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The Actions of One Who Forgives

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
April 9, 2021 4:00 am

The Actions of One Who Forgives

Grace To You / John MacArthur

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It is an undeserved affection for yourself that makes you aggravate the faults of others who offend you. On the other hand, if you are humble, you will see yourself as such a lowly person that no offense against you could be considered significant. A proud, self-esteeming ego is easily angered and usually unforgiving. Welcome to Grace to You with John MacArthur.

I'm your host, Phil Johnson. If someone were attacking you and a policeman arrived on the scene, you'd expect the officer to protect you, to stop the attack, to arrest your assailant. A police officer is required to respond to wrongdoing in a certain way. Similarly, there's a response that God expects of you, even demands of you, both when you're wronged and when you're the one who's committed the offense.

What is it? John MacArthur answers that today on Grace to You as he continues his series from Paul's letter to Philemon, titled Forgiveness. And with that, let's get to the lesson.

Here's John MacArthur. We return to the letter of Paul to Philemon, the epistle to Philemon. This brief epistle of 25 short verses, one chapter, is a living lesson on forgiveness.

You remember the first three verses gave us the introduction. Then verses 4 through 7 showed us the characteristics of someone who forgives. And now in verses 8 through 18, we come to the action of forgiveness itself. We're going to be looking at the very issue of forgiveness.

Interestingly enough, the word is never mentioned here. It's almost as if the Holy Spirit made this a fill-in-the-blank principle. It's all over the place, but yet never stated as forgiveness, and yet that is clearly to the reader what it's all about. Now we must assume that Philemon knew the theology of forgiveness. We must assume that Philemon knew the principles upon which forgiveness is built, the biblical doctrines that lead us to forgiveness.

He must have known them. It's obvious that he was grounded in the knowledge of the Word. However, much as I wish I could, I can't make that same assumption about all of you. I could appeal to the high ground of love, but I'm not sure that all of you understand the theology of forgiveness that lies beneath that appeal. And so I think it might be good for us for just a brief part of our discussion to lay down some foundational elements of forgiveness that rise out of the Scripture that compel us to forgive from the standpoint of God's authoritative Word.

Let me give you seven keys or seven elements or seven features of a theological, doctrinal, biblical defense for forgiveness. Number one, it is not murder alone which is forbidden by the sixth commandment, but a lack of forgiveness. It is not murder alone which is forbidden by the sixth commandment, but a lack of forgiveness. The sixth commandment, thou shalt not kill.

But that is just a very thin statement that needs much more content to fill it up. And for that content, we have to only remember Matthew chapter 5 and the words of Jesus Himself who said this, You have heard that the ancients were told, You shall not commit murder, and whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court, and whoever shall say to his brother raka, which is a term of derision, shall be guilty before the Supreme Court, and whoever shall say you fool shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. In other words, Jesus said, When God said you shall not kill, He also meant you shall not hate, you shall not hold malice, you shall not be angry, you shall not carry wrath, you shall not have a desire for revenge, you shall not seek vengeance, you shall not exhibit a lack of forgiveness. God also forbids that. The theology of forgiveness then really begins with the Decalogue or the Ten Commandments.

We are not only not to kill, but we are not to entertain any of the kind of emotions that ultimately end up in taking someone's life as the extreme end. Now how can I dispossess myself of some of these attitudes of anger and hostility and unforgiveness and revenge? Well, in the first place, see the one that you won't forgive as the creation of God. In other words, love that person and forgive him for that of God which is in him.

For every one of us is created in the image of God, though that image is scarred and marred. If I look at a believer who is a Christian, he is therefore holy and he bears something of the moral image of God. And I can forgive him for that which is of God in him. If I look at an unbeliever who is unholy, he still bears the natural image of God and I can forgive him for that of God which is in him. It could replace my anger and my lack of forgiveness with reverence if I can see the image of God in someone.

Furthermore, Jesus said, love your neighbor as yourself. Certainly you seek to see the image of God in you, don't you? Don't you find yourself eminently worthy of forgiveness? Don't you find it hard to understand why anybody else wouldn't forgive you?

You are certainly eager to forgive yourself. Against yourself you bear no grudge. Against yourself you exact no penalties. Against yourself you carry no vengeance. And if you do no sin against yourself and you hold it against yourself, it is not a desire for destruction but a desire for blessing, the recovery that you seek. So you must, first of all, realize that any hatred, any kind of lack of forgiveness is a violation of the command to not kill because it underlies that attitude of murder that would take the life of someone, if it could, and get away with it.

Or it would inflict harm on them, if it could. Furthermore, if you are to deal with this attitude, you must recognize that your lack of forgiveness is, plain and simple, selfish. You have to deal with your selfishness. It is exactly that undeserved affection for yourself that makes you aggravate the faults of others who offend you.

I'll say it again. It is an undeserved affection for yourself that makes you aggravate the faults of others who offend you. On the other hand, if you are humble and unselfish and self-denying, you will see yourself as such a lowly person that no offense against you could be considered significant.

A proud, self-esteeming ego is easily angered and usually unforgiving because it thinks so highly of itself and then so hatefully of anyone who offends this glorious entity. So you just can't not kill, God says. You must not hate, you must not be angry, and you must not be unforgiving. And if you are unforgiving, you manifest selfishness, you fail to see in others the image of God, and you indeed violate the sixth commandment. Let me give you a second theological foundation for forgiveness. Whoever has offended you has offended God greater. Whoever has offended you has offended God greater. And if God, the most holy, has forgiven him the greater sin, can you the least holy forgive him the lesser sin?

Do you understand that? David, who sinned against Bathsheba, who sinned against her husband Uriah, who sinned against his own wife, his own children, his own nation, David who sinned against all those people, said in Psalm 51, against thee, thee only have I sinned. In other words, he knew that no matter what offense he gave to men, he gave a greater offense to God. And if God can forgive the greater offense, then why can't you forgive the lesser offense?

That's the point. That is the inexplicable issue in the parable of Matthew 18, where the king forgives the man the unpayable debt, and then the man won't forgive another man a very simple debt, but strangles him and throws him into prison. And the point is, how in the world can you see God forgive the greater offense and you not forgive the lesser? Any crime against you is a greater crime against God. Any time someone sins against you, it may offend you, it offends God more.

Why? He's more holy than you are. Sin is more sinful to him.

It is more offensive to him. The same offense may be a serious thing to you, it is a far more serious thing to an infinitely holy God. Yet God mercifully forgives. Are you more just? Are you more holy?

Are you a higher court with a higher law? The truth is, if you don't forgive, you're not like God at all, you're more like the devil. Don't forget, you have much to be forgiven by God. And there is no comparison between other men's offenses against you and your offenses against God, either in number, in seriousness, or in consequences. No man could ever offend you the way you offend God, and God forgives you. Can you not forgive others? You deserve damnation from God, and so do I. But He gives us mercy for all our transgressions. Are you going to spend your life seeking revenge for the little petty injuries that have come against you?

Principle number three, very important. You will not enjoy forgiveness from God if you don't forgive others. We have noted that in Matthew chapter 6, verses 14 and 15, where God says, If you forgive others their trespasses, your Father will forgive you yours. If you do not forgive others, He will not forgive you. In other words, in the sense of our relationship to God, we will stand before God with unforgiven sin under His chastening if we do not forgive others. That is a high price to pay for a lack of forgiveness. If you refuse to forgive someone else, then God refuses to forgive you, and you are cut off from meaningful communion with God, and you are brought under chastening. Number four, you will not enjoy the love of the brethren if you don't forgive. You will not enjoy the love of the brethren if you do not forgive. In other words, you will never be able to participate in the joyous communion and fellowship and love of Christian believers if you don't forgive. Do you remember that parable in Matthew 18?

Remember the man went out and strangled this guy, and he said, I want all you owe me, and he wouldn't pay him, so he threw him in prison until he paid everything he owed. Here was a man that God had forgiven, but he wouldn't forgive a friend. In verse 31 of Matthew 18, it says, And all of that man's friends went to the Lord and told the Lord what that man had done and said, Lord, you've got to deal with that man.

What is that? I'll tell you what it is. Your Christian friends, seeing you with an attitude that is unforgiving, going to God and saying, God, you've got to discipline that person. There is really a picture of church discipline.

The sage collecting before God and saying, God, carry out some discipline in that person's life. You'll destroy your own relationships with other Christians who will then have to go to God and ask Him to deal with you in terms of discipline and chastening if you don't forgive. If you don't forgive, they'll be unforgiving, and they'll ask God to deal with you.

And so you'll not only lose communion with God, but you'll lose the sweet, encouraging, loving, affirming support of other believers who see you as a threat to the purity of the church and go to God to have your life changed or to get you thrown out. Number five, a very important element in understanding forgiveness. If you won't forgive and rather seek revenge, you have usurped the authority of God. You have usurped the authority of God. In Paul's letter to the Romans in that wonderful, practical 12th chapter, listen to what he says in verses 14 and 19, bless those who persecute you, bless and curse not. Then this, verse 19, never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God for it is written, vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. Leave vengeance to God. When you won't forgive someone, when you carry around that attitude of anger and bitterness and hostility, you are presuming literally to take the sword of divine judgment out of God's hand and use it yourself.

You're saying, God, give me that sword, I'm taking over. Such an attitude says, I must be the avenger because God is unjust or God is slow or God is indifferent or God just doesn't understand, He's ignorant or God is unable to judge and that is all blasphemy. God is far better able to deal with any offense against you than you. He is able to deal with a consequence of sin far better than you. He has the truest understanding of the issue, you are limited in understanding. He has the highest authority, you have none. He is impartial and just, you are selfishly partial. He is omniscient and eternal, sees the end of everything, you are short-sighted, ignorant, seeing nothing beyond the moment.

He is wise and good and all He does has perfectly righteous purposes. You are ignorant and blinded by your anger and your purposes may be evil. It makes no sense for any person to be so blasphemous as to take the sword out of God's hand and wield it himself or herself. Number six, very important point, the absence of forgiveness makes you unfit for worship. The absence of forgiveness makes you unfit for worship. Again in the Sermon on the Mount of Matthew chapter 5, our Lord said, if therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go your way.

First be reconciled to your brother, then come and present your offering. Don't you dare worship Me if you are not fully reconciled to your Christian brother. You can't draw near to God in such a frame of mind of unforgiveness. You're unfit for fellowship with God's people. You're unfit for fellowship with God. You're in a situation of aggravated sin. You can't be a blessing to others and you can't be acceptable to God. Finally, very important, your injuries and offenses, the injuries and offenses against you, are your trials and temptations.

That is so important. You have to recognize that whenever something happens to you that is an offense or a sin against you, that is a trial and or temptation and you have to deal with it as such. Every time somebody offends you, that is a trial or a temptation. If you pass it and you forgive them, it is a trial producing strength. If you fail it and you are not forgiving, it is a temptation producing sin.

Your events, the events that come to you in life, go either way. A right response makes it a trial that produces righteousness, a wrong response makes it a temptation that produces unrighteousness. The only concern you want to have about anybody's action against you is to be sure that you don't fall into sin being tempted by that offense.

You must be little concerned about the actions of others against you, whatever they are, and greatly concerned whether they become tests that make you strong or temptations that make you sinful. Now we assume that Philemon knew all this because Paul doesn't give it to him. Surely the theology of forgiveness was known to Philemon. And so Paul leaves it unsaid, and I've said it for those of you who needed to hear it.

Now let's go back to the text. Having understood all of that, Paul rather than building his case on a reaffirmation of that theological groundwork takes the high ground and appeals to love, knowing that Philemon knows this to be the foundation doctrinally. Verses 8 and 9, therefore though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do that which is proper, yet for love's sake I rather appeal to you since I am such a person as Paul the aged and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus.

He says, look, I could command you. I have enough confidence in my commission in Christ is what he means. I have enough boldness, I have enough courage as an apostle directly commissioned by the resurrected Christ to command you to forgive based upon the theology of forgiveness that it is mandated by God. I have the divine right to command you. I have no lack of courage to use that divine right because it is in Christ given me in my commission. And so I could demand that you do what is proper, or literally what is fitting in the Lord, what is distinctively Christian, namely that you forgive. Yet, verse 9, he says, for love's sake I rather appeal to you.

I'm taking the high ground. And then in order to tenderize Philemon's heart, because this is a tough scene, he throws in two statements about himself. Do this for love's sake, he says, since I am such a person as Paul the aged and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus. To get to the heart of Philemon, Paul wants to use some sympathetic communication.

He says, will you do this for poor me? He's just really pulling at his heartstrings here. And he speaks of himself in two sort of pathetic ways intending to tenderize Philemon.

After all, this is a pretty interesting spot to find Philemon. As he's reading down here like you and I are today, and he's reading down through verse 8, he is there in his house reading this brief letter and looking right in front of him, he can see Onesimus, the runaway slave who defrauded him, and all the emotion that he has been feeling from the time Onesimus first left and all the intervening time is welling up in his heart. He really doesn't know what's going on. Here is Tychicus whom he knows. He's got the epistle to the Colossians in his hands to read to the whole church. But here is Onesimus, this guy that has elicited out of his heart all kinds of hostility and temptations to anger that he's had to deal with and he's back and he's looking him eyeball to eyeball and he doesn't quite understand what's going on. And he's feeling emotion that might make him want to take Onesimus and beat him or imprison him. And so the apostle Paul says, I'm just going to ask you to forgive him for love's sake and would you please do that because the request is coming from Paul the aged who is a prisoner.

He just wants to pull a little sympathy. The word aged just means that, presbytase, aged. He was not that old, I mean 60, but in those days people didn't live longer than that very often. John the apostle lived longer than that, but that was rare.

People's lifespan was shorter then. In fact, he may not have been very much older than Philemon because Philemon was old enough to have a son in the ministry. But the word aged carries more with it than just years in the case of Paul. It carries with it the idea of an aging process that no doubt had been accelerated by the experiences of Paul.

You can be sure that the years that it accumulated on the back of Paul were heavier than the years that it accumulated on the back of Philemon. There may not have been a big time span, but there was a span in the aging process. Paul was older than his years. Back in Acts 7 when he was standing there watching them stone Stephen, it says he was a young man.

He's not a young man anymore. He's old and he's older than his years because he's endured so much imprisonment, terrible food, illnesses, travels, persecutions, work, bodily injuries. He said, I bear in my body the marks of Christ's scars all over his body from stones that crushed out his breath from whips and rods and everything else and stalks that he had been kept prisoner in.

All the painful, strenuous, debilitating experience that was crammed into those years made him Paul the aged. And this tender glimpse is meant to pluck the heartstrings of Philemon and make him feel sympathy for this old warrior, and thus excite love for the sacrificial apostle who led him to Christ. That's John MacArthur, Chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary, with a look at Paul's letter to Philemon. It's part of John's current study on grace to you, titled Forgiveness. Well friend, today's lesson makes it clear you are never more like God than when you live. And of course, John, God's justice also demands that he punish sin. So for God's people, might there also be a place for the punishment of sin, a time when just forgiving someone might not be the right thing to do? Yeah, I don't think it's our responsibility to punish people for their sin. I think vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. So we render good for evil, right?

We're not the punishers. Obviously, in a parental sense, you know, you punish your children because you're training them in righteousness. But I think we have an open heart of free forgiveness of the person, and we leave whatever retribution, whatever chastisement to the Lord. And there's no escaping that, because Hebrews says, every son he loves, he chastens. And he chastens them for their spiritual well-being. So I think sometimes, and well, more than sometimes, a lot of the time, we hold on to a grudge, waiting for a moment to punish, you know, waiting to say something.

Well, if I ever see that guy, this is what I'm going to say. And we're holding on to this grudge, waiting to punish. That's not our job. That's not our role to punish. Free your heart. Give complete and comprehensive forgiveness, and leave the chastening part to the Lord.

He'll do that perfectly in his own way, in his own time, in his own will. Questions about forgiveness are very important, and the answers have to be granted. So we put together a little book called Answering the Hard Questions About Forgiveness. We want to send it free to anyone.

Anyone who asks us, call, write, email, go to the website. We want you to have this booklet, because forgiveness is what frees you up to rejoice, in spite of all the offenses that come in life. Forgiveness is what sustains all your relationships. So about a dozen key questions in the booklet, Answering the Hard Questions About Forgiveness. Just let us know you want one.

We'll send it on the way. Yes, and friend, this booklet answers questions like, Does forgiveness require forgetting the offense? How should you handle forgiving a repeat offender? And what's the difference between true repentance and merely apologizing?

And many others. Answering the Hard Questions About Forgiveness is a quick read, but it's filled with practical biblical truth. To get your free booklet, contact us today. Just call our toll-free number, 800-55-GRACE, or go to our website, And if you'd like a few extra copies to give to people you're discipling, Answering the Hard Questions About Forgiveness is available for a reasonable price. To get your free copy and to purchase a few extras, go to, or call 800-55-GRACE. And friend, can I ask you to do something for us?

If the teaching you hear on Grace to You has benefited you, maybe it's helped you in the trials you've faced during the coronavirus pandemic. Would you let us know? You'll be a great encouragement to us here. We really do want to hear from you. When you have time, just jot us a note and send it our way. Our address is Grace to You, Box 4000, Panorama City, CA 91412. Or you can send an email to letters at Once more, that's letters at Now for John MacArthur, I'm Phil Johnson, reminding you to watch Grace to You television on Sunday, check your local listings for Channel and Times, and then be here next week when John continues his study on forgiveness with another 30 minutes of unleashing God's truth, one verse at a time, on Grace to You.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-12-03 13:25:48 / 2023-12-03 13:35:51 / 10

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