“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12)
While on this topic of forgiving our debtors, we should expand our thoughts on its importance to effective prayer. Immediately after the Lord gave us the model for prayer, He adds a special point of emphasis to drive home the essential practice of forgiving others – and how unforgiveness affects our relationship with God.
Jesus offers these words of solemn warning: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
Jesus could not be more serious about a very serious matter. In spite of what we may think about the matter (or about the gravity of what is done to us), forgiveness is not optional. Jesus is clearly telling us that God’s forgiveness of our sins is directly tied to how we choose to treat those who offend us.
But why would it matter so much? Doesn’t God understand just how badly we have been hurt by the selfishness of others? Doesn’t He care that we have been so severely wounded by the words or actions of the careless… or the evil? Why would He be so demanding about such a sensitive and devastating issue?
We struggle with these issues because we do not really understand how offensive our sins are to a holy God. If we could really grasp just how deeply our own sins cut into the Heart of God, we would see why He is so demanding about forgiving the sins of others.
The Bible declares the fact that each of us has committed awful acts of selfishness in the course of our own lives. “As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous – not even one. There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.” (Romans 3:10-12) This resulted in a horrendous state: “Your sins… have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, He has turned away…” (Isaiah 59:2) Making us into “the enemies of God” (see Rom. 5:10) and deserving of the fullness of His wrath!
But instead of judging us for our sins against Him, He sent Jesus to take the judgment of God, in our place – to take God’s wrath for all our sins. To provide a way for each of us to receive the mercy of God, not His judgment. To receive the kindness of God, not His wrath. To know the forgiveness of God, not His condemnation.
Just what is that gift really worth to us?
Forgiving others is simply our way of saying “thank you!” for God’s unmerited mercy toward us – for the gift of forgiveness in our own lives. God actually deserves our unlimited thanks for sending Jesus to take what we deserved. While a thankful heart is pleasing to Him, He is most pleased when we demonstrate that same kind of mercy and compassion toward those who have injured us.
In fact, Jesus tells us that if we are not willing to forgive others, as we have been forgiven, then we really don’t understand the gift we have received. Our unthankful hearts actually become another barrier between us and the God Who loved us enough to “forgive us our debts” to Him.