And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. — Matthew 6: 12
The forgiveness of our sins is inextricably linked to our forgiving our neighbour.
Prayer was part of Jesus’ life. His reference to the proper way of praying—that is to say, in secret and without being wordy—was not intended to eliminate public and collective prayer. Rather He left the disciples a legacy in the form of a prayer that is simple, succinct, and comprehensive.
Today the Lord’s Prayer is a firmly established component of the liturgy in our divine services and enjoys a special status owing to its proximity to the celebration of Holy Communion as well as its petition for forgiveness.
Forgive us our debts …
Before each celebration of Holy Communion we hear the proclamation that our sins are forgiven—together with all related guilt. Let us, however, be aware that forgiveness cannot be attained on the basis of any human accomplishment or merit (Romans 3: 24), but rather only through the unique and fully valid sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Romans 5: 18). God does not reject the sinner who turns to Him in repentance and asks for forgiveness. He grants the sinner grace and forgives his sins.
However, forgiveness of sins does not occur automatically, but is rather linked to certain conditions. These are
- The awareness and acknowledgement of our own sinfulness (Romans 3: 23). In addition to conscious and unconscious misconduct, sin also includes unbelief and the failure to do good.
- The recognition of the necessity of forgiveness (John 8: 24). After all, sin leads away from God and into the dependency of evil.
- Confession of our sins, as well as belief in the forgiveness of sins, just as it is already formulated in the early church creeds and in our Third Article of Faith.
- Sincere remorse and repentance. Not only John the Baptist, but also Jesus Himself, referred to this at the beginning of His public activity (Matthew 3: 1–13).
- The longing for grace out of the sacrifice of Christ, and the plea for forgiveness.
… As we forgive our debtors
The Son of God bound the forgiveness of our sins to our own willingness to forgive our debtors. The significance of the fact that we too must forgive is underscored by Jesus when He repeats and reinforces this immediately following the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6: 14–15). The parable of the unforgiving servant also speaks to this idea (Matthew 18: 21–35).
What is more, Jesus teaches us:
- not to give room to Pharisaic thinking, but rather to direct our attention to our own hearts (Luke 18: 13).
- to think about whether our brother might have something against us (Matthew 5: 23–25).
- to even love our enemies (Matthew 5: 44).
* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for the divine service held on 17 April 2016 at Midrand Congregation.