Title: NEEDING AND GIVING FORGIVENESS
Taking our frustrations out on people seems to be the common thing these days; forgiving them is not. Vengeance is acted out on our streets daily and is even viewed as a macho strength. It’s sad to see that our society is drunk on the grapes of wrath. Whether it be road-rage, disgruntled employee rampages, drive-by shootings or other crimes of vengeance…it has become the hallmark of this generation. It’s no wonder that so many people are miserable with guilt, anger, depression and other destructive emotions.
Has it caught your attention, like it has mine, that at the root of all this destructive behavior is the issue of forgiveness? A lot of our problems would be significantly smaller or even completely resolved if we had a right understanding of what God has to say about forgiveness. People that act out their problems seem to be in one or both of two categories. There are some who need to understand how God’s forgiveness is extended to sinners; and there are others who need to learn to be forgiving. Put another way…some struggle with their own guilt, while others blame others with an unforgiving spirit. On the one hand we desperately need forgiveness…on the other, we desperately need to forgive. There are some who struggle with both guilt and blame.
The problem is that both damage us spiritually and emotionally. Both are capable of making life a shipwreck of relationships. Both can create a whole multitude of other problems. But the goal of this study is that all of us can be delivered from the downward spiral if we understand and live-out what the Bible teaches about forgiveness.
1. Sometimes the circumstances of life that hit us are just wrong; they pile up, frustration mounts, then we unload on others like Mount St. Helens, belching all our poisonous gases and ashes across the landscape for miles around. What circumstances seem to catch you off guard or bring you to the point of unloading on others? Would you say you have conquered your tongue or are you still working on it?
Insight: When sin reigns in our heart, there is a tendency to minimize our own sins and magnify the blame of others. We want others to treat us with mercy, yet we demand retribution against injustice. We would be well on to the road to spiritual health if we were repulsed by our own sin as much as we are at the sins others commit against us.
2. What is the standard for forgiveness…who set it…how high is it? (The standard of forgiveness is based on the forgiveness God Himself extends to us.) 2 Cor. 5:21
Insight: Our need for God’s forgiveness is definitely greater than any forgiveness we might ever be called upon to extend to others. Perhaps if we kept this in view, we would not have a problem forgiving others.
3. In Jesus’ parables, His preaching and even the Lord’s Prayer all emphasized the truth that those who are forgiven must also be forgiving. Some of His harshest words were to those who were unwilling to forgive. What passages/stories come to mind about Jesus’ harshest words in this area?
4. Do you find it hard to forgive when someone keeps hurting you over and over again? What does Luke 17:3-4 say that can guide us in this difficult matter? (Note it begins, “Be on your guard!” meaning we need to watch our heart and keep it from hardening and closing off the compassion of forgiveness.) Lk. 23:24
5. Why is it that when we are on the receiving end of being hurt, forgiving them seems to be a gross violation of justice? If you were called upon to counsel someone who had been deeply hurt, and they were struggling with Jesus’ words in Luke 6:35-38, how would you counsel them to come to terms with this passage?
6. How do you reconcile the opposites of justice and mercy?...do you just excuse the offense made and forgive?
Insight: We must keep our thinking right here. We can’t take God’s grace and forgiveness for granted and ignore his absolute righteousness. And on the other hand we can’t pound the gavel of justice and ignore His grace altogether. Both must be balanced if we are to understand the Scriptures. How can God justify the sinner without rendering Himself unjust? The answer lies in the truth that God made His Son the atonement for our sins. Rom. 3:23-26
7. In 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 it says that God has given to us the ministry of reconciliation…that He has made us ambassadors entreating the world to be reconciled to Him. How can we even think of carrying that out if we are holding grudges within and harboring an unforgiving spirit? Eph. 4:30-32
Insight: Look at the ambassadorial role of the ministry of reconciliation in Philemon 1:17-18 and see if you don’t see the life of Jesus lived out in Paul’s words here.
8. How do you go about the process of releasing forgiveness in your own heart (thus setting yourself free from your prison of bitterness) when the offending party doesn’t even approach you with asking for forgiveness? Col. 3:12-13
Insight: The Anchor Bible Dictionary defines forgiveness this way: Forgiveness is wiping out the pain of an offense from memory; it can only be affected by the one hurt. Once eradicated, the offense no longer conditions the relationship between the offender and the one hurt, and harmony is restored between the two. See Ps. 85:10
9. Take a moment to read to yourself the story in Matthew 18:21-35 and then share your comments on how the lack of accepting forgiveness keeps us from giving it to others.
Insight: In verse 24, “ten thousand talents” in the Greek is the highest number of arithmetical notation. This immense sum represents our overwhelming debt to God and our utterly impossible capability of paying it back one mite at a time. Yet, if the debtor in this story had only realized that one simple, short prayer can eradicate the entire debt. 1 Jn. 1:8-9; Ps. 130:3; Deut. 15:1; 2 Chr. 7:14
10. What work of the Lord’s hand in your life would be needed for you to be more like Him, as described in Ps. 86:1-5?
11. How important is it to forgive others when it comes to receiving our own forgiveness? Matt. 6:12-15
12. Working through the need of our own forgiveness is what we’ve covered so far; let’s turn the corner to another area. What does it take to become an intercessor for forgiveness for the sins of others? Dan. 9:18; 2 Chr. 6:28-30
13. Now for a difficult verse to interpret. What do you think John 20:23 means in light of our topic?
Insight: This verse addresses our mission within a hostile world. Forgiveness is granted when a person is in a right relationship with God. Our mission is to reconcile others to God. If we discern that their relationship with Him is not right and they do not have a repentant heart, then we may have to decide to hold them to their sin (retain them) until their heart is right. But even in this process we are not perfect. Praise the Lord that the Heavenly Father knows the hearts of all men. We are never an independent agent in dispensing divine forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not an easy topic to pursue. There are fewer topics that are more convicting. Yet the results of it are positive and full of hope for the future. Without God’s forgiveness we would have no hope at all. When we can forgive others, a host of life’s problems get settled. Forgiveness is the where we should start when trying to resolve life’s most troubling problems.
There is freedom and power in God’s ultimate gift to us. It’s my prayer that you will discover that freedom and power in every area of your life…even those dark corners where some buried resentment may be slowly simmering. I pray you will be drawn closer to the loving Father, who is always eager to forgive – and that you too will learn to be an eager forgiver.