Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
When we pray the Lord's Prayer, we are asking God to forgive us our debts, just as we forgive our debtors. What, really, does this mean?
A debtor is someone who is in debt. So "my debtors" would be those who are in debt to me. If I forgive them, I am canceling their debts. I am saying they no longer owe me anything.
If theirs is a material debt -- say they owe me money or have destroyed something of mine and have not replaced it -- and I forgive that debt, they are off the hook. They do not need to repay me, and do not need to live in fear that I may one day bring this matter up to them again. It is forgiven.
If theirs is an intangible debt -- perhaps they have offended me, have caused me pain, maybe slandered me, anything that has racked up a "bill" toward me that I can hold against them -- and I forgive them, the act that has indebted them to me no longer stands between us. They are free of the chains that I have bound them in because I have forgiven them.
The offenders may not even know I have considered them my debtor. They may be chained in my mind simply because they didn't live up to my unspoken expectations, or I let a misunderstanding grow into a problem between us. I may have imprisoned an individual or even a whole race or a class of people, just because -- well, for whatever reason.
I am the jailer, and I hold the key.
God, in His mercy, has forgiven me a debt I could never pay, and He calls me to forgive others (Colossians 3:13). When, as a conscious act of my will, I forgive the real and the imagined debts against me, I am being faithful to God. And not only are others set free, so am I.
We so forgive our debtors as not to bear malice or ill will to any, but true love to all, without any exception whatsoever. ~ Matthew HenryThis is the spirit in which the Lord wants us to live. As we forgive our debtors, we demonstrate our desire to live in "true love to all."
What happens when I don't freely forgive? In teaching about the Lord's Prayer, one preacher says it this way: "If we forgive others only a little and hold grudges, we are asking God to forgive us only a little and bear a grudge against us." We are preventing God from showing us full forgiveness!
Father, help us forgive our debtors.