Debts: Letting Go

Good morning! And Happy 50th anniversary of the first-ever Williamsburg Conference; the end of a year of Jubilee.

I feel like a hypocrite giving this exhortation because I’m speaking on something I’m not particularly good at. You know, in the back of our workbook, under “Getting The Most Out of the Williamsburg Conference,” #9 says to set one or two spiritual goals for the new year, and write them down in the front of your Bible and revisit them prayerfully throughout the year. One of mine, which has just been written in my Bible, is to clear the air with a few people. I haven’t been wronged by many people in the past, but I have been wronged before, as we all have. I’m just not as good at letting go of that “debt (for lack of a better term).”

We know that debt in this world can be pervasive (“fly now, pay later”), and that it is easy to get into debt, but can be stressful when in it. Debt relief programs exist all around the country, where you can get your debt significantly reduced. Of course, we know it doesn’t work that way with the Lord, where we find loopholes in his word.

Debt is hard on the person who owes AND the person who is owed. When you hold on to a grudge, anxiety builds up, sometimes to the point that you can’t even function.

In our Scripture readings this morning, we read about the Year of Jubilee, when all possessions were returned, and debts were cancelled. We read as well in Leviticus about the Day of Atonement: “And it shall be a statute for ever unto you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and shall do no manner of work, the home-born, or the stranger that sojourneth among you. For on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins shall ye be clean before the LORD (Leviticus 16:29-30).”

Fortunately for us, we don’t have to wait until a year of Jubilee or a Day of Atonement; our day of atonement is every day, not once a year; you may even experience an “hour” or a “minute” of atonement or jubilee, where your sin is forgiven and debt is cancelled.

Leviticus 25:10 says to “Proclaim liberty.” Paul writes that “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (2 Corinthians 3:17).”

We have a hymn in our green book; it’s often sung before the Breaking of Bread:

Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face;
Here would I touch and handle things unseen,
Here grasp with firmer hand th’eternal grace,
And all my weariness upon thee lean.

Here would I feed upon the bread of God,
Here drink with thee the royal wine of heav’n;
Here would I lay aside each earthly load,
Here taste afresh the calm of sin forgiv’n.”

I have no help but thine; nor do I need
Another arm save thine to lean upon:
It is enough, my Lord, enough indeed,
My strength is in thy might, thy might alone.

Mine is the sin, but thine the righteousness;
Mine is the guilt, but thine the cleansing blood;
Here is my robe, my refuge, and my peace –
Thy blood, thy righteousness, O Son of God.

We are supposed to feel a sense of guilt for our sins; read Psalm 51 for an example of a man who was grief-stricken because of what he had done. How do we react to our wrongdoings? Are we indifferent, or do we say, “Oh, it’s alright, God will forgive me…” or do we say, as the Tax Collector, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner (Luke 18:13)”?

Brother Bob Lloyd shared with us Twelve Words that you should say to those you have wronged; twelve words that can be incredibly difficult to say: “I was wrong. I am sorry. Please forgive me. I love you…I was wrong (admitting fault). I am sorry (remorse). Please forgive me (I want to make things right). I love you (I have your best interest in mind; I care for you).” Use this with your husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, fiancé, mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister, and use it with God as well; if he should mark iniquities, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with him, that he may be feared (Psalm 130:3-4). We can be assured that when the Lord forgives us, that our sin has been removed from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).

God is willing to clear you and me of all our debt on two conditions:

  1. We repent: The Psalmist writes, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me (Psalm 66:18);” if we are willing and obedient, our sins, which are as scarlet, can be made white as snow (Isaiah 1:17-18).
  2. We forgive: Whatever debt you hold over someone, the same amount will be held over you. Peter asked Christ how many times he should forgive his brother. How often do you want God to forgive you? How much debt do you want God to remove from you? Let that be the number. Each time we pray for forgiveness, we should also forgive everyone for everything, leaving no opportunity for any grudge or ill will to take root (Mark 11:23-26). It is extremely important to forgive; by refusing to forgive others, we are refusing to make God’s forgiving character our own. Our Lord in his Sermon on the Mount said “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you (Matthew 5:44).” In order to obey this verse, you must first forgive.

The Lord says to the prophet Micah, that we are to LOVE mercy (Micah 6:8); we as humans love getting mercy, but don’t like giving it, and sometimes don’t even like it when others get it. I’d like to share a story:

I was always known as someone who obeyed the rules and never got in trouble (not trying to praise myself). One particular day after the teen class got out (way back when I was in the “teen class”), I walked past the adult class and they were just wrapping up with some announcements, and Brother Gordon MacFarlane was at the podium, railing about something. I didn’t give it a second thought. Anyway, that night, being a good son, I went and checked in with my parents, see how they were doing; they were on the Bible School committee at the time. They said they actually had some trouble earlier in the day, that a bunch of people my age had sneaked out the previous night and gone tubing in the creek, and had been caught trespassing by the State Police; not only that, but they ran off (which is another crime). I remember thinking “I’ll bet I know who…” And I asked my parents what the punishment was going to be…and they said that the culprits had to spend the rest of the week with their parents. They said those people were incredibly sorry for what they had done and had already written apology letters, and I didn’t care. I was filled with rage. I remember saying, “THIS WAS YOUR CHANCE! YOU KNOW THESE PEOPLE ALWAYS CAUSE TROUBLE HERE, YOU SHOULD HAVE DROPPED THE HAMMER ON THEM! TELL THEM TO PACK THEIR BAGS, GO HOME, AND DON’T COME BACK NEXT YEAR EITHER!” I could spit fire, I was so mad; I couldn’t believe it. I even said something to the effect of “If I had done something like this, you all would have shipped me off to Neptune!”…not even realizing that if I was in the position of those people, I would have been right there next to them pleading for forgiveness and mercy: “please don’t make me leave Bible school early…” But I wanted those people out even if it meant their parents would have to leave with them. What did the parents ever do wrong? Furthermore, what had these people actually done wrong to me (besides not invite me to go tubing with them)? I had no compassion whatsoever; my mindset was “they screwed up, they deserve to be punished.” But of all people, I was in no position to say that; I wasn’t baptized yet; for what it’s worth, I hadn’t even been forgiven for my own sins. It’s a reminder of the older of the two sons in Christ’s parable in Luke 15, who was angry that his brother had turned from his ways and come back to the father. Remember in that parable of the Prodigal Son, that the father demanded that the younger son be brought a robe—righteousness, a ring—power and authority, and shoes—“walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4)”.

Remember as well that quite often forgiveness is more beneficial for the person who is wronged than the person who did the wrong. Consider Joseph: he was done wrong on so many levels by his brothers, yet never held a grudge. He knew that God was bigger than the evil (Genesis 50:20). Make this verse personal; faith is the key to immediate forgiveness; forgive and move forward by faith. We cannot be helpful to those we have not forgiven.

Stephen, the first martyr, died while people were throwing giant rocks at him; he said “Lord, lay not this sin to their CHARGE (Acts 7:60).” When he said it, he “fell asleep…” it’s almost poetic isn’t it; he was at peace and there was no anger in his heart. How well do you sleep when holding a grudge? Can we think of someone in scripture who could not sleep because they were holding on to a grudge? Turn to Esther 6:1-3. We know that night the King could not sleep, but it was not because of a grudge; there was someone else who could not sleep: Haman (verse 4); he was so excited to carry out his evil plans; his grudge against Mordecai. Earlier on, he offered to pay ten thousand talents of silver to have the Jews destroyed (Esther 3:8-9). Where else do we see the phrase “ten thousand talents…” but in our Lord’s parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:21-35). Ten thousand talents is equal to about twenty million US dollars (of course, nowadays, you get that every year if you sign with the New York Yankees). The servant knew he could not possibly pay it off. The parable doesn’t say: “Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and said, ‘Well, just pay me back as soon as possible or it’s go time.’” It says he “forgave him the debt.” And I imagine the master maybe even giving the servant a hug telling him that it was alright. But then as we know, unfortunately, that servant went to his fellowservant and demanded that he pay him back, a much smaller amount of money. The word “fellowservant” is used four times in this parable; are we not all fellowservants? We are all children of the Lord.

Think of Jonah as well—he was an unforgiving servant; he had disobeyed God by running away; God could have just fed him to the fish and that would have been the end of it, but God gave him another chance. When God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh the second time, God doesn’t say “Now you better not screw this up or else!” He starts all over and tells Jonah to preach to Nineveh. It’s an important aspect forgiveness; it should only move forward and should never cause someone to walk on pins and needles. It’s incredibly freeing to be forgiven, as well as to forgive; the grudge is gone. When we fail to forgive, the root cause is lack of compassion. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32).”

Once a debt is cleared, move forward.

If you’ll notice the ending to the Book of Jonah and the Parable of the Lost Sons, there is no further response from Jonah, and no further response from the Older Son in Luke 15; God had the last word, and the father had the last word. God will have the last word with us as well, all of us, and we’re going to let him have it here. I’d like to close with a few verses from Jude; “Now unto him that is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless (“debtless”?) before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever (Jude 24-25).” Amen!