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July 9, 2009

Week 6: The Freedom of Forgiveness

It's time for your group to talk about letting go.


What images come to mind when you think about forgiveness? I mentioned in the newsletter that I think of water rolling off a duck's back. Others might think of releasing a heavy burden, or of erasing something from a blackboard.

But what about you? What image captures your views and emotions in relation to forgiveness? I would love to hear some creative thoughts, and I could even post some other images if you sent them my way.

I actually used this idea as an icebreaker for a group discussion/devotional here at work. But instead of asking people to verbalize their images, I gave everyone a paper towel and asked them to "sculpt" their thoughts by tearing, folding, or even crumpling. And the exercise turned out pretty well, believe it or not!


Let's dive into the material for this week.

Talk Is Good
Dealing with a potentially sensitive subject like forgiveness, it's usually good to get people talking and interacting right from the beginning—and it's especially good if everyone can have a little fun. That's why an icebreaker like the one described above would be a good start to this week's lesson.

The study material contains three additional options for an opening activity. I like "Ad Campaign" the best, because it seems like it has a little more potential for fun. I also recommended Tough to Say in the newsletter.

Doctrine Discussion
There's an interesting doctrinal debate mentioned in Teaching Point One of the lesson material. Namely, is God's forgiveness of us contingent upon our forgiveness of other people? Some people view this as a very strong yes: if we don't forgive others, God actively refuses to forgive us. Others say that is limiting God, and that the emphasis is really on us: we should forgive other people because of how much God has forgiven us.

I'll admit that the Scripture verses relating to this topic are a little scary. Matthew 18:34-35 says, "In anger his master turned him [the unforgiving servant] over to the jailers, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."

And Matthew 6:15 (right after the Lord's Prayer) says, "But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."

So I'd recommend you think on this topic a little bit before the night of your small group. Maybe check your church's doctrinal statement (if it's available online), or even call up your pastor for some thoughts.

Teachable Moments
If you've been reviewing these Dot Com(unity) posts each week, you know that I'm a big fan of teachable moments, and this week is no different. Simply put, there may be some lingering issues between members of your small group that require forgiveness. Or, there could be group members who have an issue with another person outside of the group. This is an opportunity for forgiveness to happen in both cases.

But here's what you do not want to say: "Is there anyone in this group that you need to forgive right now?" That can get pretty tricky if Sheila says, "I want to forgive Larry for what he said to me last week," if Larry has no idea what's going on—or doesn't believe that what he said requires forgiveness.

Instead, you should say, "Is there anyone here who needs to request forgiveness from another member of the group?" And then, "Is there anyone here who needs to request forgiveness from someone outside of the group?" Allow a few minutes of silence after each question.

If nobody responds, that's okay. And it's important not to attempting forcing anything. You are simply providing an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to nudge your group members towards a healthy decision regarding forgiveness.

posted by Sam O'Neal on July 9, 2009 8:23 AM

Related Tags: Dot Com(unity), Forgiveness


I love the idea of talking with your small group about forgiveness and really bringing in past experiences. Forgiveness is one of those things that is hugely shaped by our past experiences with it, and many of us have never really been taught how to or really thought about how to truly forgive in a biblical, grace-filled way. As I am planning our small group "curriculum" for this fall, I am definitely including the concept of forgiveness as well as other "one another" concepts. It's when we truly understand and can practice (practicing is the key!) the "one another" concepts that we begin to live out the type of community that Christ calls us to. I think that many Christians understand that forgiveness is good and maybe even desirable, but I'm not sure how many actually practice it, so I love the "Teachable Moments" section here. It's crucial to begin applying this knowledge so that the group members don't just shut down thinking "I've heard about forgiveness a million times! I get it! It's good!" Can you imagine the close-knit, intimate community possible in a small group when all the participants really understand and practice forgiveness???

Thank you for this article. Since Sunday this week, the Lord has impressed upon my heart to gather my small group and encourage forgiveness. If any of us harbor even small hurts and withhold genuine forgiveness by the power of the Holy Spirit, our spiritual walk and ministry will become stagnant. Reading your article today, I am assured that this is what God wants me to do when I meet the group this weekend.

That's great news, Rico. It's really gratifying to see the Spirit move in tangible ways.

Will you let us know how things go when you gather your group?

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