Jesus is teaching his disciples how to pray in this section of the Sermon on the Mount. After showing us that we can call the Lord our Father, Jesus taught us to pray for God and his will to be praised. Our desire must be that God’s name be honored, his kingdom to continue to conquer evil, and his will to be accomplished on the earth. After teaching us to request things for God’s glory, Jesus teaches us the ability to make requests concerning our lives. In these next three requests we are learning something that should draw us closer to God and motivate us to pray. We can pray to our Father for our personal needs. So let us look at what Jesus says we should pray for when it comes to our needs.
Give Us Today Our Daily Bread (6:11)
This request represents everything we need for the day. This shows us that there is nothing too small that we cannot bring to God. I think this can sometimes be the fear of prayer. We think that there are certain things that we should not pray about. We might think that there are some things too small to take to God in prayer. But this is where the Father relationship imagery must help us. A parent wants to hear everything that is on the child’s mind, even if they may be small or seemingly insignificant things. If it is bothering my child, then it is significant. There is nothing too small to bring to our Father. Our Father in heaven cares about our well-being. What you need today is what God wants to hear about from you. Think about how many scriptures try to reinforce this idea.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6 ESV)
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6–7 ESV)
What this request is intended to do for us is to bring us recognize a dependence on God each day. This request has a powerful spiritual benefit, teaching us faith. We must depend on God. God is the giver of all things that we have. This prayer makes us conscious of our day to day dependence on God. This is why God dealt with Israel the way he did in the wilderness: to cause them to depend on him.
And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 8:2–3 ESV)
Bring every need to God. Trust God to meet your needs, recognizing that everything comes from him (James 1:17). Jesus presents to us the urgency of prayer. We depend on him and bring him every need in life.
Do Not Lead Us Into Temptation (6:13)
This prayer request generates a lot of questions because we know that God tempts no one (James 1:13). So we are not praying for God not to tempt us. To try to help this, some have understood this to mean like the NRSV reads:
And do not bring us to the time of trial (Matthew 6:13 NRSV)
The Greek word for temptation and trial is the same. But using the word trial does not help us either because we know that we need trials to refine our faith and that God uses trials as a tool (cf. James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6-9). So what are we being told to pray? I think most understand this properly that we are praying to keep us from temptation and to keep us from sin when tempted. We can see this in the parallel statement, “And deliver us from evil.” Oh how we need to pray in the face of temptation! Oh, how we need to pray before we are tempted for the strength that we need to overcome our weakness and keep our hearts and minds pure! This prayer reflects the desire of the forgiven to live a new life by conquering temptations and weaknesses. We truly want to run from sin. We truly want to be transformed people. Prayer reveals the intensity of our desire to overcome sin. Lord, deliver us from Satan and his attacks! Lord, deliver us so that we do not yield to temptations. We know that we cannot stand on our own strength but in the strength God supplies for us. So we are again showing a dependence on our Father.
Forgive Our Debts (6:12, 14-15)
Next, Jesus says that we should pray that God forgive our debts. I think it is important for us to consider that Jesus does not say to forgive our sins, which is true, but to forgive our debts. Debt is the consequence of sin. We are in debt because of our sins and it is an unpayable debt. Sin gives us an unpayable debt before God. We must always feel the weight of this. When we do not see our debt and feel the burden of our great debt is when we fail to be truly repentant and are no longer poor in spirit. This is the idea that Jesus is presenting because he ties our need for forgiveness with forgiving those who who have debts with us. Seeing the debt of your sin will cause you to forgive those who have debts against you. Therefore, seeing our debt being forgiven by God is to cause us to forgive others. What a blessing it is that we can ask God to forgive our debts! Our balance sheet of debt before God is completely erased in Christ. How amazing it is! When sins are forgiven then the debt is gone before God. We are not debtors from our sins when we are forgiven in Christ. This is why 1 John 1:9 is so powerful.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9 ESV)
This is why we sing, “Grace that is greater than all our sins!” But please notice that our forgiveness is tied to us forgiving others. He says this not only in verse 12 but also expands upon it and emphasizes it in verses 14-15. There is an expectation placed on us because we have enjoyed this great grace that erases our debt. We are called to forgive. Later in this gospel we will read Jesus tell Peter that we must forgive our brother even 70 times 7 times.
Now a question arises that I want to address and I hope bring clarity to the question. Do we have to forgive those who do not repent? I think it is important to understand the question and have clarity about this answer. I have taught on this many times but want to make sure we are seeing what God is telling us. First, I cannot find a place in the scriptures where the term forgiveness is ever applied to an unrepentant person. Not only this, but it is clear from the scriptures that repentance is required for forgiveness.
Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:3–4 ESV)
God does not forgive us unless we show repentance toward him. Every scripture teach us to forgive when someone repents. Even in the above passage of Luke 17:3-4 and the well known parable of Matthew 18:21-35 there is the picture of the person begging for mercy and forgiveness. We are to be forgiving people. If someone desires forgiveness from us, we are supposed to give it without hesitation. If someone repents to us, we are desire to give it and willingly do so. Forgiveness is about erasing the debt and restoring the relationship. This is what Jesus is teaching us about our prayer to God. What is God doing? When we pray for forgiveness, God is erasing the debt and restoring the relationship. We must do likewise to those who come to us desiring forgiveness. We erase the debt and restore the relationship.
I think the reason why people are concerned about this is because of how this is misused. People seem to indicate that they can be bitter or mistreat a person because they did not ask for repentance. The idea sounds like this: That person did not come to me seeking forgiveness so I’m not going to forgive them! But that is not the attitude revealed in the scriptures. We desire to give our forgiveness. We want to restore the relationship. We want to barrier of debt removed. There is no place for our heart to harbor ill will, malice, bitterness, anger, or anything akin to these attitudes. We hand over our anger to God, we lay down our ill will, and we seek reconciliation. Friends, please consider that there is no forgiveness if a person does not desire it. God cannot restore a relationship with us and erase the debt if we do not want that forgiveness. If we do not want a restored relationship with God, how can there be forgiveness? In the same way, we cannot restore a relationship with someone who does not want one with us. We cannot forgive because there is no opportunity to do so. Reconciliation is not possible, which is the effect of forgiveness.
Let me use my life to illustrate the idea and I hope this will help understand the concept. Most of you know that my parents were divorced because my mother committed sexual immorality. So they were divorced when I was around 9 or 10 years old. When I was in college I received a letter from the man with whom my mother had the affair. The letter attempted to have an apology. It was really a terrible apology, if you can even call it that. It probably did more harm than anything because it basically said that things happen in life and I’m sorry about that but at least he was able to restore his family. It was bad. He did not truly desire forgiveness. He was not try to restore a relationship with me. He was not seeking out how to help me in what he had done in this. So is there forgiveness? No. Why? Is it because I am withholding it from him, expecting something else from him? No. There is not forgiveness because he has no interest in fixing the relationship. Now, this is what is important. So can I be angry at him? No. Can I be bitter at him? Can I have malice against him? Can I wish ill will on him? Can I treat him badly? The answer to all of these things is no. Now I have lost my soul when I have such sinful thoughts and attitudes. I must desire restoration, and friends, that is not an easy thing to do. But that is what we are called to do because God has forgiven us repeatedly in Christ. Yes, we are hurt. Yes, we are broken. But we have a far greater debt before our God and is not worthy of forgiveness and yet God forgave the debt. Now how can we not desire be forgiving people to all who seek it? We must desire it! We show mercy and grace. Remember Romans 12:18 that we are to bring peace, as much as it depends on us.
Our sins and the great debt we incurred before God is to cause us to love God because we grasp how much he has forgiven us. It is truly amazing, staggering grace! This makes us be forgiving people. We try to fix relationship, bring about reconciliation, and act peaceably with all because of how we have been forgiven. No matter what someone does to me, I have no right for personal vengeance or selfish anger or vindication. I must see a lost soul and desire its rescue. Even if someone has hurt you 490 times, when they are repentant, you want to forgive and restore the relationship. God takes us back every time we sin and repent. We must take others back every time they hurt us and repent. This is the picture of the scriptures.
You will notice that there is a similarity in all three of these requests. In each of these we are revealing our dependence on God. We depend on him for our needs. We depend on him for overcoming temptations. We depend on him for our debts to be erased. God as our Father gives our needs, forgives our debts, and delivers us through temptations and from evil. Now how could we not desire to pray to God to receive these things? Do not these benefits compel us to pray to our Father?