- Why does Matthew refer to debts and Luke refer to sins?
- Is Jesus just talking about financial debts?
- What relationship do financial debts have to sins?
- Are you serious? Do my financial debts have something to do with God forgiving my sins?
- I have heard that “forgiveness” is a financial term that just relates to financial matters? Is that true?
- Is it true that God won’t forgive my sins if I don’t forgive others their sins/debts against me?
- Is this related to the parable of servant who wouldn’t forgive his fellow servant his debt (Matthew 18:23-35)?
- Why does Luke have the present tense in relation to our forgiveness of others whereas Matthew has the perfect tense? Is that significant?
Questions, questions, questions! Asking questions is a good way of understanding the details of the text of the Bible. But the first set of questions in this case are “red herrings”.
Yes I have heard preachers talking about the significance of debts we owe to people and turning this passage into a focus on financial debts but they are just plain wrong. Actually the text of the bible in both Matthew and Luke includes the same words. Luke’s text doesn’t focus on “sin” and Matthew’s text focuses on “debts” and “indebtedness”. They both include the same words. SIN and debts. How could that be? Let me explain.
The word forgive [aphiemi] contains the sense of canceling, remitting or pardoning a debt. Yes it can be applied to financial things. But in the Old Testament and in religious terms it is clearly used in the sense of God’s forgiveness of sin. Hence forgiveness is set strongly in the context of forgiving sin and of course only God can forgive sins. We can forgive offences or transgressions against us by the people who have done things against us. To go back to the “neighbour” definition set in the Good Samaritan story – the one at our elbow. Those we come in contact with through the course of our day. It is those people who are in focus here in the sense of who we must forgive. But ultimately SIN can only be forgiven by God. Just as the pharisees liked to remind Jesus. (Luke 5:21, 24) It is true what the pharisees said. The irony of it all is that Jesus went ahead and did it anyway. Get the message guys!
The word [opheilo] literally means to “owe a debt” or “indebtedness”. But figuratively it was used in Rabbinical tradition to commit a sin against someone. The Aramaic word behind both readings – the likely word that Jesus used is [hobha]. This word has the sense of “sin” and “to owe a debt”. There is double meaning here. Double meaning which is deliberately used by Jesus when Peter asks “How many times must I forgive a brother? Seven times? In the prelude to the story I referred to yesterday – Matt 18:23-35. The prime sense being used in all cases is the issue of forgiveness of sin or wrong doing. Grievances or offences against one another, certainly; but primarily at issue are our offences against God. Which also include our wrong doing against one another. God told us to love Him with all our heart and love our neighbour as ourself. Sobering. Related to the story, Peter is answering with the standard Rabbinical response seven times. I am not going to enter into the debate on textual difference here [seven times, seven times seven or seventy times seven]. The point in all of it is seven symbolizes perfection. Forgive until perfection occurs. Ah but whose perfection – yours or the one who sinned against you? I will leave you to figure that one out !
It is wrong to give this passage a financial spin. That is not what is being meant here. It is very clearly set in the context of forgiveness related to sins against God or sins against us by our family, friends and contacts. Yes Jesus does mean that you will not be forgiven if you harbour a grudge of unforgiveness against your brother / neighbour. You see the point is when you pray from the perspective of having been forgiven much by a loving and gracious God then to forgive a lesser offense is a small thing. We may anticipate God forgiving us the big sin we have committed in the light of us having forgiven our neighbours the trivial things they have done to us. The simple direct answer to the question “Is it true that God won’t forgive my sins if I don’t forgive others their sins/debts against me?” is yes. The degree to which you don’t forgive others who have done things to you compromises your position before God. He who has been forgiven much, loves much and forgives much. Don’t lose sight of that FACT.
Recall again the quote I used yesterday from Ruth Bell Graham, Billy Graham’s wife. “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” The principle is true for anyone anywhere. Not just marriage, but marriage is the closest, most intimate human relationship you can have with any person, so it is the hardest situation to show forgiveness. The principle holds true also across the fence from the neighbour, over the office partition, across country borders and anywhere else there is division and strife because of unforgiveness. If we could grasp the depth of the truth of that statement and Jesus’ teaching about the principle of forgiveness we would have heaven on earth. “As it is in heaven” would be enacted here on earth. Get it !
Finally, let’s look at the differences between the present tense usage in Luke and the perfect tense used by Matthew. The verb in Luke, our focus here, expresses the idea of a continual readiness to forgive. Forgive and keep on forgiving until your brother is perfected in the context of the sin that is in focus. Or you are perfected in your ability to forgive. Both are true. It is not a case of counting to 6, or 48 or 469 and then saying to the sinner who offends you, “That was your last warning next time the axe falls on you.” There is no limit to forgiveness. There is no limit to God’s forgiveness, therefore don’t put limits on your forgiveness. Just forgive and keep on forgiving. Matthew’s use of the perfect tense is focused on the relationship between God’s forgiveness and our forgiveness. When our forgiveness has been completed [perfect tense – a completed past action] then God’s forgiveness is free to flow.
To forgive is to set the prisoner free…and then discover the prisoner was you.Anon
Forgive everyone everything.Regina Brett
God forgives your faults. Why don’t you do the same?Max Lucado
Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude.Martin Luther King, Jr
Humility is seen in how quickly we admit our own faults & how quickly we overlook & forgive other’s faults.Rick Warren
Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.C S Lewis
Don’t you know the kindness of God leads you to repentance.Romans 2:4
Notice there are seven quotes today:
How many times must I forgive? Until both you or your brother are perfect.Ian Vail