But on the other hand you also live in this world and have your daily bread needs to consider. The devil knows about this necessity of ours. But he distorts the truth of it such that it appears to be the most urgent pursuit of your life. What do you do in order to avoid being caught up in the devil’s temptation and trap which stresses that your physical survival is the most urgent matter of your life, and therefore, your daily bread must take a priority such that you pursue it relentlessly? The answer is simple if we are willing to accept the truth from the Lord himself. Trust God with your daily bread, and pray to him about it. Jesus taught us to pray “Give us today our daily bread” as a protective prayer against the devil’s wiles.
When we devote ourselves to the prayer that concerns God and his glory, and then supplement that prayer with “Lord, give us today our daily bread”, we realize several things. We realize that our daily bread is not a matter of chance or how hard we work, or how much effort we devote to securing our means of survival; but we realize that our daily bread is rather God’s gracious gift and blessing for us— it reminds us that God himself is the provider of all our needs, and that we need not pursue it greedily nor be troubled by the survival instinct. We also realize something else: we realize that when we determine to live for the Lord rather than living for daily bread, all we really need is our daily bread and not our monthly nor our yearly portions— but only our daily bread— that which we need is enough. The Lord says to us: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:34) We realize something else as well. We realize that the Lord did not teach us to pray selfishly for “my daily bread” but he taught us to pray for “our daily bread”. He did so because we are part of God’s family and therefore, we must not be concerned with my needs alone but also with the needs of my brothers and sisters. I must also pray for “our daily bread” as a protective prayer so that our Christians family might not be caught up in the devil’s temptation.
The second prayer request of the last three is this: Look at verse 12 “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Luke 11:4 says: “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” Our sins are our transgressions and consequently they are our debts to God whom we offend as well as to others. Our sins offend God deeply. They cut deeply into his heart. We are in his eternal debt because he has borne our sins endlessly. Day by day we cannot avoid offending God in so many ways and areas in our lives. What we should do but do not do for God is a debt. What we should say and is not said is also a debt. It is really not easy to maintain a conscience clear of offenses towards God! Each night before we go to bed, we discover that many things have happened during the day which are offensive to God. As we ask God to forgive our sins and debts and to remember them no more, we are then able to have a conscience that is clear of offenses towards God. This is extremely important. Having our debts and sins forgiven, we now have a clear conscience and have peace within, we can then go on living for the glory of God. We cannot ignore the fact that on a daily basis we have sins and debts that every human being including Christians accumulate. There is no way our conscience can be clear of these sins and debts unless we come to God for forgiveness. And upon receiving his gracious forgiveness, our conscience is once again clear as we continue to live in his marvelous grace. Not many people know this. They have such a heavy heart, and peace eludes them, and anxiety fills them. They have a troubled conscience. They have offended God and others. All they need is to ask God’s forgiveness. And God our Father forgives them and clears their conscience.
But Jesus also said that we ask God to forgive our debts, just as we also have forgiven our debtors, those who have sinned against us. If a person is grudging and cruel towards his brothers and sisters in the Lord, and he or she cannot forget their offenses towards him or her, how can we say that they are qualified to ask God to forgive his or her debts! He or she whose heart is so narrow as to always notice how people have hurt and offended them, that person is unable to pray such a prayer before the gracious and loving God. What is absolute here is the truth that we need to have a forgiving heart before we can come before the Father with boldness asking him to “Forgive my debts, as I also have forgiven my debtors.” How can we ask God to forgive my sins if I have not also forgiven another’s sins! How can I open my mouth to ask for God’s forgiveness unless I have first forgiven my debtors!
We notice something here, that besides telling us of our relationship with the Father, the Bible also shows us our relationship among ourselves. A Christians deceives himself or herself if he or she considers himself or herself as right with God because he or she remembers the relationship with God while neglecting the relationship with other brothers and sisters. If today I have created some conflict or hostility with any brother or sister in the Lord, I will lose the blessing of God. More than that, I will also incur a debt if I fail to do or to say what I should say or do to my brother or sister. Let us not imagine that if I fail to forgive my brother’s debt it is all right with God. It is not. If I can neither forgive nor forget whatever grievances I have against someone this will surely hinder me from receiving God’s forgiveness and blessing. Just as I treat my brother and sister in the Lord, so also will God treat with me. It is a serious self deception if I consider that God has forgiven me my debt to him while at the same time I continue to remember the debts others owe me, cutting them down and complaining about them. For the Lord Jesus explicitly teaches us to pray: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
The third prayer request is this: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” The first request pertains to our physical need— give us our daily bread. The second request concerns our relationship with the Christians family— forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors. And this final request speaks in relation to Satan, the devil. “And lead us not into temptation” seems to be the negative side, while “but deliver us from the evil one” seems to be the positive side. As we live in this world— as we live for God and his glory— with a strong desire for his holy name to be hallowed, and for his kingdom to come, and for his glorious will to be done— we will on one hand, have physical needs for which we must ask God to supply on a daily basis— and on the other hand, we will experience the need for our conscience to be always clean and blameless before God and for which we also must ask his forgiveness. Yet there is another need that we encounter— that God deliver us from the hand of Satan.
It is clear to us Christians that the more we walk in the way of kingdom of heaven, the stronger will be our temptations. How can we cope with this? There is no other way than to pray asking God to “lead us not into temptation.” We must never be self confident in the sense that we dare to think that we can face any temptation. There is no true Christian who does not know the power of temptation. Some think that they are mature enough to handle any situation that arises, only to find out that they are so easily swallowed up by the temptations of life. And Satan knows how to tempt us to pride, and to arrogance, to self confidence, to a false sense of maturity, to believing that others deserve our condemnation and judgment because they themselves need humility and such, even temptation to self reliance and to knowledge above and beyond what we already have, temptation to despise what we have been given and to covet higher grounds. All are temptations designed by the devil to fell Christians and to drag them to uselessness and ineffectiveness. But the Lord Jesus has taught us to pray like this, as he says: “Lead us not into temptation” and he does not mean to mindlessly repeat these words. What he means is that we ought to take temptation seriously and pray to God regularly that we not be led in that way. There is always the way of the cross and the way of temptation. We should ask the Lord to lead us not in the way of temptation.
Such prayer is for the sake of protection. Instead of waiting daily for temptation to come upon us, we should daily pray that the Lord will not bring us into it. Only according to what God himself permits, we pray that what he has permitted for us in order to test and strengthen us, may it be so, and whatever he has not permitted, that it may be kept from us by his grace. Otherwise, we will be occupied with fighting temptation from morning till night time and we can do nothing else for the Lord but fend off temptation. I must ask God not to lead me into temptation so that I may be free to serve his purpose without interruption. In that sense, this prayer is glorious because it shelters us against unnecessary temptations that the devil knows will hinder us from living for the glory of God, and entrap us to fighting with temptation the whole day.
We should not only ask the Lord to “lead us not into temptation” but also to “deliver us from the evil one”. This final request is a positive one. No matter where the hand of Satan is— whether it involves our daily bread to render us anxious, or it accuses our conscience to render us without inner peace, or it moves to tempt us with something or another— we must ask God to deliver us from the evil one. What I am saying is that as we pray for deliverance from the evil one, positively, we have the confidence that we will not fall into his hands in anything, neither in this nor in that. It is why Jesus taught us to pray like this, that God deliver us from all the wiles of the evil one, and keep us safe in his grace, as we pray for daily bread and forgiveness and in avoiding the temptations of the day. We have faith to believe that this prayer truly fulfills the will of God in our lives, if and when we pray according to the Lord’s teaching. We can be confident that this prayer is sufficient, powerful and effective in sheltering us from all that is unseen and harmful for us in this world as well as in the spiritual realm. We must believe this. We must also hold it dear to our hearts as unwavering truth above all that seems to be logical and reasonable and practical in this world. Our great enemy is our own mind and heart that refuses to believe that a simple prayer like this can actually cover every detail of our lives, securing for us a foundation in prayer that we can neither do without or live without. May this prayer be the anchor to our soul as we begin and end the day with the Lord’s words, understanding what we are praying for, believing what we are praying for, accepting what we are praying for as truth and blessing for us.
[We must know that Satan is determined to hurt people, especially God’s own people. This is well reflected in Matthew chapters 8 and 9 among other places. But however the hand of Satan may reveal itself, whether in illness, or in rejection or in possession or in opposition or in conflict or in hostility etc., what we can do is to pray that the Lord deliver us from the evil one.]
We find one more prayer at the end of this precious prayer. “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” (Bible footnote) I can tell you that this is a wondrous ending to the prayer “deliver us from the evil one” because it is a truth and a perspective at the same time. The truth is that the power and the kingdom and the glory all belong to God. And the perspective is that God’s power and kingdom and glory are immeasurably greater than that of the evil one. No wonder our Lord ended his prayer with this praise to God. We too ought to end all prayers with such praise to God— who’s name must ever be hallowed, whose kingdom is sure to come, who’s will is bound to be done— and the God who is faithful in giving us our daily bread, who is happy to forgive us our sins, who leads us not into temptation but delivers us from evil and the evil one— for his kingdom and power and glory are forever. Amen.