Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Leslie Basham: Here's Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: 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 safeguard and protect those relationships from falling apart. Our natural selfishness, our natural sinfulness works against relationships.

Leslie: It's Wednesday, November, 7,  and this is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. We're in the middle of a series called Seeking Him, all about personal revival. One of our listeners wrote to say, “Your Seeking Him series has been indescribable. It has touched my heart in so many ways.”

Now, you should know that this listener has faced serious problems with an unfaithful husband and a son in jail, but she continued to say, “I'm asking for prayer for me to hold faithful to God, for my marriage, and for my husband.” How can a woman respond like this without bitterness? That's our topic this week since one of the marks of personal revival is forgiveness. Here's Nancy.

Nancy: Let me ask you to open your Bibles to the book of Philemon. Philemon—it's the little, one-chapter book right before Hebrews, just toward the end of the New Testament. While you're turning there, let me just give you an overview of the storyline because this one chapter is a story.

Philemon was a man who lived in the city of Colosse. He was apparently wealthy. He was influential. He and the apostle Paul were friends. Philemon had actually come to know the Lord years earlier under Paul's ministry. He was a devoted believer. He was commended by Paul in this letter for his love. The church in Colosse met in Philemon's home, so he was a devout man of God.

Now, one of Philemon's slaves, named Onesimus, had run away, and apparently he had robbed Philemon before he did. He ran from Colosse to Rome, which was approximately 1,200 miles away, to get lost in the crowd, as thousands of runaway slaves did in those days.

Somehow, Paul, who was under house-arrest in Rome while awaiting trial, met Onesimus, who had run to Rome. After they met, Paul led Onesimus to Christ. Paul discipled this young man, and Onesimus actually became a good friend and a useful assistant to Paul.

Now, Paul knew that Onesimus, this runaway slave, had a responsibility to his former employer, to Philemon, and that he needed to make restitution for what he had stolen, so he sent Onesimus back to Philemon. It was too dangerous for Onesimus to go by himself. There would be slave-catchers who might kill him before he ever got back to Colosse, so he sent Onesimus with a man named Tychicus, who was carrying letters from Paul to the churches in Ephesus and Colosse

He also sent along a letter to Philemon telling him what had happened and urging Philemon to do something that was absolutely radical in that culture, as it is in ours, and that is to forgive the man who had stolen from him, who had offended him. To lose an employee, to lose a slave, was to lose something of great value. Now, that's a little bit of the backdrop of the story.

Let's pick up reading the text in verse ten. Paul says,

I appeal to you, [Philemon,] for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. [I became his spiritual father, led him to Christ.] (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.)

 I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own free will.

For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. 

So, [verse 17,] if you consider me your partner, [Philemon,] receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. [Then verse 21,] Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

Now, there are three main characters in this story. There's the offender. That's Onesimus, the man who stole from his employer and ran away. There's the person who was offended. That is Philemon, and then there's the peacemaker. That's Paul, who seeks to bring these parties together.

Now, at any given point in your life, chances are you are in at least one of those three categories. At times, you may be the person who's been the offender. At times, you may be the person who's been offended, and at times, you may be the person on the sideline trying to bring together two people who are estranged in their relationship.

Isn't it interesting when there's been an estrangement, how hard it is to sort through who's the offender and who's the offended because if you talk to the person on one side, they say they're the offended party? If you talk to the other party, they say no, they're the offended party. So we're not generally willing to call ourselves the offender. We usually think the other person is the offender, and we are the offended.

In each case, whether you've been offended or you're an offender or whether you're the peacemaker, you have some responsibilities. The offender in this case, Onesimus, was responsible to humble himself, to take the initiative to go back and seek forgiveness. He had to make restitution.

He needed to accept the consequences for his sin, even though that sin was before he became a Christian. He had to go back and make it right. That was his responsibility, and when you're the offender, that is your responsibility:

  • to take the initiative,
  • to seek forgiveness,
  • to seek reconciliation,
  • to make restitution wherever possible.

Now, Philemon was the man, in this case, who had been wronged, had been offended. What was his responsibility? Well, it was to forgive, not only to forgive, but to restore the one who had offended him. He had to be willing to absorb the loss, the wrong that had been done to him as an employer. He had to be willing now to look at this runaway slave who had stolen from him in a different light, to see him through eyes of Christ's love, to see him as a brother in Christ now.

What was Paul's responsibility as the man in between these two? He was responsible to do everything he could to bring these estranged brothers together. So he challenged the offender to repent and to seek forgiveness. He challenged the one who had been offended to forgive, even though it cost Paul himself, so in verse 18 he says to Philemon, “If he has wronged you at all or owes you anything, charge that to my account.”

It can be costly to be a peacemaker, can't it? He says, “I'm willing to pay the price to help bring these two together.” So where does God find you today as it relates to these three categories?—maybe in more than one of those categories.

Is there someone that you have wronged, someone you have offended? Think about that estranged relationship I asked you to recall at the beginning this session. Have you created any offense in that relationship?

Now, you may be thinking, “They're the one who's the offender,” but God's asking you to say, “Is there any way I have created an offense? Have I offended that person?” What do you need to do to seek forgiveness, to make restitution, to seek reconciliation with that person? You need to take responsibility for the breakup of that relationship—that marriage, that friendship, whatever. If you have offended that person, you've wronged them, go back and make it right.

Now, perhaps someone has wronged you, and it's easier for us to think of how that would be true. What do you do if someone's wronged you? You ask, “What can I do to show the grace and the mercy of Christ to that person?” Don't wait for them to come to you, by the way. See if you can be the first to get to the cross, to initiate reconciliation of that relationship. What can you do to bridge the gap between you and that person?

Now, it won't always be possible. Romans 12 says, “If it's possible, as much as lies within you, live peaceably with all men” (verse 18, paraphrase), but if it's possible—I think sometimes it's possible, and we don't go for it. We don't try to see that relationship be reconciled.

Then, do you know two people who need to be reconciled to each other? Ask yourself, “What can I do to bring those people together?” You see, Paul knew how much God had forgiven him, and he knew that God had forgiven Philemon. He knew that God had forgiven Onesimus, and he knew that it was important that these men extend grace and mercy to each other.

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

Verse one, “Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our beloved fellow worker” (emphasis added). Those are relational words. “And to Apphia, our sister” —that's a relational term. “And to Archippus our fellow soldier” —that's relational. “And to the church in your house:” (verse 1-2).

Look at verse seven. “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 ten. “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.

Verse 20, Paul calls Philemon his brother and says, “Refresh my heart in Christ.” Verse 23, “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers,” (through verse 24). 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 that 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 safeguard and protect those relationships from falling apart.

Our natural selfishness, our natural sinfulness works against relationships. Sin puts up walls. Sin separates between 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.

The fact is: Relationships do get strained. The fact is: We sin against other people. They sin against us, but as we look at this story of Philemon, which we began yesterday to do, 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 a redeeming, restoring God! 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 they 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.

Now, 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 that Paul practiced in much of his life and ministry.

Remember that passage in Philippians chapter four where Paul says, “I entreat Euodia, and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord,” (verse 2)—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 ministry. Paul said, “I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel” (verse 3). Help them to 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 one of the biggest problems on the mission field is missionaries who can't get along with each other at times.

It's one of the biggest problems in our churches, and I'll tell you, it's an even 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. How should we expect people to want to know Christ, Peacemaker, when we can't get along with each other?

We have a responsibility to help those with broken relationships, and let me say, this applies in 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 love 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 because 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, and that's always God's heart and desire.

Now, 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, so that's where it starts. We need to be helping people get reconciled to God, and 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 happened to know Philemon, Onesimus' former employer; Paul had led him to Christ, too. Paul said, “I'm going to send you back to get you guys reconciled.” I mean, who but God could have orchestrated that story?

The question is: How far are you willing to go to be reconciled? I mean, 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. I mean, he could go to prison. He could be sold. He could be killed, but he was willing to go back because he'd met Christ. He was willing 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 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, insofar as it depends on you—if you are not right with every other human being. You can't 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. She's scared to death to tell him the truth about what she has done, and I said to her, “You can't be right with God until you seek his forgiveness and pursue reconciliation.”

Let me just close by saying that God is a God who can restore the years that the locusts have eaten, and it can be better than before. That's the hope we have. Verse 16—Paul says to Philemon, receive him now, “No longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother.” You're not just going back to the way things were. He says, “God is a God who can redeem this situation and make it more wonderful than it ever was before.”

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're never more like Jesus, you're never more like God, than when you are forgiving and pursuing reconciliation.

Leslie: Did you ever realize how important your relationships are? Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been giving us biblical reasons to be right with other people. We want to help you in the process of giving and receiving forgiveness. That's why we'll send you a copy of Nancy's book Choosing Forgiveness when you make a donation to Revive Our Hearts.

Do you have a solid understanding of what the Bible says about forgiveness? Well, you will after reading this book. Plus, read some of the stories of those who chose forgiveness in tough circumstances and get practical advice on tricky situations when it's not wise or possible to contact your offender. It's all in the book Choosing Forgiveness. Get a copy at ReviveOurHearts.com, or call 1-800-569-5959.

A little less than a year from now, women from all over the country will convene in Chicago. They'll learn more about what it means to serve God in distinctly feminine ways. They'll experience spiritual rest and renewal. What's stopping you from being there? Find out more about the True Woman '08 National Women's Conference. Visit ReviveOurHearts.com for information, and when you get there, click on the link that says, “Revive Our Hearts conferences.”

Forgiveness might sound like a great idea, but there's some practical considerations when forgiving. How do you contact the person? What should it sound like? Hear a practical discussion that will provide some clarity tomorrow, and remember from today's program, healthy relationships bring God great glory. Here's Nancy to pray that we'll have friendships like that.

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 just 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'd start living out these principles of forgiveness in our churches, 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.

All Scriptures are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.