Charge it to me II
Philemon (Pastor Brian)
1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker, 2 to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier and to the church that meets in your home: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thanksgiving and Prayer
4 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. 6 I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. 7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.
Paul’s Plea for Onesimus
8 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do,9 yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Paul–an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus– 10 I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. 12 I am sending him–who is my very heart–back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel.
14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good– 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord. 17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.
19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back–not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask. 22 And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.
23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers. 25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
This is a short book and for a while was considered whether or not this book should be included in the Bible. It does not contain the same kind of doctrine and theology and teaching as the others. However, this does show much of his humanity (He doesn’t begin by saying “An apostle of Christ”) – he’s appealing to his friend Philemon on behalf of his runaway slave Onesimus. Both had become Christians under Paul’s witness.
Paul mentions that Philemon refreshed the hearts of the saints – he shared the Word, blessed them materially, etc.
Now, Paul is under house arrest in Rome – the elders had wanted him killed in Jerusalem? and knew that his only chance was to appeal to Caesar in Rome (because he’s a Roman citizen). He was in chains, but was able to receive people there. He even received the Jewish elders and preached to them – he said, “You may not believe, but the Gentiles will believe.”
Somehow, this slave Onesimus meets Paul and Paul introduced him to the Lord – no here’s the problem: he’s got a runaway slave convert that belongs to another friend of his. Legally, he is the property of Philemon and he would be subject to death under the laws of that time for what he’s done.
Paul appeals to him – persuasive – that he show mercy to Onesimus (name meaning “useful”). Paul writes “He wasn’t useful to you then, but he’s useful to me now. He ministers to my needs. If you were here, you’d minister to me, but providentially, your slave is here, ministering to me on your behalf even though you don’t know it.”
“I know what he did was wrong, but I’m asking that you take him back – not as a slave, but as a brother in Christ.”
From there, v. 15-16, Paul explains the providential hand of God on Onesimus’ escape. “Perhaps you lost him for a while so that you might receive him back forever as a brother.”
Commentators opinions = maybe he was a brother or half-brother of Philemon.
Ray Steadman took for granted that Onesimus was his brother – in a message he delivered once. In a way, it was almost a prodigal son style story. He may have got into debt at some point and indentured himself to his brother to pay off the debt. Another option – theoretically – was that Philemon’s father got a slave girl pregnant and Onesimus was the result – a step-brother slave who has no “place” in the inheritance.
The reason for this is the statement: “a brother in the flesh and in the Lord.” Some have speculated about this – it sounds good, but I don’t think so. Paul uses this phrase in other contexts – he was unlikely a true brother or step-brother.
Nevertheless, this is good to see how Paul intercedes on behalf of a brother. Even in our own families and groups of friends, we need to extend mercy as we’ve received mercy. People offend us – we need to show mercy to those people.
Paul is very delicate in his appeal to Philemon. “Perhaps he departed for a while…” (Not, “he ran off with your money…”).
In some ways, his escape was nothing but trouble. It deprived Philemon an asset, a worker, and made Onesimus a runaway convict, possibly ready to get the death penalty. Yet, Paul saw a purpose for this. He writes: “Perhaps…” (See, he doesn’t say, “God SAID to me…”) Rather he says, “I think this may possibly be the purpose that God has in mind… what do you think?”
- Philemon was a good man of the time – just a wealthy man with property of the day (slaves).
- So, Paul appeals to him to make the best of a bad matter.
- Perhaps in the providence of God, Onesimus ran off to find God and come back to you as a brother.
- Paul reintroduces Onesimus to Philemon as a “new creation” and yet, he must still go back to “face the music” and pay retribution for what he’s done.
In this letter, Paul reduces the sting of slavery and begins the paving of the way for the abolition of slavery. This in and of itself did more for the abolition of slavery than the LAW itself. To consider a slave a “brother” was a complete turning of the paradigm on its head.
Spurgeon: “The transformation of the individual is the key to the transformation of society and the moral environment. The true reformation of a sinner is to be found in a new heart, and a new nature. I see many of my brothers whittling away at the branches of sin. But the gospel takes the AXE to the entire forest of sin. We cut down ALL the trees so that new trees of the gospel, the new life, the new heart, the fruit of the Spirit can spring up in their place.”
Paul says, “If he has wronged you, charge it to me.”
Looks like when he ran away, he stole something and confessed it to Paul.
“I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand.” I guarantee I can pay. “Not to mention that you owe ME your own self – your own salvation.”
If you punish Onesimus, you are punishing me as well. “Put it on my tab.” IOU = I owe You = this is my personal guarantee.
Martin Luther: “Paul lays himself out for Onesimus and pleads his cause for his master – he pleads as if he himself is the slave and has wronged the master – even as Christ does for us, so Paul does for Onesimus. We are all Onesimi in God’s eyes.”
Ever seen Spartacus? At the end, the leaders were trying to find him. The Romans came and said, “Who’s Spartacus?” The whole group admit to being Spartacus – they’d followed him and were one with him in spirit.
We’re also all runaways from God the father – we are all Onesimus’.
Jesus has paid for us, for everyone.
This week = debt-free! couple in the church. The interesting thing is, what about ours? We’ve got some in Canada, when can we pay it off? Perhaps this month. We had a big struggle just to discover what we had left to pay. “Yours was paid off last year and mine was paid off six-months ago. And we have a little money here that used to go to the debt.”
The bigger thing is Abby and Phillip KNEW when their debt was paid – we didn’t know.
- We ALL have a debt we cannot pay.
- Christ Jesus paid the debt that I could never pay.
Do you realize you have a debt? Anyway, we are all indebted to our Father God – from Adam and Eve, we are all BORN into debt – we are all sinners and need a Savior. Jesus is the ONLY way, truth, and life. When we can admit “Yes, I have a debt” – then we can accept and acknowledge that Jesus has paid our debt.
That’s the only way to find TRUE forgiveness.
Think of all the other religions. They are trying to DO something to get forgiveness. But in this way, Jesus initiates FOR us and offers to pay our debt FOR us FIRST – as Paul has done for Onesimus.
Once, in my life, I was a mess – I was offered a way out of legal trouble if I outed someone else. I didn’t want to out him just as an excuse because I was then a Christian. At that time, I was going to an apostalic church. My pastor, Pastor Angel – understood my convictions and went to court with me. It took a year until my case came up. Pastor Angel testified on my behalf “I know this young man and believe that he’s had a genuine conversion and genuine change.” I got in trouble for selling something for 100L that accumulated upwards of 30-40,000L and I couldn’t pay. Miraculously, they fined me only the original 100L that I’d sold it for.
In this way also, Pastor Angel was stepping in on my behalf with the court to plead my case just as Paul did.
We are all brothers in the flesh, we are all debtors, we all need Christ to intercede for us, plead our case before God, pay our debt for us. But it’s up to us to DO with this what we should.
Paul didn’t COMMAND Philemon to take Onesimus back, likewise Jesus doesn’t COMMAND us to accept his offer.
Is Christianity just “another religion” like the others? No. All those founders were “brothers in the flesh” – part of fallen humanity. Christ was “God in the flesh” – sinless and paid the debt for us.
Ray Steadman used this as an appeal for families.
If you are having struggles with family members or close friends, remember what the Lord has done for YOU and bring forgiveness and mercy to someone in your life who needs it. Recently, I did this with someone in Canada for something that happened years ago.
If God is calling you to do this, don’t put it off. It’s necessary and worth it.