Until yesterday if you had asked me about the book of Philemon from the Bible would probably would have responded that it’s the little book at the back. That was until I really read it. I say “really read it” because I’ve read it before – more than once actually. But I didn’t read it with the understanding I have now. Let’s set up the scene.
Philemon is a personal letter written by Paul to the book’s namesake. Paul wrote the book in about 60 AD while under house arrest in Rome. Paul’s letter is addressed not only to Philemon but also to the body of believers that met in his (Philemon’s) house. It’s worth mentioning that the very fact that Philemon owned indicates that he possessed substantial wealth. But here’s where it gets interesting.
Apparently one of Philemon’s slaves (a societal norm in those days) had run away from his master. Not only that but we can deduce from the text that he either did damage to or stole property that belonged to Philemon. The slave, named Onesimus, escaped to Rome where he encounters the imprissoned apostle Paul. Through their interaction Onesimus get’s saved and becomes and incredibly helpful person to Paul.
At some point Paul must realize that since Onesimus is a slave he is the property of someone else – and lo and behold, it’s his good friend Philemon. So Paul writes to Philemon and tells him in so many words “I’m sending you back you but don’t receive him back as a slave; for now he is a brother” (verse 1:15-15).
It’s a powerful passage, and yet the one that moved me to tears is only a few verses later. “If then you could me as a partner receiver him as you would me. But if he owes you anything, put that on my account,” (verses 1:17-18). When I read this with the understanding of context I was moved. What a clear demonstration of the gospel – Onesimus harms Philemon and Paul, who is far removed from the situation, interjects himself on Onesimus’ behalf. The punishment that Onesimus deserved goes to Paul who is completely innocent of Onesimus’ offense. Onesimus gets off scot free. Sound familiar?
I love that Paul models here the same mercy and grace that Jesus demonstrated towards us. I’ve been meditating on select passages from Romans and one of them reads,”8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Romans 5:8-11. Another one that we all know is John 3:16 which says, “ 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Going further Ephesians 2 in the message tells us, “ 7-10Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving.”
Are you noticing a trend; that salvation is God’s idea. It probably wasn’t Onesimus’ idea that Paul absorb his debt and it certainly wasn’t my idea that Christ absorb mine. And yet here we are – saved by the grace of God and set free from the punishment that awaited us. Jesus paid the debt for you. In fact if I close my eyes I can almost hear Jesus turn to the Father and say, with words of love echoing down the halls of time- before time even, and the creation of the world; ” If Bryce has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account”.