Matthew 6:12 MEANING

Matthew 6:12
(12) Forgive us our debts.--Duty--i.e., that which we owe, or ought to do--and debts are, it may be noted, only different forms of the same word. A duty unfulfilled is a debt unpaid. Primarily, therefore, the words "our debts" represent sins of omission, and "trespasses" the transgression of a law, sins of commission. The distinction, however, though convenient, is more or less technical. Every transgression implies the non-fulfilment of duty in a more aggravated form, and the memory of both presents itself to the awakened conscience under the character of an ever-accumulating debt. Even the sins against our neighbour are, in this sense, debts which we have incurred to God; and as the past cannot be undone, they are debts which we can never pay. For us, therefore, the one helpful prayer is, "Forgive the debt," and the gospel which our Lord proclaimed was, that the Father was ready to forgive. The confession of the debt was enough to ensure its remission, and then there was to come the willing service of a grateful love instead of the vain attempt, which Pharisaism encouraged, to score up an account of good works, as part payment, and therefore as a set-off, reducing the amount of debt. The parables of the Two Debtors (Luke 7:41) and of the Unforgiving Creditor whose own debt had been forgiven (Matthew 18:23-35) were but expansions of the thought which we find in its germ in this clause of the Lord's Prayer.

In striking contrast with that clause is the claim of merit which insinuates itself so readily into the hearts of those who worship without the consciousness that they need forgiveness, and which uttered itself in the daring prayer attributed to Apollonius of Tyana, "Give me that which is my due--pay me, ye gods, the debts ye owe to me."

As we forgive our debtors.--The better reading gives, We have forgiven, as a completed act before we begin to pray. In the very act of prayer we are taught to remind ourselves of the conditions of forgiveness. Even here, in the region of the free grace of God, there is a law of retribution. The temper that does not forgive cannot be forgiven, because it is ipso facto a proof that we do not realise the amount of the debt we owe. We forget the ten thousand talents as we exact the hundred pence, and in the act of exacting we bring back that burden of the greater debt upon ourselves.

Up to this point, in the petitions of the Lord's Prayer, we may think of the Man Christ Jesus as having not only taught the Prayer, but Himself used it. During the years of youth and manhood it may well have been thus far the embodiment of the outpourings of His soul in communion with His Father. Even the prayer, "Give us this day our daily bread," whether we take it in its higher or its lower meaning, would be the fit utterance of His sense of dependence as the Son of Man. Can we think the same of the prayer, "Forgive us our debts?" It is, of course, opposed to the whole teaching of Scripture to believe that there dwelt on His human spirit the memory of a single transgression. In the fullest sense of the word He was without sin, the Just One, needing no repentance. And yet the analogy of those of His saints and servants who have followed most closely in the footsteps of His holiness may lead us to think it possible that even these words also may have had a meaning in which He could use them. In proportion as men attain holiness and cease to transgress, they gain a clearer perception of the infinite holiness of God, and seek to be made partakers of it. They would fain pray and praise and work for Him evermore, but though the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. They are weary and faint, and they become more intensely conscious of the limits of their human powers as contrasted with the limitless range of their desires. In this sense, therefore, and strictly in reference to the limitations of the true, yet absolutely sinless, humanity which He vouchsafed to assume, it is just conceivable that He too Himself may have used this prayer. And we must remember also that He prayed as the Brother of mankind, as the representative of the race. The intensity of His sympathy with sinners, which was the condition of His atoning work (Hebrews 4:15), would make Him, though He knew no sin, to identify Himself with sinners. He would feel as if their transgressions were His transgressions, their debts His debts.

Verse 12. - And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Forgive; a change in God's relation to us and our sins. No plea is urged, for the atonement had not yet been made. Our debts (τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν) parallel passage in Luke, τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν). It is probable that Matthew took one meaning, perhaps the more primary, and Luke another, perhaps the more secondary (cf. Gesenius, Thes,' s.v. הוב, and Professor Marshall, Expositor, IV. 3:281), of the original Aramaic word (חובא); but, as "debtors" comes in the next clause, it seems reasonable to suppose that Matthew represents the sense in which our Lord intended the word to be understood. Luke may have avoided it as too strongly Hebraic a metaphor, even though he does use ὀφειλέται of men in relation to God (Luke 13:4). The 'Didache,' 8, gives the singular, ὀφειλήν (cf. infra, Matthew 18:32), which Dr. Taylor ('Lectures,' p. 62) thinks is preferable. The singular, especially with "debtors" following, would very naturally be corrupted to the plural. Sins are termed "debts," as not rendering to God his due (Matthew 22:21; cf. 25:27). As we; Revised Version, as we also (ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς). In the same way as we have - a comparison of fact, not of proportion (cf. Matthew 8:13; Matthew 18:33). (For the thought, cf. Ecclus. 28:2.) Luke's "for we ourselves also" (καὶ γὰρ αὐτοί) lays more stress on our forgiving others being a reason for God forgiving us. Forgive; Revised Version, have forgiven, in the past (aorist). Luke's present is of the habit. Our debtors. Luke individualizes (παντὶ ὀφείλοντι ἡμῖν

6:9-15 Christ saw it needful to show his disciples what must commonly be the matter and method of their prayer. Not that we are tied up to the use of this only, or of this always; yet, without doubt, it is very good to use it. It has much in a little; and it is used acceptably no further than it is used with understanding, and without being needlessly repeated. The petitions are six; the first three relate more expressly to God and his honour, the last three to our own concerns, both temporal and spiritual. This prayer teaches us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and that all other things shall be added. After the things of God's glory, kingdom, and will, we pray for the needful supports and comforts of this present life. Every word here has a lesson in it. We ask for bread; that teaches us sobriety and temperance: and we ask only for bread; not for what we do not need. We ask for our bread; that teaches us honesty and industry: we do not ask for the bread of others, nor the bread of deceit, Pr 20:17; nor the bread of idleness, Pr 31:27, but the bread honestly gotten. We ask for our daily bread; which teaches us constantly to depend upon Divine Providence. We beg of God to give it us; not sell it us, nor lend it us, but give it. The greatest of men must be beholden to the mercy of God for their daily bread. We pray, Give it to us. This teaches us a compassion for the poor. Also that we ought to pray with our families. We pray that God would give it us this day; which teaches us to renew the desires of our souls toward God, as the wants of our bodies are renewed. As the day comes we must pray to our heavenly Father, and reckon we could as well go a day without food, as without prayer. We are taught to hate and dread sin while we hope for mercy, to distrust ourselves, to rely on the providence and grace of God to keep us from it, to be prepared to resist the tempter, and not to become tempters of others. Here is a promise, If you forgive, your heavenly Father will also forgive. We must forgive, as we hope to be forgiven. Those who desire to find mercy with God, must show mercy to their brethren. Christ came into the world as the great Peace-maker, not only to reconcile us to God, but one to another.And forgive us our debts,.... Nothing is more frequent in the Jewish writings than to call sins "debts"; and the phrase, of forgiving, is used both of God and men. Thus the prayer of Solomon is paraphrased (y) by the Targumist:

"and hear thou the petition of thy servant, and of thy people Israel, which they shall make before this place; and do thou receive it from the place of the house of thy Shekinah, from heaven; and do thou accept their prayer , "and forgive their debts".''

So Joseph's brethren signify to him, that it was their father's orders to say unto him, "forgive, I pray thee now, the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin"; which is rendered by the Chaldee paraphrasts (z) , "forgive the debts" of thy brethren, and their sins. Accordingly, by "debts" are meant sins here, as appears from Luke 11:4 where it is read, "and forgive us our sin". These are called "debts"; not because they are so in themselves, for then it would be right to do them; debts should be paid; they are not debts we owe to God, but are so called, because on account of them we owe satisfaction to the law and justice of God: the proper debts we owe to God are love, obedience, and gratitude; and in default of these, we owe the debt of punishment. Now these debts are numerous, and we are incapable of paying, nor can any mere creature pay them for us; wherefore, we are directed to pray, that God would forgive them, or remit the obligation to punishment we lie under, on account of sin. This petition supposes a sense, acknowledgment, and confession of sin, and of inability to make satisfaction for it; and that God only can forgive it, who does, for Christ's sake, and on account of his blood, sacrifice, and satisfaction: what is here requested is a manifestation and application of pardon to the conscience of a sensible sinner; which, as it is daily needed, is daily to be asked for. The argument, or reason used, is,

as we forgive our debtors; which is to be understood not so much of pecuniary debtors, though they are to be forgiven, when poor and unable to pay; but of such who have offended, or done real injuries to others, either by word or deed: the injuries of enemies, the unkindness of friends, all sorts of offences, are to be forgiven by us; and not only so, but we are to pray to God to forgive them also. Now this is mentioned, not as if our forgiving others is the cause of God's forgiving us, or the model of it, or as setting him an example, or as if his and our forgiving were to be compared together, since these will admit of no comparison; but this is an argument founded upon God's own promise and grace, to forgive such who have compassion on their fellow creatures.

(y) Targum in 2 Chron. 21. (z) Targum Onkelos & Jon. ben Uzziel in Gen. l. 17. Vid. Targum in 1 Chron. 18. & in Cant. i. 1. & in Gen. iv. 13. & passim.

Courtesy of Open Bible