“[Father] forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
In the middle of Jesus’s example prayer, he tells us we should request forgiveness. The question was asked Jesus, “How do we pray?” (Luke 11:1). Jesus provides a simple, concise (and all of us who struggle with words said “amen”), and direct example. Based on Matthew 6 we know it’s our sincerity that matters the most (amen!). The prayer, one Jesus never had to pray, is simple and recognizes 1. that I sin 2. There is forgiveness because of the cross and 3. God is who we turn to in order to find it. 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
The second part seems weird in a prayer, “as we also have forgiven our debtors.” It’s a rather simple statement. Obviously it connects to the first one, but it really isn’t an exaltation, request, nor intercessory. Why is it there? It’s there because reconciliation to other human beings matters. It recognizes that not only do I sin against God, but unfortunately, in this world, people sin against each other, I sin against others, and others will sin against me. This is reality. When this happens, not only must we pursue reconciliation with God, but we must pursue reconciliation with the person we sinned against.
When we look at this phrase, there is a connection between the request to be forgiven and the comment regarding our forgiveness. However, it would be wrong to make the connection, “I am forgiven based on my forgiveness or being forgiven by other people.” God does not say, “Before I grant you forgiveness, you must go and reconcile with every person you’ve sinned against in order for me to grant you forgiveness. Amen! I sinned against some other classmates in high school, jr. high, and college. I do not have any of these people’s number, email, friends on Facebook, nor on Twitter. God does not withhold forgiveness to me because I cannot find them and ask forgiveness. In fact, the Lord knows, if I ever saw them, I’d ask forgiveness. The key here is willingness and “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. ” (Romans 12:18).
Instead, Jesus is saying something else. The relationship between the request and the comment in 6:11 draws our mind to the necessity to forgive others. Preaching through Matthew Jesus warned of false teachers and leaders (Matthew 7; 23) and he talked about the good heart producing good fruit. But he rarely tells believers to doubt their salvation. He says the poor in spirit, those who hunger for righteousness, pure in heart, merciful, and peacemakers are blessed. To be blessed is to be happy because of your eternal state. Jesus wants people to rely on Him, trust Him, and rest in Him. He rarely offers a warning to true believers.
In fact, His false teacher warnings are here for believers so we are not lead astray by them. His fruit comments cause us to reflect on our works to evaluate where our heart and treasure rest. But even then, the implication isn’t a direct comment. So it’s interesting to me, when Jesus talks about what should make a believer doubt his or her salvation, we need to listen. Why? Because it’s emphatic! What is it Jesus says?
- “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. “But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matthew 6:14-15).
- “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.” (Mark 11:25).
- Then there is the parable of the forgiven slave who is forgiven the impossible to repay debt, but won’t forgive the man who owes him pennies compared to his dollar. Jesus says, “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35).
What is Jesus saying? Is he saying God only forgives you if you forgive others? Is this the work needed for reconciliation? No He’s saying if you are not willing to forgive others, then there is every indication you yourself are not forgiven. How important is reconciliation? It’s huge. In fact, you can determine whether or not you have saving faith? If you’re not willing to pursue reconciliation, you have every reason to wonder if you’ve really been forgiven and if you’re really saved.
Failure to forgive stems from pride. Nothing worse in our worship to our Lord than pride. In fact, pride and worship cannot coexist in one person. “There are six things which the LORD hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes,” (Prov. 6:16-17a). What does the Lord hate? Haughty eyes. What are those? pride.
When we rightfully evaluate righteousness and holy living according to godliness, we realize “I have sinned and rebelled against God way more than any human being has ever sinned and rebelled against me. If God can forgive me my transgressions and debt and still remove the death penalty from me, then certainly I can show someone forgiveness for this little sin. No one has sinned against me more than I sinned against God.
I realize the sin may be gross, devastating, and even life altering. However, if the person comes to you in confession, asking for reconciliation, and wants forgiveness, how can it be denied? What would God say to us? Would He say, “Hey, this is the last time”? or “Look, I need some time for my emotions to calm down in order for me to grant you peace”? or “Hey, we really aren’t that close and I don’t see you ever changing, so I’m not going to do this?” NO!!! of course not! All of us “amen” God’s forgiveness. So Christ says, “Show the same to others!” “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph 4:32).
In my experience people really struggle with this. The excuses we give ourselves are funny and seem silly if we read them out of context to the situations they’re involved in. In the situation, it can be hard. I understand the difficulty because life has a lot of sticky situations. It’s hard to forgive someone who consistently does the same thing over and over and over and over again — especially if that person is your spouse. But for believers, our number one goal requires others have peace with God which means pursuing reconciliation.
What Jesus warns us throughout his ministry is the need to reconcile with others. This means. 1. When I know I’ve sinned against a person, I need to seek reconciliation. 2. When someone has sinned against me, I need to seek peace and offer forgiveness.
I think what a lot of people hear in the need to forgive others is, “Sweep it under the rug and pretend it doesn’t exist.” This is not what Jesus says. An addict can be forgiven and we can still operate in a way to protect our family while trying to help the addict cure the addiction. Obviously this means we will have to talk about the sin and how to deal with it. An abuser can be forgiven and yet we don’t have to be best friends. Forgiveness doesn’t mean “don’t talk about it ever again.” It means, “I will not hold it against you and remember your sin against you.” Some of these situations require great care and hopefully we’re all willing to seek pastoral counsel to help navigate them. Forgiveness means “I will not bring it up against you again.” The inability or lack of desire to forgive should be a warning siren in our head that “I am being prideful.”
I believe Jesus’s prayer draws us to think and contemplate too on our relationships with others. We may become aware of the need to seek forgiveness. Incorporate that into your prayer and ask, “God, please help me to pursue reconciliation.”
If you’re worried about doing it perfectly, and this is preventing obedience to pursue reconciliation, then may I suggest you just go, confess you don’t know what you’re doing but state, “I want to have peace with you and be reconciled. Can I ask you for forgiveness?” This can be a hard conversation, but it’s one that is required by all believers. We need to remind ourself, there is no “Loop hole” to ignore it, especially if you see or know the person personally.” As far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”