The Jesus Manifesto (Matthew 5-7) continues with Jesus teaching us how to pray. I must learn how to forgive. How I act gets reflected in how I pray. Jesus is clear with me on this.
Pray then like this:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Matthew 6:9-13 (Christian Standard Bible).
And for emphasis, Jesus adds the following:
For if you forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your offenses.
Matthew 6:14-15 (Christian Standard Bible).
In this “appendix” to the prayer, Jesus expanded the last phrase of the model prayer, “as we forgive our debtors.” Jesus was not teaching that a believer earned God’s forgiveness by forgiving others; for this would be contrary to God’s free grace and mercy. However, if we have truly experienced God’s forgiveness, then we will have a readiness to forgive others. Our Master illustrated this principle in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.
Forgiveness is as indispensable to the life and health of the soul as food is for the body. Missing God’s goal (aka sin) is likened to a ‘debt’ because it deserves to be punished. But when God forgives sin, he remits the penalty and drops the charge against us.
Our Father will forgive us if we forgive others but will not forgive us if we refuse to forgive others. This certainly does not mean that our forgiveness of others earns us the right to be forgiven. It is rather that God forgives only the penitent and that one of the chief evidences of true penitence is a forgiving spirit.
What is a debt? In the Greek word here, it is ὀφείλημαc. It is the moral debt incurred as the result of sin—‘offense, sin, transgression, guilt.’ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν ‘forgive us our sins’ Mt 6:12
Once our eyes have been opened to see the enormity of our offence against God, the injuries which others have done to us appear by comparison extremely trifling. If, on the other hand, we have an exaggerated view of the offences of others, it proves that we have minimized our own. It is the disparity between the size of debts which is the main point of the parable of the unmerciful servant. Its conclusion is: ‘I forgave you all that debt (which was huge) …; should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’
As we conclude, consider this from Jesus:
21 Then Peter approached him and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? As many as seven times?”
22 “I tell you, not as many as seven,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven.
23 “For this reason, the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle accounts, one who owed ten thousand talents was brought before him. 25 Since he did not have the money to pay it back, his master commanded that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt.
26 “At this, the servant fell facedown before him and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 Then the master of that servant had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan.
28 “That servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him, started choking him, and said, ‘Pay what you owe!’
29 “At this, his fellow servant fell down and began begging him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ 30 But he wasn’t willing. Instead, he went and threw him into prison until he could pay what was owed. 31 When the other servants saw what had taken place, they were deeply distressed and went and reported to their master everything that had happened. 32 Then, after he had summoned him, his master said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And because he was angry, his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured until he could pay everything that was owed. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to you unless every one of you forgives his brother or sister from your heart.
Matthew 18 (CSB)
Christian Standard Bible. (2017). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 26). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
Stott, J. R. W., & Stott, J. R. W. (1985). The message of the Sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian counter-culture (pp. 149–150). Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 773). New York: United Bible Societies.