Offering forgiveness is such an important part of discipleship that Jesus included it in the prayer he taught his followers (“forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors,” Matthew 6:12). Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, justifying, or trusting again. It means cancelling the invisible debt that is owed to you by someone who has wronged you. While there are plenty of psychological reasons to let go of past wrongs, Christians have a unique reason to forgive: because we have been forgiven. The unconditional love and grace that God has shown us in Christ becomes not only a model, but the motivation for us to show grace (and forgiveness) even to those who have hurt us most deeply.
Colossians 3:13 - Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Sometimes offering forgiveness is fairly easy. Sometimes it can seem impossible. What makes forgiveness hard? What kinds of fears (and other motivations) keep us hanging on to past wrongs, even when we’ve tried to let go?
Looking at Scripture:
Read Matthew 18:21-35.
What is your emotional reaction to the parable Jesus told? What do you think Jesus intended to stir up in the hearts of his listeners?
Use the footnotes in your Bible to determine an approximate value of the debts owed by and to the servant in the story. Do you think these values are a fair representation of your debt to God, and the debts others owe you?
Jesus said that forgiveness was to be offered “seventy-seven times” (v. 22). Why do you think he chose this number? Are there any limits on the kind or amount of forgiveness we show to others? What are would be some healthy boundaries to put in place with someone who repeatedly sins against you (“I forgive you, but…”)?
In a similar passage (Luke 17:3-4), Jesus says “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” Here Jesus includes the idea of repentance as a condition of forgiveness. Do you think it’s important that someone repents (or apologizes) before you offer them forgiveness? Is it healthy to keep forgiving someone who doesn’t ask for it or deserve it?
When we are wronged there is a debt of justice that must be satisfied and an emotional wound that must be healed. While these are two separate things, they are also closely connected. Discuss the relationship between forgiveness and healing. How can one lead to the other? How can a lack of one hinder the other? Besides forgiveness, what else can help to speed the healing of past wounds? How do you know when you have truly forgiven someone? How do you know when you’ve been healed?
Read Luke 6:32-38 and reflect on the radical way of life that Jesus calls his followers to. Why does Jesus demand so much of his followers? Why do you think he links God’s forgiveness with our forgiveness of others so often? How does unforgiveness (being unmerciful) poison our souls and hinder our relationship with God?
Is there anyone in your life you have a hard time forgiving? Are there any wounds that remain open and unhealed? Events that you can’t think of without experiencing deep pain? People you can’t talk to without getting angry? In situations like that, even if you think you’ve forgiven, there may be lingering unforgiveness causing the wound to fester. Ask God to bring insight into where and how you need to offer further forgiveness.
In cases of those who have wronged us repeatedly, it can be helpful to write out a list of individual wrongs or hurts and then cross each off, declaring the debt to be cancelled, and asking God to heal the wounds.
Sometimes the biggest block to our offering forgiveness to other is that we haven’t connected with (or we have forgotten) the forgiveness God offers us. If you struggle with forgiveness, ask God to give you insight into your own forgiveness. Make a list of all the ways that you have wronged God, and then reflect on the price he paid in order to cancel your debt.