Sunday, June 13, 2010


In the tiny personal epistle of Philemon we find a remarkable gem of spiritual truth buried which I would like to share with you. Paul is having personal correspondence with a fellow Christian named Philemon; the apostle is pleading with the man regarding a certain runaway slave named Onesimus. This slave, whose name means “useless” ran away from his master, encountered Paul, and was converted to Christianity. There is a vivid picture of reconciliation and forgiveness painted in the progression of events, which we would do well to pay careful attention to.

Onesimus was a slave who had broken with his master; he fled from Philemon and was now at odds with him. Their relationship was severed due to the slave’s errant and rebellious behavior. Were the slave to return in his own esteem wrath might well have been the only reception he received. Onesimus was found by Paul and led to Jesus Christ, and in Paul’s own words had now become useful to both his former master and Paul himself.

If this were an allegory we might say that Onesimus would represent us; rebellious mankind severed in our relationship to God and on the run due to our sin nature, always hiding and fleeing from Him. Philemon would be the Father, whom we have run from like the father waiting for his prodigal to return home. Paul would play the intercessor and mediator, like Christ our Savior.

[Philemon 17] If you then count me as a partner, receive him as you would me. We know the Father regards the Son as a partner and an equal. Zechariah writes, “Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, against the Man who is My companion,” Zechariah 13:7. And, “[Jesus], being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,” Philippians 2:6. Paul pleads to Philemon, saying that if his fellow Christian views Paul as an equal to receive Onesimus as if he were receiving Paul himself; to show no difference in his treatment of the runaway slave.

[Philemon 18] But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. We read, “[Jesus] is the propitiation (satisfactory payment) for our sins,” 1st John 2:2. And, “Christ Jesus…God set forth as a propitiation (satisfactory payment) by His blood, through faith,” Romans 3:24-25. Our Lord Jesus pleased the Father in all things, and by obedience fulfilled the law and its righteous requirements. Those who come to Christ our elevated Savior in faith seek righteousness apart from the law; they seek the righteousness which only comes by imputation; and that by God’s sovereign elective grace. Onesimus’ lack was to be placed on Paul’s account, so to speak. What Onesimus could not hope to pay, Paul would pay on his behalf; whatever wrong committed Paul would answer for due to his close relationship with Philemon.

[Philemon 19] I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay. Here we have the heart of grace. Onesimus was being restored to his former master in a new relationship; no longer was he merely a slave, but now through the mutual faith they shared they were related by the spiritual bonds found in Christ Jesus, Philemon 16. This former slave now held the place of a family member, and Paul pled for him as such, reminding Philemon of his partnership with Paul and the apostle’s worth and ability to supply what lacked in Onesimus. What Philemon’s former slave failed to possess, Paul would repay and supply. In essence, the apostle was saying look no more on Onesimus in his own worth or esteem, but value him for Paul’s sake; value him as though he was Paul himself.
To be Concluded.

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