“… as we[i] also have forgiven[ii] our debtors[iii].” (Mt. 6:12) The forgiveness I may ask for, receive and experience from God is directly related to my forgiveness of those who “owe me” (or who I think owe me). The emphasis in this verse is on us (me)!
Whatever your theology is in regard to the sovereignty of God and grace, it is hard to ignore Scripture when it emphasizes something we must do. We dare not ignore it! This is one place where the emphasis is on us, and, therefore, we really need to pay close attention.
It could not be made any clearer: we will be forgiven as we also have forgiven others. There are no exceptions. It does not matter what someone has done to me or how badly I have been wronged. It does not matter whether those who have wronged me were intentional about it, even evil. Forgiveness is not an option.
Perhaps nothing recently illustrates the extremes of intentional evil and forgiveness like the ISIS killings and the Charlotte, NC killings. (See Brother, Mom of Egyptian Decapitated by ISIS Willing to Forgive, Love Their Enemies and Victims’ Families Offer Forgiveness, Not Condemnation, to Suspect in Charleston Church Murders) They are examples of the extent of evil that can be forgiven.
Forgiveness means a complete release of those who have wronged me. I release them because I am not their judge; God is. I release all ill will I have toward them. I release all desire for vengeance and retribution and condemnation because vengeance is God’s territory (Rom 12:19), because I know I will be judged by the same measure I judge others. (Mt. 7:1-2)
I release them because I have also committed wrongs. It is not a matter of comparative wrong. If I have lied in my life, I am a liar. If I have stolen in my life, I am a thief. If I have killed someone in my life, I am murderer. All are wrong, and all will keep me from relationship with God, eternal life and the ability to stand in God’s presence on the day I die unless I am forgiven.
I release myself because I am not even my own judge. Judging (condemning) myself, failing to release myself from failure, holding on to those failures and not letting them go, stems from pride. It flows out of a desire to be in control and to be my own god. Failure to forgive myself, even if I have forgiven all others, stands in the way of forgiveness from God in the same as a refusal to forgive others.
Forgiving (releasing) others opens up the release (forgiveness) we need from God. God intentionally ties the two together: we are forgiven as we have forgiven others. The one comes first (forgiving others) and the other follows (forgiveness for me).
Forgiving others demands faith from us. We must believe that God is faithful to forgive. (1 Jn. 1:9) We must let go of our desire for control and our desire to be judge and executioner.
Forgiveness means releasing others from my ill will. It means releasing them to God. It means releasing myself to God. Forgiveness releases me! It releases me from the condemnation I have imposed and wished on others.
Forgiveness releases me from the harmful effects of holding on to resentment, hatred and ill will, all of which are poison to my soul and continue to affect and injure me long after the injury inflicted by the wrongdoer. I cannot afford not to forgive.
“He that cannot forgive others, breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass if he would ever reach heaven; for everyone has need to be forgiven.” George Herbert
[i] Emphasis is focused on the word “we” in the original text. Focus-emphasis is common in the original text and is represented in The Discovery Bible by highlighted underlines. Most Bible translations do not show the emphasis that was given in the original language. Scripture flags key words calling for full focus by the reader – i.e. essential for grasping the main idea of the passage as taught by the original text. This is often done by putting words and phrases out of their normal word order (and by other grammatical means). “Focus-emphasis” says in effect, “Direct (focus) your attention on this word (phrase) because its full meaning is key to this passage.” Technically, it is a Greek predicate nominative moved out of its normal position at the end of the clause – brought forward to alert readers to apply (define) it fully in the passage. In layman’s terms, distinct messages are conveyed depending on whether the speaker emphasizes words (or phrases) for focus versus contrast.
[ii] 863/aphíēmi (from 575/apó, “away from” and hiēmi, “send”) – literally, send away; release (discharge). Aphiēmi is often translated “forgive” but its core-meaning is “send away,” i.e. releasing any desire to punish (take revenge, be punitive). The aorist indicative (“have forgiven”) expresses forgiveness as something we all must do, at all times. The past tense conveys it as “a done deal” for the submitted Christian, i.e. a policy that is already decided for all situations. The consequences of being unforgiving are too awful to imagine! Unforgiveness is not an option, regardless of how badly we have been treated! We must release all desire to be vengeful, with all people who hurt us – no exceptions!
[iii] 3781/opheilétēs (a masculine noun) – a debtor, under obligation to pay back (discharge) what is owed. For the believer, Oheilétēs (“being a debtor”) ends at Calvary. Here Christ paid all our debt in His blood, extending total release – forgiving the penalty for each time we spent His gift of life rather than invested it. We all owe God – because we all fail at being good stewards with His gift of life. This always carries eternal liability and applies to every non-faith decision (action) we make – all of which are sin. Therefore each non-faith decision means failing to live life out as His stewardship (cf. Ro 14:23; Heb 11:6).
The Discovery Bible is the culmination of four decades of work to bring functional use of the original language to the every day Bible reader. The Discovery Bible opens up the original New Testament text in Greek to you in your everyday Bible reading. It shows the words emphasized in the Greek text, the tenses and the meanings that do not always translate well into English or English sentence structure. It includes a lexicon of definitions of the Greek words, in depth word studies and much more. If you are ready to dig deeper in your Bible reading, try a free 30-day trial download of The Discovery Bible.