Scripture Text: Luke 17:1-6
Memory Verse: “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.” Proverbs 18:19
Lesson Aim: To highlight: (1) the detriment of harboring offense; and (2) how we can overcome offense.
For the purpose of this study, the term we will use for offense is unforgiveness. Unforgiveness is unfulfilled revenge. It is the single most popular and debilitating weapon that the enemy uses against God’s people. It is one of the deadliest poisons a person can take spiritually. A person who cannot forgive is likened to a container of acid. The person is the container and the acid is the offense or unforgiveness.
Unforgiveness has been defined by Worthington and colleagues (Worthington, Sandage, & Berry, 2000; Worthington & Wade, 1999) as a combination of delayed negative emotions (i.e., resentment, bitterness, hostility, hatred, anger, and fear) toward a transgressor. Essentially, unforgiveness is viewed as a stress response with potential health consequences. While scientific evidence of direct linkage between unforgiveness and physical health is lacking, people have testified of their recovery from physical ailments after forgiving. Two examples are deliverance from skin rashes and high blood pressure.
Without a doubt, unforgiveness comes with a very high spiritual cost. Unforgiveness: 1) prevents God from forgiving our sins (Matthew 6:15); 2) opens us up to the tormentors (the devil) (Matthew 18:31-34); 3) blocks God from answering our prayers (Mark 11:24-25); 4) defiles us (Hebrews 12:15); 5) gives Satan an advantage (2 Corinthians 2:10-11); 6) prevents us from entering the kingdom of God (Matthew 7:12, 21); 7) prevents us from being spiritually fruitful (John 15:5); and 8) opens us up to curses (Deuteronomy 27:26).
But our responsibility is to forgive others. From a carnal perspective, we can choose to forgive or not to forgive, but as Christians, we really have no choice but to forgive—it is a mandate from God our Father. God sent His Son, Jesus to die for our sins, so that we may be reconciled to Him, without spot or blemish. All He asks is that we give others the same forgiveness that paid for our offenses.
Our love for God is questionable when we cannot forgive. Unforgiveness shows we don’t really love Jesus. John 14:24 says, “He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings…” and John 14:15 says, “If ye love me, keep my commandments”. Unforgiveness also evidences a lack of love for our brethren. In John 15:12, Jesus commands us to love one another, as He has loved us. True love doesn’t hold bitterness or unforgiveness against another. If we are bitter or hold unforgiveness against somebody, then we don’t love them as Christ loved us. If we don’t keep Jesus’ commandments, then it proves we don’t love Him either.
Breaking Free From Unforgiveness
Among other things, such as a love for God and understanding that in the case of offense, it’s the enemy at work and not the offender, two things must be in place in order to break free from unforgiveness: (1) obedience to God at all costs; and (2) a defenseless self.
- Obey the Word of God – God has given us explicit instructions concerning the things we are to do to forgive our enemies. A few of them are: Pray for your enemies and those who abuse and misuse you (Matthew 5:44). Bless and do not curse your enemies (Romans 12:14). Seek love (Proverbs 17:9). Seek peace (Psalms 34:14). The real solution to unforgiveness is a sincere and untainted love for God. If we love God enough, we will obey Him, even when it hurts.
- 2. Stop Defending Yourself – If we step back and look at all these emotions—healthy and unhealthy—the focus is on us. In the case of negative emotions, we are often protecting ourselves from pain and hurt. We are not our own (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23). We belong to God the Father and He is well able to take care of us. His thoughts toward us are good. So, as difficult as it may seem, we must operate as if we have no rights. We must be defenseless and allow God to fight our battles. Jesus demonstrated this for us (Isaiah 53:7 and Matthew 26:63) and He expects the same of us.
The following two additional steps are essential to breaking free from unforgiveness:
(1) Make the Choice—Forgiveness is a mandate from God, so our only choice is to forgive. However, we cannot forgive without the help of the Holy Ghost. Forgiving is an act of the will. If we don’t allow the Holy Ghost to deal with us at the level of our will, we will only be angry and sorry for ourselves. We will never forgive if we wait until we feel like it. Submit yourself to God and persistently resist the devil in his attempts to poison you with bitter thoughts. If we make the decision to forgive, God will heal our wounded emotions in due time (Matthew 6:12-14).
(2) Depend on the Holy Spirit—We cannot forgive without the power of the Holy Spirit working in us. If we are truly willing, God will enable us, but we must humble ourselves and cry out to Him for help. It’s quite interesting that in John 20:22-23, immediately after Jesus breathed on the disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit!”, His next instruction was about forgiving others. We must ask God to breathe the Holy Spirit on us so we can forgive those who have hurt us.
Interact with God’s Word:
- Discuss the meaning and implications of “unfulfilled revenge”. How was offense handled by the following characters: Esau (Genesis 27:41; 33:1-4); Joseph (Genesis 43:19-34); and the certain king (Matthew 18:23-35)?
- Why should we forgive when we’ve been wronged, especially by our brethren, closest friends, or family members? Matthew 6:12, 14-15; Ephesians 4:32; Luke 23:34
- Read Romans 12:14. What is the meaning of “bless” in this context?
- Consider the following, “This person has offended me too many times, and this time I cannot forgive him/her.” What does Jesus have to say about this mindset? Matthew 18:21-22
- Are anger, hurt, and unforgiveness mutually exclusive? Why? Why not? Discuss how they might be intertwined.