Sermon Details




Please open your Bible at Matthew 6 and verse 12, as we continue our series in the Lord’s Prayer. Our Lord tells us that there are six things to ask of God; three of them relate to God and His glory, and three of them relate to us and our needs. The place to begin in prayer is not with ourselves and our needs but with God and His glory. Hallowed be Your name. Your Kingdom Come. Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. But then, having committed ourselves to honoring God’s name, extending God’s kingdom and doing God’s will, our Lord teaches us to ask the Father for what we need. Now, what do we need in this world? If you boil it down, Jesus teaches that there are three fundamental needs: We need to be sustained (our daily bread), to be forgiven for our many sins, and to be delivered from the temptations that lurk within us and the evil that is all around us.

If you think about the various needs of your life, you will find that they all belong under one of these three petitions: sustained, forgiven, delivered.  Now I wonder if you have noticed how they are all linked together? The word ‘and’ is introduced here for the first time in the Lord’s Prayer:

Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. – Matthew 6:11-13

These three petitions are strung together as if they were one request. The life we are asking God to sustain is a life in which we forgive as we are forgiven: a life in which we rise above the temptations within us and the evils around us. That’s the life we want to live because we are committed to honoring God’s name, to extending His kingdom, and doing His will. And so we come to this fifth petition that is vital for us today and every day “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). We’re going to look at why we need to be forgiven, and why we need to forgive. Then we’re going to look at how we can be forgiven, and how we can forgive. There are four key words here: debts, debtors, forgive and us.

1. Debts

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. – Matthew 6:12

Here we’re looking at why we need to be forgiven. Our Lord seems to have taught the Lord’s Prayer more than once, for Luke records that Jesus taught us to pray, ‘forgive us our sins’ (Luke 11:4). So our sins are described here as debts to God. Our Lord also speaks about debtors: people who have sinned against us. Here is the reality of our position in this world: we sin and we are sinned against. We have debts, and we have debtors. In using the language of ‘debts’ and ‘debtors,’ our Lord makes it clear that each of us lives in a network of relationships in which we have responsibilities and obligations: what I owe to God, what I owe to others, and what others owe to me

Notice that the only One who stands outside of this network of obligations is God Himself. God is no one’s debtor. “Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” (Romans 11:34-35). God owes us nothing, but we have an obligation to God, and we have an obligation to others.

What is this obligation that we owe to God and to each other? You can sum that up in a single word: love. ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself ’ (Mark 12:30-31). That is our Lord’s summary of the Ten Commandments. This is what God requires of us

Now, when we think of our sins, we usually think first of what we have thought or said or done that is wrong. But the starting point here is not with what we have done, but with what we have failed to do. We owe God a life of devoted love every hour of every day of our entire lives. What we owe, we have not paid, and because God calls us to love, we have an obligation to others. Love your neighbor as yourself. “A new commandment I give you; that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34-35). This means that I owe it to you to always seek your best interest. That is true in every human relationship. We owe a debt of love. You owe it to your husband, your wife, your parents, your children, your neighbors, your friends, your employer your employees, your business partners, and your colleagues. Every day, we owe a debt of love to God and to each other, and however much we love, that debt is never fully paid. Paul says, “Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another” (Romans 13:8 NIV). You have one debt that is always outstanding and that is your debt to love God and to love others.

Our sins are debts. They are a failure to love God as He has loved us. They are a failure to love our neighbor as ourselves. Our debt of love is a debt that we have not paid and cannot pay. We need to be forgiven because we have an unpaid debt.

2. Debtors

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. – Matthew 6:12

Here we’re looking at the subject of why we need to forgive: ‘Debtors’ means that there will be people in your life who will not give you what they owe. God places an obligation on you to love others, and God places on others an obligation to love you, but we live in a fallen world, and just as you have defaulted in what you owe to God and to others, so others will default in what they owe to God and to you. They will be your debtors.

Friends, this is a really important principle to settle in your life. There will be people in your life who fail to give you what they owe. They will not love you well. They will disappoint you. They will not give you the grace that they should. They are your debtors, and a debtor is a person who has wronged you in any way. But when a person fails to love me, I still have an obligation to love them. This is really at the heart of the challenge of living as a Christian in this fallen world.

What does it look like to love others people well? There is a difference between our love for God and our love for others. Loving God means obeying all His commands. Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Loving God means doing all that He says, but clearly, loving other people does not mean that you are under an obligation to do all that every other person says you should do. That would be to put others in the position that belongs to God alone. So what does it mean for us to love other people well?

a. Consideration

Do to others what you would have them do to you – Matthew 7:12 (NIV)

This is often referred to as the ‘Golden Rule.’ Put yourself in the shoes of the other person. Try to look at the situation from his or her point of view. Do for that person what you would hope for if you were in their position.

b. Empathy

Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. – Romans 12:15

Love doesn’t live in isolation. Love enters into the joys and sorrows of other people, and expands your experience. Love means that other people’s joys are a joy to you, and love means that other people’s sorrows are a sorrow to you.

c. Grace

Love covers over a multitude of sins – 1 Peter 4:8

When God justified you, He put all of your sins under the blood of Jesus. That includes many sins you were not aware of at the time and many more sins you are not aware of even now. Peter is not talking here about covering up crimes that need to be exposed. The point is that God does not take us to task for every sin we commit, and therefore, there is no reason for us to do that to others. For Christ’s sake, God covers over a multitude of sins. That is what God has done for us, and that is what He calls us also to do. This grace is the oil of human relationships.

d. Forgiveness

Forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you – Ephesians 4:32

We are to forgive those who have wronged us, failed us, disappointed us as we have been forgiven. So the starting point for our forgiving others is knowing the forgiveness we have received. Look at the love you have received from God, and that will help you to love others well.

There’s an old hymn by Robert Murray McCheyne that I sang growing up in Edinburgh, Scotland, and it’s words are often a blessing to me. Speaking about our salvation in Christ, the last verse says:

Chosen not for good in me, Wakened up from wrath to flee.
Hidden in the Savior’s side, By the spirit sanctified.
Teach me, Lord, on earth to show, By my love, how much I owe. [1]

Do you have a sense of how much you owe to Almighty God? The love that laid hold of you when we were dead in trespasses and sins, and which brought us to life in Jesus Christ? It’s by grace we have been saved through faith (Ephesians 2:5)!

We’ve looked at why we need to be forgiven: we have debts. We’ve looked at why we need to forgive: we have debtors. Now we come to the question, how can we be forgiven?

3. Forgive

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. – Matthew 6:12

That is a big ask. Imagine going to a someone to whom you owe $100,000 and saying, “I am asking you to write off this debt.” But Jesus invites us to come and make a far bigger ask of God. When we ask God to forgive our debts, we confess not only that we have failed to pay, but that we cannot pay. We don’t go to God and ask for terms. We don’t say, ‘Father I will make it up to You by being a good mother, a good student, a good Christian.’ To pray ‘forgive us out debts’ is to say to God, ‘I can’t pay! I cannot balance my account in Your book! Now now. Not ever. So Father, my only option is to plead that in Your mercy, You will forgive my debt. Wipe the slate clean and cancel what I owe!’

Why would a Christian need to pray this prayer?

When we come to Christ in faith and repentance, we are justified fully, completely and forever. God drops all charges against us. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). If God has removed our sins as far as the east is from the west, why would we need to pray ‘forgive us our debts’ this week?

The point of this prayer is not that condemnation should be removed but that fellowship with God should be restored.

We are God’s wayward children. ‘Prone to wander, Lord I feel it; Prone to leave the God I love.’ God’s justified children sin in many ways. The sins of God’s children do not bring us into condemnation, but they do clog up our relationship with God.

The great desire of those who know God as their Father ––those who honor His name, and long for His kingdom, and seek to do His will ––is to walk with God as closely as it is possible for a redeemed sinner in this world. To walk with God is our destiny, our hope and our joy, and God’s children want as much of that as we can possibly get right now. So we pray, “Father, forgive us our debts.” ‘I don’t want to live an hour today distanced from You.’

How can this prayer be answered? ‘Forgive us our debts. Write off, cover over, all the ways I have failed to love You, and all the ways I have failed to love others this week.’ How can God do that? How can a just and holy God forgive our repeated failure to do what He has commanded? That takes us to the very heart of the Bible story. We are debtors to God, and we are not able to pay the debt that we owe. Our only hope is that someone else might be willing to pay the debt for us, and that is what God has done for us in Jesus.

Jesus paid the debt we owe. He did what we have failed to do. Jesus lived a life of perfect love. He fulfilled all that God required of us fully and completely. Then He laid down that perfect life, and in laying down His life, He paid the price of all our sins. ‘O praise the One who paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead. Jesus paid it all. All to Him, I owe.’ Because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross, we can come to the Father and say, ‘Forgive us our debts,’ and know that when we ask, He will forgive us, and that our fellowship with the Father will be restored.

We’ve looked at why we need to be forgiven, why do we need to forgive and how is it that we can be forgiven. Now we look at a really important question: How can we forgive?

4. Us

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. – Matthew 6:12

It seems to me that this little word, “us,” forms the hinge between us receiving forgiveness from God and us releasing forgiveness to others who have sinned against us. At the end of the Lord’s Prayer, our Lord continues with this theme, which indicates the importance of it.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses – Matthew 6:14-15

What does this mean? This does not mean that we have to do something to earn God’s forgiveness. We do not say, ‘Forgive us our debts because we also have forgiven our debtors.’ This is important because forgiveness isn’t easy. Sometimes we have to come back to it and keep working on it. If you are struggling to forgive another person, you need to know that God is not saying, ‘there’s no grace for you until you get this sorted out.’ If that was the case, no one would ever be saved. What this does mean is that there is the close connection between us receiving forgiveness from God and us releasing forgiveness to others. The connection lies in the word ‘us.’ Its not ‘forgive me my debts.’ Its ‘forgive us our debts.’ That means you want God to forgive not only the debts you owe, but also the debts that others owe, and that includes the debts that others owe to you.

“Us” means, ‘Father forgive me as I have failed to love You, and forgive her as she has failed to love me.’ The only alternative to this prayer would be: ‘Father, do not forgive us our debts as we have not forgiven our debtors.’ That would be to say, ‘I won’t forgive them,’ and ‘Father, I don’t want you to forgive them either.’ Who would want to pray that prayer? ‘Father, do not forgive us,’ means ‘Father, do not forgive me.’

The human heart is either hard or soft. It is either open or closed. Either it is a heart of stone, or it is a heart of flesh. If your heart is not open to pour forgiveness out, how can it be open for God to pour forgiveness in? How can I ask God to forgive me for my sins if I am not ready to forgive others for their sins? Forgive us our debts. This does not stop you from praying, ‘Father forgive me,’ when you confess a particular sin. But you cannot ask of God for yourself what you would not want Him to give to others.

How can we forgive those who have wronged us? The first thing to say is that this is not natural.  What happens most easily and most often is that sooner or later the hurt that goes into you comes out of you and gets passed onto to someone else. The person who is despised then despises other people. The person who is deceived then deceives others. The tragedy of this is that what has been so painful to you ends up being channeled through you into the lives of others.

Ghandi described this tragedy well when he said, “An eye for an eye until the whole world becomes blind.” But Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you… Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:38, 44).

When you are wronged by another person, two things are possible: The first is that the wrong done to you will come out from you. You’ll pass it on to others, and they’ll be wounded as you were wounded. That is the way of nature. The second is that the wrong done to you will end with you. That you do not pass it on to others, and that is the way of grace. Something better than a world of endless retaliation is possible, and we see it in Jesus. Listen to these words from 1 Peter as he describes how Jesus suffered on the cross:

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 2:21

Peter is talking about our calling as believers, particularly when we are wronged by other people. He tells us that what God calls us to do has been modeled by Jesus. When Jesus suffered He left us an example so that we might follow in his footsteps. What was the example?

When he was reviled, he did not revile in return – 1 Peter 2:23

Our Lord was mocked, shamed, insulted and treated with contempt. That’s what came to Jesus. He could have called twelve legions of angels to shamed and silenced those who mocked Him, but Jesus did not do that. What did He do?

When he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. – 1 Peter 2:23

How did Jesus do that? He prayed the Lord’s Prayer. ‘Father, forgive them they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23:34). Then comes this amazing description of what happened at the cross. Here’s what Jesus did in order that this forgiveness should be released:

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. – 1 Peter 2:24

Shame, mocking, spitting, reviling and contempt was heaped on Jesus, then the guilt of our sins was laid on Him, and Jesus did not pass it on. He bore it in His body on the tree. This ends here! That is how we are forgiven and find peace with God. Peter says this is the example we are to follow. We cannot make atonement for the world, but are called to follow the example of Jesus. We are never more like the Son of God than when we choose to forgive.  J I Packer quotes this 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 hear?
that broods on wrong, 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.[2]

May that be true of each and every one of us. Will you join with me in praying this prayer.


Our Father in heaven, we bow before You so grateful for the grace by which You have reconciled us to Yourself in and through Jesus Christ, our Savior and our Lord. We are very conscious of being Your wayward children. We are profoundly aware of that which we have thought, said and done that is displeasing and dishonoring to You. Forgive us these sins.

And Father we are profoundly aware of not only what we have done, but of what we have not done. We have come nowhere near the life that is fully devoted to loving You with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We’re not even close. We are profoundly aware of our debt, and we ask that You will forgive us for our frequent failure to love others well.

Father, we are sinners, but we also have been sinned against. We want to bring before You the pain of where we have been wronged, and ask that by Your grace, we will wring out that pain at the foot of the cross of Jesus.

Father, thank you, that through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ our many sins can be forgiven. Thank you that You have promised to those who come in humble confession and ask of You, that You will put our many sins behind Your back. Bury them in the depth of the sea and remove them as far from us as the east is from the west through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let the blood of Jesus cleanse us from every sin we pray.

Now, Father, give us grace to forgive, as we ourselves are forgiven. Please help us this week to love other people well. Grant that we may grow in consideration, empathy, grace and forgiveness. Let the overflow of Your grace to us flow out from us into this harsh and unforgiving world, so that Your name will be honored, Your kingdom extended and Your will done. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. In whose wonderful name we pray, Amen.



[1] Robert Murray McCheyne, HYMN: “When This Passing World Is Done,” 1837.

[2] J I Packer, I Want To Be A Christian, 164.

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