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Forgiveness is essential to the rhythm of life. Without forgiveness, small acts of inconsideration produce sour notes. Resentment develops when brothers and sisters, parents and children fail to forgive for forgetting a birthday, eating that last piece of pie or leaving the cap off the toothpaste. And family harmony may break down completely when larger issues surface: incest, betrayal, infidelity. Here are five sermon illustrations to use when preaching on forgiveness.

1. Bitterness Turned Sweet

The Old Testament patriarch Joseph remains the poster child for forgiveness. Rejected by jealous brothers, sold to passing traders, transported to a foreign culture, unfairly imprisoned when the wife of a government official lied about him: How much more challenging can life become? Yet Joseph stood firm in his faith. No matter where he found himself—languishing in prison, serving as a government official in charge of the managing food for Egypt or raising his family–Joseph conducted himself as a godly man. And God used that man to offer food and eventually sanctuary to the very family that had rejected him. Joseph forgave. When his brothers worried that he would seek revenge after his father’s death, he told them: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)

2. Free Grace

As Keila Ochoa packed for a trip, she lost her wedding and engagement rings. She dreaded telling her husband, fearing his reaction. But her husband simply expressed care and concern for her. Although she felt she should to do something to “earn” her husband’s grace, she finally realized his grace was freely given with no strings attached. He did not hold a grudge. Neither does God. When he forgives, he “forgets.” We need do nothing more to “earn” grace. Christ “earned” that grace for us by dying on the cross so that our sins are forgiven. “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” (Isaiah 43:25)

3. Forgiveness Amish Style

On October 2, 2006, Charles Carl Roberts IV, a milk tanker truck driver, walked into an Amish one-room schoolhouse in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and shot ten girls, killing five of them. He then committed suicide. In suicide notes he wrote of anger against God. That afternoon Amish neighbors visited Roberts’ wife to express sympathy, and days later more Amish than English (non-Amish) attended Roberts’ funeral. The Amish adhere to Jesus’ teachings to forgive, to care for the needs of others and to believe God can bring good out of all situations. We do well to emulate their example.

4. Amazing Grace

For harboring Jews in their home when the Germans occupied Holland, Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie were imprisoned at Ravensbruck concentration camp. Betsie died there, but Corrie survived and later spoke to audiences of God’s forgiveness. Then, following a speech at a Munich church, a man she recognized as a guard at Ravensbruck approached her with outstretched hand. He told her God had forgiven him and asked her forgiveness as well. At first she froze. Then she prayed for God’s help and took his hand. At that moment she felt God’s love run through her as real as an electric current. Corrie herself experienced the truth she shared in a home she built for victims of Nazi brutality: Those who forgive can move on and rebuild their lives; those who harbor grudges, remain stuck in bitterness and pain. The choice is ours.

5. Review Past Sins; Receive Forgiveness

Pastors often invite people to bow their heads and examine their hearts before taking the sacrament of Holy Communion. As we remember and confess our sins, we receive God’s forgiveness. God is holy, perfect, and pure. No imperfection can ever come into His Presence. We can never be “good enough” to deserve to go to heaven. But Christ took the punishment we deserve for our sins. When we believe in Him as our Savior, God sees us clothed in the righteousness of Christ. God forgives us because of Christ’s death on the cross, and He swings heaven’s doors wide open. The best way we can let people know Christ lives today is by passing on the forgiveness we receive to others.


Forgiveness may not come easily, but with God’s help, we ourselves conduct the music of our lives. As congregations live in tune with God and with each other, they blend like a well-tuned orchestra. Such harmony rests on the foundation of forgiveness. With God’s help, we can choose to forgive and so bless our own lives and the lives of others.

Shirley Brosius is an author and part of a women’s ministry speaking team called Friends of the Heart. She wrote Sisterhood of Faith and coauthored Turning Guilt Trips into Joy Rides; both are devotional books. Shirley offers dramatic presentations of lengthy passages of scripture, such as the book of Ruth, from memory. Visit her website for more information or to buy her books:


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