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The Characteristics of One Who Forgives

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
April 7, 2021 4:00 am

The Characteristics of One Who Forgives

Grace To You / John MacArthur

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Now for a Christian, a failure to forgive is unthinkable. We have been told as explicitly as we could possibly be told that if anybody offends us, we are to forgive them.

Seventy times seven, or that is an endless number of times. And that the reason we are to forgive them is because our Father in heaven has forgiven us and will continue to forgive us as we are faithful to forgive others. Thanks for joining John MacArthur here on Grace to You as he examines an issue that, frankly, is often overlooked or made out to be more complex than it really is. The issue is forgiveness, and that's also the title of John's current study. It's one that can help you see what a forgiving person looks like.

This study also lays out the expectations God puts on you to restore relationships that are broken down, and it walks you through the process of restoration. Now you're going to find these important truths about forgiveness by heading down one of the shorter hallways of Scripture. It's the book of Philemon.

Just 25 verses in all. So here's John MacArthur continuing his practical study titled, Forgiveness. I draw your attention back to the wonderful little book of Philemon. Turn in your Bible, if you will, to Philemon. Let me read you verses 4 through 7 as the setting for our message. I thank my God always, making mention of you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints. And I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ's sake.

For I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you brother. We live, obviously, in a society that knows little about forgiveness. We live in a society that cares little about forgiveness. In fact, I would think that one of the major contributors, if not the major contributor to the destruction of relationships in our culture, is the absence of forgiveness. Our culture pushes us to be unforgiving. It celebrates and exalts people who are not willing to forgive.

We make heroes out of the Dirty Harrys and the Rambos, who murder people out of vengeance. As a result of the sinfulness, the wickedness, and the lack of any kind of Christian social restraint in our culture, we have a society filled with bitterness, filled with vengeance, filled with anger, filled with hate, filled with hostility toward others. We live in a retaliating, vengeful, hostile, angry culture that wants to make everybody else the perpetrator of a crime against us and us, frankly, responsible for nothing except vengeance.

Certainly ours is the most hostile, the most angry, the most unforgiving, the most vengeful culture that I have ever experienced in my brief lifetime. Now for a Christian, a failure to forgive is unthinkable. I don't care what the issue is, I don't care what the offense is, a failure to forgive is a blatant, open act of disobedience. We have been told as explicitly as we could possibly be told that if anybody offends us, we are to forgive them. How many times?

Seventy times seven, or that is an endless number of times. And that the reason we are to forgive them is because our Father in heaven has forgiven us and will continue to forgive us as we are faithful to forgive others. To look at this issue from the negative side for a moment, if we buy into this culture, a culture that says you don't have to forgive, you have a right to your pound of flesh, you can sue anybody and everybody for anything and everything, you ought to blame somebody else for your responsibility and make sure they pay painfully for what they've done to you. If we buy into that mentality, here's what it will produce.

I'll give you just four things that will happen in a life of a Christian. Number one, it will imprison you in your past. A failure to forgive will imprison you in your past. As long as you fail to forgive an offender, an offense committed against you, you are shackled to the past. Unforgiveness keeps that pain alive. Unforgiveness keeps that sore open. Unforgiveness never lets that wound heal. On the other hand, forgiveness opens the door and lets the prisoner out. Forgiveness sets you free from your past. As soon as you forgive it, it's gone.

You're free. If you insist on remembering the offense and never forgiving it, then you allow the person to go on offending you the rest of your life and it's your fault, not theirs. Secondly, unforgiveness not only makes you a prisoner to your own past, but unforgiveness produces bitterness. It produces bitterness. The cumulative effect of remembering without forgiveness some offense done against you, no matter how brief the time or long the time, is that you become a bitter person.

The longer you remember the offense, the more data you accumulate on it, the more recited memory you have for it, the more it occupies your thinking and the more it occupies your thinking, the more it basically shapes your person. Bitterness is not just a sin, it is an infection and it will infect your whole life. And bitterness can be directly traced to the failure to forgive. Forgiveness, on the other hand, dispels bitterness and replaces it with love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control.

Why would anybody want to live in the prison of their past? Why would anybody want to live with accumulated bitterness that makes them violate every relationship? There's a third thing that unforgiveness does. Unforgiveness gives Satan an open door.

Unforgiveness throws the welcome mat out and invites the demons in. Where you have unresolved anger, where you have unresolved bitterness, where you have an unforgiving spirit, you have given place to the devil. Ephesians 4, 26 and 27 says, in your anger, do not sin, do not let the sun go down while you're still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. The point is, if you go to bed at night and you haven't fully forgiven so that your anger is gone, you will give Satan a foothold.

In 2 Corinthians chapter 2, there is a very direct statement made by the Apostle Paul. In chapter 2 verse 10, he says, I forgive. I forgive, in verse 11, in order that no advantage be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes. The devil moves in to an unforgiving heart, to an unforgiving life. It is no exaggeration to say, listen carefully, it is no exaggeration to say that most, most of the ground that Satan gains in our lives is due to unforgiveness.

We're not ignorant of his scheme to move in on an unforgiving attitude and destroy relationships. And frankly, you can evict all the demonic trespassers by an act of forgiveness. Why would anybody want to be in prison to their past? Why would anybody want to have the disease of bitterness to skew and discolor their life?

And why would anybody want to throw the door open and put out the welcome mat for demons? Fourthly, unforgiveness hinders your fellowship with God. Unforgiveness hinders your fellowship with God. Jesus said, if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. If you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. In the ongoing relationship with God, if we don't forgive others, He doesn't forgive us.

So if I'm not right with you, then I'm not right with Him. Why would I sentence myself to being anything less than in the place of maximum blessing from God, right? What kind of foolishness is that?

How idiotic can I be? Do I find some value in having God angry with me? Is there some virtue in cutting off the purity and the joy of my fellowship with God?

You see the idiocy, don't you, of an unforgiving attitude. It makes you a prisoner of your past. It gives you the all-pervasive disease of bitterness. It opens the door for demons and it alienates you from the full, rich fellowship that God desires to have with you. There is plenty of good reason then to be a forgiving person. If you refuse to forgive others, you forfeit fellowship with God. You open yourself to satanic involvement.

You pollute your life and steal its joy and you make yourself a victim of your own past. This matter of forgiveness, because of its significance and importance then, is dealt with at great length in Scripture. This matter of forgiveness is very important and it's right at the very crux of your spiritual health and mine. Now because it is so essential, the Holy Spirit has devoted one entire book of the Bible to forgiveness, not a very long book, but one book, the book of Philemon. Here in this little book of just 25 verses is the spiritual duty to forgive emphasized, not in principle form, not in parable form, not in word picture form, but in a personal true story. Now as the letter unfolds, it becomes apparent that Paul is asking Philemon to forgive a man who is repentant.

Onesimus has done his part. He is repentant. He is coming back, as it were, hat in hand, asking for forgiveness.

God has done the right work in his heart and now it is the turn of Philemon. Verses 4 to 7 give the spiritual character of one who forgives. Verses 8 to 18, the spiritual action of one who forgives. Verses 19 to 25, the spiritual motivation of one who forgives. So we learn a lot about a forgiver here. We learn how to be a forgiver. We learn the principles of forgiveness and that is the intention of the Holy Spirit in writing this wonderful letter. If you read verses 4 to 7, you're not going to necessarily see Paul identify one, two, three, four, five, six, the principles of a forgiving person, but you're going to see them come out in what he says. They're not what we say explicit, but they are implicit.

They're implied here very, very clearly. In this section, Paul refers to Philemon in very, very glowing terms. He commends him from verse 4 through 7 on his Christian character. And as he does that, he is describing the kind of man who will be a forgiver. This is the spiritual character of a man who will be a forgiver. So in effect, he's saying, Philemon, I know you're the kind of man that I can trust to forgive Onesimus.

He's really setting him up by reminding him of his own character. I mean, it's part of wisdom, isn't it, to deal out praise whenever and wherever it is possible? For praise itself becomes a nourishing food for virtue.

Did you understand that? Praise itself, legitimate praise, becomes a nourishing food for virtue and a strong antidote against sin. If someone comes to you and says, I want to tell you, I look at your life and I just thank God that you're a godly, virtuous, holy Christian. Believe me, that's food that nurtures virtue. And at the same time, that's an antidote against sin, isn't it?

Because if you know people see you that way and believe you're that way, that accelerates your desire for virtue and your desire to stay away from vice. And so Paul speaks of the great virtue of the character of Philemon as the foundation for his appeal to forgive. I know you have the kind of character that will forgive.

Now what kind of character is this? Well, we see it in verses 4 through 7. Here, as Paul gives this wonderful, warm kind of exposure to the character of Philemon, we see the kind of person who forgives. Now he says so many good things about him, you have to ask the question, how did he know all this? One, they were acquainted personally. They knew each other. In fact, in verse 1, he calls Philemon, our beloved, our agapetos, our loved one and our sunergos, our fellow worker. So they worked together, they loved each other. Paul had led Philemon to Christ.

He knew about the man. Furthermore, the church at Colossae met in his house, so a lot of Christians knew about him. One of those Christians was the leader of the church at Colossae, a man by the name of Epaphras. And Epaphras, according to verse 23 of Philemon, was with Paul in Rome. So whatever Paul knew about him, Epaphras could have enhanced because Epaphras was the leader of the church in Philemon's house. And then there was Onesimus, the runaway slave. He must have affirmed all of this.

He didn't run away because Philemon was a bad man, an evil master, a hard driving forceful kind of task master, not at all. Everybody would have affirmed the character of the man and so Paul had good knowledge of the man's virtue. Now as we look at these verses, verses 4 and following, we're going to see the kind of person who forgives.

What kind of person has the capacity to forgive? Let's look at verse 4 and start there. I thank my God always, making mention of you in my prayers. Now we'll just comment on that very briefly. He says, in effect what he's saying is, every time I pray about you, it is with thanksgiving. That's what he's saying. Always in my making mention of you in my prayers, I thank my God.

That would be another way to frame it up. Always when you come up in my prayers, I express my thanks. Always. I mean, I don't have anything other to say to God than thank you for Philemon. I don't know any negatives about you. Everything I've ever heard about you and everything I've ever experienced with you is good. Furthermore, verse 5, because I hear. Literally, I continue to hear. The Word keeps coming to me, Philemon, about you that makes me pray for you and in my prayers I just say thanks. Paul is saying, I pray and in my prayers you come up. And every time you come up, I thank God for you because every time I hear something, it's positive.

What a wonderful statement. All the news about you, Philemon, is good. There's nothing in this letter to correct Philemon. There's nothing in this letter to suggest that he was out of line. There's nothing to suggest that he had an error in his theology, that something wasn't right in his home, something wasn't right in his marriage.

I mean, everything just was as it should be in this man's life. So he says, everything I know about you makes me say thanks to God for you. And what did he hear? And what did he know about him?

Several things. Number one, he had a concern for the Lord. He had a concern for the Lord. Please note the first thing is in verse 5. He says, because I hear, follow me now, of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus.

That's the phrase I want you to grab first. The first thing I hear about you is that you have a true faith in the Lord Jesus. You have a concern for the Lord. I know I can come to you, Philemon, and ask you to forgive because you are concerned about the Lord. You have a true saving faith. You're a genuine, real Christian, and therefore you have the ability to forgive.

You have been forgiven so you can forgive. By the way, that verb, you have, present tense, you continue to have an ongoing, continuous nature of concern toward the Lord. You have continuing trust toward the Lord Jesus. You have unwavering faith. You are a faithful, true, genuine believer. He says, Philemon, you walk by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. You exhibit trust in Him in everything.

You seek His will. I know you can forgive. You see, we are those for whom much has been forgiven and we can forgive much. We are those, you remember, of whom Paul wrote in Ephesians 4 32 and Colossians 3 13 that we are to forgive one another because God, for Christ's sake, has forgiven us. We are those, like the parable of Matthew 18, who have been forgiven an unpayable debt and should go out and forgive others. Philemon, you have a real faith.

You're a true believer. You can forgive. And what he's really saying here is that the first characteristic of a forgiver is he's a Christian. He has a concern for the Lord. The contrast for that is back in Romans 3. Just very briefly, I call your attention to Romans 3 10. Here the Apostle Paul describes a non-Christian, a non-believer.

In verse 10 he says, here's the basic description of the nature, the character, the disposition of a non-believer. There is none righteous, not even one. There is none who understands. There is none who seeks for God. All have turned aside. Together they have become useless. There is none who does good.

There is not even one. So the first thing he says about an unbeliever is they're just not good. They're bad, wicked, sinful, unrighteous, can't do anything good. Even their good is bad good because even what they do that may be humanly good is motivated by their own pride, not the glory of God, so it's bad good. So I have told you in the past, unbelievers can only do bad bad or bad good. It's all bad.

Then in verse 13 he talks about relationships. Their throat is an open grave. In other words, when they open their mouth, out comes filth and stench and rottenness. Their tongues they use to deceive. Their lips are filled with the poison of asps. Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood.

Now there's a description of unregenerate people. Open their mouth and out comes filth. On their tongue, deception.

On their lips, moving from the inside to the out. On their lips, the poison of a snake. Out of their mouth, cursing and bitterness and you give them a chance, if they catch you, they'll kill you. There's no forgiveness there. That's the bitterness and the vengeance and the anger and the hate and the hostility of unregenerate people. They are driven by hate. They are driven by bitterness. They'll curse you out of their bitterness.

They'll kill you if they get a chance. On the other hand, those who have been reconciled to God, those who, as Paul says of Philemon, have faith toward the Lord Jesus, are prepared to forgive. And only those, it doesn't surprise me that our society is so litigious that we sue each other. It doesn't surprise me that people kill each other. It doesn't surprise me that if you pull in front of somebody on the freeway, they'll pull alongside of you and make obscene gestures at you, if not shoot you. It doesn't surprise me that the hostility and anger of our culture is what it is because that's in the human heart and we have moved so far away from any kind of Christian aura, of Christian social restraint that that now is tolerated, more than tolerated, advocated. That's because that's the way unbelievers should be expected to act. That isn't surprising.

Sometimes what does surprise me is when somebody pulls up beside me and does that and then speeds on by and I notice a fish sticker on the back bumper. And I figure it's a Christian car but not a Christian driver. Those who are reconciled to the Lord Jesus Christ, however, forgive because we have the capacity to forgive. This world is ripped to shreds everywhere from marriages to nations because people can't forgive. Only Christians can really forgive from the heart as Jesus said it.

Only Christians can really forgive from the heart. So a forgiving person has a concern for the Lord. He is very concerned for the Lord. He loves the Lord, wants to honor the Lord, is desirous of that which expresses his faith in the Lord. Because his faith is real, he has a capacity to forgive.

He has a new nature, he has a new creation, and the indwelling Spirit gives him that ability. This is Grace to You with John MacArthur. Thanks for being with us. John is Chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary. Today he showed you the core attitude of a forgiving person, a desire to honor the Lord. And you'll see five more characteristics of a true forgiver tomorrow when John continues his study titled Forgiveness.

But John, here's a point of trivia. The sermon we heard today you preached in 1991. That was 30 years ago. But it sounds as if you could have preached it yesterday, especially when you made the point that we live in a society, you said, filled with bitterness, filled with vengeance, filled with anger and hostility towards others. So with that said, the need to put forgiveness into practice probably has never been more dire than it is today. Yeah, it was a problem 30 years ago and I'd say it's 10 times the problem today. At least.

Oh yeah, it's exponential. The bitterness, the rancor, the anger, the hostility, the hatred. I mean, you look at the politicians, look at the political world in Washington, those people can't even function because the hate is so palpable. You look at the people in the political parties, the hate is so vicious.

You have really, I think, a new level of hate expressed in, you know, we went through that last summer, burning buildings and smashing and things and just terrifying expressions of hate and bitterness and anger. And you know, that seeps into the church, sad to say, but that seeps into the church. But when you have a culture that justifies that, that loosens up the bolts even in the Christian community and people feel that they can get away with those kinds of things because they are more acceptable. And where forgiveness disappears from a church, all relationships break down. Forgiveness is at the very heart of all relationships. We produced a booklet called Answering the Hard Questions About Forgiveness, and there are some tough questions about forgiveness, like what's the difference between true repentance and a mere apology? Or should you confess to someone your sinful thoughts about him or her when he may not know? Or how should you handle forgiving someone when they keep offending you?

Or should you forgive when they don't ask for forgiveness? A lot of those questions. In fact, we cover a dozen questions in this booklet called Answering the Hard Questions About Forgiveness.

Here's the good news. We'd like to send you a free copy. I'm telling you, I wrote a book, a large book called The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness. It is so freeing. It is so empowering to forgive. But here's a start on that. Answering the Hard Questions About Forgiveness, a booklet that is free to anyone who calls, emails, comes to the website. It's available.

You can order one today. Perhaps you know someone who's having a hard time forgiving others. Put this booklet in their hands and help them know the relief that forgiveness brings. Ask for Answering the Hard Questions About Forgiveness when you contact us today. Just call our toll-free number 800-55-GRACE or go to our website,, and request your free copy of Answering the Hard Questions About Forgiveness. This booklet gives clear direction for doing the right thing, the biblical thing, when you're wronged and when you're the one who's committed the offense.

Again, Answering the Hard Questions About Forgiveness is our gift to you. Just call 800-55-GRACE or go to And remember, there are thousands of free Bible study tools available at You can read blog articles from John and the staff. You can work your way through the MacArthur Daily Bible. You can download more than 3,500 of John's sermons in MP3 or transcript format for free. Access all of those resources and request your free copy of Answering the Hard Questions About Forgiveness at Now on behalf of John MacArthur, I'm Phil Johnson, saying thanks for remembering to pray for this ministry. And let me remind you that you can watch Grace To You television this Sunday, check your local listings for Channel and Times, and then be here tomorrow for another half hour of unleashing God's truth, one verse at a time, on Grace To You.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-12-04 04:06:01 / 2023-12-04 04:16:19 / 10

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