"And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." - Matthew 6:12
As we study the fifth petition of the Lord's Prayer, one thing that is helpful for us too keep in mind is that in prayer, we are not informing God of anything new. He is omniscient - all knowing - so whatever we tell Him in prayer, He already knows. The Lord wants us pray for our needs, but our "Father knoweth what things you have need of, before ye ask him" (vs.8). In some measure, prayer is more about us than it is about God. He wants us to understand and confess our utter reliance on Him, and prayer is the vehicle for that. Regular prayer reminds us of our dependence on the Lord, which cannot help but move us to be more self-consciously dependent upon Him.
For the Christian, divine omniscience is a comforting truth. Because God already knows everything, trying to hide something from Him is pointless. We can be brutally honest about ourselves, for the Lord already knows us and what we have done prior to our praying to Him. In fact, He knows us better than we know ourselves (Psalm 139:1). Thus, there is no point in attempting to conceal our sin when we come before Him in prayer. We are to ask our Father in heaven to forgive us our debts, to pardon us for our sins (Matthew 6:12).
Note that there is a qualifier in Matthew 6:12. We are to ask God to forgive our debts "as we forgive our debtors." This establishes the link between the Lord's forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others. It is not that our forgiveness of others merits God's forgiveness of us; that would deny that our salvation is by grace alone. Jesus' point, rather, is to underscore how we always stand in the presence of our Creator as forgiven sinners and to make us aware that with God's forgiveness of us comes our responsibility to forgive others. Our Savior warns us that those who are unwilling to forgive others have not understood the free grace of the Lord and therefore may not be true disciples (Matthew 18:21-35). Our forgiveness of others shows that we understand the Lord's grace and mercy and that we should be as generous with our mercy as He has been with His. If we do not forgive those who ask us to forgive them for sinning against us, we are demanding something of them that the Lord does not demand of us. We have sinned so much more egregiously against God than anyone has ever sinned against us and yet God is willing to forgive us. How, then, can we not be willing to forgive those who sin against us?
When others come to us for forgiveness and ask for our pardon, we must forgive them. We cannot continue to hold their sin against them or harbor bitterness in our hearts toward them. Insofar as we are able, we are to pursue reconciliation. But we are not to do this by ignoring justice. Forgiving others and seeking justice for them if they have harmed others are not incompatible.
Passages for further study:
- Psalm 103:1-5
- Jeremiah 33:8
- Luke 6:37
- Colossians 3:12-13