Share This Episode
Grace To You John MacArthur Logo

A Living Lesson on Forgiveness

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
April 5, 2021 4:00 am

A Living Lesson on Forgiveness

Grace To You / John MacArthur

On-Demand Podcasts NEW!

This broadcaster has 1154 podcast archives available on-demand.

Broadcaster's Links

Keep up-to-date with this broadcaster on social media and their website.

In Touch
Charles Stanley
The Verdict
John Munro
Renewing Your Mind
R.C. Sproul
Truth for Life
Alistair Begg
In Touch
Charles Stanley
Delight in Grace
Grace Bible Church / Rich Powell

God forgives eagerly, totally, lavishly. When Jesus taught us to pray, the best words that He could think of for us who have so great a need to be forgiven were the words, forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. You don't forgive, you don't get forgiven.

It has the power to preserve your marriage, to keep your church from splitting, to rescue a discarded friendship. I'm talking about forgiveness. And today on Grace to You, John MacArthur is going to launch a series on that key aspect of Christian living. It's simply titled Forgiveness. John, before we came on the air, we were talking with some fellows, and one of them mentioned the word forgiveness, and I heard you say, forgiveness?

That's a novel thought. And it's true that in these postmodern times, forgiveness is a virtue that is in rare supply. If you had to rank this topic, forgiveness, in terms of its overall value to a healthy relationship, where would you put it? How vital is it? Oh, that's easy.

It's number one. Every relationship breaks down at the point of forgiveness. You either have a relationship or you don't have a relationship based on whether you forgive somebody. Why? Because none of us is perfect. None of us is Christ-like all the time. We will offend. We do offend. And as a fellow believer, you either forgive it or you hold a grudge. If you hold a grudge, there's no real relationship there. If you forgive, that relationship is sustained. In a marriage, it's not perfection that keeps the marriage together. Everybody's got weaknesses.

Everybody's got issues. It is simply the ability to forgive that sustains every relationship. And here's the story that you have to go back to. The parable Jesus told about the man who came to the king, and he owed this unpayable debt.

No possibility of ever paying that debt. And he told the man, you know, he'd do anything. He'd work to do whatever he needed to do. And the man who represents Christ and the kingdom said, nah, I forgive you everything. And then, inexplicably, that guy goes out, finds a guy who owes him a small amount of money, a few days' work, and strangles him and throws him into prison. And there's a statement in there that says that the lictors in the Greek were angry and beat that man. Here's a picture of unforgiveness where the Lord sends his agents to beat a man for failing to forgive somebody who owed him a debt and hadn't paid it. I mean, isn't this Ephesians 4, forgive as you have been forgiven? Isn't this the whole point of the disciples' prayer? Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others? And yet, you just take a look at theā€”take a big picture. Start with the evangelical world and ask yourself if there's a manifestation of the grace of forgiveness sweeping across the evangelical world.

I don't think so. And it's very likely that you don't even have that as a manifestation of typical life in your church. People hold grudges.

It's deadly stuff. So you need to hear what the Word of God says about forgiveness. We're going to give you a living lesson on it today from Scripture. Yes, and it's a message I encourage you to stay around for. And, friend, throughout this study, John's going to show you characteristics and actions of a person who forgives and six reasons that should motivate you to be a forgiver, reasons you may never have considered.

It's practical stuff, and it starts right now. Here's John. Of all of the human qualities that make men in any sense like God, none is more divine than forgiveness. God is a God of forgiveness. In fact, in Exodus chapter 34, God identifies Himself in that way. Verse 6 says, Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed. This is the Lord speaking of Himself. The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness and truth, who keeps loving kindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin. He says, I am the God of forgiveness.

That is who I am. Solomon said, It is a man's glory to overlook a transgression. Proverbs 19, 11. Man is never more like God than when he forgives. Now the theme of forgiveness is obviously throughout the Scripture emphasized, but there are some high points where we see the forgiveness of God in bold relief. One of them, maybe the most familiar, is the story of the prodigal son from Luke 15.

I'm only going to refer to it because I know you know the story well. A father who had two sons and one of the sons was weary of being in the father's house and wanted to go and live on his own and take all of his inheritance and he did that, left the house, wasted all his substance in sin. And then when he reached the low point of life, wanted to come back and be only a servant in his father's house because being a servant in the father's house would be better than being what he had become. That son was not unlike many sons, greedy, anxious to get his hands on wealth he had not earned, so humanly foolish in the way that he spent it on fast living with those who exploited him and left him in misery when his money ran out. But slowly he came to his senses because he was dying of hunger in a pigsty that really mirrored his life. Then came the awakening, he said, my father's servants live far better than I and I will arise and go to my father. It seems in the story of the prodigal son that the young man did not expect forgiveness. He only expected some kind of mild tolerance. All he wanted was the chance to say to his father, I've been a bum and I'm not worthy to be your son any longer, but could you just make me a slave? I know I've forfeited ever being a son, but could I just be a slave?

All I really want is a roof over my head and all I want is a little better food than pig slop and so he started on the road back. And it is then that Jesus teaches us how to forgive. The father didn't even wait for the son to get there.

He ran to the son when he saw him in the distance. His words were not unkind. The Bible says he fell on his neck and kissed him repeatedly. And so Jesus tells us what the heart of forgiveness is like.

It is eager, not reluctant. It doesn't even wait for the sinner to arrive. In fact, when you see him coming far away, you run to meet him and you embrace him and kiss him. And when he starts to say he's sorry, you hardly listen to that. You don't even give him time to finish.

You just embrace him, love him, put him in your best outfit, put a ring on his finger, get the best meat out of the freezer, cook up the best meal you can put together, start the music, rejoice with your friends and proudly invite everybody to come to the celebration of your son that has come back. From that story, we learn how God forgives eagerly, totally, lavishly. And is it any wonder on the basis of that that when Jesus taught us to pray, the best words that He could think of for us who have so great a need to be forgiven were the words, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Those words really put our feet to the fire. They tell us that God's forgiveness of us is based on our forgiveness of others. You don't forgive, you don't get forgiven. Now when Paul was in his first Roman imprisonment, he wrote several letters, namely Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians. We call those the prison epistles because they were written from prison, an imprisonment from which Paul was later released and then later on another imprisonment in which he'd been martyred.

But the first imprisonment in Rome was the location at which point Paul wrote these well-known epistles. Particularly Ephesians and Colossians interest us because they are tied into this little letter of Philemon. In both Ephesians and Colossians, there is a major emphasis on the matter of forgiveness. I want to show that to you, so take your Bible for just a moment and look at Ephesians chapter 4 verse 32. And here the Apostle Paul says to the Ephesian believers, and of course this was a circular letter that went all over Asia Minor, but he says to all of them and to us, be kind to one another,'s the same principle...forgiving each other just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. In Colossians chapter 3, this letter written to the church at Colossae and also circulated to the church at Laodicea and no doubt others, chapter 3 verse 13, he says, we are to be bearing with one another and forgiving each other. Whoever has a complaint against anyone, just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Now if you pull all of these together, you get the very clear idea that God is a forgiving God and you are to be forgiving people.

That's basic. The Lord has forgiven all of us, all of our sins, and therefore Paul says we should forgive each other and if we don't, we're going to be chastened by God. That's plain and simple, the message. Now this principle is given very clear perspective in Matthew 18, and I want to take you there and we're going to do all of this to get us right into Philemon. I want to show you in Matthew 18 how this principle is illustrated in a parable. Matthew 18, Peter says to the Lord, if somebody sins against me, verse 21, and I forgive him, how many times do I do that?

Seven? The rabbis said three, so Peter thought he was being very generous. Jesus said in verse 22, Matthew 18, I do not say to you up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. In other words, you forgive as many times as someone sins against you, just keep on endlessly forgiving. And then he tells a parable that makes the point, and it's a parable that depicts God and the sinner. The king in the parable is God. The man who owes the big debt is the sinner. The kingdom of heaven then, verse 23, may be compared to a certain king, that's God, who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. And when he had begun to settle them, there was brought to him one who owed him ten thousand talents. That's an unpayable debt, massive debt he could never pay. Since he didn't have the means to repay, his Lord commanded him to be sold along with his wife and children and all that he had in repayment to be made. The debt was too much to pay, but if all these people were sold into slavery, at least the king could get something.

The man obviously had defrauded him, probably was one of those servants who was a tax collector and who had to charge over great sums of money and had defrauded the king and now had lost it all and had no means to pay. And he said, well, if I can't get what I owe, I'll get what I can, so sell all of his family into slavery and at least give me that. The slave therefore, verse 26, falling down, prostrated himself before him, saying, have patience with me and I'll repay you everything.

He had a right heart, he had a willing spirit, even though he couldn't have done it, his intention was right. The Lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. That's God and the sinner. When the sinner comes before God and is convicted about his unpayable debt, he's convicted about his sin and God tells him, you have no means to pay me, you should be sent to hell, you should pay whatever you can pay, even though you could never pay me what you owe me. And that's what hell is, by the way, it's spending forever paying what you could pay, which never does pay the debt you fully owe because you've affronted God so greatly as one who rejected his son. But this king is compassionate and when he sees the man's willingness, he forgives him the debt.

Now here comes the point. The slave went out, he'd just been forgiven, he found his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii, one of them. That's a hundred days wages, not a major debt. He seized him, began to choke him saying, pay back what you owe. And the people who would be listening to Jesus tell the story at this point would be absolutely outraged. So his fellow slave fell down and began to entreat him saying, have patience with me and I'll repay you. He was unwilling, however, but went and threw him in a prison until he should pay back what he owed.

This is unthinkable. Here is a man who has been forgiven a massive debt who turns right around and won't forgive somebody a small debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their Lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his Lord said to him, you wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you asked Me. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow slave even as I had mercy on you?

And there's that principle. You want mercy from God, you show mercy. You want forgiveness from God, you be forgiving. And his Lord moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. So shall My heavenly Father also do to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart. Boy, what a story.

What a story. That parable is so severe that there are many people who conclude that the principle Jesus teaches couldn't possibly apply to a Christian. But it does because the man who wouldn't forgive the slave was a forgiven man. That is, God had already forgiven him.

He is a child of God. But what it tells us is that the Lord will sometimes deal very harshly with his own children who will not forgive someone else whom the Lord loves. He disciplines, and every son He scourges, Hebrews 12 says. And one of the reasons He disciplines and scourges us and makes life very trying and difficult is because we have an unforgiving heart toward someone.

Christians then are to forgive. That is the principle taught in Scripture. That is the principle illustrating the character of God. That is the principle taught in Scripture.

That is God in the parable of the prodigal son. And that is the principle illustrated in this parable to be true of every believer. This is a matter, I think, not only of blessing and fellowship with God, but it's also a matter of the assurance of salvation.

Thomas Watson wrote many years ago a very interesting statement. He said this, we need not climb up into heaven to see whether our sins are forgiven. Let us look into our hearts and see if we can forgive others. If we can, we need not doubt that God has forgiven us.

Thomas Adams wrote, he who demands mercy and shows none, ruins the bridge over which he himself must pass. And so there is a principle in Scripture and that is this, you're never more like God than when you forgive. And such forgiveness should come easy because you have been forgiven. And if you do not forgive, then you will put yourself in a position to be chastened by God severely. Now the priority of forgiveness is not only given in Scripture in principle, it's not only given in Scripture in parable, but it is given in Scripture in personal terms and it's in the book of Philemon.

Let's look at it. Here in the shortest letter of Paul's inspired writings is the major issue of forgiveness laid out not in principle, not in parable, but in a personal case. The prodigal son, not a true story. The king and the servant, not a true story. Those were simply parables fabricated by Christ to make a point.

This, a true story. Now we're going to see the principle flesh out. Let's read the first three verses. Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy, our brother, to Philemon, our beloved brother and fellow worker, and to Apphia, our sister, and to Archippus, our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now this is a very typical Pauline introduction. It begins with Paul, Paul, Paul, Paul, Paul, Paul. It begins with the word Paul. Ancient letters always started with the name of the one writing, which makes a lot of sense.

You get a long letter and you have to fumble through all the pages to find out who it's from. Never in ancient times they always started with the name of the man or the woman who authored it. It signals then that this is from the Apostle Paul. You can imagine that when Philemon got this letter and he saw Paul, his adrenaline started to flow. His heart began to beat more rapidly because Paul was not only the great apostle that everybody knew about and Paul was not only the one who had, in a sense, founded the very church at Colossae where Philemon lived, but Paul had personally led the man to Christ. And so Paul identifies himself and certainly set Philemon's heart racing. Paul identifies himself as a prisoner of Christ Jesus.

This is a note to tell us that he is in prison. It's the same place from which he wrote Philippians, Colossians, and Ephesians. This is the fourth of the prison epistles, this little letter to an individual, and the only one of those four written to an individual.

And Paul says, I am a prisoner of Jesus Christ. He never identifies himself in that way to start with in any of his other epistles. Usually he wanted to identify himself as an apostle, as having been called by God as a servant of Jesus Christ to lay down some authority on them, to emphasize his calling and emphasize his authority. He even did that, by the way, in his letters to Timothy, even though they were personal letters that he was writing to one individual. And even his letter to Titus, in those cases, though they were personal letters like this one, he still mentions his apostleship because they had to take his authority and carry it out in the life of a church that needed correction and direction and it needed to come through them as an authoritative word from Paul.

This, however, bears no such necessity. He is not laying some authoritative message on the church. He is speaking tenderly, personally, warmly, compassionately to a friend. And it is an appeal to his heart, an appeal to his compassion, to his love.

So there's no need to refer to his apostolic office or calling or authority. He says, I am a prisoner of Christ Jesus. It's a wonderful note because it is the way you would expect Paul to react to the Romans. The Romans thought he was a prisoner of Rome. They had captured him. They had incarcerated him.

He was under their authority. But from his vantage point, he was a prisoner of Jesus Christ. He was in prison because Christ put him there, not because Rome put him there. And if you ever have any questions about that, all you have to do is remind yourself of some of the things that he said while he was in prison, most namely this one at the end of Philippians, greet every saint in Christ Jesus.

All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household. The Lord had him in prison and while he was there, he was evangelizing Caesar's household. On a number of occasions in Ephesians chapter 4, verse 1, chapter 6, verse 19 and 20, as well as Colossians chapter 4, he refers to himself as a prisoner. But it was for preaching Christ and it was for the sake of Christ and it was by the will of Christ that he was a prisoner. And he is saying this to Philemon and I think it's very wise because what he is really saying sort of subtly to Philemon is, look, Philemon, if I can do this for Christ, can you do for him what I ask?

If I can bear the harder task of being in this prison, can you do the easier task that I'm going to ask you to do and that is to forgive? He's very wise, Paul. He's very tactful because as soon as Philemon hears the word Paul, his love begins to well up. And as soon as he reads a prisoner of Christ Jesus, his eyes may fill with tears as he thinks about this beloved man that led him to Christ, this great apostle bearing the pain and agony of imprisonment. And as he thinks about all that Paul has suffered to bring the gospel to people like him, it's bound to have an effect on his willingness to do what Paul asks him to do. And then Paul throws in Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy, our brother. Timothy is not a co-author. Timothy is just a present companion, a brother in Christ. Timothy had been with Paul on his third missionary journey. Acts chapter 19, he was acquainted with the believers in Colossae, probably had met Philemon and so this would be a word from somebody that Philemon knew. But there are others with Paul that Philemon might have known.

I mean there was, as far as we can tell if we put it all together, in Rome there was Tychicus, Epaphroditus, Aristarchus, a fellow prisoner, there was Mark, there was Jesus' justice, there was Epaphras, there was Luke, and there was Demas. Why doesn't he talk about these guys? Why doesn't he make some reference to them? Well he does at the end of the letter. But at the very beginning of the letter, he mentions Timothy. All the rest of them he mentions at the end of the letter.

Why? I believe it's because Timothy is often singled out in the introductory part of the letter because Paul knew that someday he would pass the baton of spiritual leadership primarily to the hands of Timothy and he wanted to set Timothy in place as one who had the role of leader. And so he identified Timothy closely, very closely with himself. And so it is then from Paul, along with the greetings of Timothy, to Philemon, that is the man who is the head of a family in Colossae.

Colossae was a small town. The church there was probably very small and the church met in his house. So we know he was a wealthy man. Most of the people in the Roman Empire who became Christians were slaves. Some of them were free men, that is slaves prior and now free. Few of them were wealthy, not many noble, not many mighty. And wherever you had a wealthy person that was converted, they had a house. Slaves and free men didn't have such things. Most of the free men lived in apartments or single rooms and paid a modest sum.

Wealthy people owned their own homes. So here is a man of some means who has the church meeting in his house. He calls him our beloved brother and fellow worker. And that means our dear friend, a familiar description that Paul uses both of individuals and groups, agapetos, the beloved one. Fellow worker, simply again a term used by Paul very many times to speak of people who worked with him. So here is a man he loved and a man who had worked alongside of him. Now this friendship probably developed in Ephesus, just as a note, because Paul never went to Colossae. When I said he was responsible for the founding of the church there, it was because he founded Ephesus, stayed there three years, and out of Ephesus all those other churches in Asia Minor were planted. No doubt during the time Paul was at Ephesus, this man was converted, came to know Paul in a personal way even though he lived a little distance away in the very small town of Colossae. So they had from then on developed a friendship. And Paul now is going to put his friendship on the line, folks.

He really is. This is a straightforward letter. He's going to ask Philemon to do something in the area of forgiveness that is crucial. This is Grace to You with John MacArthur.

Thanks for being with us. John's current study is showing you how the act of forgiveness can change every relationship you have, and the title of John's study appropriately, Forgiveness. Now, friend, to clear up questions you may have about God's forgiveness of you and the forgiveness He expects you to show to others, let me recommend John's book called The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness.

It will help you really dig into what it means to forgive, and the blessings that come with it. To pick up a copy, it's reasonably priced. Contact us today. To place your order, call 800-55-GRACE or shop online at That title again, The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness. To pick up a copy for yourself, or to add to your church library, or to give to a friend, go to or call us at 800-55-GRACE. Again, this book is affordable and shipping is free. And if you'd like the MP3s of John's current radio series on forgiveness, they're available free of charge at

Use these lessons in a small group or review them whenever a relationship needs repair. Again, to download this series free of charge, or any of John's 3500 sermons, just go to And to keep up to date on the latest sermons, books, and other free offers from Grace To You, make sure you follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Just search for Grace To You. Now for John MacArthur and the entire staff, I'm your host, Phil Johnson. Thanks for tuning in today and join us tomorrow when John continues his study from the book of Philemon with another 30 minutes of unleashing God's truth, one verse at a time, on Tuesday's Grace To You.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-12-09 17:18:07 / 2023-12-09 17:28:53 / 11

Get The Truth Mobile App and Listen to your Favorite Station Anytime