Matthew 6:9-15 Part 7

Let me quickly read to you from two or three other passages of Scripture.  The first one is from Matthew chapter eighteen.  Listen again to the Word:


“Then came Peter to Him, and said, ‘Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?  Till seven times?’

Jesus said unto him, ‘I say not unto thee, until seven times; but until seventy times seven.  Therefore is the Kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.

And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.  But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.

The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him saying, lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.  Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.

But the same servant went out and found one of his fellow servants, which owed him a hundred pence, and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me, what thou owest.  And his fellow servant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.

And he would not; but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.  So when his fellow servants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.

Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me; Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on they fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee?

And the lord was wroth and delivered him to the tormentors till he should pay all that was due unto him.  So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.’” 


We will, as you can see, have an opportunity to meet this issue again in another year or so as we go on through this book.  It comes up again and again in various forms all through Jesus’ teaching for it has to do with the nature of life, and the pattern of life, as well as the pattern of prayer.

Also listen as I read from the Gospel of Luke, chapter seventeen:


“Take heed to yourselves; if thy brother trespass against thee, confront him; and if he repent, forgive him.  And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day; and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.”


One more and we’ll stop reading:


“And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any; that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.

But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.”  That’s Mark eleven, twenty-five and twenty-six.


As you can see, this isn’t an obscure issue.  Of course nothing in the Lord’s Prayer should be considered as obscure – but ought to be viewed as foundational.  This is the pattern.  And I don’t want anyone coming away from this morning without being aware that he’s heard the voice of Christ Himself on an issue that’s axiomatic to the faith!

I don’t want anyone to leave this place today with some reservations in his mind about the value of these words.  I don’t want one person to go home and have these things just drop out of his mind as some routine and relatively unimportant subject.

Our Lord Jesus, just a few minutes before in this sermon, said, “Blessed the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”  And now, in a similar but fuller context, says:  “Forgive us our offenses as we forgive those who offend us.”  It seems like the one who offends is the recipient of so much, doesn’t it?

But let’s look at the words first, as they come up in the text.  They’re spectacular words, although there’s nothing unusual or surprising here.

Jesus says, “When you pray, pray like this, ‘forgive us….”  This word simply means to release.  A lot of the time this word is used, the release that’s sought is from some legal obligation, or from debt, or from punishment.  It is also translated remit, or set aside, or … “forgive.”

I thought it rather interesting that, in the Septuagint – the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament – this word is used to translate “leave in peace.” In other words, when people spent time together, whatever the circumstances might have been, and whatever the legal relationship might have been, the departure was to be peaceful.  Nothing was to be held over as being unpleasant or unpeaceful, but all was to be right.  And this word was used in those instances to relate that.

It’s very similar to what you’ve heard me say to you on occasion, “Just let it roll off.”  Occasions for offense between brothers are not allowed to be offenses.  But we’ll come back to application shortly.  The word just means to release, or send away, let go, remit, forgive.

Jesus continues, “Forgive us our debts.”  There’s a lively sense of indebtedness here, and this is Matthew’s word. Luke uses a word which is clearly “sin” - “forgive us our sins.”  But this word by Matthew here is clearly indebtedness due to sin.  And that debt may be monetary or some other kind – like a legal obligation, an obligation of interest and sensitivity, or a debt of respect or honor, or many other kinds of debt.  As I said, Luke’s word is sin – or “offense.”  And Matthew’s word includes that but isn’t as broad.

One who is a debtor is a sinner – one who is guilty of a fault.  He is an offender.  Man is debtor to God.  And the debt is irretrievably great!  We constantly cross the line and offend Him – even we who are His adopted children!  It is offense.  It is sin.  And there is debt.

That’s what Jesus means here when He says, “Forgive us our offenses….”  Release us from the obligation of our sin.  Don’t hold us to the payment for what we’ve done.  We know we’ve crossed the line and committed offense, but please don’t make us pay the price.  We owe… but what we owe is so great we can’t pay.  And we ask that it be set aside.

“As we set aside the sin of those who’ve offended us.”

You see, the same words are used in the second part of the verse that are used in the first part.  “Forgive us our offenses – as…”  You can’t have all that spectacular value of the words in the first part of the sentence – where it relates to the remitting of our sin – and not have the same value in the second part of the verse – where it relates to the forgiveness of those who have offended us!  Jesus uses the same words in the second part that He uses in the first part.

And we have this word “as” here, don’t we?  “Forgive us our sin as we forgive those who sin against us.”  “Forgive us our obligations as we forgive those who are obligated to us.”  “Please set aside our offenses as we set aside those offenses against us.”  

Let me say first about this word “as”, that it isn’t causal.  In other words God doesn’t forgive because we forgive.  We just dare not go to God and ask forgiveness without having forgiven!  Our forgiving is evidence that God’s grace has really wrought faith in us and made us His children.  Then, having been graced with faith, and having dismissed the offender and his offense, we then dare go to God for the remitting of our sin!

The issue isn’t when that’s done.  The issue here isn’t the process by which we are forgiven!  The issue is the pattern for prayer and for life!  And the pattern for Christ’s disciples is to release debt and debtors – not to hold offenders to their offenses.  God forgave – even while we were still offending – even while we were vile and offensive – and there’s our pattern!  There’s the image.  We are to be imitators.

And, beyond that, not only is the issue not to be the process by which we are forgiven, but neither is the issue here limited to forgiveness and justification for the individual!  Prayer isn’t necessarily just one on one between me and God.  And neither is grace!  And mercy!  Forgiveness is outward-looking!  As we reside in the pattern of God, which involves being actively and outwardly merciful – no, let me make that statement much stronger.  The pattern which our Lord Jesus sets for us as His disciples, by His life and by this teaching, does not allow us to be passive observers of God’s mercy.  And it does not allow us to be receivers only!  In fact it causes us to be aggressive forgivers!

The pattern – the whole pattern – for prayer and for life is to turn from self and to focus the grace and mercy of God outward.  Forgiveness is life to us and to others!  As we forgive those who sin against us forgive us our sins.  As we release the offender from his indebtedness to us, release us from our indebtedness.  Since we are Your disciples, having received Your grace and mercy, send away our offenses just like we send away the offenses of those who offend us.  You see?  The focus is on the outward orientation of grace and mercy rather than on who gets forgiven when.

Well, those are the words.  Let me make some exegetical comments now on the verse.

And the first thing I want you to see is the sequence of this petition and its relation to the former petition – “Give us this day our epiousia bread – our over being bread.”  Those things which are so immediately needful to sustain life, but which must be recognized as coming directly from the hand of God – not by some natural law.

Forgiveness from God for us is just like other offender’s forgiveness from us.  And that comes right after the prayer for God’s providing the requirements for life.  It might be judged by some that forgiveness is more important, but here, it comes after daily life-sustaining things.

But I think that it’s important that we see that God made us to need bread – but we ourselves made us to need forgiveness.  I think that that’s the proper way to view this sequence.  All men feel the one – that is, the one God gave us.  But few they are, at this point in time, who feel the conscious need for forgiveness.

The consciousness of sin ought to be as universal as the sense of bodily hunger – and it ought to be more intense and awful than bodily hunger!  Of course the natural tendency of the fallen heart is to suppress the knowledge of its own desperate need and ignore it.  This generation especially is suppressing it.  And that normal tendency is being strengthened by the inward look at the basic goodness and strength of evolving man – and man’s intellectual capacity to observe science and use those observations to explain all questions!

Any deviation from the norm which society has defined is looked upon now as a problem of heredity, science and environment.  It is to be dealt with in pity rather than reprobation.  So the disposition toward wayward man has come to be one of acknowledgement of an incomplete evolution.  And, therefore, understanding and rehabilitation is the answer.  Man has nothing more wrong with him than imperfection and failure.  That can be corrected in time.

But Jesus says, “When you pray, pray like this – forgive us….”  Today there’s no feeling of need for forgiveness.  There’s no sense of awesome separation from God.  There’s so very little sense of sin – so there’s little sense of need for the Deliverer – Messiah – forgiveness.  We as a people are morally relaxed – there’s no heart-piercing consciousness of sin in this society!

But that’s not so of one who says, “Our Father… the One in the heavens; hallowed be Your Name.  Arrive Your Kingdom; be accomplished Your will; as in heaven so also on earth.  Give us this day our above-existence bread.  Forgive us our offenses as we forgive our offenders….”  We children belong to “our Father….”  And we are joint heirs with Christ to all the blessings of sonship.

And what is it that a child so craves, who has crossed the line into disobedience?  It isn’t so much the remission of physical punishment, although that seems most immediate; but it is the father’s heart that he craves.  He wants unhindered forgiveness and love and assurance!  A father’s wrath is awesome, his punishment penal and corrective, and it shows God’s hatred of sin.

And what do all of us have who have God as our Father?  Well, here it is in His own spoken words:  “I will be his Father, and he will be My son.  If he commits iniquity I will chasten him with the rod of men… but My mercy shall not depart from him.”  God’s mercy shall not depart from us - the heart of the father.

So what is it that we should forgive?  What is it that we ask for?  Do we have any notion what it is we ask for when we pray this prayer?  “Forgive us our offenses as we forgive our offenders.”  When we forgive another we put away alienation and any cloud of suspicion.  Feeling and conduct are as if there had never been an offense.  Maybe even more loving than before there was offense!

And he who is forgiven has a deeper shame, since the forgiven offense now looks so much darker and uglier than it did before!  When there is forgiveness, both parties are then eager to show love – not in order to erase the past, but because the past is erased!

Our Father forgives us.  That doesn’t merely mean that He spares the rod – if at all.  What it means is that there is now no alienation and no interruption of the flow of love, and no cessation of mercy.  As the Scripture said earlier, the chastening may remain.  But His mercy will too.  And unabated good will!

And the possession of God’s forgiveness will make us forgiving people.  And there are no prior conditions to His love.  He loved us when we were dead in sin and sent His Son to save us.  Nothing about us deserves or merits His forgiveness.  It’s the merit of Christ which earns it for us!

But it goes full circle, doesn’t it?  In a very real sense a recalcitrant and implacable heart toward others is unforgivable by God. 

And the very same disposition which, when directed to God, produces faith and repentance – when directed toward others produces a forgiving temper.  A very deep awareness of ones own unworthiness, and of having no rights to stand on, surely leads one to great leniency and forgiveness of others.

No one – man, woman or child – can cut his life into halves – one half being inwardly filled with sorrow and contrition, and have the other half outwardly full of the assertion of his own rights!  God will not forgive us when we pray, if we are full of ourselves.  (Pure in heart?  Double minded?)

But the possession of our Father’s forgiveness will make us forgiving.  “Forgiving one another even as also God in Christ hath forgiven you.  Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children.”

It goes full circle.  When we remain alienated and unforgiving, we’re piling up a mountain of debt against ourselves, for God is not forgiving.  But when we are warm with the radiance and shame of God’s forgiveness we will pardon most spontaneously.

“Our Father, forgive us our offenses as we forgive our offenders.”