Posted by Mark Herzer

The Larger Catechism

Question 194 (pt. 2)

194.     Q. What do we pray for in the fifth petition?

As we forgive

This phrase (as we forgive our debtors) can raise some interesting questions. The way the Larger Catechism interprets it is the following: “which we are the rather emboldened to ask, and encouraged to expect, when we have this testimony in ourselves, that we from the heart forgive others their offenses.” I believe the way our divines interpreted that clause will help us immensely. We need to do several things to rightly understand the last clause of this petition. We need to, 1) exegete and understand the phrase, 2) clear up a few misunderstandings, 3) draw out its implications, and 4) address a few difficult cases.

 

1. Interpreting the phrase

The phrase “as we forgive our debtors” uses a very important word “as”. The subordinate conjunction “as” (ὡς) tells us that our forgiveness of others go hand in hand with our petition for forgiveness.[1] As Robert Guelich says, the clause expresses an action “concomitant with the petition.”[2] It is something we ourselves are doing. The request does not envision a scenario where the petitioner is unwilling to forgive.

Leon Morris makes a very helpful observation: “We should notice that it is debtors that are forgiven, not “debts.” Both, of course, are involved, but it is the person on whom the emphasis falls.”[3] Forgiveness is not abstract; we are forgiving persons, persons in debt to us, “our debtors.” That is, a real offense of some sort has occurred (not merely personal but sinful, see below).

The aorist tense “we forgive” (ἀφήκαμεν) should be taken to mean what many call the Aramaic “present perfect” (perfectum praesens) or a “Semitic perfect” indicating an action that is taking place here and now.[4] That is why our English translations utilize the present tense.

So, what we are asking from heaven (from God) is being liberally dispensed on earth (by us). “We cannot honorably try to be on speaking terms with God the Father where we have not sincerely sought to be on speaking terms with some problematic other.”[5] That would be ludicrous. In fact, verses 14 & 15 develop this more fully. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” The two go together (see especially Mt. 18:15-20; 21-35).

What is meant is, that we ourselves must cultivate a spirit of forgiveness towards those who seem to have wronged us, before we venture to claim forgiveness for ourselves. God has more to forgive to each individual than any human being can have; and He is more ready to forgive: it is impossible for me to equal Him in this.[6]

This “spirit of forgiveness towards those who seem to have wronged us” serve as a testimony to us that something has changed in us.

Our divines described it this way, we can ask for forgiveness from our heavenly Father — “which we are the rather emboldened to ask, and encouraged to expect, when we have this testimony in ourselves, that we from the heart forgive others their offenses.” If we are reluctant and hard hearted towards someone else, how can we approach God and ask for forgiveness? Regarding the person who says, “I’ll never forgive you!”, one commentator says, “is not penitently aware of his sins, but only vengefully aware of another man’s sins.”[7]

To not forgive reveals two things. One, it reveals our wicked blindness to our own offenses against God. Two, the person has no living reality in his heart to indicate that God had forgiven him in the first place; there is no corresponding testimony. D. A. Carson well summarized the teaching of the New Testament on forgiveness (Mt. 6:12, 14, 15; Lk. 11:4; 6:37; Mt. 18:21-35):

These passages must neither be explained away nor misinterpreted. On the one hand, they must stand in all their stark demand: there is no forgiveness for those who do not forgive. One the other hand, in the light of all that the New Testament writers say about grace and change of heart, it would be obtuse to understand these passages as if they were suggesting that a person could earn forgiveness by forgiving others. The point is more subtle. It is that people disqualify themselves from being forgiven if they are so hardened in their own bitterness that they cannot or will not forgive others. In such cases, they display no brokenness, no contrition, no recognition of the great value of forgiveness, no understanding of their own complicity in sin, no repentance.[8]

 

2. Misunderstandings

The phrase “as we forgive…” can easily be misunderstood. We must rightly understand what our Lord is teaching lest we suffer under some gross misunderstanding. We recognize that in the light of the rest of the NT teaching, we cannot draw certain conclusions from this text. These are some of the common mistakes that do not take into account the rest of the Bible’s teaching.

 

a. It is not a meritorious condition.

Vos mentioned that the Dispensationalists believe that this “condition” represents the Old Testament (cf. Vos, 572). The NT, they say, is free from all such conditions. It would be entirely wrong to make this petition a meritorious condition — that is, because of my forgiveness, I’ve placed God in debt to me. I’ve earned it.  Calvin says,

This condition is added, that no one may presume to approach God and ask forgiveness, who is not pure and free from all resentment. And yet the forgiveness, which we ask that God would give us, does not depend on the forgiveness which we grant to others: but the design of Christ was, to exhort us, in this manner, to forgive the offenses which have been committed against us, and at the same time, to give, as it were, the impression of his seal, to ratify the confidence in our own forgiveness. (Calvin on Mt. 6:12)

It all depends on how we define “condition.” Calvin’s explanation differs from this Roman Catholic commentator who said, “This is the condition which God requires of us, and if it be fulfilled, He readily forgives, and if it be not fulfilled, He will not forgive…”[9] This quid pro quo interpretation cannot be correct. This petition assumes the petitioner’s right standing before God since he addresses him as “Our Father.”[10] God is already his heavenly Father and in that vital covenant relationship, the believer petitions his Father for forgiveness. He never possessed the relationship with God through his merit and he has never received forgiveness on account of his own behavior. Why would he do so now on something so serious as his own sins?

 

b. It is not a perfect forgiveness that Jesus has in mind.

Another Roman Catholic commentator interpreted the phrase in this way, “We will receive God’s mercy only to the extent [emphasis added] that we show mercy to those who have trespassed against us…”[11] Let us hope not. We are laced with sin through and through. We have never perfectly forgiven other people’s sins.

This also helps us to refute the first misunderstanding as well. If in fact our forgiveness serves as the meritorious condition for God to forgive us, then have we ever truly forgiven in a meritorious manner? How do we know when we did? Is our own forgiveness therefore always up in the air, uncertain, etc.?

 

c. It is not in reaction to or in view of our forgiveness.

This relates to the first one. Does God forgive us as He sees us going through with our obedience of forgiveness? To state it more clearly, does our God forgive us after we have forgiven others? Let this example clarify the issue.

The same Catholic scholar cited above said, “The word as does not denote the measure, or the rule which God follows in the forgiveness of sins: for we ought to pray that more may be forgiven us by God than others owe us—but the inductive cause which may move God to forgive…”[12] Everything he said is spot on except the last statement. The author argues that the “inductive cause” is our forgiveness. That is, what induces, moves, compels, God to forgive is our own forgiveness. God is, therefore, forgiving us on the basis of our own forgiveness and not on the basis of Christ. This is patently wrong.

Though he did not use “merit” language, he did resort to a medieval subtlety. God is acting on what we do. Since man cannot merit anything from God, God will honor what we do. This minimal act you perform will get God to be gracious to you.[13] What induces God to forgive you is your willingness to forgive. This is semi-Pelagianism against which the Reformers revolted.

Our Lord has taught us to say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty…” (Lk. 17:10). God doesn’t lower his standard to forgive us. He also does not forgive us because we first forgave because God is a debtor to no man. Our ability to forgive is a living testimony of God having already forgiven us. We can only forgive because he enables us to. Our forgiveness earns nothing, especially God’s forgiveness: “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1Cor. 4:7)

 

3. Implications and Applications

a. It is about a real sin and not merely having your “feelings” hurt.

We can sinfully feel offended quite easily. We can feel sinned against. Was it a sin or simply our pride? “He didn’t look at me right.” “He didn’t recognize me.” “She didn’t appreciate what I did for her.” “She should have picked me, called me, chose me, etc.” Notice, a real debt has incurred, the kind of “debt” analogous to the ones we have incurred against God.

I believe some of our unforgiving spirit has more to do with our own foolish pride than anything else. Love bears all things except wounded pride. Love is not irritable or resentful. “How sad is it, that, for every slight wrong, or disgraceful word, men should let malice boil in their hearts!”[14] How sad indeed!

 

b. It is not about you!

Forgiveness is not about the psychological benefits one receives from forgiving the offender. It is not about “mental health.” Though there is some truth to that, it simply is not given any prominence in the New Testament. The stress falls on the “eternal benefits of being right with God.”[15] We must forgive because this is what God has called us to do and our fellowship with Him is paramount. This supposed psychological benefit, however true it might be, masks the deeper issue if we focus on it. It hides a deep theological truth. We are so self-centered, that even in this arena, we virtually reduce forgiveness to personal benefit.  What if “mental health” was not in any way diminished if we did not forgive? What if the opposite was true? What if my resentment actually energized me? What if it liberated me to do things that I thought I couldn’t do?

Forgiving others reveals the heart of our relationship with our Savior: “forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Eph. 4:32) Ultimately, all sins are against God (Ps. 51:4): “what gives sin its deepest odium, its most heinous hue, is that it offends the God who made us and who stands as our Judge.”[16] Forgiveness is about God and His holiness; it is not about our “mental health.”

 

c. It hurts

Forgiving someone else hurts. No matter what we do, however we argue our case, present our position, etc. the other person will not feel the pain we might feel. Forgiving the one who offended us often hurts us; we must absorb the pain of their sins against us (verbal to physical abuse, continued misunderstanding, etc.). “They clearly don’t understand what they did and seem to make light of what has happened!” Forgiving them does not mean they have to “experience” what we did.

The offender’s crime against us is nothing compared to our weighty offenses against God. I do not discount the scar, the enormous pain and suffering, the great injustice, the deep emotional impact, etc. of the person’s offense or debt. We are to forgive as God in Christ forgave us. It is through the power and healing grace of His forgiveness that we can forgive others. We don’t have an exhaustive knowledge of their repentance or lack thereof. To expect a certain depth and degree of contrition from them, to have them grovel before us, etc. is to demand from them some sort of atonement. We must not act as popes or priests demanding some works of penance from them. John Stott says,

Once our eyes have been opened to see the enormity of our offense against God, the injuries which others have done to us appear by comparison extremely trifling. If, on the other hand, we have an exaggerated view of the offenses of others, it proves that we have minimized our own. It is the disparity between the size of debts which is the main point of the parable of the unmerciful servant. Its conclusion is: ‘I forgave you all that debt (which was huge) …; should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ (33).[17]

 Talk is cheap, one might say, because he didn’t go through what I did! But is the grace of God in Christ foiled because of your experience? Can his forgiveness of your great sins not liberate you to forgive others? Does his command somehow lose its force because your pain is so deep? Is it not theologically proper to say that when you see your sins properly before an august holy God, then your “exaggerated view of the offenses of others” will all of sudden change? Did not your Lord forgive all your debts? Or are you saying what He forgave was nothing compared to what you are called to forgive?

 

d. Forgive myself?

Some may say, “I can forgive others but I just can’t forgive myself.”[18] Without getting into all that might be involved in this, a few things should be noted. First of all, YOU ARE NOT so special. If God forgave you, then you can surely forgive yourself. God is holier than you and if He is able, then you must. Also, if Christ’s blood washed away your sins and His atonement purchased your pardon, then you are forgiven in Him. To say you can’t forgive yourself is to say that His shed blood is ineffective or inconsequential to you.

If truth be told, the person simply is not coming to terms with the fact that he or she failed and sinned grievously. Your sins are worse than you think. What you can’t forgive in yourself is not nearly half as wicked as you really are.  You have an inflated view of yourself. Faith, if you believe, requires that you accept the forgiveness He offers. If He forgave, then it is forgiven. PERIOD!

 

4. Difficult Cases

The ideal scenario we would love to face is to have our dear brother in Christ know he really sinned (“big time”) against us. He comes with great humility and grief in his heart begging our forgiveness. In our humble super spiritual demeanor, we grant the pardon and we all live happily ever after and skip merrily to the celestial city!

But sin has not only caused offenses in our relationships, it has also sinfully complicated all the variables in these relationships. That is, it is never a simple matter. The offenders never seem to understand how badly they hurt us. Their apologies seem so mechanical. Most of all, it appears to have cost them nothing. To make matters worse, many of them remain oblivious to their incredible offenses or they maintain their absolute innocence in the matter (when you feel that nothing could be farther from the truth) — in fact, they even have the gall to look at you with astonishment as if to suggest that you are the one with “issues.” That is, to them, this “problem” says something more about about you than their supposed offense.

We have all felt keenly such things. Unfortunately, we cannot deal with all the facets of this problem. We will attempt to make general applications from various Bible passages. Good men have differed in this area. It seems to me that their differences are at times semantic and at other times a matter of emphasis.

 

Conditional and Unconditional Forgiveness

Before answering some of the more difficult cases, let us first map out the Bible’s teaching. Jay Adams and Christ Brauns both argue for what we may call “conditional forgiveness.”[19] That is, there is forgiveness only if the other person asks for forgiveness. D. A. Carson and John MacArthur, on the other hand, teach that “conditional forgiveness” does not represent the Bible’s complete teaching on forgiveness.[20] They argue that the Bible in fact call for unconditional forgiveness.

Brauns, interestingly, takes some of the passages used by men like Carson and MacArthur (though he is not arguing specifically against them) to make them fit his position. He says those passages imply the condition of repentance.[21] MacArthur argues that Jay Adams is doing the same. Once Adams defined forgiveness as conditional, no other definition is permitted.[22]

The conditional passages are evident.[23] “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.” (Lk. 17:3; cf. Mt. 18:15-17) This passage presupposes repentance. “This is not an invitation to be naïve about your brother’s inconsistency; it does not mean that he should be trust as if he had no track record of untrustworthiness. What is at issue is a person’s sheer willingness to forgive.”[24] We are called to forgive if they repent (perhaps because we confronted him).

But does that mean every offense demands confrontation?  Is there no room for overlooking, suffering the wrong, etc.? But the Bible also exhorts us to unilaterally overlook, at least, petty offenses. MacArthur says, “Forgive unilaterally, unconditionally. Grant pardon freely and unceremoniously. Love demands this.”[25] Where do we find this? In 1 Peter 4:8, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” Grudem says of this verse in his commentary, “Where love abounds in a fellowship of Christians, many small offences, and even some large ones, are readily overlooked and forgotten. But where love is lacking, every word is viewed with suspicion, every action is liable to misunderstanding, and conflicts abound – to Satan’s perverse delight…”[26] Other passages substantiate the same point. Prov. 10:12 says, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.” In another Proverb, it says that “Whoever covers an offense seeks love…” (17:9). Love does not “take into account a wrong suffered” (1Cor. 13:5, NASB). Watson notes, “It is more honor to bury an injury than to revenge it. Wrath denotes weakness; a noble heroic spirit overlooks a petty offence.”[27]Is not covering someone’s offense the very heart of forgiveness? That is the way Ps. 32:1 defines it, “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!” (cf. Ps. 85:2) James 5:20 says that “whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” Covering sin is therefore another way of forgiving sin.[28]

So we have passages that teach that a believer can and must unilaterally (at times) forgive or cover sins. In Mark 11:25, Jesus teaches us to immediately forgive when we are praying. “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” MacArthur says, “That describes an immediate forgiveness granted to the offender with no formal meeting or transaction required. It necessarily refers to a pardon that is wholly unilateral, because this forgiveness takes place while the forgiver stands praying.[29] This is no easy matter but something of this must be found in our understanding and practice of forgiving.

Paul tells us that we are to forgive “just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Eph. 4:32) Adams argues that since we had to repent before we were forgiven, the same condition applies in our relationships. Of course there are times where repentance is necessary (some heinous sins, etc.). Again, MacArthur is helpful here: “When Scripture instructs us to forgive in the manner we have been forgiven, what is in view is not the idea of withholding forgiveness until the offender expresses repentance.”[30] That is, the point was not to teach us, “Don’t dare forgive until they repent!” MacArthur further argues, “The emphasis is on forgiving freely, generously, willingly, eagerly, speedily — and from the heart [cf. Mt. 18:35]. The attitude of the forgiver is where the focus of Scripture lies, not the terms of forgiveness.”[31] (emphasis added)

We obviously ought to confront at times and of course the Mt. 18 process must be followed. The only thing we need to remember is that there are times for unilateral acts of forgiveness. Wisdom, good judgment, etc. must guide us here. Some of these following points are drawn from Brauns but they are reiterated by all the writers in one form or another.

a. Reconciliation has not necessarily occurred

If the person has not asked for forgiveness, in your heart you have already forgiven or are ready to forgive but you have not achieved reconciliation. But just because we have not been fully reconciled to our brother does not mean we can remain angry and bitter. “Transparently, reconciliation is a good thing if it can be achieved, but the goal of reconciliation should not become a cloak for nursing bitterness because it cannot be achieved.”[32]

Adams says no transaction has taken place, hence no forgiveness. Driscoll says you have forgiven them in your heart but no reconciliation has been achieved (as does Carson). None of these men argue (whichever side we might hold) that we are therefore free to be bitter.

A helpful observation I once heard may help us here. If in fact we have not fully dealt with the matter in our hearts, then interactions with the other person will bring those unresolved heart issues to the forefront (anger, discomfort, suspicion, and even a sinful cruel [unstated] desire to see them hurt, etc.).

 

b. You must not attempt to avenge yourself.

In Romans 12:17-21 we are told to repay no one evil for evil (v. 17). Verse 21 says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” In the middle of this passage, we are instructed to never avenge ourselves (v. 19). Because of the offense, our hearts react and attempt to retaliate. Some have argued that revenge is “healthy.”[33]

We must be clear and honest about this. Revenge comes in many forms — it is often not acted out in the most noticeable manner. We can inflict revenge with our silent treatment, by withholding affections or greetings, giving an icy reception, backbiting, wishing them harm (or just some pain), slighting all good reports of the offender, etc. We can commit all these sins with a sanctimonious smile! We must not return evil for evil, even if our evil is lesser than their offense — our retaliation tends to be very subtle. It also means that the past offense (and our present suffering) does not justify our present sinful behavior!

Ezekiel Hopkins taught that forgiveness consisted in these two things. 1) “In abstaining from the outward acts of revenge upon them.” This corresponds to our “b”. 2) “In the inward frame and temper of our hearts towards them; bearing them no grudge nor ill-will; but being as much in charity with tem, as though they had never offended us.”[34] This is similar to our “c” below to which we must now turn.

 

c. Positively show love.

In Rom. 12:20, Paul instructs us to feed our enemy and give him a drink if he is thirsty. Verse 9 says that love must be genuine. In so doing, we heap coals on his head. What this means is summarized quite well by Douglas Moo, “Acting kindly toward our enemies is a means of leading them to be ashamed of their conduct toward us and, perhaps, to repent and turn to the Lord whose love we embody.”[35] It will not infallibly shame them but that is in the Lord’s hands. To argue that our acts of kindness is a means of heaping judgment on them (and in turn, we are to be motivated by this) seems to run contrary to the tenor of the whole passage.

We must do good to and for them. What they need, what is best for them, etc. must determine our actions. Indifference is not an option. Again, let us be careful here. We can too easily say something like, “Well, it does them no good if we help them out. They’ll never learn their lesson.” Of course in some situations those words may apply but too often we use those words to withhold doing them good in order to subtly display our displeasure. Were we honest with our hearts, we would confess that our words came not from charity but from resentment, bitterness, etc.

 

5. What if?

a. Must I always forgive if they repent?

Our Lord tells us that we must always forgive (“I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” Mt. 18:22). Surely, if they repent, we must forgive. Even in this area, we must give the benefit of doubt to the offender. In our sinful wounded state, all their petitions for pardon will always appear half-hearted and not genuine.

We must also remember if we do not forgive or we are unforgiving as a person, then the Mt. 18 parable has much to say to us: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (v. 35)

 

b. What if the other person does not repent and ask for forgiveness? Must I forgive him?

The debate centers on this issue. Adams and Brauns says that no forgiveness can be granted if they do not repent and ask for it. Carson and MacArthur teach that we must forgive unilaterally though no reconciliation has occurred.

Couple things should guide us, irrespective of our position. One, we should not be bitter against them — such heart sins can lead to other sins. Two, we should not always seek to “confront” incessantly. This will often produce more problems and will not work towards reconciliation. Three, we should foster reconciliation by the way we treat them.

There are times when we must not forgive unilaterally. Personal sins can be forgiven, covered, etc. and the offense absorbed, as it were. But other sins will require confrontation.[36] Some soul-threatening sins cannot be overlooked. 1) “If you observe a serious offense that is a sin against someone other than you, confront the offender.” Those sins are not yours to forgive. Justice demands that it be dealt with. For example, “You shall not pervert the justice due to your needy brother in his dispute.” (Ex. 23:6) 2) “When ignoring an offense might hurt the offender, confrontation is required.” (cf. Gal. 6:1-2) Secret sins discovered, heinous sins committed, etc. Theses include “serious doctrinal error, moral failure, repeated instance of the same offense [note, real offense], sinful habits or destructive tendencies, …” 3) “When a sin is scandalous or otherwise potentially damaging to the body of Christ, confrontation is essential.” 4) “Any time an offense results in a broken relationship, formal forgiveness is an essential step toward reconciliation.” Again, it is assumed that the offense is real and sinful. “Whether harsh words have been exchanged or an icy silence prevails, if both sides know that a breach exists, the only way to resolve matters is by the formal granting of forgiveness.” (131)

 

c. What if the person is dead?

Jay Adams says, “Since such people cannot repent and seek forgiveness from you, you cannot grant forgiveness to them. In prayer you may simply tell God of your desire to forgive and your determination to rid your heart of all bitterness and resentment toward them. That is all you can do and all you need to do. Those Christians who died before reconciliation have now been glorified and made perfect. They don’t need your forgiveness.”[37]

 

d. What if I forgave but I still struggle with bitterness?

Forgiveness, once offered, does not mean we forget or that the consequences still do not continue on. Samuel Storm makes five helpful observations in this matter. He calls them “Five Myths about Forgiveness.”[38]

1. Contrary to what many have been led to believe, forgiveness is not forgetting. 2. Forgiving someone does not mean you no longer feel the pain of their offense. 3. Forgiving someone who has sinned against you doesn’t mean you cease longing for justice. Forgiveness does not mean that you close your eyes to moral atrocity and pretend that it didn’t hurt or that it really doesn’t matter whether or not the offending person is called to account for his/her offense. 4.  Forgiveness does not mean you are to make it easy for the offender to hurt you again. 5. Forgiveness is rarely a one-time, climatic event. It is most often a life-long process. However, forgiveness has to begin somewhere at some point in time.

 

e. Don’t be stupid!

See #4 of Samuel Storm’s Five Myths. He says, “They may hurt you again. That is their decision. But you must set boundaries on your relationship with them. The fact that you establish rules to govern how and to what extent you interact with this person in the future does not mean you have failed to sincerely and truly forgive them. True love never aids and abets the sin of another. … Forgiveness does not mean you become a helpless and passive doormat for their continual sin.”

 

f. Can we ever apply the imprecatory Psalms on them?

We cannot deal with this fully here except to say that the imprecatory Psalms can be used ecclesiastically and theologically (with God’s glory in mind) — but with care. It is not to be used for personal revenge and personal hurts you have experienced from someone. David’s role as a mediator king in the redemptive historical situation in which existed looked forward to final judgment of the wicked. It is not personal hatred but righteous anger against God’s enemies. “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord, and abhor those who rise up against you?” (Ps. 139:21, 22)

 

PASSAGES TO PONDER

Mt. 5:23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Mk. 11:25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

Col. 3:12    Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

Eph. 4:31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.


[1] Luke 11:4 uses “for” (γὰρ) — “for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.”

[2] Robert Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding (Waco, TX: Word, 1982), 294.

[3] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 147.

[4] David Hill, The Gospel of Matthew, New Century Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), 138; R. H. Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 108; Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew, A Commentary, vol. 1 (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1987), 252. But taking it in the traditional aorist tense also works.

[5] Bruner, Matthew, 253.

[6] Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1917), 102.

[7] Leon Morris, Matthew, 147.

[8] Carson, Love in Hard Places, 79.

[9] Cornelius à Lapide, The Great Commentary of Cornelius À Lapide, Volume 1: S. Matthew’s Gospel—Chaps. 1 to 9, trans. Thomas W. Mossman, Third Edition (London: John Hodges, 1887), 273.

[10] Cf. Bruner, Matthew, A Commentary, 253.

[11] Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, The Gospel of Matthew, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 107. The clause may not be as restrictive if I interpret it to mean, “We will receive God’s mercy only if we show mercy to those who have trespassed against us…” That may be the authors’ intention.

[12] a Lapide, 273.

[13] See our notes on Calvin’s Institutes (3.4.2). Facientibus quod in se est, Deus non denegat gratiam (“To those who do what is in them, God will not deny grace”)!

[14] Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Prayer (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1965), 253.

[15] D. A. Carson, Love in Hard Places (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2002), 79-80.

[16] Carson, Love in Hard Places, 77.

[17] John R.W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 149-150.

[18] Admittedly, this language is not used in Scripture. Our self-centered culture has twisted the biblical truth of God’s forgiveness into more self-preoccupation. Jay Adams addresses this issue and makes some helpful observations, see From Forgiven to Forgiving: Learning to Forgive One Another God’s Way (USA: Calvary Press, 1994), 61-64.

[19] Jay E. Adams, From Forgiven to Forgiving: Learning to Forgive One Another God’s Way (USA: Calvary Press, 1994); Chris Brauns, Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008).

[20] D. A. Carson, Love in Hard Places (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2002); John MacArthur, The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness, Reprint ed. (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2009).

[21] Brauns, Unpacking Forgiveness, 145-146.

[22] MacArthur, Forgiveness, 120.

[23] In these two paragraphs, I am carefully following MacArthur.

[24] Carson, Love in Hard Places, 81.

[25] MacArthur, Forgiveness, 121.

[26] Wayne Grudem, 1 Peter, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, vol. 17 (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 181. MacArthur also says something similar: “Real love should cover the vast majority of transgressions, not constantly haul them out in the open for dissection (1 Pet. 4:8)” (MacArthur, Forgiveness, 123).

[27] Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Prayer (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1965), 252.

[28] See comments to this effect in Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 250.

[29] MacArthur, Forgiveness, 121.

[30] MacArthur, Forgiveness, 118.

[31] MacArthur, Forgiveness, 118-119.

[32] Carson, Love in Hard Places, 82.

[33] Brauns cites a website excerpt without listing the site, see Unpacking Forgiveness, 131.

[34] Ezekiel Hopkins, The Works of Ezekiel Hopkins, 3 vols. (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1997), 1:220.

[35] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 789.

[36] Here, I will follow John MacArthur’s examples, pp. 128-134.

[37] Adams, From Forgiven to Forgiving, 35.

[38] I downloaded a pdf of “Forgiveness: What it is, What it is Not.”


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