Modeling the Power of Forgiveness

Steve Viars July 9, 2006 Philemon 0:

- It has been several weeks since I had the privilege of speaking here on Sunday morning...
- I want to thank the various members of our pastoral staff and Pastor Joe Bell from Calvary Chapel for ministering God’s Word so effectively to our church family...
- I continue to be convinced about the value of an organization like ours having leadership that is as interchangeable as possible...and I am glad for the high quality staff that the Lord has given to us...
- that allowed me the privilege to travel to the country of Brazil and minister on behalf of our church there and also to put some concentrated time on focused administration of the ministries here...
- so from my perspective the last six weeks have been good ones for a variety of reasons...
- now, when you work up this morning, I imagine that one of the thoughts you had was---we’re in the second half of the year now---I wonder how we are doing at accomplishing our goal this year of Gearing Up for Greater Effectiveness...
- I hope we are thinking that way, because it is amazing how quickly the months roll by...and if we are not thinking, and praying, and planning, and working, and evaluating what we believe God wants us to accomplish...we probably won’t get much done for Him...
- so if we are hoping 11 months from now to be in a position to open the community center and the seminary and also to have broken ground on the faith-based treatment center for girls in need...has progress been made in the last 6 months to get there?...
- thank the Lord, there are many reasons to answer that question with a resounding “yes”...
- here are several of them...
1.  Progress in strengthening the fundamentals.
The mission of Faith Baptist Church is to glorify God by winning people to Jesus Christ and equipping them to be more faithful disciples.
- we believe that it would be very unwise to get so fired up about all the new things that we fail to give careful attention to the fundamentals...the nuts and bolts of outreach and assimilation and discipleship that form the core of why we exist and what we have done for over 40 years...
- so we have been increasing the team, for example of children’s workers in the nursery, and youth SS, and children’s church, and Wed. Night Kids of Faith...
- of course we can always use additional workers in those areas, but the teams are strong and getting stronger...we want to continue to find ways to provide ongoing training and support...not just to minister well to the children we have now but hopefully to be ready to serve the ones who will be won to Christ in the coming days...
- our pastors and deacons have made commitments to take specific steps toward emphasizing the fundamentals church wide in the ministries they oversee...
- so gearing up doesn’t start with something new, it starts by strengthening the base...
2. Well attended leadership training.
- we have had more training classes on leadership than ever before in our history and those classes have been better attended than ever...
- there will also be another round of training opportunities this fall...but that is an essential aspect of the “equipping” work the Lord wants us to do...it excites me as a pastor to see the number of men and women who want to gear up and understand that training is an essential part of that...
3.  Hearts that want to take the ministry God has entrusted to them and make it better.
- I would strongly encourage you to read the books by Jim Collins entitled Good to Great and Built to Last.
- they are secular management books but they are filled with principles that are very consistent with biblical truth, and especially biblical stewardship...
- and a body of believers in Jesus Christ who are gearing up are thankful for what God has done in the past, but are never satisfied with staying there...progressive sanctification at an institutional level...
- some recent examples---Vacation Bible School led by Sam/Susan Gardner...
- anybody associated with that program knows---the attitude wasn’t --- what’s the least we can do and get by calling that VBS?...no, it’s, how can we make that better...how can we improve our ministry to area kids and families?...and the ministry was better this year in every way than ever before---that’s what it means to gear up...
- the same is true last week with the community picnic led by Curt and Michelle Hadley...
- we made quite a few changes in that event because we wanted to focus more on outreach to our neighbors and community members, and less on all that went into the meal...
- it has been a good event for our church family in the past---but when viewed through the lens of its purpose being community outreach, the Hadley’s helped us take that to an entirely different level...
- and both the Gardner’s and the Hadley’s along with armies of committed volunteers served and sacrificed because that’s what Gearing Up takes...
4.  Advancements in our approach to worldwide missions.
- our teenagers are doing a great job right now in Brazil...
- the final touches are being put on trip several of us will be taking to the country of Moldova in Eastern Europe at the end of the summer...
- I have had the privilege of being out of the country on several occasions but the trip the church sent me on a few weeks ago to Brazil was by far the best I’ve ever been on in terms of feeling like a tangible difference was being made by the teaching at a very strategic time in the life of the church in that culture...
- I know many have been praying for our increased effectiveness in worldwide missions and it would appear that the Lord is answering that prayer...that’s gearing up...
5. Improved Ministry Platform.
- I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this, but there are also sorts of support systems that are needed for a church to minister effectively in this culture...
- we can lament the fact that we ought to just be able to use flannel graph and our King James Bibles all we want---but the truth is, God has called us to minister for Him in an age that is technologically advanced and becoming more so every day...
- so we have been working on a number of projects over the last year to essentially set ourselves up for the next stage of the race...
- this weekend we launched our brand new web site---Jonathan Smith has led us in that and many staff members and volunteers have invested hundreds and hundreds of hours [develop – that is how somebody in this culture “visits” church] – check it out
- we have gone through a complete legal reorganization that has separated our assets from our risks...
- we have completed a branding exercise that updates all our logos and print materials...
- we now have a completely updated computer network, new accounting software and database management...
- all of that might sound incredibly boring and unspiritual...but it is essential if we honestly expect the Living God to keep His promise of building His church...
- churches have a way of being a day late and a dollar short...and we never want to be in a position of being surprised and unprepared for the blessings of God...
- another important piece of this puzzle is a...
6. Growing number of opportunities to serve our community.
- that is a very important part of our ministry strategy...for churches like ours to be a natural part of community life without compromising our core values or mission...
a. assisting in the funeral for the firefighter who died in the line of duty...
- the Red Cross carried a lot of the load behind the scenes...and the details just became overwhelming because of the size of the event...
- describe how people served---some with very little notice
- but thank the Lord that an organization like the Red Cross would want us to be involved...
b. Elijah Walters project in the bulletin today – showing love by providing back to school supplies to families in need...
- it fires me up to see teenagers thinking like that...
c. The building demo project Mayor Roswarski asked TEAMM churches to handle [develop]
d. Invitation to speak about biblical counseling to the religious leaders group downtown, many of whom are theologically liberal or not even believers in Christ [cf. one of our initiatives this year – Develop a concrete plan to impact area churches with the message of the sufficiency of Scripture]...
e. Invitation to consider being nominate as President Elect of the Red Cross board
- all of that and more is evidence of Gearing Up...
7. Significant progress toward the launch of our three major ministry initiatives.
- the community center is coming out of the group...the capital campaign is halfway over and we have received just over half of the committed funds...
- the new website explains the 107 new ministries we plan to offer when the community center opens...
- the start-up of the new church based seminary is right on track...Pastor Aucoin and Pastor Green are making steady progress on their PhD’s...
- we are making decisions about our first class that will enroll a year from now...we even have an international student considering the program...
- the construction of the seminary house will begin later this year...
- and the Vision of Hope ministry, the “ministry surprise” God had planned for us is taking shape...the legal documents have been filed, the board has been organized, we will begin interviewing potential staff this week, the building lot is being created with the various government entities, and the design work on the facility has started...
- the point is...if this year was supposed to be about Gearing Up for Greater Effectiveness...and it was...[and by the way, I would encourage you to go on-line and look at the strategic initiatives our congregation set out to do at the beginning of the year and compare them to what I just reported...]...there is a lot of evidence that God has helped us take significant steps forward...
- and by the way...it’s not just activity [cf. the e-mail from a relatively new person who commented that the activity and busyness was done in a context of love....]

- now, let me ask you this...how about you personally?...is there evidence that you are gearing up?....what steps have you taken?...and what steps are you planning to take for the remainder of this year?
- now, for the next four weeks, I would like us to build on what we’ve been doing by looking at 4 of the shortest books of the NT...we could call this...Small Books with Big Messages...
- I am talking about the books of Philemon, II and III John, and Jude.
- and I think you’ll see that understanding and acting on the central theme for each of these books is a very important part of this process we’ve committed ourselves to...

- with that in mind, would you please open your Bible this morning to the book of Philemon...[page 168 of the Bible under the chair in front of you, page 1486 of our Chinese English Bibles...]

- I realize that some who will attend our church today have never read the book of Philemon before...
- Today’s theme – One of the ways the church gears up for greater effectiveness is by modeling the power of forgiveness.
- that’s what this amazing book of Philemon is all about...

- read Philemon 1:1-3
-  it might be best to stop here for a moment to be sure the details are clear...
- this book is one of Paul’s prison epistles...at this point in his life he is in what Bible students refer to as his first imprisonment in Rome...
- so how he introduced himself in verse 1 is literally the case – he is a prisoner of Jesus Christ because of the way he had faithfully proclaimed the gospel...
- Philemon was a man who lived in the city of Colossae...he was apparently a man of some wealth because he had a home large enough for the church to meet in [as verse 2 says...]
- the other people mentioned in verse 2, Apphia and Archippus, were probably Philemon’s wife and their son...

- let’s read a bit further...read Philemon 1:4-9...
- now let’s stop there for a moment...
- apparently Philemon is a very godly man...and his testimony in the Colossian church is strong and vibrant...Paul said in verse 7, the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother...
- you get the impression though that Paul is about to ask Philemon to do something very hard...because he says...even though I have the authority as an apostle to order you to do what is proper, I am appealing to you as Paul the aged...

- now, before we read the next verses, let me offer a bit of explanation about what’s up...
- we’re about to learn that Philemon had a slave named Onesimus...his name by the way means useful---that becomes an important detail in the story...
- now please keep in mind, we always interpret the Bible in its historical context...
- it is almost automatic that when we hear the word slavery, we think of the experience of our country...and that is far different than slavery in the Roman empire...
- slavery in that day was common---and in many cases it was actually preferred because it was a secure way of making a living...
- that didn’t mean there weren’t abuses...but slaves in that culture could hold all sorts of professions including being medical doctors...
- it was not uncommon for a slave-owner to set up an arrangement where the person would be taught a trade and then be set free to practice that trade after a period of time...
- that does not make it right...but remember, the point of NT Christianity was not first and foremost to immediately correct all social ills...
- it was to provide a framework where people living in sin cursed world know how to live joyfully and victoriously under imperfect authority...
- and how those in authority could be transformed in their outlook and then, over time, the condition of culture would be changed...which is exactly what eventually happened in their culture and ours...- so please think about these words in light of their overall cultural context in that day...

- now, a little more detail...
- we’re about to learn that Philemon’s slave Onesimus had taken money from Philemon and run away to Rome...
- and somehow [we don’t know this part of the story]...Onesimus the runaway slave meets the apostle Paul, one of Philemon’s friends...
- and Paul tells Onesimus about the Lord, and Onesimus trusts Christ...

- so let’s be sure we have the story line clear...the apostle Paul is in prison in Rome...
- one of Paul’s friends in Colossae [named Philemon] has a slave [named Onesimus] who runs away to Rome and meets his owner’s friend who leads him to Christ...
- and this converted slave actually becomes very useful to the apostle Paul---he’s finally living up to his name...

- but, there’s still this breach...Onesimus sinned against Philemon...so what should Paul do, and what should Onesimus do, and what should Philemon do?...and what does any of that have to do with gearing up for greater effectiveness?
- read Philemon 1:10-25

- now, with the time we have remaining; let’s look for Three required steps for the church to model the power of forgiveness.

I. Model the Power of Forgiveness by Pointing Those Who have Sinned to a Genuine Way Out.


- there is a lot about this story that we simply don’t know...
- did Onesimus just run into the apostle Paul some way...and as they became acquainted, they realized that Paul actually knew his former master?...
- or did Onesimus get to Rome, and start feeling guilty over what he had done, and remembered that Philemon had spoken so highly of the apostle Paul who was in Rome, so Onesimus sought Paul out for help in what to do?...
- we have no idea...
- but this is clear...Paul used the occasion of Onesimus’ situation to lead him to Christ...
- the principle is...
A. Be honest about the ultimate need.
- the phrase in verse 10 – whom I have begotten in my imprisonment is packed with truth...
- and I realize that some here might be frustrated because there isn’t more said about correcting the abuses of slavery throughout the Roman empire, or you might wish we just knew more about the background...
- the fact that we have what we have makes an important point about the centrality of the cross, and the centrality of the gospel...
- what Onesimus needed more than anything else was to be brought in a right relationship with the God of heaven and earth...
- and Paul wasn’t put off by who this man was or what he had done...he used the occasion of their relationship to draw him to Christ...

- you might wonder, what are you going to say to those religious leaders in our town who have chosen to be theologically liberal in their beliefs who are asking for information about biblical counseling?...
- this is one of the answers [not stated in some sort of argumentative way, or belittling way]...but we believe that the central issue for any of our counselees is whether they have a personal relationship with God...
- and we often use the difficulties they are facing as the occasion to talk with them about the beauty and the important of becoming a follower of Christ...
- [cf. the argument of James 4...]

- another way of saying that is, we agree with the apostle Paul when he said to the Romans... Romans 1:16 - For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.
- and we are concerned about supposed approaches to so-called Christian counseling that focus the attention on the every changing opinions of men but never get around to speaking with a person who is hurting about the person and work of Christ...
- and that is what Paul did not do with Onesimus...he made the main thing the main thing...

- and all of these various activities we are involved in are for the express purpose of establishing loving relationships with people that have a decidedly redemptive purpose...
- cf. Opportunity to share Christ with leaders of a community group this week...would probably have never happened had we not worked hard to show love as a church in a lot of ways...

- [develop also – those who are attending our church who may have been drawn by one of the expressions of love --- key question, do you know Christ?...have you made the decision Onesimus did?...]
- [could also develop --- folks who have been around here for a while – when is the last time you shared Christ?...are you gearing up for ministry opportunities where you will have the privilege to do so?...]

- now, let’s push this further...Paul’s ministry with Onesimus didn’t stop with his presentation of the gospel...or even with Onesimus’ acceptance of it...
B. Encourage steps of repentance.
- the words in verse 12 are amazing...
- verse 12 – I have sent him back to you in person...

- can you imagine Onesimus standing there, perhaps along with a man named Tychicus who had been sent to accompany Onesimus, standing there in front of Philemon while he reads this letter from the apostle Paul...
- you talk about awkward...you talk about emotion filled...you talk about necessary...this is it...it was hard for everyone involved...
1.  Paul said – I like having Onesimus around---and making a play on the meaning of his name he says...he’s really useful to me...I wish he could stay, but that’s not what’s best here...
2. Onesimus was risking the danger of being caught as a runaway slave on the trip back---there were people on the roads who were bounty hunters looking for runaway slaves...and how they were sometimes treated if they were caught was appalling...
- then even if he did make it back...he would have to face Philemon...he had stolen from him...he had sinned against him...
- Paul says – you have to go back...
3. and hard for Philemon --- you have to deal with this...and you have to deal with it in a way that honors the Lord...

- what’s the Gearing Up lesson here?...
- one of the ways churches like ours can have a powerful impact on culture is by practicing the process of biblical forgiveness...
- and that always starts by dealing head-on with the offense...
- and sure people in our culture do not want to hear that they have sinned and come short of the glory of God...that message has always been a stumbling block...but we dare not ever jettison that message in order to be accepted by culture...
- and for those who are believers but who have sinned against another person...it has to be dealt with...they have to be confronted...they have to repent...they have to ask forgiveness...and they have to make restitution if necessary...

- that brings up some questions, doesn’t it?...
1. If you have a person in your life that has sinned and you know about it, are you going to love them enough to confront them?...[like Paul did with Onesimus...]
2.  If someone loved you enough to confront you, and assuming they were right, are you going to respond and do what God wants you to do, or are you going to shoot the messenger?

- now, you might say, this is hard...and it is...but it doesn’t stop there...


II. Model the Power of Forgiveness by Challenging Those who Have Been Sinned Against to Practice the Art of Forgiveness.


- this small little book is actually about the giant step of forgiving others who have sinned against you...Paul says...
A. Now treat him as a brother – verse 16.
- that’s what forgiveness is, a threefold promise [develop]...

B. Accept him as you would accept me (Paul) – verse 17.
- and we have to assume that Paul had taught Philemon many of the doctrinal underpinnings of the practice of forgiveness...
- but he is calling upon Philemon to forgive Onesimus, the way God had forgiven him...
- Exodus 34:6-7 - ...The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin...
- Ephesians 4:32 - And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.

C. Be an encouragement and example to those around you.
Philemon 20 - Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord.
- the word “refresh” literally means...to revive, or to give someone else “rest”...
- remember Jesus said in Matthew 11 --- I will give you...rest [same word...]
- and the idea here is...Paul’s in prison---there’s a lot about that that would be intensely difficult...
- do you know what would refresh Paul---Philemon’s forgiveness of Onesimus...

- where does that leave us?...
1.  Is there someone in your life who has sinned against you, and you have not practiced biblical forgiveness?...
- [deal with – I’ll forgive them as soon as they ask...]
2. Is there someone in your life you’ve sinned against, and you’ve not asked their forgiveness?...

- if we are really serious about gearing up, then we should be people who are modeling biblical forgiveness to a lost and dying world...

[for the person who says – I’m not going to...
- there a lot of consequences for not obeying the Lord in this matter...
1. God’s parental forgiveness of us is predicated on our forgiveness of others...[forgive us our debts, as we forgive those who trespass against us...]
2. Forgiveness precedes effective worship – Matt. 5
3. Failing to forgive gives the devil a foothold – cf. Eph. 4


III. By Clearing the Deck so We Can face the Future with Enthusiasm and Hope.

- Philemon 22 - But, meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I trust that through your prayers I shall be granted to you.

- who knows what the Lord has for us next, but we want to be sure we have “cleaned our relational plates...”

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987. He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and two grandchildren. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video