Tonight, we are going to begin a study of a brand new book in the New Testament, the book of Philemon.
And I want you to turn to it; it's just very brief, one chapter, 25 verses, a lesson on forgiveness.
Of all of the human qualities that make men in any sense like God, none is more divine than forgiveness.
God is a God of forgiveness.
*In fact, in Exodus chapter 34 God identifies Himself in that way.
Verse 6 says,* "Then the Lord passed by in front of Him and proclaimed," *this is the Lord speaking of Himself,* "The Lord, the Lord God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness and truth who keeps loving kindness for thousands who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin."
He says I am the God of forgiveness.
That is who I am.
*Solomon said in Proverbs 19:11 that,* "It is a man's glory to overlook a transgression," Man is never more like God than when he forgives because God is never more like God than when He forgives.
*Luke 15:11-32 - *Now the theme of forgiveness is obviously throughout the Scripture emphasized.
One of them that may be the most familiar is the story of the prodigal son.
!!! 1. */So Jesus tells us what the heart of forgiveness is like:/* it is eager, not reluctant, it doesn't even wait for the sinner to arrive.
In fact, when you see him coming far away, you run to meet him and you embrace him and kiss him.
And when he starts to say he's sorry, you hardly listen to that, you don't even give him time to finish, you just embrace him, love him, put him in your best outfit, put a ring on his finger, get the best meat out of freezer, cook up the best meal you can put together, start the music, rejoice with your friends and proudly invite everybody to come to the celebration of your son that has come back.
That's how God forgives.
That's how He wants us to forgive.
!!! 2. */The Lord also gives us a warning:/* The Lord warns us also from that story of the prodigal son that such forgiveness will be unappreciated, such forgiveness will be misunderstood.
You say, "How is that?”
Well you do remember, don't you, that the son who never went anywhere didn't appreciate this at all and was angry with his father for being so forgiving (v.25-32).
*From that story we learn how God forgives...eagerly, totally, lavishly.
Jesus taught us to pray *"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us"?
Those words tell us that God's forgiveness of us is based on our forgiveness of others.
*James put it this way in chapter 2 verse 13,* "There will be judgment without mercy for those who have not been merciful themselves."
*Or to take it in a positive note, the Beatitudes say,* "Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy."
You want mercy?
You want forgiveness?
Give it and forgive like God for you are never more like God than when you forgive.
*Listen again to the words of Jesus in His disciple’s prayer of Matthew.
Matthew says it this way,* "Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors."
And then he says, "For if you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive men then your Father will not forgive your transgressions."
You don't forgive, you don't get forgiven.
Now when Paul was in his first Roman imprisonment he wrote several letters, Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians.
We call those "the prison epistles" because they were written from prison.
Ephesians and Colossians interest us because they are tied in to this little letter of Philemon.
In both Ephesians and Colossians there is a major emphasis on the matter of forgiveness.
I want to show that to you so take your Bible for just a moment and look at (Ephesians 4:32).
*And here the Apostle Paul say to all of them and to us,* "Be kind to one another, tender hearted...*here's the same principle*...forgiving each other just as God in Christ also has forgiven you."
*In Colossians chapter 3, he says,* "We are to be bearing with one another and forgiving each other whoever has a complaint against anyone just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you."
Now if you pull all of these together you get the very clear idea that God is a forgiving God and you are to be forgiving people.
In fact, God has forgiven you, so you should forgive.
That's one principle.
The other one is God will forgive you if you do forgive.
And so, on the one hand the Scripture says God has forgiven you therefore forgive, and on the other hand the Scripture says if you don't forgive God won't forgive you and you will have violated the relationship, the fellowship that you could enjoy with God.
The Lord has forgiven all of us all of our sins and therefore Paul says we should forgive each other.
And if we don't, we're going to be chastened by God.
That's plain and simple the message.
!!! 3. Now, this principle is given very clear perspective in (Matthew 18:21-35).
!!!! a) This principle is illustrated in a parable.
!!!!! (1) Matthew 18, Peter says to the Lord, /"If somebody sins against me...verse 21...and I forgive him, how many times do I do that?
Seven?" /The rabbi said three so Peter thought he was being very generous.
Jesus said in verse 22 of Matthew 18, "I do not say to you up to seven times but up to seventy times seven."
In other words, you forgive as many times as someone sins against you.
Just keep on endlessly forgiving.
And then He tells a parable that makes the point.
!!!! b) And it's a parable that depicts God and the sinner.
!!!!! (1) *v.23-25* - The king in the parable is God.
The man who owes the big debt is the sinner.
That's an unpayable debt, massive debt he could never pay.
The debt was too much to pay but if all these people were sold into slavery at least the king could get something.
The man had obviously defrauded him.
Probably one of those servants who was a tax collector and who had charge over great sums of money and had defrauded the king and now had lost it all and had no means to pay.
And he said, "Well, if I can't get what I owe, I'll get what I can.
So sell all of his family into slavery and at least give me that."
!!!!! (2) *v.26-27 - *He had a right heart, he had a willing spirit even though he couldn't have done it, his intention was right.
/"The lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.”
/That's God and the sinner.
When the sinner comes before God and is convicted about his unpayable debt, he's convicted about his sin and God tells him you have no means to pay me, you should be sent to hell; you should pay whatever you can pay even though you could never pay me what you owe me.
And that's what hell is; by the way, it's spending forever paying what you could pay which never does pay the debt you fully owe because you've affronted God so greatly as one who rejected His Son.
!!!!! (3) *v.28-30 - *But this king is compassionate and when he sees the man's willingness, he forgives him the debt.
Now here comes the point.
And the people who would be listening to Jesus tell the story at this point would be absolutely outraged.
!!!!! (4) *v.31-35 *- This is unthinkable.
Here is a man who has been forgiven a massive debt who turns right around and won't forgive somebody a small debt.
/"When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened.
Then summoning him his lord said to him, You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you asked me.
Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow slave even as I had mercy on you?” /And there's that principle.
You want mercy from God, you show mercy.
You want forgiveness from God, you be forgiving.
!!!! c) Whom the Lord loves He disciplines.
!!!!! (1) That parable is so severe that there are many people who conclude that the principle Jesus teaches couldn't possibly apply to a Christian.
But it does.
Because the man who wouldn't forgive the slave was a forgiven man, that is God had already forgiven him, he is a child of God.
!!!!! (2) But what it tells us is that the Lord will sometimes deal very harshly with His own children who will not forgive someone else, whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and every son He scourges, Hebrews 12 says.
!!!!! (3) And one of the reasons He disciplines and scourges us and makes life very trying and difficult is because we have an unforgiving heart towards someone.
Christians then are to forgive.
That is the principle taught in Scripture, that is the principle illustrating the character of God in the parable of the prodigal son, and that is the principle illustrated in this parable to be true of every believer.
This is a matter, I think, not only of blessing and fellowship with God, but it's also a matter of the assurance of salvation.
*Thomas Watson wrote many years ago a very interesting statement.
He said this,* "We need not climb up into heaven to see whether our sins are forgiven.
Let us look into our hearts and see if we can forgive others.
If we can, we need not doubt that God has forgiven us."
And so, there is a principle in Scripture and that is this, you are never more like God than when you forgive.
And such forgiveness should come easy because you have been forgiven.
And if you do not forgive, then you'll put yourself in a position to be chastened by God severely.
Now the priority of forgiveness is not only given in Scripture in principle, it's not only given in Scripture in parable, but it is given in Scripture in personal terms.
And it's in the book of Philemon.
Let's look at it.