The Lord's Prayer: "As We Also Have Forgiven Our Debtors"

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, May 3, 2021 0 comments

by Katie Erickson

With this phrase of the Lord’s Prayer, we’re jumping into the middle of a sentence. The whole sentence is, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). To get the context of the first phrase, check out last week’s post.

Asking God to forgive our debts (our sins, our disobedience, our wrongdoing) is only half of the whole concept of forgiveness. We sin, make mistakes, and disobey God, but others also sin and make mistakes against us. How do we handle those who have sinned against us?

The key is in the conjunction. Asking God for forgiveness when we sin against Him is great, because we know that He is faithful and will forgive us when we are truly repentant of those sins. But the important conjunction here is the word “as.” It also means like, according to, in the same way, or just as. Notice how emphasizing the conjunction highlights the meaning: “Forgive us our debts, in the same way as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Well, that just got more difficult!

How are you doing at forgiving others? Perhaps you need to forgive someone for a direct sin against you. Perhaps you need to forgive someone for a way they sinned against God, where you also felt the negative consequence of that sin. Perhaps you need to forgive yourself for wrongdoing that you know you committed or negative feelings you’re harboring against someone else. Any of those situations require us to be the one doing the forgiving of the wrongdoing.

When we put this whole verse together, we see that we cannot separate God forgiving us of our sins from us forgiving those who have wronged us. We would all love to always be on the receiving end of God’s forgiveness, but it’s much more difficult to be on the giving end of forgiveness to others.

Notice the timeline of verbs in this verse. The first half is us commanding God to forgive us (an action in the future), while the second second half says that we “have forgiven” our debtors (an action in the past). That appears to indicate that we must forgive others in order to earn God’s forgiveness, but I do not believe that’s how our loving God works. We know that being forgiven is not based on our work, but on the work of Jesus Christ in the cross. Ephesians 1:7 tells us plainly, “In [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.”

While this was originally written in Greek, it is believed that Matthew (who wrote this gospel) was Jewish, so he would have spoken Aramaic in daily life. Early Christian scholars believe that Matthew actually was thinking of an Aramaic verb tense here in this second half of the verse that would be more accurately translated like a present perfect - as we should forgive our debtors in the way that God forgives us. The verb tense used in Greek often indicates past action, but it can also mean habitual action in the present. This means that it could be translated “as we habitually forgive,” which lines up with the Aramaic thought that Matthew may have had.

Another school of thought is that it’s all about our attitude. We do not need to earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving others, but we need to demonstrate an attitude that would make forgiving others possible. If we are truly repentant of our sin and we see how badly we have been disobedient to God, then the sins of others to us are really quite small in comparison. When we realize that we are asking God to forgive an enormous sin - what we have done that’s disobedient to the God of the universe - anything that any human can do against us is miniscule in importance.

Sure, it hurts me that someone told a lie to me. But it hurt Jesus even more that all of humankind sinned against God, and all of that punishment was heaped on Jesus on the cross. While all sin is sin, the magnitude of sinning against God is so much greater than offenses between humans. Surely we can forgive what that person has done to us if Almighty God can die for the forgiveness of all of humanity’s sins against Him!

God’s Word has much to say about forgiveness that helps us interpret this section of the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus gives additional teaching on forgiveness in Matthew 18:15-22. This phrasing of the Lord’s prayer is echoed by Jesus in Mark 11:24-25, where Jesus is teaching after HIs triumphal entry into Jerusalem: “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

The Apostle Paul also teaches us about forgiveness. Ephesians 4:31-32 says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” John echoes these thoughts in his first letter. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Does being forgiven by God depend on us forgiving others? No, it depends on the work of Jesus on the cross that has already been accomplished. But, we do need to be truly repentant of our sin in order to receive that forgiveness, and if we truly have a repentant heart, then we should not be harboring grudges or ill will against others who have sinned against us.

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