Matthew 6:12-15 “Forgive as we forgive”

A sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church 18 Sept 2011


6:9 As for y’all, therefore, pray thus: “Our Father in the heavens,
            let Your name be made holy,

   6:10  let Your kingdom come,

            let Your will happen

                        as in heaven, so on earth.

   6:11 Give us today our bread for the next day,

   6:12 and forgive us our debts as we ourselves also have forgiven our debtors,

   6:13 and do not begin to lead us into temptation, but rather deliver us from the evil.


6:14 For if y’all forgive men of their faults, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,

6:15 but if y’all don’t forgive men of their faults, neither will your Father forgive your faults.


The King of heaven knows our needs and is interested in taking care of our interests, so He has told us what to ask Him for:

A) Give us today our bread for the next day, (v.11)

s         Look to God rather than to ourselves or other people to meet our physical needs – as well as the needs of others.

s         Don’t expect advance provision or provision for luxury.

s         Be content with what you receive each day, and thank God for providing.

B) 6:12 and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors

s         Look to God to solve our spiritual and relational needs.

s         Seek God for forgiveness on the basis of Jesus’ payment of His life on the cross.

s         Beyond the first-time prayer, this is daily renewal of relationship with God.

C) 6:13 and do not begin to lead us into temptation, but rather deliver us from the Evil.

s         Ask God to protect us into the future.

s         Evil includes the Devil, wicked people, and even your own deceitful heart.

s         God tests people, yet not actually tempting them to sin.

s         Ask not to fall when tested.

s         States faith in God’s good guidance and protection.

Last time, I said there was an uncomfortable addition to the middle petition (“forgive us our debts”) and that I would put off addressing it.


I am reminded of the scene in Fiddler on the Roof where the Jewish man Tevya introduces the audience to his little village of Anatevka in Eastern Europe and says tongue-in-cheek, “And among ourselves, we always get along perfectly well. Of course, there was the time when he sold him a horse. He told him it was only six years old, when it was really twelve. But now it's all over. And we all live in simple peace and harmony.” Then he whispers to the buyer of the horse that “it was really twelve” and the buyer and seller erupt into an argument all over again about the age of the horse. The buyer was never going to forgive the seller for lying to him like that.


Now the time has come to address that phrase (“as we forgive our debtors”). First off, let me review the concept of “debts” from a different angle than I did last week.

WHAT are DEBTS? (Obligations)

6:12 and forgive us our debts  καὶ φες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν,

s         Last week, I looked at “debts” in terms of breaking the laws God passed down to us in the Old Testament. That is a perfectly valid way of explaining our indebtedness to God, but the New Testament also develops the theme of what we owe God, and I thought I would share a little bit of that to develop our understanding of what Jesus meant by “forgive us our debts.”

s         The verb form of this Greek word for “debt” is used many times throughout the NT to indicate our moral obligations – what we “ought” to do; let’s see how we measure up: do you have any “debts” that you have not fully discharged?

o       Romans 15:1 Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves.

o       1 Corinthians 11:7&10 For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man… [and] the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.

o       1 Corinthians 15:34 Become sober-minded as you ought, ...

o       Ephesians 5:28 husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies…

o       2 Thessalonians 1:3 We ought always to give thanks to God…

o       2 Thessalonians 3:7 …you ought to follow our example…

o       Hebrews 5:12 …you ought to be teachers…

o       1 John 2:6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.

o       1Jn 3:16 We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren… 4:11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

o       3 John 1:8 we ought to support such [Christian ministers], so that we may be fellow workers with the truth.

o       Jude 1:17 But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ (These are all from the NASB)

s         If you haven’t done everything you ought to have done, you are a debtor to the mercy of God. No matter how many things you got right, you have fallen short of God’s standard – you are lacking, you have not fulfilled your obligations to God, and you need forgiveness.

s         The only way you can be made right with God is for someone who has fulfilled every one of his obligations to God to help you fix the broken relationship. The Bible tells us that Jesus is the only one who “knew no sin” (2 Cor 5:21) and who perfectly did everything God told Him to do (John 17:4), and that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty of God’s justice so that you could be forgiven of your sin and be reconciled to God. This is why we are called to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved” (Rom. 10:9).

s         So, we are to ask God to forgive us on the basis of Jesus’ death on the cross for our sin, and we are to ask forgiveness as often as find that once again we have failed to meet our obligations to God, but there is this little caviat: “as we ourselves also forgiveKJV/have forgivenNAS,NIV,ESV our debtors,” (ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀφηκαμενא,B,f1̓φίεμενMaj τοῖς ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν) cf. Luke 11:4a and forgive us of our sins for we ourselves are also forgiving all our debtors. (καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν· καὶ γὰρ αὐτοὶ ἀφίεμεν παντὶ ὀφείλοντι ἡμῖν·)

s         The basis upon which we ask God to forgive us is the way that we forgive those who have offended us and have thus indebted themselves to us: “forgive us AS we forgive”

WHO are our DEBTORS that we should forgive?

s         Matthew used two words to describe these people. In v.12 they are called the ὀφειλέταις “debtors, people who owe you something,” and in v. 14 we are encouraged to forgive men of their παραπτωματα – “faults, trespasses, transgressions, sins.” Let’s consider what forgiveness means using these two words:

1.      First, there are the ὀφειλέταις “debtors, people who owe you something, but haven’t made good on their obligations.” These people might include:

s         The parent who has not loved, taught, disciplined, or provided for you properly,

s         The spouse who has shown hostility toward you rather than love and respect,

s         The brother or sister who has not been kind or helpful,

s         The customer who has taken advantage of you,

s         The employer who doesn’t pay you adequately for all your work,

s         The co-worker who blames you for problems they created themselves,

s         The people in the church who ought to be helping you with burdens you bear, but they aren’t,

s         The cashier who makes an insulting comment to you,

s         The friend who ought to thank you for the favor you went out of your way to perform for them but who never said a thing and acted like you owed it to them.

s         I hope that your mind is connecting specific people with these situations, because these are the people that God wants you to forgive before we pray the Lord’s Prayer at the end of this sermon.

2.      In v.14 we have a second word, a synonym for “debtors,” and that is men with: παραπτω­ματα – from para (alongside) and piptw (fall) – literally to “fall out,” “fall by the wayside”

s         This second word has to do with failure to honor a relationship with you properly.

s         In Ezekiel, God used the word paraptwmata parallel to phrases like “you strayed from me” (14:11), “you committed unfaithfulness,” (14:13), “he turned away from his righteousness” (18:26), and “he does abominations like a wicked man” (18:24).

o       Is there anyone who has broken your trust? Someone you thought was a friend, but then they proved disloyal to you? Those kind of people are harder to forgive than the ones who simply didn’t meet an obligation.

s         In Romans 5:15-20, paraptwmata is explained as violations of the “law” which result in “condemnation” and “death.”

o       Are there people who have broken clearly-defined rules, crossed lines that you drew to protect yourself, and you feel perfectly just in condemning them for what they did and ending any sort of relationship you had with them?

s         Before you say, “That’s too hard! I could never forgive those people!” Think again. You ARE that kind of person yourself, and God has forgiven YOU:

o       Ephesians 1:7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses (paraptwmata), according to the riches of His grace… 2:1 you were dead in your trespasses and sins… 2:5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) cf. Col. 2:13


How do we forgive these people with unmet obligations toward us, who have been personally unfaithful and imposed offenses against us?

HOW do we forgive?

s         We can start with the meaning of the Greek word for “forgive” here in Matt. 6: ἀφίεμεν, which, according to the 19th Cent. Greek scholar A.T. Robertson[1], means “send away,” “dismiss,” “wipe off.”

s         Are you ready to “wipe” the slate clean and start over with that person, refusing to punish them for their evil, and treating them as if they had never offended you? Are you willing to actually restore them to a close relationship with yourself?

s         Galatians 6:1 Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass (paraptwmati), you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness...

s         Our forgiveness doesn’t remove the obligation of offenders from making things right with us, but our responsibility is to do our part to “open the door wide” to reconciliation. (William Hendricksen)

s         Matthew Henry has an excellent set of practical applications in his commentary:

o       “…as to debts of money, we must not be rigorous and severe in exacting them from those that cannot pay them without ruining themselves and their families…

o       “our debtors are those that trespass against us, that smite us (Matt. 5:39-40), and in strictness of law, might be prosecuted for it; we must forbear, and forgive, and forget the affronts put upon us, and the wrongs done us…

o       “We must forgive, as we hope to be forgiven; and therefore must not only bear no malice, nor mediate revenge, but must not upbraid our brother with the injuries he has done us, nor rejoice in any hurt that befalls him, but must be ready to help him and do him good, and if he repent and desire to be friends again, we must be free and familiar with him, as before.”

s         But wait, can we really ask God to forgive other people of their sins? Yes!

o       Stephen asked God not to hold the sin of his Jewish persecutors against them. God wasn’t up there in heaven saying, “Uh, wait a minute, Steve. Those guys are stoning you to death for believing in Jesus, and now you want me to forgive them? I’m afraid your theology is a little too wacky for me to let you into heaven now.” No Steven had it right; he could ask God to forgive.

o       John teaches us in his 1st epistle (5:16) that “if someone were to see his brother sinning a sin not unto death, he shall ask and He [God] will give to him life...”

o       Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us” rather than “forgive me” because He wants us to seek that others will be forgiven too.

o       We must understand, however, that when a person disobeys God or fails to meet his obligations to God, the sin is a personal offense against a personal God and only God can decide to forgive that offense. There is nothing we can do as third parties to ensure that an offense between God and somebody else is forgiven. All we can do is ask. God must also want to forgive, and that person also needs to repent of their sin and believe in Jesus. So we must understand that our prayers are only one part of the picture, and that God ultimately decides for Himself whom He forgives and saves.

o       Nevertheless, the scriptures clearly support praying for God to forgive other people. Our prayers can play a part by entering into partnership with God in seeking forgiveness.

s          “God, forgive me AS I forgive them.” Now there are several ways to interpret the word “as,” and I believe that this little word is important to get right:

The Meaning of “As” (The link between Debts and Debtors)

1.      Some people take “as” to mean “because.” In other words, they say, “I have been good; I have forgiven some people who have damaged me in some way, and because I have been so good to forgive them, then God, I deserve for you to forgive me.”

s         This is an underlying issue with the Roman Catholic doctrine of penance, where it is believed that in order to be forgiven by God, we have to do something to make up for our sin.

s         As much as I love the movie Bella, the whole plot is wrapped around the concept of penance: a young man runs over a little girl and kills her, so he spends the next season of his life saving and caring for another little girl, and that is supposed to make everything right.

s         This interpretation is wrong because the whole council of scripture teaches us that God’s forgiveness is never earned by our efforts. No amount of penitential works that we do can ever make us right with God:

§         Ephesians 2:8-10 NASB  For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

§         If you do the good work of forgiving someone who offended you, you can’t take credit for it, God says he prepared beforehand that good work and created you to do it.

2.      Well, if “as” doesn’t mean “because,” what does it mean? The word “as” can also mean, “in the same way as.”

s         In other words, “Lord, you have thoroughly forgiven me of my sin, and I will no longer hold even a little bit of a grudge against Mr. Crankynose. I forgive him completely of his offenses against me, and I ask you, heavenly Father to forgive me completely for having held that grudge for so long!

s         Alternatively, those who want to hold onto bitterness against someone else, in the words of Matthew Henry, “they curse themselves when they say the Lord’s Prayer.” Father, I can’t help it, I still hate Crankynoses’ guts, so don’t forgive me in the same way I don’t forgive him. Thanks…”

s         Problem: we forgive imperfectly. We don’t want God to forgive us the same way we forgive others!

s         “Now this is mentioned, not as if our forgiving others is the cause of God's forgiving us, or the model of it, or as setting him an example, or as if his and our forgiving were to be compared together, since these will admit of no comparison; but this is an argument founded upon God's own promise and grace, to forgive such who have compassion on their fellow creatures.”  ~John Gill (1690-1771)

3.      Dr. Dwight Zeller has suggested it means “at the same time as.” Although Hws usually is a comparison word, it has a secondary meaning of time orientation[2], and this temporal interpretation seems the best to me.

s         The idea is that when it comes time to ask God to forgive my sins, it is also time for me to review the past day and forgive anyone that I became offended at too.

s         This is often a point in my prayer life when God communicates with me. I ask Him to remind me if there is anybody I have a grudge against, and then I just wait quietly for a little while. Quite often people come to mind, and I believe that is God’s way of communicating back with me.

s         Once I have gotten right with the other people in my life, only then is it the right time for me to ask God to forgive me.

s         The very corporate nature of the prayer, “Forgive us of our debts” entails asking for God to forgive others in addition to yourself when you pray.

§         We can apply the same concept of concentric circles of application to this as I suggested with the first half of the Lord’s Prayer. Are there members of your household that need to get right with God? Pray that God will forgive them! What about people at work or school or where you shop or in government? Pray for them!

§         To at least some degree, using the word “us” is a fulfillment of the very quality of forgiveness that Jesus desires to see in us.


But Why? Why would Jesus tell us to ask God to forgive us AS we forgive those who have offended us? Skip down to verse 14. Jesus felt it was important to give us a reason. It’s the one thing He comes back to after giving us the template of the Lord’s Prayer. V.14 starts with the word “for”

The reason for the link between our forgiveness and God’s

Mat 6:14  εαν γαρ αφητε τοις ανθρωποις τα παραπτωματα αυτων αφησει και υμιν ο πατηρ υμων ο ουρανιος 15  εαν δε μη αφητε τοις ανθρωποις [τα παραπτωματα αυτωνB,Maj] ουδε ο πατηρ υμων αφησει τα παραπτωματα υμων

6:14 For if y’all forgive men of their faults/trespassesKJV/ transgressionsNAS/ sinNIV, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if y’all don’t forgive men of their trespasses[3], neither will your Father forgive your faults.

s         Now wait a minute, I thought that we couldn’t earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving other people, but Jesus says here that if we don’t forgive other people, then God won’t forgive us! What gives?

s         ILLUSTRATION: Let me see if I can illustrate this in the context of a brand name product. Say I have two kinds of photo paper. I see that one kind has the word “Kodak” printed on the back, and the other kind has no name printed on the back. Then I do some research and trace where each piece of paper was made. I discover something interesting: Every piece of photo paper that has the word “Kodak” printed on the back just happened to be manufactured at a plant owned by the Kodak company, and every piece of photo paper that does not have the word “Kodak” printed on the back was not made at a plant owned by the Kodak company. So I come up with a thesis: Photo paper that has the word “Kodak” printed on the back of it was made by the Kodak company; is that fair? O.K. So what if a competing paper company were to take one of the generic brand photo papers and type the word “Kodak” on the back of it. Will that make it a Kodak brand piece of photo paper? It’s photo paper and it has the brand name Kodak on it! NO! Because it was actually manufactured at another plant; it just happens to have the brand name of another company typed on it. So if it was made by Kodak, it will have the brand name on it, but that’s because the Kodak company printed its own brand name on the back and was proud to claim it as their product. An impostor printing the word “Kodak” on a competing brand of paper doesn’t make the paper a Kodak product. Just because another piece of paper happens to have the word, “Kodak” printed on it doesn’t change the fact of who made it.

s         So it is with us. Our God delights in forgiving those He loves. Jesus cried out as He was dying on the cross, “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:34). That’s the nature of our God. - 2 Corinthians 5:19 …God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

s         Forgiveness is a “brand name” of His – as it were. And when our God sends His Spirit to change our hearts from hating God to loving God, He stamps His brand name of forgiveness on us and makes us people who are ready to reconcile instead of nursing grudges and hate. So when we forgive others, we are demonstrating our “brand name,” as it were; we are acting out the character of people who have been loved by God and made into new persons by the Holy Spirit, and we are the sort of people whom God loves to forgive.

s         Having the “brand” of forgiveness is not what earns God’s love and forgiveness of us any more than having the word “Kodak” written on the back of a piece of paper is what makes the paper a Kodak product. The brand is not the cause, it is the result of being made by a particular maker. If you have received eternal life from Jesus, you will be a forgiver. You will forgive, and God will forgive you.

s         Matthew Henry put it this way: “[T]his is a moral qualification for pardon and peace; it encourages to hope, that God will forgive us; for if there be in us this gracious disposition, it is wrought of God, and therefore is a perfection eminently and transcendently in himself; it will be an evidence to us that he has forgiven us, having wrought in us the condition of forgiveness.”

s         6:14 For if y’all forgive men of their faults, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if y’all don’t forgive men of their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your faults.

s         “God sees His own image reflected in His forgiving children; but to ask God for what we ourselves refuse to men, is to insult Him.” ~Commentary by Jamieson, Fausset & Brown

s         The converse is also true: “Those who refuse to forget the injuries which have been done to them, devote themselves willingly and deliberately to destruction, and knowingly prevent God from forgiving them.” ~John Calvin

But what if you do not walk in the ways of God and you do not extend forgiveness? Then you need to get right with God first

s         That man condemns himself to suffer eternal punishment, who makes use of this prayer with revenge and hatred in his heart. He who will not attend to a condition so advantageous to himself (remitting a hundred pence to his debtor, that his own creditor may remit him 10,000 talents) is a madman, who, to oblige his neighbor to suffer an hour, is himself determined to suffer everlastingly! Adam Clarke (1715-1832)

s         But if you forgive not those that have injured you, that is a bad sign you have not the other requisite conditions, but are altogether unqualified for pardon: and therefore your Father, whom you call Father, and who, as a father, offers you his grace upon reasonable terms, will nevertheless not forgive you. And if other grace be sincere, and yet you be defective greatly in forgiving, you cannot expect the comfort of your pardon, but to have your spirit brought down by some affliction or other to comply with this duty.” Note, Those who would have found mercy with God must show mercy to their brethren; nor can we expect that he should stretch out the hands of his favour to us, unless we lift up to him pure hands, without wrath, 1Ti_2:8. If we pray in anger, we have reason to fear God will answer in anger. ~Matthew Henry (1662 - 1714)

s         [N]o one can reasonably imagine himself to be the object of divine forgiveness who is deliberately and habitually unforgiving towards his fellow men, so it is a beautiful provision to make our right to ask and expect daily forgiveness of our daily shortcomings and our final absolution and acquittal at the great day of admission into the kingdom, dependent upon our consciousness of a forgiving disposition towards our fellows, and our preparedness to protest before the Searcher of hearts that we do actually forgive them. (See Mark 11:25-26). God sees His own image reflected in His forgiving children; but to ask God for what we ourselves refuse to men, is to insult Him. ~Commentary by Jamieson, Fausset & Brown


Jesus makes a big deal of His followers being forgiving:

s         Christ came into the world as the great Peace-Maker, and not only to reconcile us to God, but one to another, and in this we must comply with him. It is great presumption and of dangerous consequence, for any to make a light matter of that which Christ here lays such a stress upon. Men's passions shall not frustrate God's word. ~Matthew Henry

s         Matthew 18:21-22 NASB  Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus *said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” Then Jesus tells the parable of the unforgiving servant and concludes: 18:32-35 "Then summoning him, his lord *said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?' "And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."

s         Mark 11:25 NASB  "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.

s         Luke 17:3-4 NASB  "Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him."

s         (Paul also underscored Jesus’ teaching:) Eph. 4:32  Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

s         Col. 3:13  bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.

[1] Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol.1, p.54.

[2] Arndt & Gingrich Greek-English lexicon, Def IV.

[3] “their trespasses” is in the Majority of Greek mss, including some of the earliest uncials such as the 4th C. Vaticanus. The UBS has apparently decided against this phrase being original because the 4th C. Siniaticus manuscript, the 5th C. Beza, and some ancient Latin translations do not include this phrase and also have slight variations in the case of “your” and the order of words at the end of the verse. I don’t think this is reason enough to doubt the authenticity of the phrase, but modern English translations omit the phrase. Does this make a difference in how we interpret this verse? Not at all; I’m just explaining why the phrase is in some English Bibles and not in others.