Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: Your relationships have a lot of significance. Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Our Gospel is not believable to this world when we can’t get along with each other. How should we expect people to want to know Christ, the Peacemaker, when we can’t get along with each other?

Leslie: It’s Friday, October 6th, and this is Revive Our Hearts with author and speaker, Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

God created you to be in relationship with other people. It’s why you’re always naturally thinking about how you relate to people and how they relate to you.

Today, Nancy will show why your relationships aren’t just about you. They’re actually about His glory.

Nancy: I want to suggest that the Christian life is about relationship, our relationship with God and our relationship with each other. There is no Christian faith without the relational element.

As we’re looking this week at the little New Testament book of Philemon (that’s right before the book of Hebrews), we see this whole issue of the importance of relationships.

In fact, look with me through the book of Philemon and see how many relational words are there.

Verses 1 and 2: “Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy, our brother. To Philemon our beloved fellow worker (those are relational words) and Apphia our sister (that’s a relational term) and Archippus our fellow soldier, (that’s relational), and to the church in your house.”

Look at verse 7: “I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.”

Those are relational terms; people having positive, healthy, godly relationships.

Look at verse 10: “I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment.”

The Christian life is a relational life: child, father, brother, sister, beloved, fellow worker, fellow servant.

In verse 20, Paul calls Philemon his brother. He says, “Refresh my heart in Christ.”

Verses 23 and 24 say, “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.”

Paul had friends. He considered them partners in the ministry. Partners even in his imprisonment: “my fellow prisoners, my brothers, those I love dearly.”

Just looking at the little glimpse of Philemon—not to speak of the whole rest of the Scripture—I would say it’s clear that relationships matter to God. And they need to matter to us.

God never intended that you should be a lone ranger Christian. You have a need, as do I, to cultivate and nurture relationships with other believers and to so safeguard and protect those relationships from falling apart.

Our natural selfishness, our natural sinfulness, works against relationships. Sin puts up walls. Sin separates us and God, but it also puts up barriers between us and others.

As we’re being sanctified in Christ, we need to be moving toward healthy, godly, strong, loving, committed relationships. Yet the fact is, relationships do get strained. We live in a fallen world. We’re sinful people. We live with sinful people. Your mate is a sinful person.

You say, “I knew that.” But you’re a sinful mate too. Your children are sinners. Your parents are sinners. Your pastor’s a sinner. Your co-workers are sinners. Your boss is a sinner.

Because of that, relationships sometimes get frayed. Sometimes they get broken. The fact is, we sin against other people, and they sin against us.

As we look at this story of Philemon, which we began to do yesterday, we see several principles in this whole matter of relationships.

The first is so obvious to me, and that is that God is a redeeming, restoring God. Aren’t you glad? He’s always seeking to reconcile relationships—vertically and horizontally. He wants to make sure that we’re right with him, and God cares about our being right with each other.

As children of God and imitators of God, we’re supposed to be doing the same thing: actively, proactively pursuing relationship and, where necessary, pursuing reconciliation when the relationship is broken.

When God brings people into our lives who are estranged or have broken relationships, what is our role? What is our responsibility?

It’s to do what Paul did in this broken relationship between Philemon and Onesimus. It’s to help those people move toward reconciliation and restoration. Ultimately, they have to decide to do that. We can’t be responsible for that, but we’re responsible to do everything we can to help them move toward that.

This was something Paul practiced in much of his life and ministry. In Philippians 4:2, Paul says, “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord,”—two women in the church at Philippi who apparently weren’t getting along with each other.

As you see in the next verse, they were both active in the ministry. Paul said, “I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel.” Help them get along.

I can’t tell you how many times I have encountered in churches, in ministries, on the mission field, people who are not getting along with each other. Believers! People who work together in the same ministry. People who are on the mission field together. They say that’s one of the biggest problems on the mission field—missionaries who can’t get along with each other at times.

It’s one of the biggest problems in our churches. People who go to church together—they serve together. I’ve had women come to the platform at one of our conferences and say, “We need to share.” The two women standing together, either in a large group or a small group setting, say, “We’ve been involved in women’s ministry together, and for years, we’ve had this barrier between us, this wedge between us. We haven’t been getting along. We’ve been pushing it under the carpet. But the reality is, we’ve been proud.

“We’ve been too proud to humble ourselves. We have had a broken relationship, and today, God is causing us to pursue reconciliation.”

It is a tragedy that in our churches we should have people going to church together, working together, who cannot get along with each other.

It’s even a bigger tragedy that we should have it in our own homes. Husband and wife! Parents and children! Siblings who can’t get along with each other.

I heard last night about two elderly sisters who have been estranged from each other for ten years, only God knows why. Now, late in life, they’re pursuing reconciliation.

You know, our Gospel is not believable to this world when we can’t get along with each other. How should we expect people to want to know Christ, the Peacemaker, when we can’t get along with each other?

So, we have a responsibility to help those with broken relationships. This applies to the whole area of marriage. It means rolling up your sleeves, doing the hard work, getting in there for the long haul.

I’ve been involved with a couple for the last year and a half whose marriage was falling apart. There was adultery involved, and only by the grace of God is that couple together. I don’t take any credit for that, but I, along with others who loved that couple, have come around them and said, “As long as it takes, as hard as it is, whatever it requires, we’re going to stand with you to believe that the devil is not going to get this marriage.”

That’s what we need to do in the body of Christ. “One more divorce, what’s the big deal?” It is a big deal. God is a reconciling God, and we cannot stand by and let those marriages go the way of the world. We can’t do it. We’ve got to be pursuing reconciliation. That’s always God’s heart and desire.

Restoration begins in our relationship with God. Before we can be right with others, we have to be right with God. Before Onesimus could be right with Philemon, he had to be right with God.

That’s where it starts. We need to help people get reconciled to God. Then, remember that God will go to any lengths necessary to bring about reconciliation.

Think about the story of Onesimus and Philemon. Onesimus fled to Rome, some 1,200 miles away, thinking that he could get away from his situation, only to meet Paul the Apostle under house arrest in Rome, who introduced him to Christ.

Paul, who happened to know Philemon (Onesimus’ former employer), had led him to Christ, too, and said, “I’m going to send you back to get you guys reconciled.” Who but God could have orchestrated that story?

You think God doesn’t care about reconciliation? He does. He’s amazing. God is more concerned about you being right with Him and with others than you are.

If you’ll let Him, God will go to incredible lengths to help you be reconciled to Himself and to others. The question is, how far are you willing to go to be reconciled?

Think about Onesimus having to go back 1,200 miles—no jumbo jets—to be right with his former employer, to make restitution, to seek forgiveness. What a price.

He knew that this was a great, serious crime he had committed under Roman law. He could go to prison. He could be sold. He could be killed. This was a great risk under the Roman law, Philemon could punish him harshly. But he was willing to go back—because he had met Christ—and to say, “That man whom I formerly hated is now my brother, and I want to be right with him. I want to be reconciled.”

You need to be willing to go back and face the people that you offended and face the people who have offended you, even without knowing the outcome. It may be risky. It may be costly. It will take faith because they may not forgive you.

But if you’ve taken the steps God wants you to take, you will be free. You cannot be right with God if you are not right—in so far as it depends on you—with every other human being.

You cannot be right with God and be estranged from your husband unless you have done all that you can to pursue reconciliation. Now, if he won’t pursue it God holds him responsible for that. But you must have done all that you can in any broken relationship to pursue reconciliation if you want to be right with God.

I talked with a woman over the weekend who has sinned greatly against her husband and he doesn’t know it yet, and she’s scared to death to tell him the truth about what she has done.

I said to her, “You can’t be right with God until you’re honest with your husband. You can’t be right with God until you seek his forgiveness and pursue reconciliation.” This is a woman, by the way, who works in a Christian ministry.

You can’t be right with God until you’re willing to go to whatever lengths are necessary to pursue reconciliation. God is a God who can restore the years the locusts have eaten.

He’s a redeeming God who is making all things new. They can be better than before. That’s the hope we have.

In verse 16, Paul says to Philemon to receive Onesimus, “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother.” You’re not just going back to the ways things were. He says, “God is a God who can redeem this situation and make it more wonderful than it ever was before.”

A few decades after the book of Philemon was written, one of the early church fathers whose name was Ignatius wrote a letter to church in Ephesus in which he referred to the pastor of Ephesus as Onesimus, a man of inexpressible love.

We have no way of knowing if that pastor of the church in Ephesus was the same Onesimus as the one we’ve just been reading about, but it’s possible. What we do know is that any offender—no matter what he’s done—can be restored by God’s grace not to just where they were before the offense, but to greater fruitfulness than they ever dreamed possible.

God can restore your husband. God can restore that son or daughter, that parent, that person you work with, that roommate. God can restore that person. God can restore you—no matter what you’ve done or how you’ve sinned or offended others—to a place of greater fruitfulness than you ever dreamed possible.

What does it require? It requires the offender being willing to pursue reconciliation, to seek forgiveness. It requires the one who’s been offended being willing to extend mercy and grace and forgiveness. It requires peacemakers who are committed to the ministry of reconciliation.

You know what? You’re never more like Jesus, you’re never more like God, than when you are forgiving and pursuing reconciliation.

Leslie: That’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss. She’s helping us understand why relationships and forgiveness are so important. A group of listeners are picking up on this idea.

Here’s Nancy, talking with Holly Elliff, Maria Johnson, and Kathy Helvey.

Nancy: All of us as women are dealing with other women who are in struggling marriages—marriages that are hanging by a thread—all kinds of different issues.

How often do you see bitterness and forgiveness as issues in the breakup of marriages, and how does that manifest itself?

Holly Elliff: I’m trying to think of a time when I have sat down with a woman in those circumstances and unforgiveness or bitterness has not been part of the equation. I don’t think I can think of one.

Kathy Helvey: We have this unspoken expectation that we have a right to be respected, or that we have a right.

Maria Johnson: Even a right to be loved.

Kathy: But God loves us. God loves us! If we can forget about ourself and what we need—I mean, look at all the words that start with “self.” Self-justification, self-centeredness, self-indulgence, and all the self-helps out there.

If we really can walk closely enough with God to be secure in His love for me, in His love for us, and then to know that no matter what happens, He’s got it covered—that I belong to Him, that He can get me through it, that I’m loved by Him, that His Holy Spirit lives within me—I can forgive, I can forget, I can move on. It doesn’t really matter if that’s where I land.

Holly: I’m dealing right now with two young gals who loved their husbands and then found out that their husbands were not necessarily returning that love in the same way. There is so much hurt, that if the hurt is not dealt with God’s way—if it’s just harbored and held on to, it takes up residence in our heart and it will take over. It will multiply and grow, and it takes concerted effort to recognize that it is there—and then to deal with the hurt God’s way—so that we don’t end up angry, bitter women.

Kim, you spoke earlier about a woman who had died and was known for her bitterness. I say to young women all the time, “What do you want to be the trademark of your life?

“Do you want it to be your walk with God, the fact that God has invaded you and allowed you to do something you never thought you could do and to love your husband in spite of what he has done, or do you really want to hold on to something that will cost you?”

Kathy: When we’re talking to these women that don’t want to let go of their bitterness and their resentment, and they’re justifying it, how can we help them see that forgiveness is not a feeling? It’s a choice of doing the right thing.

Maria: I use Matthew 18 where the servant definitely owed the master a debt, and it says the master released him from all that was due.

Often times, we either stuff it, deny it, or ignore that someone really did hurt us. We brush it off sometimes and say, “Oh, it’s no big deal.”

The point is: We can’t stuff it, deny it, or ignore it when someone has offended us. They really did owe us at least the respect of humanity, and we have to do what Christ gave us in this parable in Matthew 18: release them all that is owed because “servant one” turned around and would not forgive “servant two” (see verses 23-35). 

Jesus very clearly said that we would be turned over to the tormentors or the jailers, depending on your translation. Another thing is from Luke 23:34. I think Jesus said one of the most profound things from the cross—that I take people to—where He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

All you have to do is read Luke 22 and the earlier verses in Luke 23 (or other references of the crucifixion in Matthew and Mark) to know His co-worker turned on Him. His dear friend denied Him. The other people had crucified Him, but prior to that, they mocked Him and spat on Him. They embarrassed Him. They put the crown of thorns on Him. We have a very graphic, detailed description of all that was done that day.

From the cross Jesus says, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). I think what He says is, “They don’t really know the full extent of what that does.”

Whether it’s being disrespected, whether you’re hearing all the girls talk about going out to lunch and you’re left out, whether it’s a little grandchild looking in your face and saying, “Your teeth are yellow, Nanny,” or, “Your teeth are crooked, Nanny,” and those things hurt. Just little things, but if it’s little enough to hurt, it’s big enough to forgive.

So I take people and open Luke 23:34 and read that again where Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

That helps, and then I go back to Matthew 18, and I’ll just open my hands and release them. What did they owe me? Was it just respect? Was it kindness? Was it just consideration? Sometimes it’s not these big violations, it’s the little things that pile up and then they eat on us. That’s the root of bitterness.

So the Lord’s been teaching me for years now, if it’s big enough to cause pain, it’s big enough to pray about. There’s nothing little. It’s big enough to let go of if it causes pain. And the way that I know it’s painful is that it will come out of my mouth to somebody.

Leslie: Good insight from Maria Johnson. She’s been talking with Nancy Leigh DeMoss and some other friends about how to avoid bitterness in relationships.

You’re going to deal with people all your life, so you need to always remember the things you heard this week from Nancy and her friends.

That’s why I hope you’ll get Nancy’s complete teaching and the complete discussion afterwards. We call the discussion “Table Talk.”

It’s all available on CD when you visit www.ReviveOurHearts.com.

There’s another way you can remember important lessons on forgiveness at least for a year. Order your free copy of the Revive Our Hearts 2007 wall calendar.

Every year our team does an excellent job in layout and design. This year’s calendar is focused on forgiveness. Every month, you’ll be reminded of this freedom-giving concept. You can order your calendar (one free per household), by visiting www.ReviveOurHearts.com or by calling 1-800-569-5959.

Could you forgive a husband who had spent years as an alcoholic and rarely provided for the family? One of our listeners faced this question while sitting in a hospital intensive care unit. Hear the story on Monday.

Now Nancy’s back to pray with us.

Nancy: O Father, I pray that You would take this truth home to our hearts, that You would cause us to become peacemakers. Lord, forgive us for allowing these estranged, broken relationships to fester in our Christian communities. O God, help us to actively pursue peace with all men, to be forgivers, to humble ourselves, to seek forgiveness, to have clear consciences, to be forgiving people, so we can demonstrate to the world this Gospel of grace, this Gospel of forgiveness, this Gospel of reconciliation. O Lord, I believe that if we would start living out these principles of forgiveness in our churches and in our homes, that we would soon see the revival for which we long and which we ask you to send for Jesus’ sake, amen.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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