Engage Groups February 27 - March 2
LOVE TO FORGIVE
“And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do...’” Luke 23:34
Leaders: Be sure to review the Faith in Action you set as a group last week, then continue to the icebreaker question for this weeks study.
Opening Question: What one thing do you think would create peace in the world?
“Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Colossians 3:13
Martin Luther King once said, “He who is devoid of the power to forgive, is devoid of the power to love”. Forgiveness releases the power of love in the form of acceptance, which allows compassion to be the governing emotion of every action when we interact with others. This is why Jesus spoke over and over of the importance of forgiving others. Forgiveness is founded in a heart that is filled with compassion. Jesus then takes this truth a step further that
The New Science of Forgiveness
By Everette L. Worthington, Jr. September 1, 2004, Greater Good In Action
People can deal with injustices in many ways. They don’t have to decide to forgive, and they don’t necessarily need to change their emotions. But if they don’t change their response in some way, unforgiveness can take its toll on physical, mental, relational, and even spiritual health. By contrast, new research suggests that forgiveness can benefit people’s health. In one study, Charlotte vanOyen Witvliet, a psychologist at Hope College, asked people to think about someone who had hurt, mistreated, or offended them. While they thought about this person and his or her past offense, she monitored their blood pressure, heart rate, facial muscle tension, and sweat gland activity. To ruminate on an old transgression is to practice unforgiveness. Sure enough, in Witvliet’s research, when people recalled a grudge, their physical arousal soared. Their blood pressure and heart rate increased, and they sweated more. Ruminating about their grudges was stressful, and subjects found the rumination unpleasant. It made them feel angry, sad, anxious, and less in control. Witvliet also asked her subjects to try to empathize with their offenders or imagine forgiving them. When they practiced forgiveness, their physical arousal coasted downward. They showed no more of a stress reaction than normal wakefulness produces.
In my own lab, we wanted to determine whether people’s stress levels are related to their ability to forgive a romantic partner. We measured levels of cortisol in the saliva of 39 people who rated their relationship as either terrific or terrible. Cortisol is a hormone that metabolizes fat for quick response to stress (and after the stress ends, deposits the fat back where it is easily accessible—around the waist). People with poor (or recently failed) relationships tended to have higher baseline levels of cortisol, and they also scored worse on a test that measures their general willingness to forgive. When they were asked to think about their relationship, they had more cortisol reactivity—that is, their stress hormone jumped. Those jumps in stress were highly correlated with their unforgiving attitudes toward their partner. People with very happy relationships were not without stresses and strains between them. But forgiving their partner’s faults seemed to keep their physical stress in the normal range.
The physical benefits of forgiveness seem to increase with age, according to a recent study led by Loren Toussaint, a psychologist at Luther College, in Iowa. Toussaint—along with David Williams, Marc Musick, and Susan Everson—conducted a national survey of nearly 1,500 Americans, asking the degree to which each person practiced and experienced forgiveness (of others, of self, and even if they thought they had experienced forgiveness by God). Participants also reported on their physical and mental health. Toussaint and his colleagues found that older and middle-aged people forgave others more often than did young adults and also felt more forgiven by God. What’s more, they found a significant relationship between forgiving others and positive health among middle-aged and older Americans. People over 45 years of age who had forgiven others reported greater satisfaction with their lives and were less likely to report symptoms of psychological distress, such as feelings of nervousness, restlessness, and sadness. Why might that relationship between unforgiveness and negative health symptoms exist? Consider that hostility is a central part of unforgiveness. Hostility also has been found to be the part of type A behavior that seems to have the most pernicious health effects, such as a heightened risk of cardiovascular disease. Forsaking a grudge may also free a person from hostility and all its unhealthy consequences.
It probably isn’t just hostility and stress that link unforgiveness and poor health. According to a recent review of the literature on forgiveness and health that my colleague Michael Scherer and I recently published, unforgiveness might compromise the immune system at many levels. For instance, our review suggests that unforgiveness might throw off the production of important hormones and even disrupt the way our cells fight off infections, bacteria, and other physical insults, such as mild periodontal disease.
As we see, unforgiveness affects us mentally and emotionally so much that it affects us physically. Our health, both inwardly and outwardly, depends on forgiving others. Bitterness. Anger. Hurt. These are things that control us when we do not forgive. Sometimes for years. There have been many occasions in our past, maybe even recently, where we have been treated wrongly, unfairly, or cruelly and our response is to hope for bad things to happen to those who have caused this offense. These offenses torment us by memories of the wounds they received. Anger then can grip us so much, even to the point that we take things into our own hands by manipulating others so that something bad does happens to those who have offended us. God’s Word has a different solution for our hurts and struggles. God’s solution for injustice is through the force of forgiveness. One the simplest definitions of forgiveness is “giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me”. God promises that vengeance, unchecked anger, or fretting bitterly will be swallowed up by the awesome power of forgiving those who have dealt with us so unfairly. And also, apparently... even our health depends on it!
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” 1Corinthians 13:4-5
Read Matthew 18:21-35. Forgiveness is the a central theme of the gospel. Forgiveness is a mark, if not THE mark of a believer, disciple, and servant. Here, Jesus answers Peter’s question by giving a parable that stresses the magnitude that forgiveness has in the kingdom of heaven. As you read through the passage think about what it truly means to forgive, how hard it is to forgive, as well as how rewarding it is when we do forgive. Consider the following questions:
- What is the difference between seven and seventy-seven times seven?
- How many times or how often should we forgive people? Explain.
- What is the significance of difference between ten thousand talents and hundred denarii?
- So then, what do these differing amounts have to do with forgiveness?
- Do you think the first servant “received” his forgiveness? Why or why not?
- What do you think mercy is? Why is it important in order to forgive someone?
- The unforgiving servant ends up in jail. What other types of “jails” exist when you’re unforgiving?
- What types of “debts” (other than money) are there to forgive someone of?
- Verse 35 says forgiveness comes from the heart. What happens when it doesn't? Or when it does?
- Verse 35 also tells us the ultimate value of forgiveness. In your words, what is it?.
PERSONAL: Faith in Action
Leaders take time to discuss what we need to do to forgive those in our past, present, and future this week. Be specific.
Take a moment as a group or in silence as individuals and ask God to show us those in our past that hurt, offended, or wronged us. Pray that we will forgive them from our hearts. Pray for strength to overcome any offense in future and when it occurs we can quickly forgive and not harbor offense.