Forgiveness: A Bible Study
By Delia Halverson
Purpose: To grow in understanding of God’s forgiveness and to recognize the need to forgive others and to be forgiven.
Scripture: Matthew 7:1-5; 18:21-22 and specific stories of forgiveness
Background: Stories of God’s forgiveness fill the Bible. It tells how God forgave the Hebrew people over and over again. The primary thread running through scripture is God’s forgiveness, from Adam and Eve to Paul. God made a covenant, the people broke the covenant and God forgave. In forgiving God did not say, "That’s OK, just continue as you have been doing." God said, "I know you can do better than that, so let’s start all over again with a new covenant."
Even the laws of the Old Testament were set up as guides to help people live together in affirmative relationships and to live under God’s guidance. When people placed the fulfillment of the laws above their relationship with God, the laws became a burden.
God made a covenant with the people each time, but the people kept turning away from God. Offering sacrifices became a way to ask for forgiveness but, by the time of the prophets, sacrifices had become lip service only. Relying on sacrifices became a convenient way to assuage one’s guilt while still ignoring the poor and others who needed help.
- Read the Bible background together.
- Divide into groups and assign the following scriptures. Ask each group to read the scripture and report about the people who needed forgiveness.
2 Samuel 11:1-27
- Use newsprint to record the people who needed forgiveness. At the top of the paper, print: God is the one who forgives.
- Assign the following scriptures to groups and ask them to follow the same procedure.
- Record the people in the New Testament who needed forgiveness. At the top of this list, print: Jesus taught to forgive as God forgives. This forgiveness offers hope, not retaliation.
- Give each person a sheet of paper and pencil. In the center of each paper, ask them to draw several stones. On each stone list a hurt that someone has done to them or someone else that they have not totally forgiven. Then ask them to draw a circle around those stones. Outside that center circle of stones, ask them to draw additional stones and write actions for which they need forgiveness. Then ask them to draw another circle around those stones.
- Read John 8:1-11. Point out that Jesus didn’t say, "It doesn’t matter that you sinned," but in essence he said, "You can do better, and I give you that chance." The woman already knew that she was a sinner and did not need to be told. Jesus gave her hope of becoming a saint!
- As you close, sing "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" (No. 140, United Methodist Hymnal) and read Matthew 18:21-22 and Matthew 7:1-5. Pray for a forgiving heart.
Delia Halverson is a Christian education consultant and author in Woodstock, Ga.
This study was developed by Interpreter magazine.