Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. – Matthew 6:11-12 ESV
Prayer, at its most basic form, is communication with God. It is the child of God speaking with and listening to his Father. There should be a certain degree of intimacy and expectancy in our conversations with God. As Jesus shows us in the model prayer He shared with His disciples, our prayers should begin with an acknowledgement of God’s holiness and transcendency, but also a realization of our personal relationship with Him as His children. Because He is our Father, we can come to Him boldly, knowing that He loves us. But we must also come respectfully and submissively, never forgetting that He is God and always ready to subject our will to His. It is this recognition of God as both our creator and Father that prompts us to willingly submit to His rule and reign over our lives. And while we are perfectly free and repeatedly encouraged to bring our requests before Him, we must always do so with a readiness to accept what He deems best. In Jesus’ prayer, He seems to teach us to ask God for the basics – “give us this day our daily bread.” This isn’t a request for a life of poverty or bare subsistence. It is an expression of dependence upon God for those things that will sustain us in life. Thomas L. Constable, in his commentary on Matthew, writes, “Daily bread refers to the necessities of life, not its luxuries. This is a prayer for our needs, not our greeds. The request is for God to supply our needs day by day” (Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Matthew, 2008 Edition). When we ask God for our “daily bread,” we our admitting our dependency upon Him. Rather than in prideful self-sufficiency, we admit our reliance upon Him as our creator, sustainer, provider and loving Father. This attitude in prayer expresses a degree of contentment in and satisfaction with what God provides. Paul told Timothy, “Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content” (1 Timothy 6:6-8 NLT). Sometimes our constant requests of God for more reveal that we really seek satisfaction and contentment in things rather than Him.
But there is another necessity that Jesus would have us recognize. Not only do we need God to provide us our daily needs, we need His constant forgiveness. This particular part of Jesus’ prayer has caused some great confusion and consternation. After all, weren’t all our sins forgiven by His death on the cross? If so, why must we constantly ask God to forgive us our sins? It is important that we understand that our sins have been forgiven – in full, past present and future. We stand before God as righteous because of the death of Christ on the cross. But we know from experience that we still sin. We have sin natures and a built-in propensity to sin against God. And sin, as it always has done, creates a barrier between us and God. The forgiveness Jesus is talking about has nothing to do with our salvation. That has been taken care of by Jesus. The forgiveness He is telling us to seek has to do with restoring fellowship with God. The word translated “debts” refers to our sins, not our financial obligations to God. Each and every day of our lives, we sin against God. We rebel against His rule and reign over our lives. We lie, deceive, exhibit pride and prejudice, hurt others, fail to love, act selfishly, lust, covet, and refuse to obey His commands. Our confession of those sins brings forgiveness. In asking for forgiveness, we are recognizing the amazing reality that God WILL do just that – forgive us. “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). An admission of our sins and a willing confession of them to God restores our fellowship with Him. And fellowship with our Father should mean more to us than anything else.
But there is more. Jesus adds an interesting twist to His model prayer. He says, “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12 ESV). This is not teaching us that our forgiveness from God is somehow tied to our forgiveness of others. It is telling us that forgiveness should be so important to us that we are willing to extend it even to those who sin against us. To refuse to forgive others is to show an open disregard for the forgiveness of God. That is why, after Jesus finishes giving His model prayer, He adds, “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” (Matthew 6:14-15 ESV). To refuse to forgive others is sin. It is against the will of God for His children. Dr. Constable adds, “These verses explain the thought of the fifth petition more fully. Repetition stresses the importance of forgiving one another if we want God’s forgiveness. Our horizontal relationships with other people must be correct before our vertical relationship with God can be” (Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Matthew, 2008 Edition).
Just prior to giving His model prayer, Jesus has taught, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24 ESV). There is a point at which our personal relationships can hinder our relationship with our heavenly Father. He has called us to love one another. Our desire for forgiveness from Him and restored fellowship with Him should drive us to maintain our fellowship with one another. “If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11 ESV). Food and forgiveness – two basic needs we all share.and two necessities we should all desire.