Philemon – A Slave for Christ
Up Close and Personal with the Apostle Paul Series
Philemon 15-16 (KJB) For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever; 16 Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?
This book contains a marvelous doctrinal account of love and mercy. Philemon departed as a slave but returned as a brother in Christ. How is this possible you might say? It is a picture of a sinner coming to know Christ moving from living an unprofitable life to one of great spiritual blessings in Christ.
Some would say this succinct book of the Bible illustrates the most dramatic picture of the love, grace, and mercy of God other than Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death on Calvary. Others might bristle at the use of the word slave to describe this young man saying it is both outdated and outlandish in this day when many hearts aim to be politically correct never giving a second thought to being found in agreement with truths of God.
At the outset, it seems like a simple story of a slave who ran away from his master and later chose to return home. However, it is spiritually complex. Philemon was a man of means. He had money. He owned slaves commonplace; in biblical terms and in describing one’s devoted spiritual action. In fact, if a person cannot get the spiritual concept of owning a slave he likely will not understand dying unto self and living unto God. Or the fact that Jesus Christ purchased freedom upon the cross at Calvary for every sinner. This master and slave relationship is closely related to new freedom in Christ made possible by the finished work of Calvary.
An ancient church assembly met in Philemon’s house. Little is known about this likely small congregation but together with knowing this man was a brother in Christ to the Apostle Paul serves to bring us quickly to a conclusion that Philemon was a practicing man of God.
Little is mentioned about his earthly family and other than he was married and had a son. Because he was a man of means he owned a slave named Onesimus. One day his slave stole money from him and fled to Rome. This action leads us to believe Onesimus was spiritually lost.
As you know God can use evil circumstances, situations, and poor choices in bringing Good. That is just what he did with Onesimus’s choice to steal from his master. Onesimus met Paul in Rome. This meeting was not by chance, but a divine working laced together by the will of God. Yes, God’s hand was in these two getting to know one another. In fact, Paul pled to Christ on behalf of Onesimus.
Yes, the Apostle Paul was an Intercessor for the sins of this runaway slave as his sin is placed on Paul’s account (Verse 10). Onesimus received forgiveness of sin from God. At some point later, Philemon would also extend personal forgiveness for his slave’s choice to steal from him in greeting him just as if he never sinned against him. This illustration of a master is a picture of God and the forgiveness He extends to each of as our Master we have wronged. It is not clear if Philemon ever was able to recover the money stolen from him. Some have reasoned that Paul somehow took care of the debt, others believe Onesimus earned money to pay him back, and others believe Philemon erased his debt.
Nonetheless, Onesimus, had a cleared account with God. He worked as an associate in the ministry alongside Paul. Yes, upon meeting the Apostle Paul and then God, Onesimus began to live a new life with a new mindset and a new direction and God was able to use him in Paul’s missionary efforts. God offered him much forgiveness, much love in exchange for removing his sin far away.
Paul sent Onesimus back to contact his master. He went to see the man he had wronged to offer his heartfelt apology and to seek him as a new brother and friend in Christ. These men offered tender hearts toward one another and Onesimus returned to his master as both a slave and a brother in Christ. A picture of forgiveness and brotherly love each of us should attempt to follow with those who have wronged us in some way. It seems that perhaps the Apostle Paul might have had a hand in leading Philemon to Christ sometime previous to these events and therefore Philemon was grateful to the sowing work of Paul as well.
In closing, some might think that the book of Philemon is only figurative writing at the hand of Paul. One thing that we know for sure is that the Apostle Paul wrote as was inspired of God often in the midst of various trials and tribulations. Whether this book contains actual events or not, we know for sure that this book is of God and is filled with beautiful examples of the love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy of God applicable for our lives today.
The next installment titled Walking Worthy for Christ in A World Falling Apart is the last devotion in this series will conclude our study about the Apostle Paul and his missionary trek as he sojourned on this earth. Paul’s teachings continue to point to God in this modern world and are consumed by hungry hearts to this day.
A Sound Doctrinal Ministry
Endurance in Ministry
A Servant of God
A Slave for Christ