“Therefore, you should pray like this…And forgive us our sins,
as we forgive those who sin against us. (Matthew 6:12)
“For if you forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your offenses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
In Greek, the original language of the New Testament, the word used here for sin also means debts or offenses. Whatever English word we choose to use, the point is that we need forgiveness for our sins, debts, and offenses. But we should note the link between receiving forgiveness and giving it. These are two sides of the same coin and both are needed. Jesus is teaching us that our obligation to offer forgiveness to others is as weighty as our own need to receive forgiveness. In fact, the way this prayer is worded, we should forgive others before we ask for forgiveness ourselves.
Lord, I do ask you to forgive me of my sins, for they are many. But I also realize the need for me to offer forgiveness to those who have offended me. Impress upon me the need for both. Teach me to show to others the same grace that you have shown me.
Let’s face it; we spend more energy asking God to forgive us than we do forgiving the people who have offended us. In fact, we often set standards for others that we do not set for ourselves. We expect those who have hurt us to feel terrible about what they have done before we will even consider offering them grace. Yet simultaneously, we think that by uttering a few quick words to God saying, “I’m so sorry,” that God is obligated to forgive us immediately. This pattern is not a just or balanced system. No wonder we never really feel forgiven. Intuitively, we know something is wrong.
What would happen if we switched the focus and gave more attention to forgiving others than we did to seeking forgiveness for ourselves? We could begin by pouring out any bitterness we’ve stored up in our hearts. We could even learn to forgive those who continue to harm us, remembering how Jesus said on the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!” Jesus’ instructions on prayer states that we will receive forgiveness with the same measure that we offer it. So here’s the key, although it is quite counter-intuitive. Take some time each day to forgive the people you feel have offended you. Do this before going to God to ask for forgiveness for yourself. The result will be a heart clean of all bitterness and resentment: one that is ready to approach God with humility and sincerity.