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Matthew 6:14-15

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Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary vi. Teaching on Religious Observance (6:1–18)

14–15. This comment on v. 12 adds little to what was implicit in the prayer itself. It in turn may be interpreted from 18:23–35, where the connection between our forgiving and being forgiven is graphically expounded. The point is not so much that forgiving is a prior condition of being forgiven, but that forgiveness cannot be a one-way process. Like all God’s gifts it brings responsibility; it must be passed on. To ask for forgiveness on any other basis is hypocrisy. There can be no question, of course, of our forgiving being in proportion to what we are forgiven, as 18:23–35 makes clear.

Matthew 18:23–35 ESV
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

14. For introduces a reason for praying in the way Jesus has just outlined: first, those who forgive in the way suggested in the prayer will find forgiveness themselves, whereas those who do not forgive will not be forgiven. The conditional implies nothing as to the fulfilment or otherwise of the condition; it simply suggests a hypothetical possibility. Men, of course, is quite general and has no particular reference to adult members of the male sex; it means “people.” Offenses are activities in which other people really take action against us in some way; forgiveness of such sins is not automatic. But Jesus expects it of his people, and he assures them that such forgiveness means that the forgiveness of God is certain. It is not that the act of forgiving merits an eternal reward, but rather it is evidence that the grace of God is at work in the forgiving person and that that same grace will bring him forgiveness in due course.

15. But is the adversative conjunction that introduces the other side of the coin. The change that puts offenses in the second clause in this verse instead of in the first clause as in verse 14 is largely stylistic, but it perhaps emphasizes the activity of forgiving rather than the nature of the offenses. Forgiveness is important for the followers of Jesus, whereas the nature of the offenses committed against them is not. Jesus is saying that to fail to forgive others is to demonstrate that one has not felt the saving touch of God.

as we forgive our debtors—the same view of sin as before; only now transferred to the region of offenses given and received between man and man. After what has been said on Mt 5:7, it will not be thought that our Lord here teaches that our exercise of forgiveness towards our offending fellow men absolutely precedes and is the proper ground of God’s forgiveness of us. His whole teaching, indeed—as of all Scripture—is the reverse of this. But as no one can reasonably imagine himself to be the object of divine forgiveness who is deliberately and habitually unforgiving towards his fellow men, so it is a beautiful provision to make our right to ask and expect daily forgiveness of our daily shortcomings and our final absolution and acquittal at the great day of admission into the kingdom, dependent upon our consciousness of a forgiving disposition towards our fellows, and our preparedness to protest before the Searcher of hearts that we do actually forgive them. (See Mk 11:25, 26). God sees His own image reflected in His forgiving children; but to ask God for what we ourselves refuse to men, is to insult Him. So much stress does our Lord put upon this, that immediately after the close of this prayer, it is the one point in it which He comes back upon (Mt 6:14, 15), for the purpose of solemnly assuring us that the divine procedure in this matter of forgiveness will be exactly what our own is.

The Message of Matthew 4. Jesus Highlights Our Devotion (6:1–18)

The latter part of that verse (12) is important. Notice the tense: ‘as we also have forgiven our debtors’. This is spelt out in 6:14–15. It is not as though God petulantly says, ‘I won’t forgive you unless you forgive those who have wronged you.’ The fact is, he cannot forgive us in those circumstances. For if we are to open our hands to receive his gracious pardon, we cannot keep our fists tightly clenched against those who have wronged us. So often our prayers are nullified because there is someone we think we cannot forgive. We can forgive them, and we must, if we hope ourselves to receive the daily renewing forgiveness of God. For he cannot and he will not pardon the impenitent, including those who nurse grievances against others. It is an impossibility while the condition of forgiveness—repentance—has not been met.

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.

3. To forgive his debts just as he has forgiven his debtors. This is asking God to forgive one exactly as he forgives others. If one forgives, God forgives. If one does not forgive, God does not forgive. Therefore, any person who holds anything against another person is not forgiven his sins, no matter what he may think or has been told by another person. (See Mt. 6:14–15).

Thought 2. In seeking forgiveness we have a duty both to God and to man.

(1) Our duty to God is to ask forgiveness when we fail to do His will.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9).

“Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Is. 55:7).

“And I will cleanse them from all their iniquity, whereby they have sinned against me; and I will pardon all their iniquities, whereby they have sinned, and whereby they have transgressed against me” (Je. 33:8).

(2) Our duty to man is to forgive his sins against us.

“And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mk. 11:25).

“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” (Lu. 17:4).

“And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ep. 4:32).

“Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye” (Col. 3:13).

If we wish to be forgiven ourselves, both duties have to be performed. We must forgive those who sin against us (Mt. 6:12), and we must ask forgiveness for our sins (1 Jn. 1:9).

The Gospel according to Matthew 1: Chapters 1:1–16:12 (King James Version) O. The Basic Principle of Prayer: Forgiveness, 6:14–15

O. The Basic Principle of Prayer: Forgiveness, 6:14–15

(6:14–15) Introduction—Forgiveness: note the first word, “for.” This connects these verses to the Lord’s Prayer. Immediately after closing the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus explained why He had said that forgiveness is conditional (Mt. 6:12). This was a necessary explanation for two reasons.

1. The very idea that a person must forgive others in order for God to forgive him was totally new. It was a shocking concept, an eye-opener. It had to be explained.

2. The very idea of forgiveness is just what it says: it is forgiving. God knows that He cannot forgive an unforgiving heart. His nature of love and justice will not permit Him to indulge in sin and give license to the passions of a man’s unforgiving spirit. He can forgive only where the mercy and tenderness of forgiveness are found. Therefore, Christ had to teach the basic principle of prayer—forgiveness (Mt. 18:21–35; Mk. 11:25–26; Lu. 6:37; 17:3–4; Ep. 4:32). (See DEEPER STUDY # 4—Mt. 26:28.)

1. The promise: forgive others and be forgiven (v. 14).

2. The warning: refuse to forgive others and be unforgiven (v. 15).

The Gospel according to Matthew 1: Chapters 1:1–16:12 (King James Version) O. The Basic Principle of Prayer: Forgiveness, 6:14–15


(6:14–15) Forgiveness: there are several prerequisites to forgiveness. For a man to be forgiven, he must do several things.

1. He must confess his sins (1 Jn. 1:9; see 1 Jn. 1:8–10).

2. He must have faith in God: a belief that God will actually forgive (He. 11:6).

3. He must repent (turn away from and forsake his sins) and turn to God in a renewed commitment (see note—Acts 3:19; note 7 and DEEPER STUDY # 1—17:29–30; note—Lu. 17:3–4).

4. He must forgive those who have wronged him (Mt. 6:14–15). Hard feelings or anger against a person is sin. It is evidence that a person has not truly turned from his sins and that he is not really sincere in seeking forgiveness.

The Gospel according to Matthew 1: Chapters 1:1–16:12 (King James Version) O. The Basic Principle of Prayer: Forgiveness, 6:14–15

1 (6:14) Forgiveness of Others: there is the promise to forgive and thereby to be forgiven. The word trespass (paraptoma) means to stumble; to fall; to slip; to blunder; to deviate from righteousness and truth. Note three things.

a. Christ takes for granted that we know that we need forgiveness. This is seen in His words, “your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” We are sinners; we have transgressed God’s law and we need forgiveness. Even the most mature among us fails to keep God’s law perfectly. We all stumble, fall, blunder, and slip; and we do it much too often.

1) We are seldom doing to the fullest degree what we should do. We come short.

2) We are always crossing over from the path we should be following. We deviate over into the forbidden area. Thus, we desperately need forgiveness. God promises that He will forgive our trespasses if we will do one simple thing: forgive men their trespasses.

b. The greatest thing in all the world is to be forgiven our sins: to be absolved and released from all guilt and condemnation, to be accepted and restored by God and assured of seeing Christ face to face. Forgiveness of sins means that we are freed: set at liberty in this life to live abundantly, and set at liberty in the next life to live eternally in perfection.

c. The only way we can be forgiven our sins is to forgive others their trespasses. Christ makes the promise: “Forgive men their trespasses [and] your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” Forgiving men their trespasses means several very practical things.

⇒ We are not judgmental or critical.

⇒ We do not become bitter or hostile.

⇒ We do not plan to take revenge.

⇒ We do not hold hard feelings against another person.

⇒ We do not talk about, gossip, or join in rumor; on the contrary, we correct the rumor.

⇒ We do not rejoice in trouble and trials that fall upon another person.

⇒ We love and pray for the person.

Thought 1. Note two facts.

(1) Bad feelings against another person is sin. It is holding sin within our heart. Forgiving a person who has done us evil is proof that we wish to have a clean heart. We really wish God to forgive us.

(2) Forgiving men their trespasses does not refer only to the trespasses against us, but all trespasses.

“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt. 5:7).

“And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trepasses” (Mk. 11:25).

“And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us” (Lu. 11:4).

“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” (Lu. 17:4).

“Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye” (Col. 3:13).

2 (6:15) Forgiveness of Others: there is the warning—refuse to forgive and be unforgiven. The believer who prays for forgiveness and holds feelings against another person is hypocritical. He is asking God to do something he himself is unwilling to do. He is asking God to forgive his trespasses when he himself is unwilling to forgive the trespasses of others. Bad feelings against a person are clear proof that a person is not right with God.

a. Bad feelings show that a person does not know the true nature of man nor of God. He does not know the true exalted perfection of God nor the real depth of man’s sinful nature—how far short he is of perfect righteousness.

b. Bad feelings show that a person walks and lives in self-righteousness (that is, that he thinks that he is acceptable to God by deeds of righteousness). He feels better than others, and judges himself able to talk about and look askance at the sins of others.

c. Bad feelings show that a person has not taken the steps he must take in order to be forgiven his own sins (see DEEPER STUDY # 1, 2—Mt. 6:14–15).

d. Bad feelings show that a person is living by the standards of society and not by God’s Word. God’s Word is clear: “there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Ro. 3:12; see Mt. 19:17). Therefore, we are to help and love one another, to care for and restore one another when we stumble, slip, fall, blunder, and deviate.

“There is none righteous, no, not one” (Ro. 3:10; see Ro. 3:9–19).

“All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Ro. 3:23).

“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor [yelling, loud talk, loud threats], and evil speaking [talking about, rumor, gossip] be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ep. 4:31–32).

“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one anothers’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself” (Ga. 6:1–3).

Christ is explicitly clear in His warning about forgiving others.

“Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven” (Lu. 6:36–37).

The warning is severe when the opposite statement is seen: Judge, and you will be judged; condemn, and you will be condemned; be unforgiving, and you will be unforgiven (see Lu. 6:36–37).

Thought 1. Note three significant lessons in this point.

(1) The man who holds bad feelings against others has not looked at himself and his own sins. He does not know himself, not his real self, not the inner selfishness and motives that plague the depravity of man.

(2) Feelings against others cause inward disturbance. They eat away at a person’s mind and emotions to varying degrees. Deep feelings against others can cause deep emotional and mental problems as well as serious physical problems.

(3) Three things are necessary for God to hear our prayer for forgiveness of sins. (1) Lifting up holy hands, (2) being without wrath, and (3) not doubting.

“I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (1 Ti. 2:8).

(2.) An argument to enforce this petition; as we forgive our debtors. This is not a plea of merit, but a plea of grace. Note, Those that come to God for the forgiveness of their sins against him, must make conscience of forgiving those who have offended them, else they curse themselves when they say the Lord’s prayer. Our duty is to forgive our debtors; as to debts of money, we must not be rigorous and severe in exacting them from those that cannot pay them without ruining themselves and their families; but this means debt of injury; our debtors are those that trespass against us, that smite us (ch. 5:39, 40), and in strictness of law, might be prosecuted for it; we must forbear, and forgive, and forget the affronts put upon us, and the wrongs done us; and this is a moral qualification for pardon and peace; it encourages to hope, that God will forgive us; for if there be in us this gracious disposition, it is wrought of God, and therefore is a perfection eminently and transcendently in himself; it will be an evidence to us that he has forgiven us, having wrought in us the condition of forgiveness.

1. In a promise. If ye forgive, your heavenly Father will also forgive. Not as if this were the only condition required; there must be repentance and faith, and new obedience; but as where other graces are in truth, there will be this, so this will be a good evidence of the sincerity of our other graces. He that relents toward his brother, thereby shows that he repents toward his God. Those which in the prayer are called debts, are here called trespasses, debts of injury, wrongs done to us in our bodies, goods, or reputation: trespasses is an extenuating term for offences, paraptōmata—stumbles, slips, falls. Note, It is a good evidence, and a good help of our forgiving others, to call the injuries done us by a mollifying, excusing name. Call them not treasons, but trespasses; not wilful injuries, but casual inadvertencies; peradventure it was an oversight (Gen. 43:12), therefore make the best of it. We must forgive, as we hope to be forgiven; and therefore must not only bear no malice, nor mediate revenge, but must not upbraid our brother with the injuries he has done us, nor rejoice in any hurt that befals him, but must be ready to help him and do him good, and if he repent and desire to be friends again, we must be free and familiar with him, as before.

2. In a threatening. “But if you forgive not those that have injured you, that is a bad sign you have not the other requisite conditions, but are altogether unqualified for pardon: and therefore your Father, whom you call Father, and who, as a father, offers you his grace upon reasonable terms, will nevertheless not forgive you. And if other grace be sincere, and yet you be defective greatly in forgiving, you cannot expect the comfort of your pardon, but to have your spirit brought down by some affliction or other to comply with this duty.” Note, Those who would have found mercy with God must show mercy to their brethren; nor can we expect that he should stretch out the hands of his favour to us, unless we lift up to him pure hands, without wrath, 1 Tim. 2:8. If we pray in anger, we have reason to fear God will answer in anger. It has been said, Prayers made in wrath are written in gall. What reason is it that God should forgive us the talents we are indebted to him, if we forgive not our brethren the pence they are indebted to us? Christ came into the world as the great Peace-Maker, and not only to reconcile us to God, but one to another, and in this we must comply with him. It is great presumption and of dangerous consequence, for any to make a light matter of that which Christ here lays such a stress upon. Men’s passions shall not frustrate God’s word.

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