The Lord’s Prayer: Forgive Us Like We Forgive Others…

The Lord’s Prayer: Forgive Us Like We Forgive Others…

Oct 26, 2017



8th in a series by Assistant Pastor Philip Lawton

Seventh Day Baptist Church of Shiloh, NJ

Check out Phil’s blog at

When we recite the part of the Lord’s Prayer about forgiveness, we often focus on the first half: forgive us our sins. We gloss over the second half about forgiving others. It’s understandable. Everyone wants to be forgiven by God. Isn’t that what the Bible is all about? The issue is that what Jesus actually taught us to pray was a petition to God which was contingent on our forgiveness of others. Said another way, Jesus taught us to ask God to only forgive us if we forgive others.

I want to say upfront that some people have suffered horrible things. Some of you have been physically or sexually abused. Some of you have lived in those situations for years. If that is your situation, I want you to know that I understand that forgiveness can take time. Do not hear me say that you never have to forgive.

I’m sure that most of you grew up like me thinking that the part in the Lord’s Prayer about forgiveness was just teaching us that we can ask God to forgive us without a sacrifice. After all, Israel was under the sacrificial system which meant that people were to bring sacrifices to God for their sins. So then Jesus is just looking forward to the cross and the reality that no more blood will need to be shed for forgiveness…right? Well, sort of.

I Didn’t Do It!

One of things that we need to remember about the Lord’s Prayer is that Jesus is trying to teach us. He isn’t asking God for daily bread simply because He needs it. He is teaching us that our existence is contingent on God. We can’t even have the bread we need to live without the grace of God. Jesus isn’t simply teaching us to ask God for forgiveness. You don’t need to teach people that. We all have a desire to get away with sinning.

When I was a teenager, my immediate response when my parents called my name was, “I didn’t do it!” Sometimes it was because I specifically remembered that I had done something, but most times I was just trying to get out of trouble for things that I might have done. At that time, I was regularly getting into mischief and I knew that, at any one moment, I should be punished for about five different things. But on the off chance that I hadn’t done whatever I was getting called about, I chose to deny everything. The funny part is most times I was just getting called downstairs for dinner.

No one likes to be in trouble and we like punishment even less. But, for Jesus to simply be teaching people that they can ask God for forgiveness seems too shallow. Certainly it would be new to them to think about forgiveness without immediate sacrifice, but it would not have been completely foreign for them to ask God for forgiveness. No, there must be something more here — that something more is a tiny two letter word.

The Power of Similes

When I was in eighth grade, I learned about similes and metaphors. Metaphors are giants of comparison. They can lift huge boulders of ideas and make them understandable. Metaphors grind the bones of new concepts and turn them into easily understandable loaves of bread. They help us understand something new. Similes are like metaphors, but as small as crumbs. They still help us understand something new, but in a tiny package.

What we have in this section of the Lord’s Prayer is a simile, both in English and Greek. This comparison centers around the word ώς translated “as.” With just these two simple letters we have a huge comparison. The problem with “as” is that we often use it to mean “while.” We can say “as I was walking down the street” — but what we really mean is “while I was walking down the street.” That simple divergence in meaning allows our brains to think that Jesus isn’t making a comparison here. If we had translated ώς as “like” this would not happen. We would read “Forgive us our sins LIKE we forgive others.” There would be no question.

When we don’t forgive others,

we stand in the place of God,

passing judgement on someone.

The reality of the comparison is furthered when you realize that just two verses earlier Jesus used the same word when talking about heaven and earth. He has already told us that God’s will should be enacted on earth just like it is in heaven. We are left with the realization that what Jesus is really asking is that God would forgive us just as much as and in exactly the same way that we forgive others. The irony is that Jesus understands we might miss this — so He tells us literally right after He finishes the prayer that God will not forgive us if we don’t forgive others. (Matthew 6:14-15) The fact that we don’t recite these verses is made all the more sad by the fact that Jesus probably didn’t even say the second half of verse 13. But that is a topic for another article.

Forgiven People, Forgive People

I think the best way to illustrate what this means practically is with a story. Since I have previously recounted Jesus’ parable of the unmerciful servant, I think it best to pull from the Gospel of Luke 7:36-50. This of course is the story of the woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her hair. Jesus is at the home of a pharisee and we get the idea that the woman is probably a prostitute. Since the pharisees were all about living rightly, he makes a big deal about the type of woman she is. (How he knows might indicate the type of man he is.)

Jesus’ response is to tell a simple parable about two guys who get forgiven debts, one more than the other. When asked who would love the lender more — the pharisee replies the one who was forgiven more. After forgiving the woman of her sins, Jesus then turns to the pharisee and says these poignant words: Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven — for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.

The sad part about this story is that the pharisee focuses so much on Jesus forgiving sins that he misses the point. Jesus is not saying that the pharisee loves little because he has been forgiven little. Rather it is the realization of the sin that Jesus is talking about.

We have all been forgiven great debts to God. We are all worthless and in need of Jesus. But unless we truly understand how much we need Jesus and how much grace we have been given, we cannot hope to extend that grace to others. Jesus tells us that God’s forgiveness of us is contingent on our forgiveness of others because God has forgiven us so much.

Jesus makes it pretty clear. Either you understand the grace that God gave you and thus forgive others or you don’t. Revenge and bitterness are the enemy of God. When we don’t forgive others we stand in the place of God, passing judgement on someone. We in essence say “Look God, I know that you have forgiven them, but I know better than you do.” Unforgiveness declares that God is either a liar or a fool.

Forgiveness Takes Time

At this point I want to highlight something. Forgiveness doesn’t always happen all at once. I said at the beginning that sometimes people are hurt deeply. Sometimes the relationship can never go back to the way it was. Sometimes it is dangerous to continue to have those relationships. These are realities of the sinful world that we live in. But none of that changes the fact that we need to forgive.

When I went though my divorce it was hard for me to forgive. I was filled with anger and bitterness. But I knew that I needed to forgive. I knew that God had shown me grace and so I should show it to her. So I prayed that God would help me forgive. I prayed that God would give me eyes to see her the way He did.

I know that sometimes it can be hard to forgive. But what Jesus tells us is that we should understand the need to forgive. We should understand that we are no better. Yes, there are hurts. Yes, we have been wronged. But none of that changes the fact that God has forgiven them. None of that changes the fact that God forgave us. If you can’t forgive right away that is okay — but you need to talk to God about it. You need to pray that God gives you the strength to forgive.

May you come to realize that forgiveness is not just for yourself.

May you be healed from the wounds that others have inflicted on you.

May you extend to others the same grace that God gave you.

May God open your eyes to see people the way that He does.


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