Summary: Our Lord mentioned forgiveness in the model prayer, V.12, knowing a forgiving spirit was imperative for effective prayer. The importance of forgiveness is revealed by the fact that it is the only aspect of prayer that our Lord expounded further upon.
The Fundamentals of Forgiveness
Matthew 6: 14-15
In our last study we considered the Lord’s model for prayer. The verses we’ve read today are tied to the example Jesus gave us to follow. This was clearly no accident. Our Lord mentioned forgiveness in the model prayer, V.12, knowing a forgiving spirit was imperative for effective prayer. The importance of forgiveness is revealed by the fact that it is the only aspect of prayer that our Lord expounded further upon.
As we begin to consider these verses I want to try and clarify their setting. They do not present the possibility of losing one’s salvation due to an unforgiving spirit. They do not portray that God would cast aside those genuinely saved because they held a grudge or were unforgiving. There would be application for a lost man who refused to forgive and seek forgiveness from the Lord being denied His abundant forgiveness, but that is not the focus of the passage. This is a fellowship passage and it is dealing with the spiritual lives of believers. These verses reveal how we are to forgive in order to receive forgiveness for the sins we commit while living in a body of flesh.
Let’s take a few moments to consider the admonitions our Lord reveals as we think on: The Fundamentals of Forgiveness.
I. The Emphasis on Forgiveness (14-15) – As I mentioned in the introduction, this is the only aspect of prayer that Jesus expounded upon. He clearly emphasized the need for a forgiving spirit associated with prayer. Consider:
A. The Definition – As we begin to define forgiveness, we first need to consider that which needs to be forgiven. In V.12 the text refers to the forgiveness of debts. In these verses we find the word trespasses. Debts refer to “that which is owed; justly or legally due; an offence or sin.” Trespasses speak of “stumbling, falling, or slipping; to blunder or deviate from the truth.”
We have all experienced debts and trespasses in our Christian lives. In fact, I am certain we have all committed both of these as well. Here our Lord commands that we are to forgive our debtors and those who trespass against us. The word forgive has the idea of “sending away or letting go; to disregard, omit, or neglect.”
We have all heard the old adage, I am willing to forgive, but not forget. That doesn’t sound like biblical forgiveness. This speaks of removing it from our lives all together. Genuine forgiveness must be willing to forget the past wrongs and move forward.
B. The Participation (14) – For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. This requires action on our part. Forgiveness isn’t something we simply contemplate; it is an action we are willing to follow through with. If we are to experience victory in our Christian lives and be effective when we pray, we must be willing to forgive those who have trespassed against us.
Some of the commentaries I have read state that there is no obligation to forgive if repentance is not present. I disagree with that. They use Luke 17:3-4 as their text verses. Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.  And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him. Clearly the Lord mentions our rebuke and their repentance, but when we consider the whole of Scripture, I cannot agree with that line of thinking. Was there any repentance on the part of those who crucified Jesus? Was there any repentance by those who stoned Stephen? No, and yet both Jesus and Stephen revealed a forgiving spirit as they prayed for the forgiveness of those who abused them.
That line of thought is dangerous. It will lead to bitterness and resentment, which always results in spiritual decay on the part of the one who is bitter. Heb.12:15 – Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; (Illustrate) We don’t have to embrace or condone their sin or hurtful acts, but we must be willing to forgive even if they are undeserving.
C. The Complication (14-15) – When we consider these verses together, we discover the possibility of withholding forgiveness. Our Lord was aware of that and we have experienced it as well. We live in a body of flesh that desires to live and behave contrary to the ways of God. Our flesh doesn’t want to forgive. It wants to get even. It wants to see the aggressor suffer the same pain we experienced.
Possessing and maintaining a forgiving spirit is difficult at best, but we can learn to overcome the flesh and offer forgiveness through the help and guidance of the Lord. If we are to be what God would have us be, we must be willing to crucify the flesh along with the lustful and hurtful desires it presents!