We closed the previous lesson with an observation that the last two petitions of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:13) are related to forgiveness of debts (v. 12)—temptation and deliverance from evil (bad things, trouble, or pain) or the evil one, Satan (Matthew 13:9). The evidence for this is the word for (gar, a primary particle showing cause or reason for something), beginning verse 14; thus, verse 13 must relate to verse 12.
The subject of verses 14 and 15 explains why forgiving others their debt obligations is necessary. The significant difference in the admonition between verse 12 and verse 14 is the change from debts to trespasses. Some English translations have variously translated the Greek as sin, transgression, offense, or wrongdoing. The immediate context clearly warrants understanding of debts to be wrongdoings that cause offenses. The question before us now is why forgiving offenders is necessary to being forgiven by the Father?
An offense is a debt that the offender owes to the offended. We are indebted to the Father as He forgives our trespasses against Him. This grace should then be reflected in our forgiveness of those who trespass against us. Indeed, our ability to forgive others comes only as we seek grace from our Heavenly Father. This forgiveness, enabled by grace, is more an emotional release to love the offender than actual forgiveness, which requires confession. This explains the need to ask the Lord to protect us from the temptation to harbor grudge, hate the offender, and seek retaliation, which allows the evil one to gain advantage. This freedom also provides the grounds for reconciliation.
Still, we struggle with forgiving others, especially if there is no effort on their part to seek restoration. How do we obey the Lord and continue to love them? What if the offenses are very grievous and beyond the pale? We are to love them as enemies (5:38–48). Although we are still in the flesh, tend to protect self, and get carried away by our emotions, we must forgive others because we are unconditionally forgiven by our Heavenly Father.
A powerful truth that underlies this prayer is largely ignored by most who read or repeat the prayer. That truth is that a forgiven person loves (Luke 7:47). He loves Christ to such an extent that forgiving others is almost automatic. Here Jesus lays down hard facts: a forgiving heart is a forgiven heart. One who refuses to forgive knows nothing of the love and forgiveness of God (Matthew 18:21–35).
Finally, can one really forgive another unless repentance and confession is made to the offended? In Matthew 18:21 Peter’s apparent frustration over repeated forgiveness reveals another issue, trust. The offender was given opportunity to repeat offenses most likely because he was trusted when he should not have been. When we forgive but continue to feel troubled, it may not be a lack of forgiveness but of trust. Even if one is forgiven an offense, that person cannot be trusted without repentance and observable change. Peter reveals the emotional strain associated with this problem, and Jesus informed him that his responsibility was to release the offender emotionally.