Lesson  10 August 31 - September 6

"To Forgive is Divine"

Read for This Weeks Study:  Matthew 18:21-35.

Memory Text:  "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Colossians 3:13, NIV).

Key Thought:  The concept of forgiveness is crucial to Christianity. Without it there would be no such religion. Growing in grace enables Christians to forgive people who have harmed them, regardless of the offense.



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COULD YOU BE THIS FORGIVING?  The Norwegian writer Johan Bojer in The Great Hunger tells of a man whose child was killed by a neighbor's dog.  Because he was not a vengeful person, the father found another means of relieving his grief.  When a famine laid the neighbor's field bare and he had no corn to plant for the next year's harvest, the father went out one night and sowed the neighbor's field, explaining: "I sowed seed in my enemy's field that God might exist."-Adapted from A Treasury of Sermon Illustrations, Charles L. Wallis, ed. (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1950), p. 126.

God will continue to exist despite anyone's ability or inability to forgive. But when we forgive another person, He will dwell not only in the heart of the person who forgives, but in the heart of the person being forgiven. This week we will study a parable of Jesus that deals with the importance of the difficult act of forgiving. Pray that the Holy Spirit will teach you how to forgive even that person who has hurt you the most.

Sunday August 31

WHAT IS FORGIVENESS? (Isa. 43:25; Micah 7:19).

Let's consider the nature of forgiveness.  The words forgive and forgiveness are translations of Greek and Hebrew words "which have in common the idea of releasing an offender from guilt and of restoring the personal relationship that existed prior to the offense." --SDA Bible Dictionary (revised edition), p. 388.  The two most common Hebrew words mean "to take away [guilt]," "to lift up," "to pardon," and "to forgive."  The most common Greek words mean "to give graciously [as a favor]," "to cancel," "to let go," and "to send away."  The Greek word for forgiveness used in Luke 4:18 and Colossians 1:14 (aphesis) means "release from captivity."

Who is involved in the process of forgiving? Matt. 6:12.

All of us have sinned against God (Rom. 3:23) and stand before Him condemned to death unless we repent (Rom. 6:23; Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 3:19).  When we ask, we obtain forgiveness and are restored to a right relationship with God (1 John 1:9; Rom. 5:1).

"God is not obliged to forgive the guilty sinner, but His gracious character impels Him to do so whenever forgiveness is desired and requested (Ex. 34:6, 7; Lam. 3:22).  The request, however, must be made in all sincerity and with the intent not to take advantage of the grace thus freely bestowed.  When God forgives He does so completely and without reserve, restoring the sinner to the same state of favor he formerly enjoyed and removing all estrangement and alienation." --SDA Bible Dictionary, p. 388.

How do the following texts describe God's forgiveness?

Micah 7:19;  Ps. 103:12;  Isa. 38:17;  Jer. 31:34

Have you ever heard anyone say, "I can forgive [person's name], but I can't forget what [he, she] did to me"? What is wrong with this statement? Is it possible to recall the fact of a wrong without rancour or bitterness? Is it possible to forgive someone without regaining complete trust in that person? Explain.

Monday September 1


As is so often the case, Jesus once again answers a question with a parable. What question prompted the parable of the unmerciful servant? Matt. 18:21.

Verses 15-20 of Matthew 18 contain instruction regarding conflicts and misunderstandings.  Perhaps this instruction caused Peter to ask his famous question.  But just as famous as his question is the answer he himself gave before Christ even had a chance to respond.  (Peter was always so sure of himself!)

It has been suggested that the Pharisees misinterpreted Amos 1:3 to mean that a person should forgive an offender three times.  But because Jesus taught that true righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees (Matt. 5:20), and because the number seven was a Hebrew symbol of perfection, Peter thought his assessment of the issue was more than adequate.

How did Christ answer Peter's question? Matt. 19:22.

Read the quote below, and underline a sentence that to you gives the meaning of Christ's answer.

"Forgiveness is not a matter of mathematics or legal regulations, but an attitude. He who harbors within himself the idea that at some future time he will not forgive, is far from extending true forgiveness even though he may go through the form of forgiving. If the spirit of forgiveness actuates the heart, a person will be as ready to forgive a repentant soul the eighth time as the first time, or the 491st time as the eighth. True forgiveness is not limited by numbers; furthermore, it is not the act that counts, but the spirit that prompts the act." --SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 449.

Later, Peter realized the full truth of Jesus' answer and the parable that followed it.  As his words betrayed his faith, as the Lord looked straight into his eyes, as the rooster crowed, as the tears flowed, Peter experienced the true nature of forgiveness (Luke 22:54-62).  In Christ's "gentle countenance he read deep pity and sorrow, but there was no anger there." --The Desire of Ages, p. 713.

Recall a time in your life when you experienced either God's forgiveness or the forgiveness of another person.  How did this forgiveness improve your quality of life? In what ways did it improve your relationship with God?

Tuesday September 2


If the parable of the unmerciful servant were a play, it easily could be divided into three acts.  As you read Matthew 18:23-35, try to determine which verses fall into each act.  Give a title to each act.

Act 1

Act 2

Act 3

The king's behavior symbolizes the way God deals with us. Whom then does the king represent?

Just as the king pardoned his servant an enormous sum, so Christ pardons us of our sin.  If not, we would be sold into the slavery of sin.

The servant pleaded for the king to have patience, promising that he would pay back his debt. But his debt was enormous. Most likely it was more than the total budget for the province in which he lived. In other terms, it equaled 60 million working days! Obviously, the king knew there was no way the servant could repay him. Likewise, there is nothing we can do to pay the debt of sin we owe. But when we sincerely repent, God frees us from that debt.

What does the servant's behavior in Matthew 18:28-30 tell us about the nature of his repentance? Compare his fellow servant's speech with the speech he himself had made to the king (verses 26,29).

The second servant's debt was 100 denarii, which amounted to only 100 days' wages.  Contrast that to the debt owed by the first servant, and you can better understand how selfish the first servant was.  He did not need the money to pay back his debt, for the king had pardoned it.  Obviously he cared only for himself.  Such selfishness blinded him to the vastness of his own debt, prevented him from appreciating the king's exceptional mercy, and caused him to deal harshly with a fellow human.

How real to you is your indebtedness to God?  Think of someone you are having difficulty forgiving.  How would it help to compare this person's to what God has forgiven you?  Even though you feel that this person's debt to you is great, how can you acquire a forgiving spirit?

Wednesday September 3

HOW TO LOSE IT ALL (Matt. 18:32-34).

We have discussed the king and the servant who owed him a sum too enormous to repay. Today we will take another look at the king. Describe his reaction when he heard about the first servant's behavior toward another servant. Matt. 18:32-34.

The king's response is shocking, especially when we consider how compassionate he had been earlier toward the same person!  Yet such a stunning reaction tells us precisely how serious an offense it is not to forgive a fellow human.  (See verse 35.)

The king's question in verse 33 sums up the meaning of the parable.  "In so far as his finite limitations permit, the Christian will emulate the perfect and complete manner of God's forgiveness whenever someone offends him....  The fact that the Christian has been the recipient of a full measure of divine forgiveness places him under the most strict obligation to forgive his fellow men when occasion arises to do so--the same extent that he has been forgiven." --SDA Bible Dictionary, p. 370.

What do Christians lose if they refuse to forgive others?  Matt. 6:12-15.

Jesus ends this parable with the following admonition, "So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart" (Matt. 18:35, NRSV; italics supplied).  Thus He returns us to Peter's question, How often should I forgive someone who has offended me?  It is not a matter of how often, but simply of how.  If we say we have forgiven someone but continue to hold a grudge, have we forgiven that person from the heart?  If we say we have forgiven someone because circumstances dictate that we do so or because we are motivated by an ulterior motive, have we forgiven that person from the heart?  "It is the attitude of the heart that imparts to the words ['I forgive you'] a fullness of meaning they would otherwise lack.  The pretense of forgiveness ... may deceive the one to whom it is accorded, but not Him who looks on the heart (1 Sam. 16:7)."--SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 450.

Jane spread an untruth about Linda. Years later, Linda still finds it difficult to forgive Jane. What should Linda do? How will an unforgiving attitude affect Linda's spiritual freedom and fellowship with God?

Thursday September 4

A PRIME EXAMPLE (Luke 23:34).

The parable of the unmerciful servant teaches us that because God has forgiven us our great debt of sin, we are to forgive others the offenses, large and small, they have committed against us.  It also teaches us that forgiveness is attitude, not arithmetic.  With this in mind, let us now contemplate the greatest story of forgiveness ever told.

As you read Luke 22:47-23:34, consider what it cost Jesus to be so forgiving and where we would be today if He had not been so. Thinking about these things will help us understand why forgiveness is so essential to Christianity.

Jesus spoke a host of amazing words, but none as amazing as "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).  How wonderful Christian forgiveness is!  When we are tempted to hold a grudge or give in to bitterness, let us hear again Jesus asking forgiveness for those who dared to crucify Him.  Then let Paul's advice be our course of action:  "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Eph. 4:32, NIV).

Why do you think Jesus was able to extend such forgiveness?  Luke 6:12; 22:39-46 will give you clue.  Use your Bible's concordance and cross references to find similar verses.

Just as Jesus' spirit of forgiveness upon the cross is an example to us, so is the relationship He maintained with His Father.  Such a relationship took time and effort.  Yet the price of neglect was far higher.

In Galatians 5:22, 23, Paul describes the fruit of the Spirit--Jesus' character.  Even though these verses omit the word forgiveness, we cannot imagine that someone described in such a way could be otherwise than forgiving.  The apostle continues by stating in verse 24 that "those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature" (NIV) described in verses 19-21.  Surely an unforgiving spirit can cause hatred, disagreement, jealousy, fits of rage, conflict, division, and envy.  In a sense, it can even cause idolatry, for when we hold such a spirit, we are basically worshiping our selfish inclinations.  Let us therefore stand at the cross with those whom we need to forgive and look, not at each other, but at our Saviour, bleeding and dying, so He could pardon us all.

Friday September 5

FURTHER STUDY:   Read Acts 6:8-8:1.  Especially notice Acts 7:60.  What effect must Stephen's act of forgiveness have had upon Saul?  See The Acts of the Apostles, p. 101.

Read one or both of the following: Christ's Object Lessons, "The Measure of Forgiveness," pp. 243-251; The Desire of Ages, "Calvary," pp. 741-757.

"Our Saviour taught His disciples to pray:  'Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.'  A great blessing is here asked upon conditions.  We ourselves state these conditions.  We ask that the mercy of God toward us may be measured by the mercy which we extend to to others.  Christ declares that this is the rule by which the Lord will deal with us:  'If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.'  Wonderful terms!  but how little are they understood or heeded.  One of the most common sins, and one that is attended with most pernicious results, is the indulgence of an unforgiving spirit....  We are dependent upon the pardoning mercy of God every day and every hour; how then can we cherish bitterness and malice toward our fellow sinners!  If, in all their daily intercourse, Christians would carry out the principles of this prayer, what a blessed change would be wrought in the church and in the world!  This would be the most convincing testimony that could be given to the reality of Bible religion."--Testimonies, vol. 5, pp. 170, 171.


1. What obligation does the person being forgiven have? What should be our attitude if the person being forgiven does not sense the need of forgiveness, and, therefore does not accept it?

2. How does forgiveness affect community, or fellowship, within the church?

3. What does Matthew 18:31 suggest about how we should react toward injustice?

4. If a conference treasurer embezzled church funds, would we recommend that he be forgiven, and then reinstate in his former position?

5.  If a conference treasurer embezzled church funds, would we recommend that he be forgiven and then reinstated in his former position?

SUMMARY:  Without forgiveness, we are estranged from God and our fellow humans.  With it, we become children of God, brothers and sisters to each other, and radiant examples to the world of Christ's love.

Adriano's Witness, Part 1

Quirino Alencar

Young Adriano loved music.  An Adventist musical group performing in his city caught his attention.  He met the members of the group and began asking questions about their music and their church.  Their beliefs thrilled him, and he began studying the Bible with them.  At age 16 he joined the Adventist Church.  He also joined the musical group that had shared the gospel with him.

Adriano's parents were not happy that he had left the family's church.  They pressured him to return to their faith.  His father, a butcher, often brought home pork, which his mother cooked with many foods, making it difficult for Adriano to avoid eating unclean meat.  Often the boy went without food rather than compromise his beliefs.

The family kept up the pressure on Adriano, but he refused to give in.  He remained faithful and often invited his family to come to the church to hear his musical group perform.  But they refused to attend.  They did not want to hear anything about the Adventists.

Adriano was a natural leader and was popular among the church's youth.  He became a youth pastor and a deacon.  But music was his first love.  He often sang solos with the youth choir, both at the church and in rallies held in nearby towns. On the way home from a neighboring town where the church's young people had held a rally, the vehicle in which the youth were riding was involved in an accident.  Two young people were killed instantly. Adriano died on the way to the hospital.

When the pastor learned of the tragic accident, he and several young people from the church went to visit Adriano's family.  They found the family's home filled with people who had come to mourn the loss of this young man.  The family's own pastor had not come to the home, and when Adriano's father saw the Adventist pastor, he said, "My son loved music.  Please sing to comfort us."  The group sang, and members of the Adventist Church stayed with the family throughout the day and night.  The next day Adriano would be buried.  Would his death be the end of the family's contact with the Adventist Church?

(Continued next week)

Quirino Alencar is now a pastor in Maranhao State in Brazil. Adriano's family lives in the city of Imperatriz, Brazil.

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