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How Can I Forgive Others? - Matthew 18

A service plan focused on our willingness to forgive others as we have been forgiven in a series addressing difficult questions of the faith.

Worship Service

Theme of the Service

The theme of this service is forgiveness extended toward others. There are several layers of truth that impact our treatment of this theme. As forgiven people we come in worship to receive grace from God in order that we may be able to extend grace to others. Christ calls us to practice our obedience by being willing to forgive others, and warns us that an unwillingness or inability to do so has severe consequences. Yet we must realistically acknowledge that forgiving others who have harmed us can be a very difficult task. Each of these sub-themes will be woven through the worship and the message of this service.


Prelude: "All Creatures of Our God and King," Krapf, Held [organ]; Porter [piano]; Dobrinski
"The Heavens Declare," Wetzler [organ] or "The Heavens Are Telling," Haydn/Thompson
[handbells and keyboard]
"When Morning Gilds the Sky," Haan [organ]; Buckwalter [handbells]

The Call to Worship

*Song: "When Morning Gilds the Sky" PH 487, PsH 438, RL 365, TH 167, TWC 99, UMH 185

*Our Declaration of Trust and God's Greeting:
Congregation of Jesus Christ, in whom are you trusting?
Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

*Worshipers greet one another.


Ministry of Music: "In the Shadow of Your Wings," Leavitt

Our Prayer of Confession:
O Lord of mercy,
Who resists the proud and receives the humble,
We ask for honesty
to accept responsibility for our errors.
and to understand the reasons for our failures.
We ask for the courage to make our confessions,
to seek your forgiveness for our offenses,
to make restitutions where possible,
and to extend the same forgiveness to others that you extend to us.
May we have the grace to submit our lives
to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
For all our sins, O Lord, forgive us. Amen.

The Assurance of Pardon: Isaiah 1:18

Our Song of Faith: "How Blest Are They Whose Trespass" PsH 32, TH 551

God's Call to Grateful Living: Ephesians 4:29-5:2

The Children's Moment


The Offertory Prayer

The Offertory
The offering of our gifts
The offering of music: "O God, My Faithful God," Haan [organ] or Karg-Elert [piano]

The Prayers of the People


*Song: "O God, My Faithful God" PsH 574, RL 69, TH 602

Our Prayer for Illumination

The Reading of Scripture: Matthew 18:21-35
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

Sermon: "How Can I Forgive Others?" (Knots of the Faith - #7)


Sung Prayer: "Lord, I Want to Be a Christian" PH 372, PsH 264, RN 145, SFL 40, TH 530, TWC 563, UMH 402
1. "Lord, I want to be a Christian . . ."
2. "Lord, I want to be forgiven . . ."
3. "Lord, I want to be forgiving . . ."

Readings from Scripture (see liturgy notes)

Silence for Personal Meditation

Sung Prayer: "Ososo/Come Now, O Prince of Peace" SNC 209
Or: "Forgive Our Sins as We Forgive" PH 347, PsH 266, RN 184, TH 494, UMH 390

Spoken Prayer
Forgive us, Gracious Father, for the limitations we have placed on our graciousness
toward others.
We often treat others well only if there is something in it for us.
We apologize, but only if we see no alternative.
We justify our grudges when others have hurt us.
We remember offenses that we should have long ago forgotten.
We are far too comfortable with brokenness when we should be reaching out with
We expect you to forgive us when we find it hard to do the same for others.
Grant us your pardon, O Father,
and equip us to share your graciousness with others.
For the sake of Jesus Christ our Savior, Amen.

Song: "Help Us Accept Each Other" PH 358, TWC 437, UMH 560


*The Benediction with Congregational Amen!

*Song: "Go Now in Peace" PsH 317, RN 293, SFL 79, UMH 665

Postlude: "Ososo/Come Now, O Prince of Peace," Organ [piano]
or "Lord, I Want to Be a Christian," Bish [organ]

* you are invited to stand

Sermon Notes:

  1. This sermon is the final of the seven sermons in this series of "Knots of the Faith." It might be wise to very briefly cite the other six before entering this sermon.
  2. In order to create a context of realism, it would be good to begin with an acknowledgement that this is a very pressing subject for Christians. Cite instances in which the disciples wrestled with it. Point to the pain and hurt in families, communities, and the church today because of the state of brokenness in many relationships.
  3. This parable includes some very deep lessons for Christ's disciples of all ages. Note the setting which gave rise to the parable (Peter's attempt to find an easy answer to this question, v. 21); the jolt he must have felt in Jesus' answer (v.22); the accessibility of the story that Jesus tells (vv. 23-34); the startling contrast between the two debts in the story (compare v. 24 with v. 28!); and the blunt concluding comment by Jesus (v. 35).
  4. After such a "hard teaching" it is vitally important that this sermon have a very pastoral tone to it, rather than judgment. Assume that many listeners are haunted by unforgiven offenses in their lives. Therefore, the latter part of the sermon should include pastoral advice about the forgiving and healing process. Make it as clear and practical as you can so they will know "how" to respond and what steps to follow with those they need to forgive. But it will also be helpful to give counsel on how to live with others who we believe are not extending the proper kind of forgiveness to us.

Music Notes:

Glossary of Hymnal Abbreviations:
PH The Presbyterian Hymnal (Presbyterian Church USA; Westminster/John Knox Press)
PsH The Psalter Hymnal (Christian Reformed Church; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
RL Rejoice in the Lord (Reformed Church in America; W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
RN Renew! (Hope Publishing Company)
SFL Songs for LiFE (children's songbook; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
SNC Sing! A New Creation (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Christian Reformed Church,
Reformed Church in America; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
TH Trinity Hymnal (Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in America; Great
Commission Publications)
TWC The Worshiping Church (Hope Publishing Company)
UMH The United Methodist Hymnal (United Methodist Publishing House)
WOV With One Voice (Augsburg Fortress)

  1. The music suggestions for this service include both praise and prayer. The prelude focuses on praise, the rest of the music focuses on hymn prayers of confession and intercession.
  2. The prelude suggestions can be found in the following sources:
    • "All Creatures of Our God and King" (LASST UNS ERFREUEN), arranged for organ by Gerhard Krapf in "Sing and Rejoice vol. 2," is published by SMP KK235 [1982] (E). This arrangement can be adapted easily for piano use. The organ piece by Wilbur Held can be found in "Hymn Preludes for the Autumn Festivals," published by Concordia 97-5360 [1976] (E-M). The piano transcription by Rachel Trelstad Porter is found in "Day by Day," published by Augsburg 11-10772 [1996] (M). The handbell arrangement for 3-5 octaves handbells by Cynthia Dobrinski is published by Agape 1737 [1995] (M).
    • "The Heavens Declare" by Robert Wetzler for organ is published by Augsburg 11-0852 [1962] (E-M).
    • "The Heavens are Telling" from Haydn's "Creation" is arranged for 3-5 octaves handbell choir with keyboard accompaniment by Martha Lynn Thompson, published by Agape 1354 [1989] (M).
    • "When Morning Gilds the Sky" (LAUDES DOMINI) is transcribed for organ by Raymond H. Haan in "O Worship the King," published by Broadman 4570-42 [1979] (E-M), and for 3-5 octave handbell choir by Karen Buckwalter in a piece titled "Daystar," published by Flammer HP-5190 [1985] (E-M).
  3. The SATB anthem "In the Shadow of Your Wings" by John Leavitt includes a keyboard accompaniment and an optional oboe part. It is published by GIA G-3345 [1990] (E-M).
  4. A child or a group of children could sing "Lord, I Pray" (PsH 268) as a response to the Children's Moment. This song ties together the themes of confession, forgiveness, and thanks for the good gifts of God.
  5. The offertory music, based on DARMSTADT, sometimes found under O GOTT, DU FROMMER GOTT can be found in
    • "O Worship the King," an organ collection by Raymond H. Haan, published by Broadman 4570-42 [1979] (E-M).
    • "Piano Preludes on Hymns and Chorales" edited by Reginald Gerig, published by Hope 251 [1959] (M).
  6. The postlude suggestions close the service in the spirit of prayer:
    • "Ososo/Come Now, O Prince of Peace" is arranged for piano by Anne Krentz Organ in "Global Piano Reflections for Advent," published by Augsburg ISBN 0-8006-7576-2 (E-M).
    • "Lord, I Want to Be a Christian" is arranged for organ by Diane Bish in the collection "The Diane Bish Organ Book vol. 1," published by Fred Bock B-G0548 [1980] (E-M).

Liturgy Notes:

  1. Let the opening of the service be marked by thanks to God for a new day, new week, and new mercies that continue to come from his hand. Not only is this appropriate for each day, but for this service it is important to begin from the standpoint of being recipients of his gracious gifts.
  2. The note of "forgiveness to others as we are forgiven" appears in the service of confession in seeking God's grace. As the worship leader calls the congregation to confession, a reference to the theme of the day will serve as a good transition. Note how God's call to grateful living includes the need to live with a gracious willingness to forgive.
  3. The children's moment is placed here so it provides an opportunity for the worship leader or pastor to speak to them about the importance of forgiving one another. This is often a large problem among children and should be addressed directly and lovingly.
  4. The Prayer of the People in this service (especially!) must be honest, acknowledging the broken relationships on every level of society and so often even in the church. It should include petitions and intercessions for those who are living in such brokenness, seeking grace and peace for them.
  5. The response section of this service includes a series of prayers (spoken and sung) as our response to God's Word. Several passages concerning forgiveness can be read, including God's forgiveness to us and his call that we forgive others-Psalm 32; Psalm 51; Matthew 5:21-26; 6:14-15; Luke 7:44-48; Romans 8:1-2; and others. After such readings worshipers are encouraged to spend a moment in personal reflection.
  6. The words of the hymn "Lord, I Want to Be a Christian" are altered for this service to give us a sung prayer with great focus.