Forgiving Others (Philemon)

  • last week we began to talk about the subject of forgiveness
  • if you were here, you came to realize that forgiving those who have wronged us is not optional for the believer
  • we are to forgive others as lavishly and completely as God has forgiven us, and from the heart

  • this morning we're going to at four steps to forgiving others
  • you might have left last week thinking, "Okay, I'll forgive, but tell me how"
  • I know that when you think of forgiving an abuser, an unfaithful spouse, or someone who has hurt you either deeply or repeatedly, a number of very practical questions come to the fore:
  • how do you handle the emotional side of forgiveness?
  • what if someone knows you'll forgive them, and therefore takes advantage of you?
  • when should we confront someone, and when should we just let it go?
  • and what about restitution?
  • we'll have our hands full this morning as we look at four steps to forgiving others
  • at the end of this message, I'm going to give you a chance to respond in obedience to what we'll learn
  • but before we start, let's ask for God's help in approaching this subject

  • Father:
  • your Word says:
  • (Colossians 3:12) Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
  • (Colossians 3:13) Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
  • (Colossians 3:14) And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
  • and yet these words are so difficult to live out
  • I know that there are very real situations that many of us are facing, in which forgiveness seems completely impossible
  • so I pray that you would do a miracle today
  • I pray that some hearts held captive to bitterness would be set free today
  • and I pray this in Jesus' name
  • Amen.

  • this morning I'd ask you to turn to the book of Philemon
  • Philemon is hidden away there somewhere in your Bibles, after Titus and before Hebrews
  • it's page 1344 in your pew Bibles
  • it's a unique book in a number of ways
  • it's one of the shortest books in the New Testament
  • it's the briefest of the apostle Paul's surviving letters, and also the most personal
  • it's a personal letter that the church is purposely allowed to overhear
  • and it's also a great case study on how forgiveness should operate
  • even though the word forgiveness is never mentioned in Philemon, this book puts flesh and bones on the subject of forgiveness

  • but it's also a frustrating book
  • it's a little like walking into the middle of the movie and having to figure out the characters and plot, and then leaving before the end of the movie
  • so let me try to fill you in a little on what's going on in this book

  • there are three main characters that we meet in this book: a runaway slave, an offended slave owner, and a godly apostle
  • the slave's name was Onesimus, and he had run away from his master and fled to Rome
  • Rome was a haven for runaway slaves, because there you could get lost in the crowds and avoid being detected
  • but somehow, while in Rome, it appears that Onesimus came in contact with the apostle Paul and became a Christian as a result of his ministry
  • that's the first character

  • the second character is Philemon, the Christian slave owner
  • you need to know that the system of slavery in those days was far different from what we think of as slavery
  • at its best, it was a type of employment for a set period of time
  • the slaves theoretically were like employees
  • they enjoyed a higher standard of living than most freeman
  • eventually a slave would purchase his freedom
  • many became like close family members
  • Roman slavery was not inherently wrong - it in fact has many similarities to our system of employment - but abuses developed

  • at the time Onesimus ran way from Philemon, most slavery had become abusive and immoral
  • slaves were protected by no laws
  • in the first century, anyone could do whatever he wanted to a slave
  • and so a slave who ran away would be branded with an F, flogged, or even killed
  • Philemon would have been expected at the very least to give Onesimus a beating that he would never forget
  • so you have the very uncomfortable position of having a Christian slave owner whose runaway slave had become a Christian
  • and according to the principles we looked at last week, it's clear that Philemon had no choice
  • to refuse to forgive Onesimus would have been in gross violation of the way he himself had been forgiven by Christ

  • let's stop here and just remind ourselves how difficult it is to forgive in a real-life situation
  • C.S. Lewis said, "We all agree that forgiveness is a beautiful idea until we have to practice it"
  • when we're faced with a situation in which we're wronged, and everyone around us says that we have a right to take revenge, how can we forgive?
  • what can we do?

  • here we discover four steps to forgiving others
  • one: change your thinking
  • two: accept the person
  • three: deal with the damage
  • four: experience the healing

  • STEP ONE: CHANGE YOUR THINKING
  • when we begin to forgive another person, the first thing that we need to deal with is our thought life
  • I've discovered that the way we think determines the way we feel
  • and if we're to change the way we feel about another person, we need to begin by changing the way we think

  • when Paul writes to Philemon, and begins to convince him to forgive Onesimus, the first thing that he tries to do is to change the way Philemon thinks about Onesimus
  • how did Paul try to change Philemon's thinking?

  • (Philemon 1:10 NLT) My plea is that you show kindness to Onesimus. I think of him as my own son...
  • (Philemon 1:15) Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good--
  • (Philemon 1:16) no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.
  • the very first thing that Paul did was to change Philemon's thinking about the matter
  • Philemon was supposed to think differently in two ways:
  • first, to recognize Onesimus not as just a runaway slave, but as a new brother in Christ
  • second, to see God's purpose in what happened - to recognize that God used what to bring glory to himself

  • I find that when I'm faced with the need to forgive someone, the first battle I have to win is the battle of my own mind
  • I talked last week about the day that a deacon stood nose to nose with me, shouting at the top of his voice, accusing me of all sorts of things that weren't true
  • don't worry - it wasn't at Richview; don't look around to see who it was
  • I had walked into that meeting realizing that there were issues to be resolved, and very hopeful that we would make good progress
  • as that deacon stormed out of the meeting, it was as if my world came crashing down around me
  • I remember the aftermath of what happened very clearly - the damage it did within my own soul, and then the intense damage it did to the church over the next half a year before God brought healing
  • I soon began to realize that the main battle I was going to have to win was not the battle to vindicate myself, it was not going to be the battle to smooth the waters in the church - the primary battle I would have to win was within my own mind in forgiving him for what happened
  • until I did that, nothing else I could do would make a difference

  • I didn't feel like forgiving him
  • and mingled in my mind were all sorts of bitter thoughts and accusations against him
  • but I asked God to begin to change the way I was thinking
  • I began to pray for that man - I didn't feel like it, but I did in response to Christ's command
  • (Matthew 5:44) But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you...
  • and slowly my thoughts began to change
  • instead of feeling sorry for myself, I began to see the hurt that this man was going through
  • I began to understand the things in his life that had led him to act as he did
  • I began to see the good that God was bringing out of the situation
  • instead of feeling sorry for myself, I began to actually feel bad for the pain that man was going through

  • one day I bumped into him at Cloverdale Mall
  • we talked - in fact, he acted like nothing had ever happened
  • and I walked away from that meeting realizing that it was part of my history, and that I carried no bitterness in my heart towards that man
  • I had forgiven him

  • I don't pretend that it's easy, but if you want to forgive someone, you need to begin thinking differently towards them
  • think of the fact that every sin against you is an even greater offense against God; if God forgives them, who are you to withhold your forgiveness?
  • think of the fact that God has forgiven you a six billion dollar debt; who are you not to forgive a $10,000 debt?
  • think about God's purposes in allowing the offense to happen; see the good that God brings from every bad situation
  • trust God as the judge; see your responsibility as to forgive, and God's responsibility to handle the judgment
  • ask God to change your thinking
  • it's what Philemon had to do
  • it's the first step and it's absolutely necessary

  • STEP TWO: ACCEPT THE PERSON
  • (Philemon 1:17) So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.
  • the word welcome means to accept as part of one's home or circle of acquaintances
  • the second step is to accept or to receive the person back; to restore the relationship

  • once you begin to think differently about the person who has wronged you, there comes a time when that behavior must be shown to the other person
  • you need to accept them
  • how do you accept someone after they've wronged you?

  • well, the first thing is that you've got to refuse to hold a grudge
  • a grudge is defined as "a feeling of resentment or ill will, especially one lasting for a long time"
  • when you accept a person once again, you've got to stop holding a grudge against them
  • Paul says, "Don't hold a grudge. Instead, treat him as a brother"

  • second, you've got to refuse to retaliate
  • remember: Philemon could have legally beaten or even killed Onesimus
  • but clear within this letter is a plea not just to forgive Onesimus, but to receive him as a brother
  • refuse to retaliate when someone wrongs you
  • (Luke 6:33) And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that.
  • (Luke 6:35) But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.

  • third, you've got to extend full and complete forgiveness
  • forgive them in the same way that God has forgiven you
  • God never brings up past wrongs
  • God never brings up what you've done to other people

  • if you're going to forgive someone, you've got to get to get to the point that you accept them - you don't hold a grudge; you refuse to retaliate; you offer them full and complete forgiveness

  • STEP THREE: DEAL WITH THE DAMAGE
  • (Philemon 1:18) If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.
  • (Philemon 1:19) I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back--not to mention that you owe me your very self.
  • Paul gives a legally binding pledge that he will cover anything that Onesimus had stolen
  • this is astounding - few would have been willing in those days to cover the debts another had incurred, especially a slave
  • true forgiveness deals honestly with the damages that have been done

  • I love what one man writes:
  • "Forgiveness does not mean that we ignore what happened. It means that we still relate to the person in spite of what happened and also in light of what happened" (David Garland, NIV Application Commentary on Philemon)
  • true forgiveness doesn't excuse sin - we still must face sin and our anger
  • it doesn't minimize the wrong
  • the offense was real, and we can't just sweep it under the carpet
  • there might be times when, besides forgiving the other person, you need to also deal with the damage that has been caused by the wrongdoing

  • I forgave my deacon, but I still had to deal with the damage
  • in spite of the fact that I forgave him, I also knew that I would never put him in a place of leadership again
  • you can forgive a child abuser, but that doesn't mean that you put him in charge of children again
  • you can forgive a spouse for cheating you, but your relationship will have changed forever, and it is very likely that you will have to make changes in the way you relate
  • listen to me: still forgive them fully and completely, but also deal realistically with the damage that has been done by the wrongdoing

  • STEP FOUR: EXPERIENCE THE HEALING
  • we don't know what happened with Philemon and Onesimus
  • only heaven will reveal the full truth about the end of the story
  • the fact that this letter made it into the Bible is a pretty good indication that Philemon indeed did forgive Onesimus
  • tradition has it that not only was Onesimus forgiven, but he later became pastor of the church in Ephesus

  • but I'll tell you one thing
  • if Philemon indeed did forgive Onesimus, the one who benefited most was not the one forgiven, but the one who forgave
  • the fruits of that one act of forgiveness would have been far reaching within the early church, in the life of Onesimus, and certainly in the life of Philemon
  • and I say to you this morning: if you want to be blessed, if you want to experience the eternal blessings that come to the one who forgives, take the steps outlined in the book of Philemon
  • your heart will be set free, and you'll never be the same

  • change your thinking
  • accept the person
  • deal with the damage
  • experience the healing

  • I want to invite you to respond this morning with a commitment
  • I don't want this to be a message that we hear and file away
  • it's time to forgive
  • I'm going to ask everyone in this auditorium to close their eyes
  • I'd like to pray a prayer with you this morning if you would like to take the four steps outlined this morning
  • let's pray

  • Father, it's time to forgive
  • I don't know what the situations are here that call for forgiveness, but I know that your calling is clear
  • forgiveness is not optional
  • and this morning there are many of us in this room who need to forgive
  • our hearts will never be set free until we take that radical step of forgiving another person for the wrong that they have done to us
  • so right now I invite people to stand, right where they are, and by the simple act of standing pledge to you that they will forgive others

  • Lord, thank you for these people who are standing
  • I pray that today would mark a new day for them
  • I pray that they would indeed be able to change their thinking about the person they need to forgive
  • I ask that they would be able to accept the person that has wronged them - to stop holding grudges, to refuse to retaliate
  • I pray that you would give them wisdom as they deal with the damage that has been caused by the offense - that they wouldn't excuse the wrong or minimize the damage, but that you would give them wisdom in their response
  • and I pray, most of all, that they would experience the blessings of forgiveness
  • right now, as they're standing, set their hearts free
  • bring them healing
  • make this a day that they'll never forget

  • I'll ask everyone to stand at this point
  • Father, for everyone who is here, we pray for your grace and forgiveness to operate in their lives
  • we pray that every single person here will have experienced your forgiveness, and so be able to forgive other people
  • in Jesus' name, Amen.

  • please remain standing
  • next week we're going to finish off by looking at some practical questions about forgiveness, and then we'll talk about the blessings of forgiveness
  • the praise team is going to lead us right now in singing:

I know a place, a wonderful place
Where accused and condemned find mercy and grace
Where the wrongs we have done, and the wrongs done to us
Were nailed there with him, there on the cross

How to Serve with Excellence (1 Timothy 4:6-10)

  • this evening we're going to look at how to serve God with excellence
  • within each of our hearts is a desire to serve God and make an eternal difference
  • the fact is that if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you are a full-time minister
  • I don't care if you're male or female, what you do for a living, how old you are - the Bible says that you are a servant of Jesus Christ
  • the Bible uses many words to talk about this
  • in 1 Timothy 4:6, Paul uses the word "servant"
  • the Greek word is diakonos - the one that is used to describe a deacon
  • I don't think Paul is talking about deacons here
  • he's talking about anyone who serves in any ministry on Christ's behalf
  • he's talking about you

  • if you're like me, you want your life to count
  • you want what you do to last not just during this lifetime but for eternity
  • you want to stand up before God one day and see that your life has made a heavenly impact

  • 1 Timothy 4:6 reads:
  • (1 Timothy 4:6) If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.
  • you will be a noble, admirable, excellent servant of Jesus Christ
  • the question is, how are we going to be evaluated in our service to God?
  • how are we going to fulfill our function in serving him?
  • one day we're all going to stand before him
  • I want to hear one day that "Well done, good and faithful servant" that he's promised to those who serve him in an excellent way

  • once a year, the chairman of the board and the chairman of property and finance meet in my office and evaluate my service over the previous year
  • it's only happened once, and I'm still here, so you know that I survived the last and only time this happened
  • but how do they evaluate me?
  • I think they look at my pulpit ministry - whether or not my preaching has been faithful to the Word, interesting, relevant, and applicable
  • I think they look at my leadership - whether I'm providing the sort of leadership needed for the church to move ahead
  • they probably look at my work habits and personal example
  • probably also the intangibles such as people skills and what they perceive to be my strengths and weaknesses

  • but a far more important evaluation takes place every day
  • every day God evaluates my ministry and effectiveness
  • I care so much more about his evaluation than anyone else
  • how can I serve him with excellence?

  • Paul tells us how in this passage
  • tonight I want to look at four principles that set apart excellent servants
  • if you want to serve God with excellence, these are four principles that you need to follow
  • they relate especially to pastors and those in church leadership, but they have to do with everyone
  • QUALITY ONE: EXCELLENT SERVANTS WARN PEOPLE OF ERROR AND AVOID ERROR THEMSELVES
  • (1 Timothy 4:6) If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.
  • in the first five verses of this chapter, Paul has warned against some of the errors that were problems in the church of that time
  • as you might have picked up, some of these problems have never gone away
  • they're problems in the church today
  • if you are to serve with excellence - no matter what your role - you will need to warn other people when you see them encountering errors and false teachings today

  • the word "explain" or "point out" in verse 6 is a mild one - it means to suggest or remind
  • it's not a word used of commanding people or bullying them
  • it simply talks about gentle, humble persuasion - something we can all do
  • what are we to point out?
  • well, I think that Paul is talking about the false teaching that he just covered in the preceding verses
  • in our case, the false teaching might have changed
  • but one thing has not changed: we are to warn others of the unbiblical, demonic doctrines purveyed by false teachers
  • and the best way to deal with satanic false teaching is - how? to be strong in the Word of God

  • I wonder if you could tell me what you think are some of the areas in which the church today is dealing with false teaching
  • [open for discussion]
  • there is a tendency today to see doctrine as boring
  • we have perhaps begun to drift towards convinctionless preaching, watered-down teaching, and we've begun to favor application over truth
  • a lot of us have trouble drawing the line clearly between truth and error
  • for instance, quite honestly, how many of us have been unable to defend what we believe to an honest skeptic?
  • how many of us are scared to death of a cult coming to our door because we're not sure we know how to defend our beliefs?
  • how many of us don't know how to deal with popular religious books today that are contrary to Scripture - books like the Celestine Prophecy?
  • if we are to serve with excellence, we need to begin by knowing the truth, and being capable of warning others when we see error
  • (Acts 17:11 NLT) And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul's message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to check up on Paul and Silas, to see if they were really teaching the truth.
  • you need to discern error and be willing to warn others when you see it

  • (1 Timothy 4:7) Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.
  • Paul refers to "godless ideas and old wives' tales"
  • the phrase, "old wives' tales" has made its way into the English language as something cooked up and believed by certain people without much basis in reality
  • far from being sexist, this phrase actually came from the fact that women in Paul's day were denied educational opportunities
  • as a result, within philosophical systems of that day, certain viewpoints would gain credibility among the uneducated
  • but no right thinking person would ever waste time even considering these viewpoints

  • so Paul says, "have nothing to do with these"
  • his wording is strong
  • completely reject these teachings
  • put them away
  • they are not holy teachings; they are the opposite
  • they are silly, foolish myths that are the doctrines of demons
  • Ed talked two weeks ago about what some of these ideas were
  • in Ephesus, a false teaching developed which said that matter was bad
  • the soul is good; the body is evil
  • as a result, the God who created matter was not good, because contact with matter would have contaminated him
  • these people were saying that creation was inherently evil, and they were arguing against enjoying everything that God had created

  • and Paul said resoundingly, "No!"
  • he said that these teachings were demonic in their origin
  • Paul could see through their false teachings
  • a lot of people in churches today are more concerned with maintaining the peace than in recognizing and confronting error
  • get to the point where you can see error for what it is
  • develop discernment
  • and when you see error within the church, have nothing to do with it
  • have the courage to call it what it is, and get away!

  • quality number two is related
  • QUALITY TWO: EXCELLENT SERVANTS ARE EXPERT STUDENTS OF SCRIPTURE
  • (1 Timothy 4:6) If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.
  • an excellent minister, according to this passage, is "constantly nourished on the words of the faith and the sound doctrine which you have been following"
  • he or she is fed with the message of faith and the true teaching
  • it's a topic of study for them
  • not only is it a source for teaching and preaching, but it's something that is food for their very souls
  • it's not a task or a chore for them to study the Word of God
  • it's necessary for their own spiritual health

  • when I was a boy we had a dog
  • I still remember finishing our steaks and saving the t-bones to toss to the dog after dinner
  • then, for hours on end, our dog would suspend her schedule and devote the next half a day to getting every ounce of meat and nourishment from that bone
  • this is a picture of how we should be approaching the Scripture
  • as a dog chews a bone, we chew over every morsel of God's precious truth for our own nourishment
  • and an excellent servant is not merely a good programmer, communicator, or whatever - they are good students of Scripture

  • William Tyndale was a 16th century reformer and Bible translator
  • in prison shortly before he was martyred, he wrote a letter to his governor-in-chief in which he asked for:
    • ...a warmer cap, a candle, a piece of cloth to patch my leggings...But above all, I beseech and entreat your clemency to be urgent with the Procurer so that he may kindly permit me to have my Hebrew Bible, Hebrew Grammar and Hebrew Dictionary, so that I may spend time with that in study.

  • in verse 6, Paul says that the excellent minister needs to be constantly nourished
  • it is a continual experience of being nourished over and over again
  • the phrase "the words of the faith" of course refer to Scripture
  • we must know the Word of God, inside and out
  • to become experts in what it teaches
  • "sound doctrine" is teaching that is firmly rooted in the Word of God - not human systems of interpretation
  • to be excellent servants, we need to be excellent students of the Word of God
  • we cannot give out what we are not taking in

  • QUALITY THREE: EXCELLENT SERVANTS ARE SPIRITUALLY DISCIPLINED
  • (1 Timothy 4:7) Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.
  • (1 Timothy 4:8) For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.
  • (1 Timothy 4:9) This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance
  • a new gym opened up near my house recently
  • in the mail, I received a coupon for the first year's membership fee
  • right away I figured out that the membership fee would only be a small portion of what I would have to pay, and I was right
  • even though I already belong to a gym, I still decided to go check it out

  • I liked what I saw
  • it was a fairly high-pressured sales pitch, and fairly insulting to my current gym
  • but one thing came across pretty clearly: if you're not interested in getting into shape, don't join this gym
  • if you're going to be one of those people who just join and never work out, we don't want you
  • we're for people who are serious about getting into shape, and just to prove it we have a serious monthly due that you'll have to pay to join us
  • I left appreciating the fact that I could also be serious about working out at my cheaper gym, but I appreciated their no-nonsense attitude

  • we are a culture that is serious about physical fitness
  • in Ephesus when Paul wrote, there was a gymnasium, as in every Greek city
  • youths customarily spent a lot of time from the ages of 16-18 in physical training
  • there was a great emphasis on physical training and athletic pursuits

  • but Paul takes the same picture and applies it spiritually
  • instead of working out just to get a better body, work out - discipline yourself - for the purpose of godliness
  • while physical fitness brings limited benefits for a limited amount of time, spiritual fitness brings great benefits for all of time and eternity

  • as in physical fitness, Paul uses the present tense - continually do this
  • train your inner man for godliness
  • the word godliness means reverence, piety, and true spiritual virtue
  • it is a right attitude and response to God
  • it is a healthy respect for God, and it costs
  • as an athlete has to rigorously prepare for athletic contests, so we need to discipline ourselves to be godly men and women
  • our physical health - no matter how great - is still susceptible to disease and injury
  • but if you have spiritual health, it will sustain you no matter what you go through
  • but the key, according to verse 7, is discipline
  • the word speaks of the rigorous, strenuous, self-sacrificing training that an athlete undergoes

  • in other passages, Paul compares us to soldiers and athletes
  • the discipline that is necessary to win a war or to win an athletic contest is necessary in our spiritual lives
  • a lack of spiritual discipline leads many into sin
  • if we fail to spend time in the Word, prayer, and in sacrificial service, we'll never make it to spiritual excellence
  • if we ignore the spiritual disciplines, taught throughout the ages, we'll be sunk
  • we must discipline ourselves for godliness

  • this is so important that Paul says in verse 8:
  • (1 Timothy 4:9) This is true, and everyone should accept it.
  • it is a self-evident, obvious, axiomatic statement
  • excellent servants warn people of error, avoid error themselves
  • they're expert students of Scripture, and they discipline themselves for godliness

  • I would challenge you: what are you doing to develop yourself spiritually?
  • if you're getting most of your spiritual food from other people, you're not going to make it to excellence
  • if you aren't living in the Word of God, in solitude, in prayer, and in journaling - you'll be limited in your effectiveness for God

  • QUALITY FOUR: EXCELLENT SERVANTS ARE HARD WORKERS
  • (1 Timothy 4:10) (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.
  • a ministry of excellence is a demanding calling
  • it takes hard work
  • the reason it's hard work is because the implications are eternal
  • with the stakes so high, the costs of serving are incredibly demanding

  • Paul uses two words in verse 10: "work hard" which means to work to the point of weariness and exhaustion
  • the other word he uses is "strive" or "suffer much" which is the source of our English word "agony"
  • it means to engage in a struggle
  • your ministry, if it is going to be effective, will mean hard work to the point of weariness, as well as some suffering and struggling

  • Henry Martyn, missionary to India, exclaimed, "Now let me burn out for God"
  • the missionary to the American Indians, David Brainerd, was dead before he was thirty as a result of his hard work for the Gospel
  • J. Oswald Sanders wrote, "If he is unwilling to pay the price of fatigue for his leadership, it will always be mediocre...True leadership always exacts a heavy toll on the whole man, and the more effective the leadership is, the higher the price to be paid."

  • there is a cost
  • Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 11 of the beatings he experienced, the imprisonments, the times he was naked and without food
  • he talked about the danger he faced from those who said they were Christians but were not
  • he talked about shivering from the cold, witho ut enough clothing to keep him warm
  • and then he said:
  • (2 Corinthians 11:28 NLT) Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of how the churches are getting along.
  • Paul knew what it meant to suffer
  • and if you want to serve with excellence, you have to be prepared for hard work and sacrifice as well

  • why work so hard?
  • two reasons
  • "...because we have fixed our hope on the living God..."
  • in other words, because we're seeing life in the light of eternity
  • we've been saved in hope, and therefore live according to that hope
  • we serve God because we are beginning to see the world through God's eyes

  • and secondly, because God "is the Savior of all men, especially of believers"
  • this passage talks about God being the Savior of all men
  • this could refer to God's activity in temporally saving everyone by protecting them, sustaining them, and delivering them from calamities
  • or it could refer to the fact that God wants everyone to be saved
  • God is the Savior of all, but his salvation is effective for those who believe in him

  • when we begin to see earth from heaven's perspective, and when we begin to see other people from God's perspective, we'll capture a sense of urgency
  • I heard a pastor speak on my study break
  • he frequently travels to other cities
  • as he's landing at night, he often looks out the airplane window at the lights of the city, and he sees the lights of the cars as they drive along the highway
  • and he thinks of the millions of people in that city that are lost and bound for hell
  • he thinks of the words of Jesus when he looked over a city and wept:
  • (Matthew 23:37 NLT) O Jerusalem, Jerusalem...How often I wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn't let me...
  • and this pastor is driven by a sense of urgency
  • peoples' eternities are in the balance
  • and that's what drives him to work hard, knowing that if he's strong and steady, always abounding in God's work, nothing that he does for the Lord will ever be in vain

  • I wonder if you've ever seen Toronto through God's eyes
  • I wonder if you have ever driven to church through Etobicoke and realized that God wants to save every single person you see
  • we don't understand the mysteries of election, but God's desire is that not one of them should perish
  • have you cried?
  • have you captured a sense of urgency in doing God's work, because the stakes are eternal?

  • Richard Baxter, the seventeenth-century English Puritan, wrote:
    • The ministerial work must be carried on diligently and laboriously, as being of such unspeakable consequence to ourselves and others. We are seeking to uphold the world, to save it from the curse of God, to perfect the creation, to attain the ends of Christ's death, to save ourselves and others from damnation, to overcome the devil, and demolish his kingdom, to set up the kingdom of Christ, and to attain and help others to the kingdom of glory. And are these works to be done with a careless mind, or a lazy hand? O see, then, that this work be done with all your might! Study hard, for the well is deep, and our brains are shallow.
  • hard work is necessary for the servant who wants to serve with excellence - who sees this world through heaven's eyes

  • I return from my study break and from speaking at a camp enthused, encouraged, and ready to move
  • I'm excited by what God is going to do at Richview during the coming year
  • let me tell you, I'm ready to recognize error when I see it, to warn you about it
  • I'm ready to apply myself to become an excellent student of the Word of God
  • I'm all set to discipline myself for godliness
  • I want to see our task here from a heavenly perspective, and to give myself flat out in the coming year to do what God wants me to do
  • in short, I want to be an excellent servant

  • my question is, are you, by God's help, going to join me?
  • are you prepared to pay the price of being one who serves God with excellence?
  • no matter what it costs, are you ready to sign up to be the kind of servant who one day hears God say, "Well done, good and faithful servant"?

Where Forgiveness Begins (Matthew 18:21-35)

  • over the next three weeks, we're going to talk about an area of struggle that affects every single person in this room
  • it's the area of forgiveness
  • at sometime during the past week, it's likely that someone has offended you, and you haven't yet forgiven them
  • many of us are carrying around resentment and bitterness over past actions, and we have been carrying them around like heavy weights for years

  • why talk about forgiveness?
  • we need to talk about forgiveness because our spiritual health depends on it
  • you will never grow spiritually or enjoy God's blessing on your life as long as you carry resentment and refuse to forgive other people
  • Hebrews 12:15 says:
  • (Hebrews 12:15 NLT) Look after each other so that none of you will miss out on the special favor of God. Watch out that no bitter root of unbelief rises up among you, for whenever it springs up, many are corrupted by its poison.
  • bitterness is like a small root that grows into a giant tree, and whenever we allow bitterness or resentment to grow in our hearts, it chokes and overshadows even the deepest of relationships
  • bitterness brings jealousy, dissension, and immorality

  • Scripture teaches that we are obligated to forgive others, and when we don't, the consequences are severe
  • in Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus said:
  • (Matthew 6:14 NLT) If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you.
  • (Matthew 6:15 NLT) But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.
  • your spiritual health depends on you forgiving others
  • if you refuse to obey God in this area, God plainly says that he will not forgive you

  • we also need to talk about forgiveness because we do not naturally know how to forgive
  • it's likely that you have learned more on the subject of forgiveness from negative role models than from the Word of God
  • in today's society, vengeance is evidence of macho strength
  • Dirty Harry takes aim at the perp, and challenging him to flee, says, "Go ahead. Make my day"
  • we're familiar with road rage, disgruntled employee rampages, drive-by shootings, and even high school shootings
  • people all around us are wracked with guilt, anger, and depression

  • we also need to talk about forgiveness because forgiveness is the clear command of Scripture
  • (Ephesians 4:31 NLT) Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of malicious behavior.
  • (Ephesians 4:32 NLT) Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
  • for a Christian to be willfully unforgiving is unthinkable
  • we have no options in the issue
  • refusing to forgive is a serious sin - as serious as the sins of fornication or drunkenness
  • disobedience is not an option

  • the final reason I want to talk about forgiveness is simple: forgiveness is tough
  • let's be brutally honest this morning
  • it's much easier to nurse a grudge and refuse to forgive, when wronged, than to offer the gift of forgiveness
  • once, in Luke 17:3, Jesus told his followers, "Even if [a believer] wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, forgive him"
  • I love the reaction of the disciples; it would have been my reaction
  • when Jesus said this, they turned to him and said, "We need more faith. Tell us how to get it."
  • they realized that to practice the radical type of forgiveness commanded in Scripture, you need help

  • this morning we're going to look at where forgiveness begins
  • next week I'll give you some clear guidelines on what to do when you need to forgive
  • and then, two weeks from now, we'll look at the rewards of forgiveness
  • why don't we pray as we begin?

  • Father,
  • you know our hearts
  • you know that many of us have carried around unforgiving hearts for as long as we can remember
  • it's so easy for a spirit of bitterness to grow within us
  • forgiveness doesn't come easily to me
  • I pray that in these coming weeks, we would experience a breakthrough
  • I pray that hearts that are know held hostage by bitterness and anger - some of it there for good cause - I pray that these hearts might be loosed to experience the incredible freedom and power that comes from forgiving as Jesus commanded
  • I pray in Christ's name,
  • Amen.

  • please open your Bibles to Matthew 18 this morning
  • when confronted with the need to forgive someone, what are you to do?
  • when the offense is a serious one, or if the individual is repeatedly apologizing and you just don't want to forgive them any longer, what should you do?
  • in this passage, Jesus gives us three secrets that form the basis for forgiveness

  • at the time that Jesus was speaking, the religious leaders had developed some interesting views about forgiveness
  • they believed that individuals were justified in seeking personal revenge for all wrongs against them
  • for them, forgiveness was optional
  • they understood that the Old Testament taught the value and importance of forgiveness, so they came up with a rule of thumb
  • they said, based on the Old Testament, that a person could only be forgiven up to three times for the same offense

  • and so Peter the apostle came up to Jesus one day and said,
  • (Matthew 18:21 NLT) Lord, how often should I forgiven someone who sins against me? Seven times?
  • Peter took the best thinking of that day, and for good measure doubled it and rounded it up to a perfect 7, possibly thinking that Jesus would commend him for his generosity
  • "Peter, way to go! You're being twice as generous as you need to be. That's more than enough"

  • but listen to how Jesus replied
  • (Matthew 18:22 NLT) "No!" Jesus replied, "seventy times seven"
  • I don't know if you've ever thought about Jesus' response, but it appears to be an absurdly unrealistic standard
  • when somebody does the same thing over and over again, I'll be honest - I have a hard enough time forgiving them seven times
  • my tendency is to write them off, and possibly to write them out of my life
  • at some point, they cross the line
  • to forgive them for continuing to mess up again and again makes me appear to be indulgent and gullible
  • there comes a point where enough is enough
  • and this leads us to the first secret of forgiveness
  • SECRET NUMBER ONE: TRUE FORGIVENESS GOES BEYOND ANY REASONABLE HUMAN LIMITS
  • the first secret we need to understand is how Jesus completely destroyed any reasonable standards that might exist when it comes to forgiving other people
  • Jesus said, "Forgive any offenses up to and including offense number 490"
  • in another passage, Jesus said, "Even if someone wrongs you seven times in one day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, forgive him"
  • when Jesus said to forgive up until the tally reaches 490, he is making an important point
  • stop keeping score
  • no one could possibly keep count of such a high number of offenses
  • don't even try
  • shatter any type of limits you or other people might place on forgiveness

  • on Monday, December 1, 1997, a dozen students gathered to pray - as they did every morning - outside the administration office of Heath High School in Paducah, Kentucky
  • as the students finished praying, a fourteen-year-old freshman walked up to the group with a .22 caliber pistol and began firing into the prayer circle, one student at a time
  • when the shooting was over, three students were dead and five others were seriously wo unded
  • the students had done nothing to provoke the shooting
  • some of the students in the circle had even befriended the shooter prior to the shooting
  • the secular media was at a loss to explain what happened
  • a fifteen-year-old girl, Melissa Jenkins, lay in her hospital bed a week after the shootings, fully aware that the damage to her spinal cord was so severe that she would be a paraplegic for the rest of her life
  • she sent this message to the boy who had deliberately shot her: "Tell him I forgive him"

  • Melissa Jenkins forgave beyond any reasonable human limit
  • the religious leaders of Jesus' day made sense to me
  • I can understand forgiving others - up to a point
  • but Jesus said, "Shatter any preconceived notions about forgiveness. I'm calling you to a much higher standard than you could ever call reasonable"

  • I want to pause right here and ask you what standard of forgiveness you're following
  • I'm going to ask you to evaluate yourself
  • what standard of forgiveness are you following in your life?
  • are you refusing to forgive at all?
  • are you forgiving according to what you think is reasonable?
  • or are you shattering every human standard of forgiveness and forgiving others recklessly and lavishly?
  • whatever standards you have right now for forgiving others, forget them
  • get rid of them
  • Jesus calls you to a much higher standard in forgiving others than any standard you might have right now

  • I know some of you have a problem with what I've said so far
  • Jesus knew that his disciples would struggle with such a high standard
  • so he told a story
  • the story involved a king, a servant deeply in debt to the king, and another slave who owed the first servant a smaller debt

  • the king decided to collect all money due to him one day
  • and so he called in his servant - probably an individual who collected taxes on his behalf - and said, "Where's my money?"
  • it was time to bring the tax money that he had collected to the king

  • there was one problem
  • the servant had taken the king's money and had embezzled it
  • it seems that he had used it all for himself, through theft, embezzlement, or dereliction of duty
  • there was no way to repay what the servant owed to the king

  • no problem, right?
  • I mean, we're not talking a lot of money, are we?
  • Jesus mentions the figure of ten thousand talents
  • that means nothing to us now, so let me tell you how much money that was
  • a talent was the largest measure of money in the Roman world
  • one talent was worth 6,000 denarii, and a denarius was considered a fair wage for one day's work
  • one talent was therefore about seventeen year's wages
  • and ten thousand talents was equivalent to 17 year's wages for 10,000 men
  • to put it in perspective, the total revenue collected by the Romans from the entire land of Palestine averaged 900 talents
  • all the gold in Solomon's temple - world famous for its riches - only amounted to 8,000 talents
  • this man was broke to the tune of 10,000 talents
  • in today's terms, we're talking about an amount equivalent to almost six billion dollars

  • this leads us to the second secret to forgiveness
  • SECRET NUMBER TWO: UNDERSTAND HOW LAVISHLY YOU HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN
  • you see, the servant represents you and me, and the king represents God
  • when Jesus talks about an individual owing almost six billion dollars, he's talking about the extent to which God forgave us
  • as we realize how completely God has forgiven all of our sins, it ought to produce an attitude of forgiveness toward others people
  • when we don't forgive others, we are acting against what Jesus Christ did for us

  • that's where forgiveness begins, friends
  • forgiveness begins by understanding that you yourself have been forgiven
  • you are on the receiving end of God's unlimited mercy
  • before you believed, your predicament was as bleak as could be
  • it might as well have been a six billion dollar debt that you owed
  • there was no way you were going to pay it
  • the Bible is clear about your situation: you were "children of wrath," his enemies
  • you were spiritually dead, enslaved to your sin
  • and yet you were accountable to a holy God whose justice must be satisfied
  • and yet God chose to display his unlimited patience toward you
  • despite the fact that you were his enemy, with not an ounce of interest in loving God or pleasing him, God chose to forgive you
  • (2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT) For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
  • God made the sinless Christ to be sin on our behalf - he became our substitute - so that we might be forgiven

  • the servant perfectly symbolizes the lost sinner, saddled with an impossible debt - the overwhelming burden of the guilt that comes from sin
  • and what happens?
  • (Matthew 18:25 NLT) He couldn't pay, so the king ordered that he, his wife, his children, and everything that he had be sold to pay the debt.
  • (Matthew 18:26 NLT) But the man fell down before the king and begged him, "Oh, sir, be patient with me, and I will pay it all."
  • fat chance - how is the man ever going to pay back such a monstrous debt?
  • (Matthew 18:27 NLT) Then the king was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.
  • the king in this passage was extravagantly generous
  • he forgave the debt completely, even though it arose out of embezzlement or extreme carelessness
  • he didn't even punish the man
  • he simply and compassionately forgave him

  • this picture of forgiveness makes no human sense
  • and yet it's exactly how God has forgiven us
  • think of how much God has had to forgive in your life
  • think this morning of how we have to go running back to him again and again for forgiveness
  • the secret to forgiveness, I believe - the key to understanding where forgiveness begins - is to understand how much you have been forgiven

  • let me ask you a question
  • I'm asking you to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how badly you have wronged God
  • you might not have been a drug dealer or a thief, but how much do you think God has had to forgive in your life?
  • and then think of an example in your own life in which you need to forgive someone else
  • rate that from 1 to 10 - the extent to which this other person has wronged you
  • I'll guarantee you that God has forgiven you much more than you'll ever have to forgive anyone else
  • that's the secret to forgiveness - understanding how much you have been forgiven
  • far beyond any reasonable human limit

  • but what happened in this story?
  • unbelievably, the forgiven slave acted in the most unforgiving way possible to those who owed him money
  • (Matthew 18:28) "But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded.
  • (Matthew 18:29) "His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.'
  • (Matthew 18:30) "But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.
  • we're talking here about 100 days' wages
  • this man owed 0.0002% of the debt that the first slave had owed
  • still a significant amount of money - almost $10,000 - but nothing compared to six billion dollars
  • but the man who had been forgiven so lavishly showed no mercy
  • instead, he threw the man in prison until the debt could be paid in full

  • why wo uld he do this?
  • after having been forgiven a six billion dollar debt, why was he so merciless with a $10,000 debt?
  • the wording Jesus used seems to indicate that he went out immediately after being forgiven, and the first thing he did was to find this other servant who owed him money
  • unbelievable arrogance
  • incomprehensible gracelessness
  • this man was free only because of an incomprehensible act of mercy that had been shown to him
  • who did he think he was to deny someone else even a fraction of that mercy?

  • well, the other servants recoiled and complained to the king
  • the king reacted angrily and threw the man in prison after all, saying, "Shouldn't you treat other people the way that I treated you?"
  • and Jesus concluded with the words, "That's what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters in your heart."

  • SECRET NUMBER THREE: FORGIVE OTHERS JUST AS LAVISHLY AND COMPLETELY AS GOD HAS FORGIVEN YOU
  • after being forgiven so completely and so lavishly by God, you and I have an obligation to forgiven other people for their relatively puny debts, in the same lavish and complete way that God has forgiven us

  • Jesus said in Matthew 6:14:
  • (Matthew 6:14 NLT) If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you.
  • (Matthew 6:15 NLT) But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.
  • if you want to be forgiven by God - to have your sins removed from you as far as the east is from the west - than you have an obligation to forgive other people
  • if you want to experience God's discipline in your life - the severest type of discipline you can imagine - than refuse to forgive in the same way that you've been forgiven
  • but make no mistake about it
  • James 2:13 says, "Judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy"

  • you'll notice that Jesus said in Matthew 18:35, at the end of the parable:
  • (Matthew 18:35 NLT) That's what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters in your heart.
  • that's the key: forgiveness can't be pretended or grudging
  • it means ending bitterness, getting rid of anger, and refusing to dwell on the offense once it's forgiven
  • it means refusing to bring it up to yourself, the other individual, or anyone else, from that time forward
  • it means, as much as is possible, to forgive as God forgives - to remember the sin no more
  • that's what we as believers are called to do

  • I come from a family in which my parents split up over 25 years ago
  • there was physical abuse within my family
  • in my extended family and in my friendships, I know people who have endured sexual abuse - some as one-time events, others for years
  • I count among my friends those who have been cheated on my spouses, and who have been subject to the most abusive words and relationships possible
  • four years ago, a man within the church stood nose to nose with me and yelled his head off
  • those who were with me thought they were going to have to pull him off me
  • Jesus said:
  • (Matthew 6:14 NLT) If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you.
  • (Matthew 6:15 NLT) But if you refuse to forgive others [the one who sexually abused you, the spouse who cheated on you, the parents who withheld love from you, the friend who has wounded your heart...], your Father will not forgive your sins.

  • Oh Father
  • there are so many of us within this room who have been deeply hurt
  • some of us have been carrying around grudges from bitterness and hurt for years
  • I don't pretend to know what many of these people have gone through
  • I can't begin to imagine the scars that are there - the damage that has been done that will never go away
  • but this I know
  • you have forgiven us, and you call us to forgive others as lavishly and completely as we have been forgiven
  • and I know that there's an incredible amount of freedom and power that comes from forgiving others, no matter how serious their offenses might have been

  • Lord, next week we'll look at how to forgive
  • but this morning we want to repent
  • we want to apologize for accepting your forgiveness, and yet continuing to hold grudges against other people
  • I know that in the next two weeks you want to work to bring healing to many of our hearts
  • and I pray that it would begin this morning as we repent for having unforgiving hearts
  • in Jesus' name
  • Amen.