In Mathew 6, Jesus makes an odd connection. In verse 12 — towards the end of His teaching on prayer — Jesus says “And forgive us our debt, as we also forgive our debtors”.
Then two verses later (v 14), the Lord elaborates: “For if you forgive others their transgressions, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you.”
So what is the odd connection?
Well in these two verses Jesus linked the concept of “debt” with “transgression or offense.”
How could these two be the same? There are many offenses that have no connection to finances. It could be something someone said, rejection or abuse. In fact most offenses are not related to money.
So why did Jesus use the word “debt” to describe “offense?” The reason is simple — there are many similarities between debt and offense.
Offenses create a sense of indebtedness!
Though an offense does not involve money, it creates a debt in your heart. You were dealt with unfairly or unreasonably. You were mistreated or rejected. When we are offended, we feel someone needs to make restitution.
Someone owes us.
One of the major problems in business is employee theft and because it comes from inside the organization it is very difficult to catch. But it is amazing how employees justify their behavior. Often it stems back to a feeling the business owes them. They were overlooked for a promotion or felt their work was not appreciated or they are not being paid enough?
With this offense comes a demand for payment. This unresolved offense can sometimes result in employees taking matters into their own hands.
It is important we understand that offense debts are as real as financial ones.
Expectation of payment
Similar to debt, when a person is offended, they instinctively require compensation for how they were treated. They truly believe they are owed. Because this inner sense of being owed is burned in their heart, they walk around with this attitude of entitlement or expectation of restitution.
I knew of a young man, whose dad put expectations on him in sports. When the boy failed to meet them, it eventually came out that he was not the type of son the father wanted.
This put a deep wound in his spirit — and it brought with it a sense his parents owed him. It was not a conscious or deliberate calculation and initially he didn’t even realize he was doing it. He began to pressure his parents for financial help. It got so bad that at one point a family member took him aside and said his parents were not as rich as he thought they were.
He had this huge expectation of financial help, but he was subconsciously needing his parents to pay down their rejection debt.
One odd thing that can also occur is what I refer to as debt transference. People who initially offended you have either died or moved on. However, the offense debt sits unpaid and it is still screaming for payment.
In these situations, the person often transfers the debt obligation to someone else.
I was talking to a couple where the young wife ragged on her husband continually. Nothing he did was good enough. His life involved a constant barrage of criticism over everything. It could be as simple as missing a spot when he washed the dishes.
He was ready to end the marriage.
You could never put your finger on what was going on, until it was discovered that a man had sexually abused this wife when she was a young teenager. The person who abused her was long gone, but she was left with a debt demanding payment.
Someone needed to be punished for what had happened to her and that debt was transferred to the nearest man in her life — her husband.
The unpayable debt
Unfortunately, when you have a wound in your heart, earthly things like money or good deeds can never pay it off. The reason is this hurt exists in another realm — it is a spiritual debt.
It doesn’t matter how nice people are to you it is not registered as a payment on the accounts ledger and the expectations continue.
In Biblical times, there were three basic ways of dealing with unpaid debt and in many ways they reflect how we treat those who have offended us or who we transferred our offense debt to:
Failure to pay debt could result in becoming a slave to the person you owed the debt to (Leviticus 25:39, 47, Isaiah 50:1, Amos 2:6, 8:6). In this situation, the debtor remained enslaved until he or she had worked off the debt.
- Seizure of property
In other instances, property was seized. This included land, goods and even people.
In 2 Kings 4:1-7, we read the sad story of the indebted woman who came to Elijah asking for help because a creditor was planning to take her two children into slavery as payment on a debt her husband had accumulated. What did these two children have to do with their dad’s debt?
But in an act of debt transference, they were the ones being punished.
- Debtor’s prison
The last stage — prison — involved little more than punishment (Mathew 18:30, 34). It was only used if one was unable to collect the debt. People were thrown into prison until their debt was repaid.
Of course, being in prison removed any opportunity for the person to pay off the debt. Essentially, it became a life imprisonment. On a rare occasion, a relative or friend would step in and pay off what was owed.
How can the debt be paid off?
Because of the nature of offense, these emotional hurts can never be paid off. You have every right to be angry. You have every right to be offended. In some instances even an apology is not good enough.
There is only one way a debt offense can be released. It must be forgiven. You must forgive the person who offended you and write off the debt they owe.
Jesus said, “And forgive us our debt, as we also forgive our debtors.”