It’s not surprising that we find forgiveness in the Lord’s prayer. For believers neither sin nor mercy are hypothetical concepts. We should be staggered by the power and beauty of mercy as proclaimed to us on the cross, because we have been forgiven so great a debt.
The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) makes one main point which can be summarized in various ways: What does genuine saving faith look like? Who will inherit eternal life? Or what characterizes the children of God?
The third section (Matthew 6:1-7:14) examines the same question from another angle: Beware of the kind of righteousness that is a show for other people.
Jesus begins this section: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven (Mathew 6:1).” Then he gives 3 parallel examples of traditional Jewish religious practices (giving to the poor, praying and fasting). For each example, he contrasts how the hypocrites perform these practices with how those genuinely seeking God perform them. The particular point Jesus emphasizes is avoid practicing your religion as a show for your peers and seeking their approval as your reward.
In the middle of his second example, Jesus includes a discussion of prayer which includes the Lord’s prayer.
5“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11Give us this day our daily bread, 12and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. 14For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. – Matthew 6:5-15
- Jesus criticizes the way the hypocrites and the Gentiles view prayer.
- Then he gives a counter-example, a prayer that models and embodies the right way of thinking about prayer and one that captures his main teaching.
- The Lord’s prayer is a prayer for one thing only: for God to establish His kingdom both in our hearts and in all creation.
- The first three petitions ask God to establish His holiness in all creation (Thy kingdom come).
- The second three petitions ask God to establish His holiness in us, His people.
12and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. 14For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. – Matthew 6:5-15
- Matthew & Luke use “debts” (Strong’s G3783; ὀφείλημα), “sins” (Strong’s G266; ἁμαρτία), and “trespasses/transgressions” (Strong’s G3900 παράπτωμα) interchangeably.
- In Matthew 6:12, the word “debts” (Strong’s G3783; ὀφείλημα) typically refers to unfulfilled obligations, things we ought to have done but didn’t.
- In Luke 11:4, the word “sins” (Strong’s G266; ἁμαρτία) typically refers to failures, things we ought not to have done but did.
- There is an Aramaic word that can mean both these ideas.
- A debt is something that is owed. I can owe someone money. I can owe someone respect. I can owe someone an apology. In all those cases, I have a debt to that person.
- The forgiveness of our sin is one of the most central themes in the biblical worldview.
- This request is not like “help me find a job”. This request is a confession.
- The only part of the prayer Jesus comments on afterward is the connection between forgiving and being forgiven.
- Scripture frequently makes this connection (e.g Matt 5:7; Mark 11:25; Matt 18:32-35; Eph 4:32; Col 3:12-13; James 2:13).
What’s the connection?
21Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. 23Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” – Matthew 18:21-35
- For more detail see 07 The Unforgiving Servant, Matthew 18:21-35.
- The servant owed a debt to his master that was impossible to pay. He stands to lose everything including his wife and children. There is nothing he can do about it.
- The master does more than the servant asks by forgiving the entire debt.
- If anyone should understand the value of mercy, it is this servant. Yet he refuses to forgive a small debt that his friend owes him.
- Our sin is equivalent to the servant’s debt. We are guilty before a holy God and there is nothing we can do about it.
- Yet we have been forgiven because of the blood of Christ and the generous and merciful compassion of God.
- We should be staggered by the value and beauty of mercy as proclaimed to us on the cross, because we ourselves have been forgiven so great a debt.
Why include this connection in the Lord’s prayer?
- Imagine if the parable ended with the master’s forgiveness and did not include the second part.
- The servant’s character is revealed when the servant encounters the situation of forgiving someone else.
- The most self-righteous Pharisees could pray for the forgiveness of sins without thinking he had any worth mentioning.
- When we face a situation where we must forgive others, it forces us to grasp the depth of our own sin and the value of the mercy God has shown us.
How do we live it out?
- When God forgives us, we retain His goodwill in spite of our sins.
- Forgiving others in practice is loving our neighbors as ourselves.
- We forgive them internally by not hating them, rejecting them or condemning them, but rather seeking their good.
- We forgive them externally by acting toward them in a way that seeks their good in spite of how they’ve treated us.