The Lord’s Prayer 6:
Forgive Our Debts
Sermon by Pastor Eric Chang
We read in Mt. 6:12 these words: “...forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” [KJV] Now here we have some immensely important truths, the importance of which cannot be exaggerated. What does it mean to say, “forgive...our debts, as we forgive our debtors”? What does this ‘as’ mean? Has forgiveness then a condition? Look at this condition for yourself. Now, every time you sin, you just pray, “Lord, forgive me my sins.” Normally we stop there. That is it. Jesus says that you do not pray correctly; you [ought to] pray, “Forgive me my sins as I forgive.” Look further down this passage. So important are these words that, having immediately finished teaching the Lord’s Prayer, as it is normally called, He comes right back to these words again in vv14&15 and says this: “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.” In other words, we do not have the right to ask for forgiveness until we ourselves have forgiven. Is that not what Jesus is clearly saying? You cannot ask God for any kind of forgiveness until you yourself have forgiven whatever anybody else has done against you, so that forgiveness has a prior condition attached to it, that if we have received God’s forgiveness - His forgiveness comes first - we must be willing to forgive. And if we, in our turn, do not forgive, neither will we be forgiven. We are going to look more deeply into this important teaching regarding forgiveness.
The Parable Of The Unforgiving Servant Helps Us Understand ‘Forgiveness’
So important is this teaching that the Lord Jesus devoted an entire parable to help us to understand [it]. This parable is found in Mt. 18:21-35. And so, to understand this teaching in the Lord’s Prayer, I am going to use the parable of the Lord Jesus, which He uses to explain what He means. In this passage, we see that Jesus is telling a parable about a king who has a minister. ‘A servant of the king’ is a title for a high government official. It is a very common expression. A servant here is not a slave; it is a high government official. It is a servant of the king. And from what we can see from this parable, this servant of the king was, in fact, a sort of governor, probably a Persian satrap, that is, a governor of one of the Persian provinces. But any kind of a governor is responsible to the king for the administration of his province, which means, of course, that large amounts of revenue passed through his hands. Every governor is responsible, even today, for millions of dollars. In the Province of Quebec, the provincial government will be responsible for millions and millions of dollars. Of course, if anything goes wrong, then the Finance Minister and the Prime Minister may get axed as the result of this.
Here we find a government official, a servant of the king, who has mismanaged his finances and he is in big trouble. The king wants him to give an account of just what is going on in his province, what he has been doing. And of course, [there is a] penalty for misbehavior. We do not know how this money came to be lost, whether it was due to his mismanagement, which is most likely, or through corruption, or whatever it is. But in this case, it seems most likely due to mismanagement. But still he is answerable to the king for all that has been lost. Thus, the king calls him to account. This man appears and he runs a debt of ten thousand talents - an enormous figure! In the Chinese, it is translated as “一千萬両銀子”. Oh dear me, “一千萬”, a thousand ten thousand, that is, a hundred million ounces of silver! That is not too far off, I suppose, because if you have an RSV, I do not know what RSV you have, in the margin of mine which dates to 1957, a very old RSV I have, the talent is given at the value of £300. So, 10,000 talents would be equivalent to £3M. Now in 1957, the pound was worth about U.S.$4, which will give us, in terms of the American exchange, about $12M.
This poor fellow had to give an account to the king of $12M. Well, he was in big trouble. Of course, there is no way that he could produce $12M from anywhere. And so, the parable goes on to say what happened then. The king did what was the custom in the Eastern nations at that time, especially in Persia, which was to sell him and his whole family off into slavery, not that that would pay the debt, but that was a punishment. From now on, he would become a slave, to be kicked about, to become the slave of other people. He could not manage his own life, so somebody else is going to manage it from now on. That was the custom, the penalty, of those days. Of course, if you sold his entire family, it would hardly produce a few hundred dollars, maybe a few thousand dollars. But that was to be the penalty. Thus, this poor man, desperate as he was, fell upon his face before the king and pleaded to be forgiven, [and said] that he would do everything necessary to earn back this money. How ever could he earn back $12M? But the king had mercy upon him, saw his desperate condition and forgave him. He said, “OK, I forgive you. Your debt is gone.” What a joy! What a tremendous change of circumstances! He was cleared of this debt.
Then he goes out. The next day, what does he do? He sees a fellow servant, a fellow government official, obviously much lower in rank than himself, perhaps because he owed so much less. This man owed him a few denarii. In Chinese, it is “十両銀 “ - ten ounces. Ten compared to a hundred million - that is the difference of the debt. He owed him so little money. In terms of English pounds, it was £7. In terms of American currency, by that exchange rate, it is about $28. $12M was the debt he was forgiven and this man owed him $28. And that man says, “Please forgive me my debt. I tell you, I am going to pay you back every dollar.” Now, it is quite possible to pay back $28. I mean, that is not a debt that could not be paid back. But this fellow grabs him by the neck, takes him thereby as it is a swirl of dust, getting hold of his neck and working at it. Not satisfied with having choked him quite a bit, he throws him into jail. This is the way he treats his fellow servant, until he should pay back his debt. Well, it is very hard for him to pay back his debt in jail. But still, you can see that it was pure spite and vengeance that he wants to get back his $28.
Well, the news gets back to the king, “That servant, that government official of yours, who was in debt to the tune of $12M and you forgave him, would not forgive a fellow servant of $28.” Now look at how the story goes on, the parable that the Lord Jesus tells us. The king calls back this servant, this minister, and says to him, “How is it that when I forgave you your debt when you asked me to forgive you, I freely forgave you. Should you not likewise....” Notice the word: “As I forgave you, should you not have forgiven him? But because you did not forgive him, therefore....” What happens? Notice what Jesus says: he “was wroth.” [Mt. 18:34-KJV] The wroth of the king was against this minister and he took hold of this man and handed him over to the jailers, the torturers. And there this man was put into jail until he should pay up to the last penny of those $12M. In other words, he would never be able ever to pay. It would be that the punishment would be eternal. All his lifetime, he would never be able to pay $12M. And then the Lord Jesus concludes this parable with these words — “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” — and I wonder why this parable is so little preached on.
Sin Is Spoken Of As A Debt
Notice, then, how striking and how much riches are in this parable. But to understand all that we see in this passage, notice first the nature of sin. Sin is again and again spoken of as a debt, a debt that is owed. What kind of a debt especially in our relation to God? In what way is sin a debt? Is it not in this way: that sin, whenever you commit sin, you have inflicted a loss on somebody else, but also on you, on yourself because since you inflicted that loss, you are going to have to pay for it in the long run? Sin is negative in its nature. Therefore, it is always subtracting from what there is already. It is going into the red. It is destructive in its character, and therefore, sin is always costly.
We were discussing the other day in the Bible study the very question: Why could God not forgive our sins without Jesus going to the cross? I noticed on that occasion how many people failed to answer that question. It is because they did not understand the nature of sin as debt. You see, if you have caused a loss on somebody else, you are in debt to that person. It is not just a simple matter of forgiving; there is a debt to be paid, a cost to be covered. It is precisely for this reason: whoever forgives you that debt is the person who must himself bear the cost. If you smash somebody’s window, you have inflicted the cost of that window upon the person. It is not good enough to say to that person, “Please forgive me.” He can forgive you, but that glass is not restored by saying, “I forgive you.” He has to pay for the glass. A concrete damage has been done, and we saw in that Bible study, that the damage is just as concrete. When it is not physical, I can damage a person very much in his emotions. I can damage a person in his mind and I can damage a person in his spirit. And that kind of damage is worse even than material damage. A piece of glass can be replaced without too much trouble. I can inflict physical damage; a wound can heal though the scars may remain forever. But a wound to one’s spirit can leave scars for eternity. So, the wound to material things is very little; the wound to the body is more; the wound to the spirit is incalculable. That is why Jesus said, “If you cause any man to stumble, if you harm him and damage him spiritually, the cost that is going to come to you is incalculable.” So, first, we must notice then that sin is not a light thing which we can simply shrug off by making an apology to God, to say, “God, I am sorry.” It is not quite so simple. You have caused damage in the spiritual area, and somebody has to pay for that damage .
We have just noticed that whatever the thing is, the higher the value, the greater the cost. The spiritual things are far more valuable than material things; therefore, the cost is a lot higher. If I break this cup, it may cost maybe a dollar or two. If this cup were made of gold and I smashed it, that would be a different story. If this cup were made of crystal and I smashed it, I might be in debt to the tune of $20,000 and not $2. It is what you have damaged.
In The Spiritual Realm, We Cannot Pay The Debt Caused By Sin
Now, when I break something, I do not call that ‘sin’ because that is simply a material offense. If I have broken a thing, that could be a sin, but that is very lightly spoken. But sin is basically understood in the spiritual area where the damage is incalculable. It is eternal. That is why the picture here of damage is put at an infinite figure. $12M is still something that is finite to some extent. We may not forever be able to pay it, but it is just intended to show that any sin committed in the spiritual area results in a debt that is of eternal consequence, and therefore, such that you could not pay it because you are not able to put spiritual things right. You can put a piece of glass back; you cannot put spiritual damage right. It is not in your power to do so. You can repent, but you cannot put it right again. So, we must understand the nature of sin, and then we realize why Jesus died, why it is not a case in which God could simply say, “I forgive you your sins.” It is because the price had to be paid, the debt had to be covered. All this indicates to us the fact that sin is not something that we can free ourselves from. It is a debt! That is, our sin to God is a debt that we cannot ever clear ourselves off. Therefore, the religious person who tries to earn his own salvation by good works only indicates that he does not understand the nature of sin. We cannot save ourselves by our good works. If you understand the nature of sin, you know that there is no way in which you could ever clear yourself from sin by any amount of good works. By going to church everyday is not the means to saving yourself. By being kind to people is good, but you are not going to save yourself that way. It is because the debt is still far too big. Even if you put in a little bit of good works, no matter how many good works you have put in, that still does not cover the enormous debt of sin that you have built up. It is because one sin against God is going to put you into debt to the tune of a hundred million ounces of silver, as the Chinese has it.
No Matter How Great Our Sin, God Is Always Ready To Forgive
If I insult a little child, that is pretty bad. If I insult a grown-up, it is also bad. But if you insult the governor of the province, you might stand to lose a lot more. If you insult the king, you will be really in trouble. You see, sin against a person is bad enough. Sin against God - how are we going to calculate that? But notice this in this parable: Jesus says, “God is always ready to forgive.” When we sincerely repent, He will certainly forgive. No matter how big is your debt, He will definitely forgive. So learn this other principle, God is never one to hold against you any sin, if you are ready to repent. I have often said before, if even Judas, who had betrayed Jesus, had come to Jesus at the last moment and knelt down before Jesus, and said, “Lord Jesus, look what I have done! I have betrayed You. I have betrayed innocent blood. I beg of You, forgive me.” Do you think Jesus would have forgiven him or not? I know Jesus well enough to say Jesus would certainly have forgiven Judas. He would have said, “I forgive you completely.” But did Judas ever ask for forgiveness? No. So notice this: if you ask for forgiveness, no matter how great is your sin, God will certainly forgive you. There is no sin that He will not forgive, if there is true, genuine repentance of heart.
But you must first have the humility to repent. And always remember this: no matter how great is your sin, He will forgive. It is almost incredible for us to believe it, but that is His teaching. And no matter how you sin against God, He will always forgive you. Always remember that. But notice here: Judas did not go back to Jesus; he did not ask for forgiveness. What he did not ask, he did not get. So, if we come to God and ask His forgiveness, He will certainly forgive. But, in the case of the Christian, I have to warn you too, He may also bring a certain amount of discipline upon you. But He will still have your sins certainly forgiven.
Forgiveness Can Be Revoked If We Are Complacent And Secure In It
Here we must pursue this question. It says here, “Forgive as” - just as, in the same way as - “I have forgiven.” Let me ask you here this question: this servant - was he forgiven? Had he not been forgiven his sin in the first place? Let me say to you this. Remember this. I do not care whether you are a Christian or not a Christian, God is a God of exceeding great mercy. In the world, if any government official came to a king and asked for forgiveness in the way of asking the remission of a $12M debt, you can be sure that he would not stand a chance. No king would forgive him. But the parable, of course, is not true to life in the sense that any king would forgive a governor for a $12M debt. Maybe there are such people; I do not know. But then he must be somewhat unusual. It is meant to show us that God is willing to do this. But now, notice this, that having been forgiven, does that guarantee him to be complacent and secure? You know, many people have said before, and notice again this, there is this constant doctrine that “once saved, always saved”, “once forgiven, always forgiven.” Is that so? Look at the scriptural teaching for yourself. Do not just take it from me. Examine the scriptural teaching.
Here was a person who, like any Christian, comes to God and repents of his sin. Was he sincere? Well, however sincere he was, God forgave him, just as you have been forgiven when you repented of your sins. Was he not genuinely forgiven? Sure he was genuinely forgiven! His debt was cleared. The king said, “Your $12M debt is gone. You are free now. You can go.” That is exactly our experience when we come to God and we say, “Lord, forgive me. I am a sinner. I come to you without one plea. I stand under Your mercy. You can do anything with me that You like. I know You can sell me off. You can put me in to the tormentors, to the torturers. But have mercy upon me!” And God forgives us our sins. Then what happens? Well, he goes out, and what does he do? He grabs hold of this fellow servant of his and demands his 28 bucks. Notice again: although he had been forgiven, and genuinely forgiven right at the start, but because he treated this fellow servant in this sort of way, what happened to him? His debt which had been forgiven before was revoked; his forgiveness was revoked. If you, brothers and sisters, are going to live in the complacency of a “once saved, always saved” doctrine, you had better find some scriptural foundations for it. You had better make sure you know what the Bible says, not what some pastor says, but what the Bible says.
We Must Prove Worthy Of The Forgiveness We Have Received
You may have been forgiven all your debts, yes, and genuinely so. But you go out and you treat a fellow Christian in a rude, in an unkind, in an unforgiving manner. When you come before God, you are going to find the $12M debt back on your head. There is a vital principle here that we must fully, clearly understand. It is the principle of the Lord’s teaching regarding worthiness. What happened here was this servant who had been forgiven proved unworthy of that forgiveness. Now, if you have a concordance, I ask you to look up the word ‘worthy’ in your concordance. Before too long, I will be expounding the Lord’s teaching on worthiness. You may be forgiven, but you may not be worthy of that forgiveness. And you will find: if you are not worthy, you will not be forgiven after all.
That is why the Apostle Paul says, for example, in Eph. 4:1, Col. 1:10, 1 Thess. 2:12, again and again, he warns the Christians to walk worthy of the Lord. What does that mean? He says, “Walk worthy of the Lord. I warn you! I plead with you because if you do not, you might end up finding that you were discarded; you were disqualified.” This is another element in the teaching of Jesus, “lest I myself, having preached to others, become disqualified.” [1 Cor. 9:27] What does he mean by ‘disqualified’? You think about it. [It is] that I prove myself unworthy! Being a Christian, I say to you, even if you are not a Christian, is no easy thing. It is not a simple business of: “I believe in God”, “I believe in Jesus”, [as if it is] just so simple. It means here that unless there is a genuine change in your attitude towards other people as a result of your being forgiven by God, unless your whole attitude towards people changes, you can call yourself a Christian to the end of your days and God does not know who you are. Think about it. It is a question of worthiness. Those invited to the feast were not worthy. They were invited, yes, but they were not worthy. So, they did not taste of the feast. The whole teaching of Jesus regarding worthiness is this: once you become a Christian, do not ever sit back and become complacent, and say, “OK, now. I am OK. I am all fixed for heaven.” I thank God, in His wisdom, He never allowed us to call this kind of thing ‘assurance.’ You call that ‘assurance’? I tell you what that is. That is not assurance. That is self-deception! That is complacency.
‘Assurance’ in the Bible is something completely different. ‘Assurance’ in the Bible means that when you are walking in the light, in fellowship with God, in obedience to His command, the Holy Spirit witnesses with your spirit that you are a child of God. That is ‘assurance’ according to the Bible. If you have not got the inner witness of the Holy Spirit that you are a child of God, then anything you call ‘assurance’ is pure self-deception. Have you got the witness of the Spirit? We are going to study that in Romans Chapter 8 in two or three weeks’ time, the ‘assurance’ by which I know I am a child of God. I do not live by guesswork. I know I am a child of God. But that assurance does not give me any ground for complacency to behave and say to myself, “Oh, OK, I am a Christian now.” Nothing is so deadly for the Christian and for the church in these days and for these self-assured, complacent, self-congratulating Christians. Do not be among this pathetic group of so-called Christians. You must prove worthy of the Gospel. As Peter says to the people he was writing to, “make your election and calling sure”. [2 Pet. 1:10] That is, prove worthy of your high calling. If you do not, you might find on that Day that God does not know you at all. You are not a Christian at all.
God Deals With Us In The Same Way We Deal With Others
Here I would like you to notice again the importance of this! I do not know if I can get it across to you clearly enough. I pray, by the grace of God, that He will help me to do this, that you may understand the principle here, that God is going to deal with you in the same way as you deal with other people. Notice that principle, please. He expects you to deal with others in the same way that He deals with you. But if you do not do that, He will deal with you in the same way as you deal with others. That is the point of the ‘as’ - the important little word ‘as’. “Forgive our debts as we forgive.” Notice that word ‘as’. Oh, there are some small words in the Bible, but my, how important! In the whole vocabulary in English, the word ‘I’ is only one letter. But my, I do not know if there is a more important word in the whole vocabulary. You have got to know the word ‘I’. It is only one line, one stroke. You cannot get it more simple than that; even a circle is more complicated. So the importance of a word does not depend on its length. Some professors like to use big, long words. They think that the bigger, the longer the word is, they have said something more important. In fact, of course, some of the most important things are said in the most simple language. “Forgive our sins as we forgive” - notice that vital little word. And what it means here is this: If you do not forgive, you will not be forgiven. If you forgive, you will be forgiven. How you forgive, that is the measure you will be forgiven. Oh, this is something really incredible!
Now the Bible puts this truth in many, many ways. It means this: If you are unkind to your brother, your sister, your mother, your wife, your husband, whoever you are, God is going to be unkind to you. And in the measure as you are kind to them, that is the measure you prove worthy of that grace. Try to understand this. If I am rude and mean to a person, I need not think that God is ever going to be kind to me. But if I am kind to a person, only a little bit, I might receive a little kindness from the Lord, too. Can you understand the principle that is behind this? Try and understand it. At first, you might find it difficult, but as you go on, it will become clearer and clearer to you. The wisdom of God is this: He makes you to be the judge of how you are going to be judged. In other words, you are going to end up being your own judge. That is exactly what Jesus said, “Out of your own mouth, you will be condemned, and out of your own mouth, you will be justified.” [Mt. 12:37] In other words, you are going to pronounce your own sentence on yourself. Did you know that? Oh, the wisdom of God is incredible! It is just unbelievable. The more I read the Bible, the more I am amazed at the teaching. You know, on the Day of Judgment, you are going to discover something. You are going to discover that you were your own judge; you put the sentence on yourself. How? Insofar as you judged the other person, you have judged yourself.
That is the point of “loving your neighbor as yourself.” Did you realize that? How is he? He is yourself, insofar as whatever you do to him, you have done to yourself. So, you had better love him as yourself because if you judge him, you have judged yourself as well. Do you find that hard to understand? You see, in whatever way you have dealt with other people, it shows that that is the way you consider a person should be dealt with. If you consider other people should be dealt with like this, why should you be dealt with any more differently? That is the point. Do you understand? If I am rude or cruel to this person, why should I expect anything better than that person? Do I think that I am better than he is? If I do, then I am fooling myself.
Put this in a different language. Many different pictures are used in the Bible to express this one and the same truth. For example, in Gal. 6:7, Paul puts the same truth in a different way. He says this: “Whatever you sow, you will reap”. Do you see that? If you sow unkindness, you will reap unkindness. You get it back to yourself. If you sow kindness to the other person, you get kindness to yourself. That is the principle. Paul is using the same word, the same idea, put in a different picture to help you understand it. The Lord Jesus uses the same image again in Mt. 7:2. He says, “In the measure that you give will be the measure that you get.” Can you understand that? Look at Mt. 7:2 then: “The measure you give is the measure that you get.” That is why He said, “Do not judge,” because the measure you give is the measure you [are judged with]. If I judge a person harshly, I am going to be judged harshly. The measure I give [is] the measure I get. If I judge a person kindly, I will be judged kindly. If I do not judge at all, I will not be judged at all. Do you understand? Oh, the wisdom of God is incredible. The only problem is - as the problem of a teacher - trying to get those who hear to understand. Therefore, if I am going to be forgiven, I must forgive.
Now, do you understand the ‘as’ [in] “Forgive me as I forgive”? If I do not forgive, neither will I be forgiven. Vv14&15 say exactly that, “If you forgive, you will be forgiven. If you do not forgive, you will not be forgiven.” It is such an incredible truth. It can be summed up in these words: God will deal with you as you deal with others. So, next time you deal with others, think about it. God will deal with you as you deal with others. Any other person - it does not matter: you deal with a child like that, you deal with an grown-up like that, you deal with anybody like that - how you deal with them will be the measure that you will be dealt with. That shows how a Christian had better walk carefully and learn to walk worthily of the Lord. Do you think life does not matter, i.e., what kind of a life you live? Oh, it matters very much. That means, too, when I love a person with everything I have got, I am going to be loved by God with everything He has got. That is worth it.
That is the principle of the Christian life. You learn that secret, you have learned everything that is worth learning, as far as living the Christian life is concerned. You keep something back to yourself and God is going to keep something back from you. So, you think about it. When you do not want to live for God, when you want to hold back something to yourself, you think about it, how much you are going to lose. If you live for God, He lives for you. You live for yourself, and that is the finish. That is the end of it. He is not going to live for you. Nothing avails for you. That is the vital principle of the Christian life that Jesus is telling us here, that God deals with us, and I say it one more time, because it cannot be repeated often enough, God is going to deal with you as you deal with other people. That is the principle that you must understand.
Once we realize this, my, how it is going to affect our relationship to other people! Next time I am inclined to lose my temper with somebody, I think, “Wait a minute! If God loses His temper with me, I am going to be in trouble. No, sir, I’m not going to have this. I remember every time I pass judgment on him, I pass judgment on myself. No, no! I’m not going to try this at all.” Judge not! That is why it says, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” [Mt. 7:1] If you want to exercise the luxury of judging, you go ahead, but you are going to be judged according to the same principle that you have laid down for judging others. And if those big, loud mouths in so many churches realize that, who are talking behind other people’s backs, slandering other people and saying unkind things, dear me! I would not like to be in their shoes when God is going to settle His accounts with them.
Our Obligation To Forgive - Seventy Times Seven
But now we come to see this one point also. We may say, “Well, if this is so, we find that therefore, we are always under the obligation to forgive.” It says here right at the beginning of Mt. 18:21&22, Peter said, “How often should I forgive my brother? Should I forgive seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” [That is,] 7 to the power of 70. If He meant 7x70, He could say it. But 70x7 is put the other way around. Many people think that it might be 7 with a little 70 in the corner. So, it is not a square. but to the power of 70. That is quite a figure. That becomes an astronomical figure, rather like the ‘一千萬両銀子’ (a hundred million ounces of silver), an enormous kind of figure. You keep multiplying 7 over by itself - 7x7x7x7x7 - and keep multiplying that figure and you come to an astronomical figure. That is to say, it is just the picture language of saying, “Forgive them any amount of forgiveness that they need. Give them all the forgiveness they need. Never have any limit to the forgiveness.” A thing to understand is this: if God tells us to do that, He does that Himself. He never fails to do what He tells us to do. That is why I said right at the beginning, He will always forgive us, no matter how astronomical is the figure that we owe to Him in terms of sin. But does that mean that we should take advantage of Him? Or should we therefore not be in a position to take advantage of a Christian? Maybe I can take advantage of Alex here; I know that he is a good Christian. So I keep taking advantage of him. I say, “He is a good Christian. He’ll always forgive me, you know.” “Yeah,” I say, “do you read the Bible? It says you have to forgive me.” He forgives me, so I do it again. It is the second time. Never mind, the second time is not yet 70x7. So I keep annoying him and distressing him and he has to keep forgiving me. Ha, ha! Good! I can keep doing this thing all the time! How do you think about that?
Strangely enough, there are some Christians who do just that. You know, when I was in London once - I never forget that incident - I was moving into a flat with two brothers. Here they call it an apartment; in London, we call it a flat. I was moving into this apartment with two brothers and they were due to come at an appointed hour. I think it was 9:00 in the morning or something. So, I was ready and waiting. Nobody turned up! From 9:00 it came to 10:00, then 11:00. There was a telephone, but nobody ever rang. I did not know what was happening. Two-and-a-half hours later, they turned up all smiles, saying, “We’re sorry; we are late. You don’t mind, do you?” I said, “No, it’s OK. That’s fine.” One turned to the other - and this is what I will never forget - and said, “You see, I told you! I told you that Eric is a kind of person who will always forgive you.” He said to the other person, “You see, if you did this to anybody else, he would be red in the face and fuming angry by now. But you look at Eric, he is very quiet. He does not take it that way at all. He always forgives you.” I thought to myself, “Dear me, so that is what being a Christian is.” He knows me so well that it does not matter, that he can keep me waiting two-and-a-half hours and he knows at the end of it that I will say, “OK. That is all right. Don’t worry.” So, keep him waiting two-and-a-half hours. What does it matter? So we find that the Christian becomes very exposed. That means to say that you can take advantage of him any amount of times; he will always forgive you. It is so nice to have good Christians around. You can stamp on their toes, yet they will always forgive you.
Sin Is Always Offense Against God
Now, let me tell you something. If anyone thinks like this, he is thinking in a very foolish way because it shows that you have not yet understood the nature of sin. You see, sin is ultimately sinning against God. It is not the question whether that person forgives you or not. It is a question whether God forgives you or not. That is the question you have to ask. It is not a question whether I forgive him for keeping me [waiting] a hard 2½ hours. The question is whether God forgives him. So, if you think you can take advantage of a Christian - and he will always forgive you; surely he will forgive you - remember this: that sin is always offense against God. The question is: Does God forgive you when you have sinned against somebody else and you are not repenting? It is because if you take that attitude towards sin, you are obviously taking it very lightly. There is no true repentance there at all. If you do not mind offending a Christian any number of times, your brother or sister, it shows that you take a very easy attitude to sin. You feel that, “Well, he’s OK. He’s so good. He’s so kind. He doesn’t mind.”
So, remember this, the scriptural teaching is this: as we pray this prayer, we are asking God to forgive us. The prayer is not addressed to man; it is addressed to God. Why? It is because, ultimately, the Bible tells us, any sin you commit against anybody is sin against God. That is the point of sin. You have sinned against someone else; you have broken God’s command. This is the reason why David says in Psalm 51, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned”. No, no, David you did not sin only against God; you sinned against Uriah. But why then did David say, “I have sinned only against You”? It is because he knows that ultimately that all sin is against God. That is the point, that in the end, He is the One that is only concerned about it.
I can forgive you, but the question is, “Does God forgive?” That is a more important question. This really means this: that when I forgive a person, what have I done? I have said, “I am not going to judge you. I am not qualified to judge you.” But now I have passed on the judgment to God. Now it is between God and you. It is not between you and me. So you remember this: that whenever we commit sin against a brother and a sister, do not think, “Well, he said I am forgiven, so that’s OK. That’s finished.” It is not finished! So remember, then, the important things that we see in this passage, that becoming a Christian vitally affects our relationship to other people. It means that our whole attitude to other people must become different. But if not, then we are going to be judged according to our attitude to other people. Think about it. Next time, as I say, if you are going to lose your temper, or you are going to be mean, or you are going to be nasty, and you say, “I am a Christian, it’s all right, I’ve got my seat reserved in heaven,” let me tell you, “Stop kidding yourself” because God is going to judge you according to the measure in which you have judged the other. So we see in conclusion that in whatsoever that we have dealt with others, that is the way in which God is going to deal with us. Becoming a Christian is not simply a matter of my relationship with God, a personal, private affair that does not concern anybody else. When you become a Christian, on the contrary, you become involved with everybody else. That is the reason why if any time you have been ungracious, unkind, rude, unforgiving, harsh, or ill-tempered towards anybody else, I tell you, you had better rush to the throne of grace, and say, “Lord, forgive me. I beg of You”, because, otherwise, God is going to treat you in exactly the same way.
Torment For The Unforgiving; Sonship For Those Worthy Of Forgiveness
Now in conclusion, let us notice here this, too: what happened to this unforgiving servant? We are told here in Mt. 18:34, “And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers” - in your RSV, you will see in the margin it says ‘torturers’ - “till he should pay all his debt.” Well, what happened to this man who was once forgiven? We notice his terrible conclusion. He is delivered to the torturers, the jailers. I have checked how this word is used elsewhere in the NT. It appears, for example, in Luke Chapter 16, i.e. Lk. 16:23&28, that is a related word in the original, and we find that it means a “place of torment” [as] it is used there [in v28]. He, in his torment, that is, the rich man who did not help Lazarus when he was in his need, now what happened is that his position was turned around. Lazarus was in Abraham’s bosom and he was in the place of torment. Now this word, “place of torment”, the word ‘torment’ there is exactly the same kind of word that is used here, translated ‘torturers’ or ‘jailers’. In other words, then, the man who had been forgiven is the man who ends up in hell. Once saved, always saved? Anyone who lives on that kind of ground, study the Bible carefully, that there may be no arrogance, no complacency, no easy-going Christianity, no wishy-washy Christianity, no nominal Christianity in the church. Let me warn any person who thinks that he can be some kind of a neither-here-nor-there Christian, some kind of a lukewarm Christian, and he has got heaven all reserved for him. This man ended up in the “place of torment”, and you know where that is. And so remember this, brothers and sisters - the teaching of Jesus, isn’t it sharp and penetrating and warns us all the time? - keep on your toes spiritually! Live up to your high calling, or else you may not prove worthy of that calling. You will be disqualified. You will not be found to be a child of God.
Notice again when we studied earlier on in Matthew, when it says, “that you may become the sons of your Father in heaven”, that you may be worthy of being His sons. If not, you might find that He does not recognize you as son at all. Oh, the importance of this teaching I hope each one of us truly appreciates and takes to heart. So, I say to you then, brothers and sisters, remember this, we have a high calling and it matters what kind of a life we live. God is ultimately concerned with the purity of His Church, the quality of our lives. God cannot stand the kind of Christian that is neither here nor there, neither hot or cold, indifferent towards people, who behaves in a nondescript fashion. Remember this: if God behaves towards us in the way that we behave towards Him and towards others, ask yourself the sort of life you are living now, will you really make it? Will you prove worthy of His forgiveness? We love Him because He first loved us. He first loved us, and therefore, we love Him, but make sure that we do love Him. And the way we love Him, John tells us, is seen in the way we love others. John says, “If you do not love the brother you can see, how can you love God who you do not see.” [1 Jn. 4:20] It must be seen in our lives! That is absolutely vital, so that there may be a church that really reflects the glory of God. That is what we are called to. So, remember again these vital words: “...forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” If we do not forgive, neither will we be forgiven. In what measure we give, that measure we will get.
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church