Spiritual Growth Agendas, Topical Curriculum

Extreme Forgiveness

Main Point: When we choose to forgive those who have wronged us, our lives – and theirs – can be changed.

Discussion Starter: The Power of Forgiveness

In February of 1993, Mary Johnson’s only child, her 20 year old son, was shot to death by a 16 year old kid named Oshea Israel. Israel spent 17 years in prison for murder, and during that long, hard time, Ms. Johnson visited Israel in prison and eventually forgave him for killing her son. When he was released in 2011, Israel needed a place to live, and Ms. Johnson, who lives in Apartment #904, put in a good word for Israel with the landlord of her complex. Now, Israel lives in Apartment #902. Yep, they’re next door neighbors. This kind of reality is only possible through forgiveness.

The Clip: The Power of Forgiveness

Transition Statement:
What a powerful story of extreme forgiveness! It’s hard to imagine how a person could forgive someone who murdered a family member of theirs. But then, to actually help that murderer get his life back on track…that’s incredible! That’s the power of forgiveness. It changes us. And it can change others, too. Let’s spend some time talking about this story, and one from the Bible, to see what we can learn about showing extreme forgiveness to others.

Divide into Small Groups:
Let’s go ahead and split up into our discussion groups, and then afterward we’ll come back together for a final word.

CLICK HERE for a quick training article on how to maximize your small groups using our small group format—a great resource to equip your small group leaders.

Discussion Questions:

  1. AROUND THE CIRCLE: As we get started, let’s all take a second to share our names and rank this woman’s forgiveness on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being “very easy to do” and 10 being “very difficult to do.”

  2. ASK A FEW: How do you define forgiveness?

  3. ASK A FEW: At the opening of the video, CBS anchorman Scott Pelley says, “It [forgiveness] can change lives in an instant.” Do you agree or disagree, and why?

  4. ASK A FEW: In the video, Mary says that unforgiveness is like a cancer. Why do you think she says that?

  5. ASK A FEW: In what ways was Mary’s life changed by forgiving Oshea?

  6. ASK A FEW: Do you think Oshea Israel’s life was changed as a result of being forgiven? Why? (Leaders – Though he didn’t seem to always fully understand why this woman would forgive him, he was investing his life into helping others at churches and prisons. It seems like he was grateful for what she had done for him and it seemed his life had been changed.)

    Read the following passage:

      Matthew 18:21-35 (NIV)
      Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

      Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

      “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

      “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

      “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

      “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

      “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

      “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

  7. ASK SOMEONE: When asked, how many times did Jesus say we should forgive others? (Leaders – This translation says 77 times, but Jesus’ point was that we should forgive others as often as they need it.)

  8. ASK SOMEONE: I’d be interested to hear how you would re-tell this story. Would someone mind giving this to me in your own words?

  9. ASK A FEW: Why do you think the servant who was originally forgiven didn’t show forgiveness to his fellow servant?

  10. ASK SOMEONE: What is Jesus’ point in telling this story? In other words, what’s He trying to teach us? (Leaders – The answer is in verse 35.)

  11. ASK A FEW: How would the first servant’s life been different if he would have forgiven the second servant?

  12. ASK A FEW: What usually keeps us from forgiving others?

  13. ASK A FEW: How does having a relationship with Jesus affect our ability to forgive? Or, how does being a Christian affect our ability to forgive?

  14. AROUND THE CIRCLE: Without naming names, do you have someone that you need to forgive?

  15. AROUND THE CIRCLE: How will your life be different if you DO forgive them? If you DON’T forgive them?

  16. AROUND THE CIRCLE: So, specifically, what will you do THIS week?

Wrap Up:
Tonight, we had a powerful time together. That clip about the woman and her son’s killer gets me thinking about those in my life that I struggle with, and God’s call for me to forgive them, and my reluctance to do so.

Maybe you’re in the same boat with me.

But what we need to understand is that our lives will only be changed if we offer the people who have wronged us, radical, Christ-like forgiveness. If we don’t, we are eaten up on the inside by that cancer Ms. Mary called unforgiveness. But if we offer forgiveness, we get our lives back, and sometimes, help others get their lives back!

So, let’s talk about you. In your small groups, you were asked about forgiveness, specifically, if there was anybody in your life that needed it. Chances are good that all of us have somebody who could stand to be forgiven by us. Just imagine if we go to them this week and say, “Hey, what you did was wrong, or what you said was wrong, or you didn’t keep your promise, but I forgive you because I’ve been forgiven by Jesus. I know how powerful forgiveness can be, and I want you to experience my forgiveness. I forgive you.”

Think about what will happen!

Now, think about won’t happen if you don’t.

I want to pray for you right now, that you will have the courage to go and forgive others this week. If you’d like to stay back and talk some more after we’re done, that’s fine. That’s what we’re here for. But, we’d love to hear your stories next week of what happened when you decided to forgive.

Changed lives only come through extreme forgiveness.

Close in Prayer

Written by David R Smith


Jonathan McKee

Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Guy's Guide to FOUR BATTLES Every Young Man Must Face; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers on TheSource4YM.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.


  1. Elbee
    June 22, 2011 at 12:00 am

    Wow! Some of the comments & reactions to the video might be worth wading through Perez’s stuff to read. The comments & criticisms of this woman are amazing!

  2. Kristal McCance
    April 23, 2012 at 12:00 am

    You can actually watch the video at this address http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7368782n&tag=mncol;let;1 and not worry about questionable material being seen by your youth.

  3. Jeffrey Dick
    February 11, 2015 at 12:00 am

    Powerful. Had read about this story before. Good resources with it thank you

  4. Rev. Sandra Washington-Wise
    May 17, 2017 at 12:00 am

    I enjoyed this lesson tremendously. It is so good that I'd love to use it for VBS. Thank you.

Reply your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*