Matthew 6:12-15

Setting and Overview
In the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6, forgiveness and judging are addressed together in a single sentence and verse (Luke 6:37.) While those teachings are split in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:12-15, 7:1-5), we can recognize how both attitudes stem from similar perspectives. Simply put, the way that we each view ourselves in relation to God will impact the way that we view ourselves in relation to others, which will then impact if and how we forgive others and how we judge them. This will become very critical as we see the warning expressed in Matthew 6:14-15 about not forgiving others. While it is important to not misunderstand that in contradiction what Scripture teaches us about grace, we must also not explain it away and thus miss the critical warning that is expressed.
In Luke 11:4, Jesus instructs the disciples to pray for forgiveness of “sins,” but a different word is used here, that more commonly refers to debts. Some have seen the reference in Matthew 6:12 to be toward monetary debts, but the fact that Luke 11 refers specifically to sins would seem to preclude that. While we should certainly then understand debts as referring to our sins, it also helps us to think more about how sin leaves a debt behind. So, in praying for forgiveness of our debts, we first recognize that our sin leaves us in debt to God and that debt must be resolved. The word for forgiveness in Matthew 6:12 specifically refers to “sending away” and ties in with other passages that refer to not calling our sins to mind (Jeremiah 31:34) or to covering or not counting our debts (Psalm 32:1-2, Romans 4:7-8.) We also see language that refers to the free gift of forgiveness (Luke 7:42-43), which ties in with the idea of redemption for a cost (Ephesians 1:7) and then specifically the destruction of the debt instrument (Colossians 2:13-14.) Of course, since Colossians 2:13-14 refers to something that has been accomplished, that also raises the question of why we should still pray for forgiveness. It is important for us to recognize that even though Christ’s death atones for all of our past and future sins and that we have been justified, that we are still being forgiven and being cleansed from unrighteousness (I John 1:9-2:2, James 5:15-16), and so as we continue to pray for forgiveness as we continue to sin, it helps us to further realize that we continue to fail to meet our obligations to God and should therefore continue to grow in our appreciation of His mercy and gracy.
Jesus doesn’t stop there, however. We are told to pray for forgiveness as we have forgiven others. While the language here is somewhat ambiguous in terms of causality, other passages seem to draw an even tighter relationship between the forgiveness we give and the forgiveness that we receive (Matthew 6:14-15, Luke 6:37, Mark 11:25.) Matthew 18:23-35 helps us to understand this relationship better as Jesus gives provides a picture of one who has been offered an immeasurable amount of mercy and then fails to extend even a minimum amount himself. This attitude reflects a complete lack of repentance, which the Bible makes clear is necessary for forgiveness (II Peter 3:9, Luke 13:3, Psalm 32:5.) Repentance is a completely different mindset (II Corinthians 7:10) which then results in a complete change of behavior (Acts 3:19, 26:18-20.) Therefore, those who do not forgive at all demonstrate that they have not actually repented, and thus should not assume that will be forgiven themselves.
Examination and Application
What does it look like for us to forgive as we are expected to do? It helps to start with the expectations for our aspirational goals for our relationships with Christians and non-Christians. We should be committed to seeing other Christians grow in maturity (Colossians 1:28) which requires in part an eagerness for us to support an honor them (Ephesians 4:2, 5:21, Romans 12:10.) For non-Christians, it is to see them come to repentance and forgiveness (II Timothy 2:25) which calls us to gently correct and guide them (I Peter 3:9,15-16.) When people let us down, the debt that we see them owing us interferes with our ability and willingness to strive for those goals (Matthew 18:23-35, Romans 14, Matthew 18:15, Jonah.) True forgiveness is to release the collateral that we hold over them to force repayment (Deuteronomy 15:2.) That is only possible when value the mercy that we have received enough to desire fellowship with and restoration of others (Colossians 3:13, Ephesians 4:32, II Corinthians 2:7) more than pursuing what we feel like we are owed.
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