As We Forgive Our Debtors

Have you heard the saying, “To err is human; to forgive, divine”? It was first penned by English poet Alexander Pope in 1711. Pope was making the point that we are flawed and sinful, and in the face of this reality we should aspire to do as God does, that is, show mercy and forgive when we are sinned against.

This is indeed a common command in the Bible; to forgive as we have been forgiven (e.g., Matt. 6:12; 18:21-22; Mark 11:25; Eph. 4:31-32). In fact, a couple of weeks ago we explored the words of 1 Peter 1:22 and the instruction to “…love one another deeply, from the heart”. As we saw, this deep love will necessarily involve the need for forgiveness. But forgiveness is one of those things that is easy to assent to in theory but incredibly difficult to implement in practice.

This week I came across an article by counsellor and author Paul Tripp titled, ‘As We Forgive Our Debtors’. Tripp gives a few helpful reminders to help us forgive as we have been forgiven:

  1. Forgiveness is a daily practice.

The Lord’s Prayer commands us to pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” right after it instructs us to pray for daily bread. Practicing forgiveness is something we must do daily, in the same way that we need a daily supply of nutrients. It’s a part of everyday life, not something reserved for the “big” sins and events.

  1. Forgiveness knows no limits.

When Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive someone, he thinks he is rather noble by suggesting seven times (Matthew 18:21-22). But Jesus rebukes Peter and says that forgiveness has no limits. If we have been forgiven at the price of the suffering and death of Jesus, our call to forgive applies to countless offenses and even the same endlessly repeated offense.

  1. Forgiveness does not mean peace at all costs.

The Bible never commands, “Thou shalt make it easy for others to sin against you.” We are called to strive for peace, but there are limits involved. Paul writes in Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” When you have reached those limits, there are other options available to you (Matthew 18:15—17, for example, or having authorities intervene).

  1. Failing to forgive will change you.

Recall the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:23—35). What happened when he failed to forgive? He seized his fellow servant, choked him, and put him in prison. While you may not physically assault someone, bitterness or a warped sense of justice may assault your heart and consume your mind. Cancelling a debt and absorbing the cost is going to hurt, but this parable shows that not forgiving also has a price – at a higher rate than forgiveness demands.

To err is indeed human, but God is making us into new humans; and through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit and following the example of Jesus we are to pursue forgiveness and build a community of deep love.

With you on the journey,