Matthew 6:12, 14-15 (NIV) “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Forgiveness of others is a non-negotiable for the people of God’s kingdom. This petition must never be glossed over, or prayed without great deliberation. In it, I as the pray-er am asking that God forgive any sins that I have committed against Him in the same way that I have forgiven others for sins that they have committed against me.
This is the only line in the whole prayer that Jesus Himself provides commentary on, so that no one can possibly misunderstand. If I forgive other people their sins against me (or against those I love, which is often more difficult), then God will forgive my sins when I ask. But if I withhold forgiveness from those who have wronged me, then God will withhold His forgiveness from me. This petition in the Lord’s Prayer merely recognizes that criterion.
This is not the only place where Jesus speaks about the requirement of forgiving in order to be forgiven. He demonstrates it much more graphically in the parable of the unforgiving slave in Matthew 18:21-35, a response to Peter’s offer to forgive others up to seven times (and then, presumably, to cut off his forgiveness).
The slave in the parable, who has been forgiven an astronomical debt owed to his master purely out of the master’s mercy and grace, refuses to extend the same mercy, grace, and forgiveness to his fellow slave who owes him a comparative pittance. In response, the master shows him his sin, and then throws him into debtor’s prison, rescinding the slave’s forgiveness and reinstating the original unpayable debt.
Jesus closes this parable with an echo of His comment on this petition in the Lord’s prayer: “This is how My heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35 NIV)
Father, even though some might see this standard of forgiveness as unreasonable, it is perfectly consistent with Your character and Your holiness. If I refuse to forgive in the same way that I have received forgiveness, with the same mercy and grace, then I am holding those who sin against me to a higher standard than You have held me to, placing myself above You. At that point, my pride and hubris makes me unworthy, and I forfeit my own forgiveness. Looked at that way, it makes perfect sense. Help me, Lord, to ALWAYS be as forgiving to others as I want You to be to me. Amen.