June 1 – Postscript on Forgiveness

If you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.—Matt. 6:14–15

Believers should forgive others because they have received forgiveness from God themselves (cf. Eph. 1:17). We can’t claim to know God’s parental forgiveness—that which keeps our fellowship with the Lord rich and open—apart from forgiving others in heart and word.

Paul had this in mind when he wrote, “I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost [of sinners], Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience” (1 Tim. 1:16). An unforgiving spirit not only is inconsistent for one who has been totally forgiven by God, but also brings the chastening of God rather than His mercy.

Jesus states the truth of verse 14 in a negative way when He says, “But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” The sin of an unforgiving heart and a bitter spirit (Heb. 12:15) forfeits blessing and invites judgment.

We must seek to manifest the forgiving spirit of Joseph (Gen. 50:19–21) and of Stephen (Acts 7:60) as often as needed (Luke 17:3–4). To receive pardon from the perfectly holy God and then refuse to pardon others when we are sinful people is the epitome of abuse of mercy. “Judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). So be sure you are practicing forgiveness of others.

ASK YOURSELF
What breaks down in your relationship with God when you withhold forgiveness from those who have wronged or mistreated you? How does it choke out your openness and freedom in the Lord’s presence?[1]

6:14, 15 This serves as an explanatory footnote to verse 12. It is not part of the prayer, but added to emphasize that the parental forgiveness mentioned in verse 12 is conditional.[2]


14, 15. For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Though in the teaching not only of Paul (Rom. 3:24; Eph. 2:8; Titus 3:5) but certainly also of Christ (Matt. 5:1–6; 18:27; Luke 18:13) salvation rests not on human accomplishments but solely on the grace and mercy of God, this does not mean that there is nothing to do for those who receive it. They must believe. Included in this faith is the eagerness to forgive. Unless the listeners forgive men their trespasses, they themselves will remain unpardoned.

In verse 12 sins were called debts, that is, that which we owe, and for which we must suffer punishment unless payment is made, satisfaction rendered, by ourselves or by another. Here, in verses 14 and 15, these sins are called trespasses, deviations from the path of truth and righteousness. Now whether these deviations are of the milder character, as in Gal. 6:1 and perhaps also in Rom. 5:15, 17, 18, or whether they are far more serious, as in Eph. 1:7; 2:1, they must be forgiven. Moreover, as far as it is in his power to do so a follower of Jesus should make not only his brothers in the Lord but also men in general the objects of his forgiving love, as is clear from the fact that the very word “men,” that is, human beings, is spelled out in full, and this both in verse 14 and in verse 15.

The question might be asked, “But in the process of bringing about forgiveness and reconciliation, does the entire obligation rest upon the person who has been sinned against? Does not the offender also have an obligation?” The answer is, “Indeed, he does.” He must repent and with the message of this repentance he must gladden the heart of the one whom he has injured (Luke 17:3, 4). But this does not remove the latter’s obligation to do all in his power to open wide the gate toward reconciliation. If in that case there is no co-operation from the other side, the blame will rest not on the offended person but on the offender, who originally inflicted the injury.[3]

God’s Postscript

For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. (6:14–15)

The prayer lesson concludes with a reminder that follows the teaching of forgiveness in verse 12. This is the Savior’s own commentary on our petition to God for forgiveness, and the only one of the petitions to which He gives added insight. Thus its importance is amplified.

For if you forgive men for their transgressions puts the principle in a positive mode. Believers should forgive as those who have received judicial forgiveness (cf. Eph. 1:7; 1 John 2:1–2) from God. When the heart is filled with such a forgiving spirit, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. Believers cannot know the parental forgiveness, which keeps fellowship with the Lord rich and blessings from the Lord profuse, apart from forgiving others in heart and word. Forgive (aphiēmi) means literally “to hurl away:”

Paul had this in mind when he wrote, “I found mercy, in order that in me as the foremost [of sinners], Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience” (1 Tim. 1:16; cf. Matt. 7:11). An unforgiving spirit not only is inconsistent for one who has been totally forgiven by God, but also brings the chastening of God rather than His mercy. Our Lord illustrates the unmerciful response in the parable of Matthew 18:21–35. There a man is forgiven the unpayable debt representing sin and is given the mercy of salvation. He then refuses to forgive another and is immediately and severely chastened by God.

But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. That states the truth of verse 14 in a negative way for emphasis. The sin of an unforgiving heart and a bitter spirit (Heb. 12:15) forfeits blessing and invites judgment. Even the Talmud taught that he who is indulgent toward others’ faults will be mercifully dealt with by the Supreme Judge (Shabbath 151b).

Every believer must seek to manifest the forgiving spirit of Joseph (Gen. 50:19–21) and of Stephen (Acts 7:60) as often as needed (Luke 17:3–4). To receive pardon from the perfectly holy God and then to refuse to pardon others when we are sinful men is the epitome of abuse of mercy. And “judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).

There are petitions for the believer to ask from God, but there are also conditions for the answers to be received. Even more, our prayers are to be primarily concerned with the exaltation of the name, kingdom, and will of the Lord Jesus Christ. Prayer is primarily worship which inspires thanks and personal purity.[4]


14–15 These verses reinforce the thought of the fifth petition (see comments at v. 12). The repetition serves to stress the deep importance for the community of disciples to be a forgiving community if its prayers are to be effective (cf. Ps 66:18). The thought is repeated elsewhere (18:23–35; Mk 11:25). (On the possible literary relation with Mk 11:25, see Lane, Mark, 410–11.)[5]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 161). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1225). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Vol. 9, pp. 339–340). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 397–398). Chicago: Moody Press.

[5] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 209). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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