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The Motives of One Who Forgives

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
April 13, 2021 4:00 am

The Motives of One Who Forgives

Grace To You / John MacArthur

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Somebody does something against you, offends you, owes you something? Remember this, you owe such unpayable debts to others who have generously and lovingly benefited you with the richest of spiritual blessings and they don't demand payment, so can't you release the simple temporal debt of one who has only offended you in an earthly way?

Mitsuo Foshida led Japan's aerial assault on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He never expected Americans to forgive him, and he didn't seek their forgiveness. And yet, after the armistice, he met some former Japanese POWs and heard about an American woman who treated Japanese prisoners with great kindness, even though the Japanese had killed her missionary parents. This shocked Foshida, and it sparked his interest in the gospel and helped lead to his salvation. A key factor in his conversion was the love and forgiveness that he saw demonstrated by a Christian. And that sort of life-changing forgiveness is the focus of John MacArthur's study today on grace to you. John has titled this series, Forgiveness.

And now with a lesson, here's John. Forgiveness, we have noted, is the most God-like and the most Christ-like act a Christian can do. Never are you more like God or Christ than when you forgive. Now this wonderful little letter, without ever mentioning the word forgiveness, teaches us a living lesson in forgiveness.

It teaches us some very essential elements of forgiveness in most gentle, most practical, and most subtle ways. Paul has already helped us to see and identify the kind of character one has to have to forgive, and all of that comes out of verses 4 to 7. Then Paul also made us very aware not only of the character of one who forgives, but of the action of one who forgives. That's in verses 8 through 18. And then we come now to the final verses of this letter, verses 19 through 25. And Paul opens to us insight into the motives for forgiveness.

What motivates someone to forgive? Number one, the recognition that I owe a debt I can't pay. Notice verse 19, I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will repay it.

Stop at that point for a moment. This is quite an interesting note. Paul's custom was to dictate his letters to an amanuensis or a secretary, somebody who wrote them down.

But it was also Paul's custom at the end of many of his letters to pick up the quill and to sign his own name. Now you will notice that he has said something very significant in verse 18. He said, if Onesimus has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account. This is the issue of restitution. Paul knows Onesimus has nothing. He can't repay what he stole. He can't repay the five hundred denarii that Philemon had to spend to get someone to take Onesimus' place.

He doesn't have that money. So Paul says, instead of trying to get it out of him, he doesn't have it, just charge it to my account. And then most interestingly, Paul says, I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand.

I will repay it. And Paul picks up the pen and signs the IOU with his own name. That's what he's doing. He is signing his name and saying, I will make restitution for Onesimus who has no money. But then notice what he says in parenthesis. Lest I should mention to you that you owe to me even your own self as well.

What is he saying here? He's saying, by the way, I know Onesimus owes you a debt, but may I remind you that you owe me a greater debt than he owes you? Here's Paul's plan. Put his debt on my account. Then cancel it because you owe me so much.

That's what he says. Onesimus owes Philemon a material debt. Philemon owes Paul a spiritual debt. Onesimus owes Philemon a temporal debt. Philemon owes Paul an eternal debt.

Why? Paul had given him the gospel. Paul had led him to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. How is he ever going to pay that back? So he says, Onesimus' debt should be put on my account and then canceled because you owe me so much, because I was used by God to deliver you from death and hell.

Now the principle is just that simple. Somebody does something against you, offends you, owes you something. Remember this, you owe such unpayable debts to others who have generously and graciously and faithfully and lovingly benefited you with the richest of spiritual blessings and they don't demand payment and neither could you pay it should they demand it. So can't you release the simple temporal financial debt or obligation of one who has only offended you in an earthly way? Since I have so many spiritual debts that I can never repay, can I not allow gladly some material debt to go unpaid and fully forgive the one who owes it? So Paul with his inspired genius seeks to motivate us to forgive by reminding us of how much we owe.

Second motivation, the recognition that I can become a blessing to others. If I forgive, I can become a blessing to others. Verse 20, Yes, brother, and there is that endearing kind-heartedness of Paul. Yes, brother, let me benefit from you in the Lord, refresh my heart in Christ, and the words me and my are both emphatic in the Greek. He's saying, you have blessed so many.

He already said that back in the first part of this wonderful book. Verse 7, he says, I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother. You have blessed so many people for so long.

Now it's my turn, Paul says. Brother, let me be blessed. Let me profit. Let me benefit. Let me find spiritual usefulness, and this is the cognate of the very word Onesimus.

So he's still using that play on words for the very name of Onesimus, which means beneficial or useful. It's my turn, he says. If you'll forgive him, you'll bless me, you'll benefit me in the Lord.

What does he mean by that? In the spiritual dimension, in the sphere of the spiritual. So let me benefit from you, from your action, from your act of forgiveness. Let me benefit from you receiving him, restoring him, and canceling his debt. That will benefit me.

How is it going to benefit Paul? Well, give him joy. Give him joy. In other words, Philemon, if you will humble yourself and consider Onesimus more important than yourself and seek unity and love and fellowship and therefore forgive that man, you will bring me joy. Two good motives to forgive.

You owe more than you can ever pay. And if you forgive, you'll bless the saints because you'll pursue unity. Third motive, the recognition that I am called to be obedient to the Lord. Verse 21, Paul says, Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you since I know that you will do even more than what I say. Again, with pen in hand, Paul says, Look, I have confidence in your obedience. And he touches that heart string again in Philemon that is plucked by the need to obey God. He's not talking about being obedient to Paul, because back in the early part of the chapter, you remember Paul said to him, verse 8, I do have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper, yet for love's sake I rather appeal to you. So Paul never did command him. Paul is just saying, I know you'll obey the Lord in this.

Paul is confident that Philemon is a godly man. He laid out his characteristics in verses 4 to 7. He is confident that he will act in a right way to obey God's command to forgive. And so you're motivated not only because you owe debts you can't pay, not only because of what he says in verse 20, you'll be a blessing and a joy to other believers, but because you know God expects you to obey.

Now, some people have made the unnecessary assumption that this is some call to Philemon to emancipate Onesimus, to free him from his slavery altogether, but that isn't indicated in the text. When he says, I know you will do even more than what I say, it could be that he is meaning to say you will be more grand in your forgiveness than I've even asked. You will be more magnanimous in your love toward Onesimus than what I have even assumed. You will give to him maybe a prodigal son type of celebration, put on the ring and the robe and kill the fatted calf and call a celebration. Maybe that's the more that he will do. Or maybe the more that he will do is to take him back not only as a servant, and Paul does indicate that he's coming back as a servant in verse 16 when he says you'll not only have him in the flesh, but in the Lord. In other words, he'll serve you in the flesh, he'll also serve you in the Lord.

And maybe that is the more that he's thinking of here. Maybe the more is you're not only going to return him to menial service as a slave, but you're going to give him liberty to do ministry because of his spiritual capabilities. And so you'll do more than just take him back and restore him to service, you'll give him opportunity to minister alongside of you. Maybe the more might be that you'll not only forgive him, but you'll forgive some other people you ought to forgive. And the more is a more magnanimous far-reaching and broad kind of forgiveness in which Philemon will even forgive those that Paul doesn't know he holds bitterness against. There are many possibilities for what the more might be, but he says, I know your character, I'm confident in it, I know you'll obey, and you'll even do more than I've even asked.

There's a fourth compelling motive for forgiveness, and that is the recognition that I am accountable to godly leaders. This is very refreshing, verse 22. And Paul says, and at the same time also, prepare me a lodging, for I hope that through your prayers I shall be given to you. You know what he's saying?

You better do this because I'm coming to check on you. That's what he's saying. Paul says, my hope is that I'll be given to you and that the means of my being given to you is through your prayers. As I've said in years past, prayers move God. Prayers are the nerves that move the muscles of omnipotence. Prayer is not just an exercise in futility because God's going to do what He's going to do. Prayer is the means by which God does what He's going to do.

The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man does avail much, as James 5 tells us. Paul is very aware of the providential work of God. He referred to it back in verse 15 when he assumed that perhaps Onesimus had even run away in order that he might come back a Christian.

He knew God was at work in all of this. And he says, my hope is that God's going to let me come to you and the means of that will be through your prayers. And so what he does is he not only tells Philemon, I'm coming, but he tells Philemon, in effect, start praying for my arrival. And I'll tell you what, if he knows he's coming and he's praying for Paul's arrival, that's going to affect the way he acts toward Onesimus, for sure. Because if he hasn't fully forgiven Onesimus, he's not about to have his prayer go something like, O Lord God, please bring the apostle Paul soon. No way if he hasn't forgiven Onesimus.

So Paul literally paints him into a corner. I'm coming and I'm expecting that what will free me is your prayers. That's a heavy burden. Now Philemon is saying to himself, I don't pray he doesn't get out of prison. I don't want to be responsible for him being in prison. I've got to pray for his release. I'm praying for his release.

I know where his first stop is. Here, I've got to forgive him. That's spiritual accountability. There's a fifth motive, the recognition that I am not alone, but I am a part of a fellowship.

I am not alone, I am a part of a fellowship, verses 23 and 24. Wonderful statement Paul makes here. Again, he's got the pen in his hand and he writes, Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus greets you, as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow workers. He identifies Epaphras as a fellow prisoner. He identifies Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke as fellow workers. Five men, five men precious to Paul, five men precious to Philemon. Five men Philemon knows five men who know Philemon. What's he saying? He's saying, you can't act independently of the fellowship.

You don't act alone. If you don't forgive, you will fracture the love bond that exists between these men and you. Five men, they send their greetings, Philemon.

They have high expectations of you. These men are also mentioned in Colossians 4. Look at Colossians 4 because the verses there in Colossians 4 will give us some insight into these five men.

Obviously, Tychicus who carried the letter to the Colossian church could give his own greetings. He also would be known to Philemon, most likely. But then the list starts with Epaphras in Philemon. Epaphras is mentioned down in Colossians 4.12. Epaphras, named first, probably was converted under Paul. He is most likely the founder of the Colossian church and the other two churches in the Lycus Valley, there were three altogether, namely Laodicea and Herapolis. Probably Epaphras had founded those three churches. He was himself from Colossae, certainly well known to Philemon.

The second name in the list is the name of Mark. He's mentioned in Colossians 4.10 as the cousin of Barnabas and the Colossian church is told that if he comes there to welcome him. Here we find out that he's the cousin of Barnabas, which may explain something of the conflict in Acts 15. You remember when Paul and Barnabas were going on their journey John Mark had come along, only he was weak and didn't like the difficulty and you remember he wanted out and so Paul said, that's enough of him, get rid of him.

If he's not strong enough for the deal, get rid of him. Barnabas took up his defense and you remember there was a parting of the ways of Paul and Barnabas. This explains maybe why Barnabas had such an attachment to Mark, they were cousins. Mark, by the way, was much improved by this time. Mark became such a wonderful man that in 2 Timothy 4.11 when Paul was at the end of his life and wrote to Timothy, he said, send me Mark because he's so useful.

So here is a godly man, Mark. The third one mentioned in Philemon is Aristarchus. He also is mentioned in Colossians 4.10.

Here it says, Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner. He is not called a fellow prisoner in Philemon, but a fellow worker. So it may be again that he was a fellow prisoner by choice, not by law, that he was simply willingly attached to the imprisonment of Paul to assist and help Paul.

Here he is with him sharing this time of imprisonment, perhaps willingly putting himself in bondage to serve Paul. He is known and beloved by Paul and obviously known and beloved by Philemon. The next name is that infamous name of Demas. Demas is also mentioned in Colossians chapter 4 verse 14, simply his name, Demas.

We don't know much about Demas, but here he was a part of the fellowship. He was involved in assisting Paul, known to Philemon. The final name in the list in Philemon is Luke. Colossians 4.14 says, Luke, the beloved physician. That's how he's known, a Gentile Christian doctor, full of love. He alone was with Paul in his final imprisonment, 2 Timothy 4.11.

So here are five very, very well-known prominent people. They know Philemon. They're in fellowship with him. If he doesn't forgive, he'll destroy that bond with those men.

You see, you don't do things in isolation. If you hold a grudge, you fracture your fellowship. Finally, forgiveness is motivated by the recognition that I must be empowered by the grace of God. Verse 25, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. That's Paul's final words. He puts the quill down, and what he is saying is, Philemon, I just want to remind you that in order to do this, you're going to have the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

You can't do it on your own. Human nature couldn't forgive this offense. This familiar benediction is really a prayer, and not very general here, but very specific, that divine grace may be granted to Philemon and all his family and the church at Colossae, all of you, so that you can forgive Onesimus. Paul is asking what is not possible in the flesh, because the flesh wants vengeance. What is not possible by the law, because the law wants justice. But what is possible by grace, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, working with your spirit, your inner man. That's the same grace that allowed Christ to forgive. Paul says, may you have that same grace to forgive that allowed Christ to forgive.

Those are the motives. You must forgive. Why, you owe a debt you could never pay. You can bless the saints. You can obey God. You can fulfill your accountability to your spiritual leaders.

You can keep the fellowship intact. And you can do it in the power of the grace of Christ who forgave you. That's the end of the book. That's not the end of the story.

How did it end? No doubt Philemon forgave Onesimus. Paul was released from that imprisonment, made many trips. Surely one of them was to Colossae and to the house of Philemon. He did go east, even though originally he thought he wanted to go west. You remember about six years before he wrote this letter, he wrote Romans and he said, I'm coming and after I get there, I'm going to leave you and go west to Spain, Romans 15, 22 to 24. In the intervening years, his plans had changed. He was in Rome, but he decided, I'm not going to Spain. I'm not going to conquer new territory.

I've got to go back and fix some old territory. When he came out of that first imprisonment, he couldn't go west because he had to go and fix some of the churches because they had fallen into sin. And one of the places he must have gone was Colossae and one of the houses he must have visited, of course, because that's where the church met was Philemon's.

And so he must have found out. Bible scholars will tell you it's not likely that this book would have found its way into the New Testament canon if Philemon hadn't forgiven Onesimus because it would have left Philemon to appear for all of human history as a godly, virtuous, wonderful man. And if that were not the case, then there would not have been the Spirit of God's purpose to leave this book in the text to give a false impression about that man. So the fact that God included this in the canon means also that God wonderfully moved to accomplish this in the life of Philemon and Onesimus. And just as a footnote, history records that some time after this, a man became the pastor of the church at Ephesus and his name was Onesimus.

Could it be the same man? If so, we certainly know the wonderful power of forgiveness. Forgiveness is powerful.

That's partly why that story's here. Forgiveness impacts people. This is Grace to You with John MacArthur.

Thanks for being with us. Along with teaching on this radio station, John also serves as chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary, and he has titled our current study, Forgiveness. Now John, as a finishing thought to this study on forgiveness, forgiveness is costly. It's costly to the one who forgives. And I'll confess to you that even as a Christian, forgiveness doesn't always come automatically or easily.

So why is that? What is it that makes forgiveness such a challenge? And also, does it get easier over time to be a person who seeks and gives forgiveness without hesitation?

Let me start at the end of that question. It does get easier over time. I think it's all part of spiritual maturity. You know, the longer I've been in ministry—and I'll answer this in a personal way—but the longer I've been in ministry, the more blessing God has poured out on my life, the more grace I've seen, right?

You know that. It's grace upon grace upon grace upon grace. And you know your own heart.

You know you're not everything you should be. But God just keeps gracing you and blessing you. And you see all of this blessing flowing out of a forgiving God that's just relentless and lavish. And the more of that you experience, the more of that you are likely to give.

I just think the immaturity produces anger and resentment and desire to get back to people. But when you have been saturated with grace for half a century, you're ready to give it. You hold every relationship lightly in your hand. You're just as likely—and this is maybe strange to say—I'm just as likely to say, I love you to an enemy as I am to a friend. And I find myself even doing that. Or to someone who's an adversary. Maybe not an enemy, but someone who's an adversary.

I don't know. I think really that the Bible does conform you to Christ over time, and so you begin to react like He reacted. If you can get to this age, you can experience some pretty amazing things about what the Spirit has done over 80 years, so that there are levels of wisdom or levels of grace that you have learned by being taught over and over and over. And the worst thing imaginable would be to see someone my age with a bitter, rancorous, angry, unforgiving heart.

There are such people. I don't think they follow the path of sanctification. Thank you, John. And now, with the issue of forgiveness in mind, let me recommend John's book, The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness. The book looks at Christ's amazing forgiveness toward sinners and the blessings that come your way when you forgive others. To get your copy, contact us today. The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness is reasonably priced and shipping is free. You can order by calling toll-free 800-55-GRACE or go online to Perhaps you're having a hard time forgiving someone.

Maybe you even question if that's the right thing to do in every case. If so, The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness could be a life changer. And like so many of John MacArthur's books, The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness is also available in Spanish.

Again, to order, call 800-55-GRACE or log on to There are also a number of sermons on forgiveness at our website. In fact, at you can search for sermons on almost any New Testament topic. Just click on the Resources tab and you can find sermons on prophecies concerning Christ, spiritual gifts, God's grace in salvation, and much, much more. Again, all of those sermons and other helpful Bible study tools are available for free at Now for John MacArthur and the entire Grace To You staff, I'm your host, Phil Johnson. Thanks for joining us today and make sure you're here tomorrow when John begins his all-time most popular study, a series called The Fulfilled Family. It's another 30 minutes of unleashing God's truth, one verse at a time, on Wednesday's Grace To You.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-12-02 13:04:32 / 2023-12-02 13:14:54 / 10

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