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The Actions of One Who Forgives B

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
April 12, 2021 4:00 am

The Actions of One Who Forgives B

Grace To You / John MacArthur

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April 12, 2021 4:00 am

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What Paul is saying is magnificent here. I want to be like Christ. I want to take on the debt and the sin of Onesimus so that he can be reconciled to you. Here you see him as the substitution for reconciliation, much like Christ. Never are we more like Christ than when we carry the debt so that forgiveness can take place. Maybe you don't find it hard to forgive a driver who cuts you off, or your spouse for saying an unkind word, or a friend who wrongs you. But what if a person needs your forgiveness again and again and commits the same offense over and over?

Is there a limit on how forgiving you can be and should be? Keep that question in mind today on grace to you as John MacArthur shows you what the Bible says about mending broken relationships and what your view of forgiveness says about your relationship with God. John's current study is titled, Forgiveness.

And now here's John with the lesson. 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. Three things are involved in forgiveness.

First of all, reception, reception. What do I mean by that? Well, the first element in forgiveness is just to open up your life and take the person back. Let them in your life. Verse 10, I appeal to you for my child whom I have begotten in my imprisonment, Onesimus, who formerly was useless to you but now is useful both to you and to me. And I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart whom I wish to keep with me that in your behalf he might minister to me in my imprisonment for the gospel. But without your consent I didn't want to do anything that your goodness should not be as it were by compulsion but of your own free will. Just take him back, he says. I'm just appealing to you, take him back. And this should be done immediately because there are three things that are now true about Onesimus.

You ready for them? He is repentant, he is transformed, and he is proven faithful. He is repentant, he is transformed, and he is proven faithful. They unfold in those very simple verses.

He's saying you need to take him back because he's ready to be taken back. And forgiveness begins with reception personally. Close the gap, cross the rift, heal the wound, let Onesimus back into your life. I appeal to you, he says, for my child like you, Philemon, I led him to Christ. He's my son in the faith like Timothy, like Titus, like others.

And the scene is very dramatic. For there stands Onesimus. This is a shock to Philemon because he's come back with Tychicus and he's come back with this incredible experience with the Apostle Paul. And Paul says, take him back. He has come in repentance. You say, where's the repentance? Verse 10, I appeal to you for my child whom I have begotten in my imprisonment, Onesimus.

It's implied. How do you know he repented? Because he's there, folks.

He's there. He went back. He did the most dangerous thing. He went back humble, repentant to face the man he had wronged, the man who had the right of power over his life to exact punishment.

He went back. That's repentance. You don't have to say the word, you just have to do the deed. Remember what John the Baptist said to the Pharisees and the scribes? He says, why don't you show me the fruits of repentance?

Not just talk about it. Here's the fruit. He went back, very dangerous. Could have cost him his life, but he did what was right. He says, I appeal to you for this one who stands before you, who I have begotten. I'm the human instrument of his salvation by the grace of God. He is now my child. He came to Christ here in my imprisonment and I'm sending him back. Open your arms. He's repentant, obviously, or he wouldn't be there.

He's humble. He seeks to have a restored relationship with this man whom he has wronged. That is the first element of forgiveness, the reception of the person back into one's life. Open up. Kill the hostility.

Embrace the person. Second, not only was he repentant, but he had been transformed. Look at verse 11. He says, you're not getting the same one back that you lost, who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me.

He's not the same guy. By the way, this is a play on words. Onesimus means useful. It was a common name for slaves, probably started as a nickname. They just nicknamed their slave useful. And they probably had nicknamed some slaves useless because those two words in the Greek are very similar. So depending on how good they were, they nicknamed them useful or useless.

Onesimus means useful. So Paul does a little play on words in verse 11. He says, useful formerly was useless, but now is useful both to you and to me.

Why? God's changed him. He's not the same man. He's different.

A radical change has taken place. He's going to serve you the way Colossians 3, 22 and 23, the letter he'll read a little later, would say, not with eye service as men-pleasers but serving the Lord from the heart. He's coming back a different servant.

He's not going to serve you just watching to see if you're looking, and if you're looking he'll work. He's going to serve you as if you were serving the Lord. He's a transformed man and He is now useful. He's living up to His name to you and to me.

I've seen His usefulness and you'll see it too. There's a third element that indicates that He was worthy to be received into relationship, and that is He was not only repentant and transformed, but He was proven faithful. Verse 12, Paul says, I've sent Him back to you in person. That is sending my very heart.

This guy's proven. I mean, me sending Him to you is very painful. I sent Him back with tichokos because I knew it was right. He had to be restored. There had to be the reconciliation of the relationship. He had to be received by you.

It had to be made right. But I just have to tell you, I'm sending Him back and it's cutting out my heart. This guy can be loved. The Apostle Paul had an immense capacity to love and he had come to the point where he loved this man, sending my heart. The word heart is actually bowels, the lower part where we feel.

The Hebrews always referred to that as the seat of emotion and feeling. And he says, my feeling runs deep for this fugitive. This criminal Phrygian slave has become beloved to me. I've opened my arms and I've taken him in and I'm telling you, he is a great man to know and love and in sending Him to you, I'm cutting out my heart. So he says, take Him back, He's repentant. Take Him back, He's changed. Take Him back, He's worthy.

He's valuable. He's a wonderful friend. Open your heart for Him. Take Him back. He says in verse 13, whom I wish to keep with me. I wanted to keep Him, that's why it's like cutting out my heart to send Him. And listen to this subtle little note, that in your behalf He might minister to me in my imprisonment for the gospel.

What does it mean by that? It's another way to affirm the gracious loving character of Philemon. He says, oh Philemon, I'm sending Him back and it's cutting out my heart. I wanted to keep Him so that He could minister to me in my imprisonment for the gospel in your place. I know you would want to be here to minister.

I know your heart of love. I know you wish you could be here and I thought, well I'll just keep Onesimus and that'll be just like having you here and He'll minister to me where you're unable to do that. I know you would have wanted me to have some ministry and I know you would have done it yourself if you could have. So I thought, well I'll just keep Him here and He can minister to me in your stead because I know you'd love to do that. But He says, look, verse 14, without your consent I didn't want to do anything.

I know you would have loved to leave Him here to help me in my imprisonment and He rattles His chains for the fourth time just to keep the heart of Philemon tender. I know...I know you would have wanted Him to stay, but I wouldn't do that without your consent that your goodness should not be as it were by compulsion but of your own free will. I didn't want you to be good because you didn't have a choice. I wanted you to be good because you had a choice. I didn't want to do anything against your will.

I don't want to force the issue. I know you're a wonderful guy and I know you wanted to serve me and you would have done it yourself and you probably would have given me Onesimus to do it, but I don't want to presume on your love and I want you to make the choice to be good on your own free will. More than that, Paul wanted him to see the transformation, the repentance and the value of Onesimus. Beloved, this is where forgiveness starts. It starts in opening up my life and letting the person back in. It starts with forgetting the grudges and forgetting the offenses and just opening my life and letting them in and saying, yes, if you're sorry, I take you in. Yes, I can see that you're not the same person you were that did that.

Yes, you have value and I acknowledge it. The person that you forgive who's not repentant, you can never bring into this relationship and so forgiveness is very one-dimensional. But where there's repentance and change and value, you take them back. Now that leads to a second element. The first one is reception...reception.

The second one is restoration...restoration. Paul suggests that not only should you open your arms and take him back because he's worth loving, but you need to put him back into service. You need to put him back into function and ministry. Verse 15, this is fascinating, for perhaps, and here he appeals to the providence of God, perhaps Onesimus was for this reason parted from you for a while that you should have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother.

What a statement. Paul says, look, I'm not going to mitigate the guilt of Onesimus. Obviously what Onesimus did was wrong, but I just want you to consider that maybe God had a purpose. And Paul says, perhaps because no man can see the secret providence of God at work. But don't you think, Philemon, that maybe God was using this evil to produce good? You remember Genesis 50, 20, you meant it for evil but God meant it for good? Romans 8, 28, all things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose. Psalm 76, 10, God makes the wrath of men to praise Him. God can overturn, overrule any evil. God is always triumphing over sin by His providential power and His providential grace.

He takes the infinite contingencies and decisions of all of humanity and uses them to accomplish His own purpose. And so Paul says, don't you think perhaps that God had planned all along that when this man left you, he would come back in another way? He parted from you for a while that you should have him back forever? You lost a slave and you gained a brother. You lost a slave, you gained a brother. God allowed it. God overruled it.

A temporary separation to lead to an eternal friendship. What Onesimus did could have had irreparable damage in terms of the trust of Philemon, but he needed to see that God was working in this and God had led that man right to Paul, got him converted and sent him right back. And now verse 16 he says, no longer merely a slave. It doesn't mean he's not to be a slave.

This isn't an emancipation proclamation. He's saying he's not any longer merely a slave, he is more than a slave. He comes back a beloved brother. So take him back, yes to be a servant again, yes to be a slave, but not just that, more than that. He said he's already been that, verse 16, especially to me, but how much more to you both in the flesh, that's as a physical slave, and in the Lord as a brother in Christ.

You get him on both counts. Paul is not abolishing slavery. He says he comes back as a servant, he comes back as a slave, but he's not just a slave.

You lost merely a slave. You got back a more faithful slave who will operate to the glory of the Lord, and you got back a beloved brother in Christ. How much more will he be to you, Paul says, than he was to me? To me he was only in the Lord a brother. To you he is in the flesh a servant, and in the Lord a brother. You get his physical service, you get his spiritual service in the fullness. Forgiveness means I open my heart, I take the person in relationally. It means I take him in in terms of restoration to service.

Reception, that's general. Restoration to usefulness and service. Thirdly, the third component in a forgiving relationship is restitution...restitution. There has been wrong done and that wrong needs to be dealt with.

How will it be dealt with? Obviously, when Onesimus bolted the place, he defrauded Philemon. If the price of a good servant was 500 denarii, he would have to go take 500 denarii, which could be a normal common wage, 500 days wages, and buy himself another servant, which means it cost him dearly. Not only that, it seems apparent that when Onesimus left, he took some of the possessions and money of Philemon in order to fund his fugitive life, and so he has definitely defrauded him. The Bible has very straightforward principles of restitution.

You can read about them, for example, in Numbers chapter 5 verses 6 through 8, it tells about it. It was to be repaid and so there has to be restitution. How is Paul going to deal with this?

Onesimus has nothing. Like the prodigal son, he wasted all his substance on riotous living and then he didn't get a job, he just served the Apostle Paul, which is understandable because of his newfound faith and the longings of his heart to be around that godly man. He probably comes back with empty pockets. So how's he going to deal with restitution, verses 17 and 18? "'If then you regard me a partner, a koinonon, a fellow partaker of spiritual life, if you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me.'" He says, "'Just treat him the way you would treat me.

I want Onesimus to have my righteousness in your eyes. Welcome him as you would welcome me. Forgive him as you would forgive me. Hold an obligation against him as you would hold an obligation against me.'"

Hmm, just take him back just the way you'd take me. And then in verse 18, Paul adds, "'But if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account.'" Restitution is always an essential component of forgiveness. It would have been right for Philemon to say, you'll pay me back what it cost me to replace you. I'll take it out of your wages.

You will work overtime and you will restore back to me what you stole from me when you left. That would be justice. That would not be wrong. But neither is it wrong to be gracious. Neither is it wrong to say, I know you were an ungodly, sinful man and I understand that behavior suited that kind of nature. Now that you're a transformed person, I no longer hold you responsible for that which you did in your unredeemed status.

I graciously forgive you. That would have been a wonderful thing to do and certainly would have been a Christian high ground approach to the issue. But just to take any pressure at all off Philemon, to be forced into a gracious act of total forgiveness, Paul says, whatever he owes you, I'll pay because he has no money. Obviously he had nothing with which to pay, so Paul says, I'll pay it. You say, did Paul have any money? He must have had a little. He was renting a house he was staying in. And from time to time he had worked and accumulated money so he could support the people around him. Paul says, just put it on my bill.

And then over in verse 22, he says, I'm coming to lodge with you. The assumption would be when I get there, I'll settle his account. There needs to be restitution. Sometimes the restitution is to pay back if a person is able to do that.

But sometimes the best kind of restitution is just sheer forgiveness and just the grace of God. In this case, there is a marvelous component added because I want you to follow the thought here. Paul is playing a very, very familiar part in the life of Philemon and Onesimus. It is a part he knew well. It is the same part that Jesus Christ plays in the relationship between the sinner and God. Philemon is like God. He has been violated.

He has been defrauded. Onesimus is like the sinner who ran from God, who defrauded God, who wasted his life. And if the sinner is to be reconciled to God, somebody must pay the price, right?

It was Christ. Paul knows that substitutionary death of Jesus Christ very well. He has preached it for years. What Paul is saying is magnificent here. Paul is saying, I want to be like Christ.

I want to take on the debt and the sin of Onesimus so that he can be reconciled to you. Does this give you an insight into Paul? You remember when he said on several occasions, be ye followers of me as I am of Christ? Here you see him as the substitution for reconciliation, much like Christ. Never are we more like God than when we forgive. Never are we more like Christ than when we carry the debt so that forgiveness can take place.

Paul is acting like Christ. He says, I'll take the consequence of his sin. You just take him back. A beautiful, beautiful perspective in this issue of restitution.

It doesn't tell us what Philemon did, but I am quite confident that he forgave and that he charged nothing to the apostle Paul. How do we forgive? Reception. Open our arms, take the person back personally into love. Second, restoration, take them back into useful service. Third, make sure that they have totally and completely had the debt settled.

If they can pay and it is just and their desire, receive the payment. If they cannot, offer forgiveness and maybe you at the same time can be the substitute for that reconciliation, even to yourself. Such is the character of forgiveness. Such is the forgiveness God asks us to give each other.

Let's bow in prayer. Father, we are so affected by this tremendous lesson in forgiveness. If there is anything, Lord, in my heart or in the hearts of Your people here that could be in any sense viewed as an unforgiving attitude toward anyone, please forgive us and remove it. For we know that You forbid an unforgiving heart as much as You forbid murder. We know that You, though most sinned against, forgive us and require that we forgive the less sin who are the less holy. We also know, Lord, that a lack of forgiveness forfeits fellowship communion with You and leaves our own sins unforgiven. A lack of forgiveness robs us of the love of other Christians and brings us under chastening. And then we know, frighteningly, that a lack of forgiveness takes the sword out of Your hand and blasphemously claims to be a better judge, makes us unfit for worship and causes us to fall victim to temptation. Lord, may we not be unforgiving, but may we be like Paul, who was forgiving like Christ and who sought that others should be the same. And thus may we know Your blessing and the joy that comes to obedient believers. For our Savior's sake, amen. This is Grace to You with John MacArthur. Thanks for being with us. Today, John continued his study titled Forgiveness.

And along with teaching here on the radio, John also serves as Chancellor of the Master's University and Seminary. John, you have talked at length in this study about forgiveness between two people. You've answered all my questions on that, but I'd like you to listen to a question that came in on our Q&A line. Here's a listener who has a question about a different aspect of forgiveness. So let me play the question and then you respond. My name is Maria.

I live in Montebello, California. I would like some information regarding how they say that you're able to forgive someone without that other person asking you for forgiveness. I'm always told that you're supposed to forgive even if they don't ask you for forgiveness. I don't understand, because even with Jesus, we have to at one point ask God to forgive us.

Could you shed some more light on that for me? Thank you. Yeah, that's a good question, Maria. That's a good question.

I would say this. Clearly, we have not asked Jesus to forgive every sin we've committed, right? So we know he's forgiven our sins, but that blanket forgiveness does not require us to bring every sin to him. Most of our sins, they pass by, we don't even think of them.

We don't even remember them. So yes, you come to Christ and you ask him for the full forgiveness that he gives you, and at salvation—listen, Maria—at salvation, he forgives all your sins, all your sins from the past, all your sins in the present, all your sins in the future. You don't have to go back and list every single sin, or it won't be forgiven.

No. Your sins have been forgiven. Not only that, the full penalty for them has been paid at the cross. So I think you have to look at relationships in the same way. You have a general attitude toward someone of love and forgiveness.

That's your heart holds toward them. So when they sin a sin against you, they're not required to come to you and specify that sin. They live in the full forgiveness that your heart grants to them. That's what it means to be a forgiving person. That's what it means not to hold a grudge. And that's the attitude of the Lord. He forgave all our sins—the ones in the past that we never confessed, the ones in the present that we forget to confess, the ones in the future that we won't confess—are all forgiven, because he holds us in his hands in a kind of forgiving grace that extends to everything.

And that's how you have to hold people. Your relationship to them is love which comes with full forgiveness, and you're not waiting for them to confess each sin. Having said that, I want to say this. When they sin against you and don't ever come and ask forgiveness and seek to make it right, it makes that relationship far less meaningful than it should be. So there is a price to pay for not seeking that forgiveness, but they pay that price.

You grant that forgiveness nonetheless. Thank you, John, for that encouragement and that helpful reminder. And friend, if, like Maria, you have a question about Scripture or the Church or how to apply a biblical truth practically to your life, let me encourage you to call our Q&A line, and John might answer your question on a future broadcast. Get in touch today. The Q&A line number is 661-295-6288.

Again, just leave us a message with your question, and you may hear John answer that question on an upcoming broadcast. That number one more time, 661-295-6288. You'll also find that number on our website, And now turning the corner a bit, let me remind you that Grace To You is supported by listeners like you who have benefited from this verse-by-verse teaching. When you make a donation, you help us take Bible-centered resources across the globe, bringing spiritual nourishment to families, full-time pastors, church elders, students, and others from all walks of life. And if that kind of ministry resonates with you, you can mail your gift to Grace To You, Box 4000, Panorama City, California, 91412. You can also donate online at our website,, or when you call toll-free, 800-55-GRACE. That number, by the way, translates to 800-5547223. And thank you for your prayers for John and the staff. Your prayers are greatly appreciated. Now for John MacArthur, I'm Phil Johnson, encouraging you to be here at the same time tomorrow when John continues his series on forgiveness with another 30 minutes of unleashing God's truth, one verse at a time, on Grace To You.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-12-02 22:37:42 / 2023-12-02 22:48:18 / 11

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