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Exposition from Philemon
OWING OURSELVES TO CHRIST
Philemon 1:19. - I Paul
have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it albeit I do not
say to thee how thou owest unto Me even thine own self beside.’
THE incomparable delicacy of
this letter of Paul’s has often been the theme of eulogium. I do not
know that anywhere else in literature one can find such a gem, so
admirably adapted for the purpose in hand. But beyond the wonderful
tenderness and ingenuity born of right feeling and inbred courtesy
which mark the letter, there is another point of view from which I
have been in the habit of looking at it, as if it were a kind of
parable of the way in which our Master pleads with us to do the
things that He desires. The motive and principles of practical
Christianity are all reducible to one — imitation of Jesus Christ.
And therefore it is not fanciful if here we see, shining through the
demeanour and conduct of the Apostle, some hint of the manner of the
I venture to take these words
as spoken to each Christian soul by a higher and greater voice than
Paul’s. ‘I will repay it: albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest
unto Me even thine own self besides.’
I. The first
thing upon which I touch is our transcendent debt.
The Christian teacher may say
to the soul which by his ministrations has been brought back to God
and to peace in a very real sense: Thou owest thyself to me.
And the bond which knits any
of us, dear brethren, of whom that is true to one another, is one
the tenderness of which cannot be overestimated. I hope I am
speaking to some hearts to whom my words come with a power greater
than their intrinsic force deserves, because this sacredest of all
human ties has, by God’s mercy, been established between us.
But I pass from that
altogether to the consideration of the loftier thought that is here.
It is a literal fact that all of you Christian people, if you are
Christians in any real sense, do owe your whole Selves to Jesus
Christ. Does a child owe itself to its parent? And has not Jesus
Christ, if you are His, breathed into you by supernatural and real
communication a better life and a better self, so that you have to
say: ‘I live, yet not I, but Jesus Christ liveth in me.’ And if that
be so, is not your spiritual being, your Christian self, purely and
distinctly a gift from Him?
Does a man who is lying
wrestling with mortal disease, and who is raised up by the skill and
tenderness of his physician, owe his life to the doctor? Does a man
who is drowning, and is dragged out of the river by some strong
hand, owe himself to his rescuer? And is it not true that you and I
were struggling with a disease which in its present form was mortal,
and would very quickly end in death? Is it not true that all souls
separated from God, howsoever they may seem to be living, are dead:
and have not you been dragged from that living death by this dear
Lord, so that, if you have not perished, you owe yourselves to Him?
Does a madman, who has been
restored to self-control and sanity, owe himself to the sedulous
care of him that has healed him? And is it not true, paradoxical as
it sounds, that the more a man lives to himself the less he
possesses himself; and that you have been delivered, if you are
Christian men and women, from the tyranny of lust and passions, and
from the abject servitude to the lower parts of your nature, and to
all the shabby tyrants, in time and circumstance, that rob you of
yourself; and have been set free and made sane and sober, and your
own masters and your own owners, by Jesus Christ? To live to self is
to lose self, and when we come to ourselves we depart from
ourselves; and He who has enabled us to rule our own mutinous and
anarchic nature, and to put will above passions and tastes and
flesh, and conscience above will, and Christ above conscience has
given us the gift which we never had before, of an assured
possession of our own selves.
So, in simplest verity, as the
Deliverer from the death that slays us, as the Restorer to us of the
power of self-control and ownership, and as the Granter to us of a
new and better life, which becomes the very self of our selves, and
the heart of our being, Jesus Christ has given to us this great
gift, and can look each of us in the face and say: ‘I made thee.’
The Eternal Word is Creator. ‘I redeemed thee; I dwell in thee; I am
thy better self, and thou owest to Me thine own self besides.’
II. Now for
a word, in the next place, as to the all. comprehending obligation
which is based upon this debt.
If it be true that by the
sacrifice of Himself.Christ has given us ourselves, what then? Why,
then, dear brethren, the only adequate response to that
gift, made ours at such cost to the Giver, is to give our, selves
hack wholly to Him who gave Himself wholly to us. Christ can only
buy me at the cost of Himself. Christ only wants myself when He
gives Himself. In the sweet commerce of that reciprocal love which
is the foundation of all blessedness, the only equivalent for a
heart is a heart. As in our daily life, and in our sweet human
affections, husband and wife, and parent and children, have nothing
that they can barter the one with the other except mutual
interchange of self; so Jesus Christ’s great gift to me can only be
acknowledged, adequately responded to, when I give myself to Him.
‘I give Thee all, I can no more, Poor though the ofering be,’
must be the only language that
can satisfy that infinite hunger of the divine human heart over us
which prompted the death upon Calvary and made it, in His eyes who
paid it, the only price to pay for the recompense of our love.
O brethren, surely when those
majestic lips bend themselves into the utterance, ‘Thou owest Me
thine own self besides,’ surely, surely, the answer that will spring
to all our lips is:
‘We live not to ourselves, but
And if I might for a moment
dwell upon the definite particulars into which such an answer will
expand itself, I might say that this entire surrender of self will
be manifested by the occupation of all our nature with Jesus Christ.
He is meant to be the food of my mind as truth; He is meant to be
the food of my heart as love; He is meant to be the Lord of my will
as supreme Commander. Tastes, inclinations, faculties, hopes,
memories, desires, aspirations, they are all meant as so many
tendrils by which my many-fingered spirit can twine itself round
Him, and draw from Him nourishment and peace. Not that He demands
that we should cease to exercise these faculties of ours upon other
objects which He Himself has provided, but that in all the lower
reaches and ranges of our mental and spiritual occupations, in all
our human loves and efforts and desires, there should blend the
thought of Him. Just as a beam of light, if it struck down on us
now, would disperse none of the motes which would be revealed
dancing in its path, so the love of Christ and the occupation of our
whole nature with Him, would give a glory to the lesser objects to
which our other faculties and desires may turn. If we loved one
another in Him we should find each other worthier of our love. If we
pursued truth and study and knowledge in Him we should find the
knowledge easier and more blessed. If all our hopes, desires, and
efforts were illuminated by a reference to Himself, then they would
all flash up into beauty and power.
And again, this entire
self-surrender should maul lest itself in an utter and absolute
submission to, and conformity with, His will. The slave has no will
but his master’s. That is degradation and blasphemy when it is tried
to be enforced or practised as between two men; but it is honour and
dignity and blessedness when it is practised as to Christ. Submit!
submit! Obey! obey! Let your wills be held in suspense until His is
manifested; and when it is, then cheerfully take what He sends, If
His hand comes blighting and blasting, bowl If His hand comes
pointing and directing, follow! The surrender of self must be
accomplished in the region of the will And when I can say, ‘Not my
wilt, but Thine be done,’ then, and in that measure, I can say, ‘I
live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me,’
Again, this entire surrender
will manifest itself in the devotion of our whole being to His name
and glory. Words easily spoken! words which if they were truly
transmuted, into life by any of us would revolutionise our whole
mature and conduct! To serve Him, to make Him the End for which we
live; to try, as our highest purpose, to spread His sweet name, and
to advance His Kingdom — theoretically that is what you Christian
men and women say you are doing, by the profession that you make.
Practically, I wonder how many of the people who owe themselves to
Jesus Christ have never, in all their lives, done a thing for the
simple purpose of honouring and glorifying His name.
And further, this entire
surrender of self will manifest itself in regard not only to our
being and our acting, but to our having. I do not want to dwell upon
this point at any length, but let me remind you, dear friends, that
a slave has no possessions of his. own. And you and I, if we are our
own owners are so only because we are Christ’s slaves. Therefore we
have nothing. In the old, bad days the slave’s cottage, his little
bits of chattels, the patch of garden ground with its vegetables,
and the few coins that he might have saved by.. selling these, they
all belonged to his master because he belonged to his master. And
that is true about you and me, and our balance at our bankers’ and
our houses and our possessions of all sorts. We say we believe that;
do we administer these possessions as if we did believe it? Oh, if
there came into our hearts, and kept there, the gush of thankfulness
which is the only reasonable answer to the great rush of sacrificing
love which Christ has poured upon us, there would be no more
difficulties about money in regard of Christian enterprise. Jesus is
‘worthy to receive riches.’ Let us see to it that, being His slaves
we do not hide away what He has given us from the service of Him to
whom it belongs.
And now, dear brethren, all
that sacrifice of which have been speaking, while it is the plainest
practical Christianity, and the only kind of life that corresponds
to the facts of our relation to Jesus Christ, is a terrible contrast
and a sharp rebuke to the average type of Christian among us. I do
not want, God knows, I do not want to scold. And I know that if such
surrender as my text implies is painful to any man, it is not worth
the making; but I beseech you, Christian people, as I would plead
with mine own self, to take these simple, threadbare thoughts into
your hearts and consciences until it shall become pain to you to
keep back, and a joy to surrender, all that you have to the Lord to
whom we owe ourselves.
III. Lastly, and
one word, about the repayment. Jesus Christ stops in no man’s debt.
There is an old story in one
of the historical books of the Old Testament about people who, in
the middle of a doubtful negotiation, were smitten by conscience,
and drew back from it. But one of them, with commercial shrewdness,
remembered that a portion of their capital was already invested, and
he says, ‘What shall we do for the thousand talents that we have
given, and are now sacrificing at the bidding of conscience?’ And
the answer was: ‘The Lord is able to give thee much more than
these.’ That is true of all sacrifices for Him. He has given us
abundant wages beforehand. What we give is His before it was ours.
It remains His when it is called ours. We but give Him back His own.
There is really nothing to repay, yet He repays, in a hundred ways.
He does so by giving us a keen joy in the act of surrender.
That is fifty thousand times
greater than the joy of keeping — or rather the difference between
the two is not a question so much of quantity as of quality. What I
give to Him I have; like a stone dropped into a stream, if the sun
be shining and the ripples glancing, it looks far bigger, and any
colour upon it is far brighter there, than when it lay in my hand.
So all that is given to Jesus Christ comes back upon a man
transformed and glorified, and when we give ourselves to Him, weak
and sinful, He renders us back saints to ourselves. The joy of
surrender is the sweetest of all the joys that a man has. ‘It is
more blessed to give than to receive,’ and Christ bestows ourselves
upon ourselves that we may have some portion of that joy.
And with it come other gladnesses. There is not only the joy of
surrender, and the enhanced possession of all which is surrendered,
but there is the larger possession of Himself which comes always as
the issue of a surrender of ourselves to Him. When we thus yield He
comes into our souls. It is only our self-engrossment that keeps Him
out of our hearts; and when our hearts bow, they open: and when we
give ourselves to Him it is possible for Him, in larger measure to
give Himself to us. If you want to be assured of your gospel, live
by it. If you want to have more of certitude of possessing His
promises, try the experiment of yielding to His love. If you want
more of Christ, give yourselves more to Him.
And as for the future, I need
say little about that. There is a future, the overwhelming magnitude
of whose recompense of reward shall beggar our loftiest
anticipations, and surprise us with its greatness as well as shame
us with the consciousness which it awakens that our poor, stained
service is far overpaid by it. Such reaping from such sowing will
make the joy of the harvest a wonder and a rapture. Who hath first
given to Jesus, and it shall be recompensed to him again?
And now I beseech you to
listen to your Saviour appealing to you with the tender word: ‘I
have given to thee Myself; and therein I have given to thee thyself.
Now what dost thou give to Me?’
Part 2- Philemon 1:8-25
Dr. Grant Richison
for Part 1)
Verse by Verse
Devotional Study on
Now we come to the burden of Paul’s prayer (v.5).
that the sharing of your faith may become effective
Paul prayed that Philemon would not only share his faith but that
the sharing of his faith would be effective. Paul wants Philemon to
be effective in his witness for Christ. That is the essential burden
of Paul’s prayer for Philemon. Paul prayed in effect, “I am praying
that God will enable you to share your faith effectively.”
The word “sharing” means fellowship. The sharing here has to do with
the whole range of our faith. By fellowship with other believers,
Philemon communicates his faith so that they become edified in the
faith. By sharing the gospel, he advances the cause of Christ.
The word “effective” conveys energetic power, operating power.
Philemon had an effective and powerful faith.
1 Co 16:9 “For a great and effective door has opened to me, and
there are many adversaries.”
He 4:12 “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper
than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and
spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts
and intents of the heart.”
PRINCIPLE: Witnessing is, at heart, a sharing of the genuineness of
Christ with others.
APPLICATION: The gospel has become a dead-end street to many of us.
The gospel stopped when it came to us. Others shared it with us but
we could care less about passing it on. We have not touched anyone
else with the gospel. We have a communication problem.
Mark 1:17 “Then Jesus said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you
become fishers of men.’”
When people embrace our faith, they embrace the genuineness of our
trust in Christ. They embrace our Lord. Do you have an interest in
advancing the person of Christ and the gospel? We put forth feeble
attempts to present a worthy picture of Christ. May God put a burden
on our hearts for the lost.
Mt 5:16 “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your
good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
1Th 1:6 “And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having
received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, 7
so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who
believe. 8 For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not
only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith
toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.”
by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in
The more a person acknowledges what he has in Christ, the more
active and effective he becomes in sharing his faith. The word
“acknowledge” includes both understanding the facts and the
experience of those facts. The more we grasp our faith, the more
eager we are to share it.
Php1:3 “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4 always in
every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, 5 for your
fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being
confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in
you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; 7 just as it is
right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my
heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and
confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace.
8 For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the
affection of Jesus Christ. 9 And this I pray, that your love may
abound still more and more in knowledge [same word as “acknowledge”
in our verse] and all discernment, 10 that you may approve the
things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without
offense till the day of Christ, 11 being filled with the fruits of
righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of
Whatever we have in the Christian faith, Christ put it there. “Every
good thing” comes through Christ and is in Christ Jesus. People saw
Philemon manifest genuine Christian living but they gave all the
credit for this to Christ.
This communication of faith results in power that in turn results in
full knowledge [Greek] of the good things that we have in Christ.
PRINCIPLE: A sign of spiritual maturity is the desire to share
Christ with others.
APPLICATION: Sharing our faith with others is an outgrowth of our
understanding of God’s provisions. If we are going to build a
computer, we have to know some things about computers before we
attempt to do the job.
God effectually works in us when we apprehend His truth and when we
identify with His will for this world. This is a full-orbed
spiritual maturity. The more mature we become, the more passion we
have for the world.
“For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the
hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother.”
For we have great joy and consolation in your love,
Philemon’s love was exceptional. Paul was encouraged as he sat in
jail thinking of his love. Philemon extended hospitality and care
for traveling evangelists. He carried a reputation for loving
because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother
The Greek word “hearts” conveys the idea of feelings. Literally,
“hearts” is the inner parts of the body, the inner organs of the
intestines, the bowels. It is the word for the seat of the emotions
often portraying the idea of compassion.
Php 2:1 “Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any
comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection
Col 3:12 “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on
tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering…”
1Jn 3:17 “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother
in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God
abide in him?”
There is a military usage of the word “refreshed” portraying the
idea of an army at rest after a march. It was also used as an
agricultural term after giving rest to land. Philemon’s love revived
and refreshed the saints. This is the character to which Paul
appeals in Philemon for the release of Onesimus. He was a person who
cared about uplifting others.
Mt 11:28 “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I
will give you rest.”
Ro 15:32 “…that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and
may be refreshed together with you.”
1Co 16:7 “I am glad about the coming of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and
Achaicus, for what was lacking on your part they supplied. 18 For
they refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men.”
He 4:3 “For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has
“So I swore in My wrath,
They shall not enter My rest,”
although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4
For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way:
“And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”; 5 and again
in this place: “They shall not enter My rest.” 6 Since therefore it
remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first
preached did not enter because of disobedience, 7 again He
designates a certain day, saying in David, Today, after such a long
time, as it has been said:
“Today, if you will hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts.” 8
For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have
spoken of another day. 9 There remains therefore a rest for the
people of God. 10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also
ceased from his works as God did from His.”
PRINCIPLE: God calls upon us to refresh the saints.
APPLICATION: The mutual edification of believers is a compelling
dynamic in Christianity. It is clear evidence of the Spirit of God
at work among Christians. One of God’s purposes for every believer
is that he or she be refreshment to others. We do not need to have a
vibrant personality for this. We do not need to read “How to Win
Friends and Influence” people to do this. All we need is a little
courage that comes from God’s Word, which will enable us to extend
this refreshment to others. Is your life refreshment to others? Be a
cool drink of water to a fellow Christian in need.
God calls upon us to have a ministry toward God’s people. We used to
sing a song about this, “Make me a blessing to someone today.” Warm
someone’s heart today.
Ga 6:10 “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all,
especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
2Ti 1:16 “The Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus,
for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain…”
He 6:10 “For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of
love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have
ministered to the saints, and do minister.”
Therefore, though I
might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting…”
Paul now turns to the primary purpose of the epistle – the
forgiveness of Onesimus by Philemon. This petition to Philemon for
Onesimus runs from verse eight to twenty-two. The slave owner in the
days of the Roman Empire was judge, jury and executioner. The slave
had no rights whatsoever. It must have been a great risk for Paul to
send Onesimus back to Philemon.
Paul now appeals to Philemon based on what he has said about him to
this point in the epistle (vv. 4-7). Paul says in effect, “Seeing
that I know and trust your character, I am going to ask something
special from you.”
though I might be very bold in Christ
Paul now sets the context for his appeal to Philemon. He first
states his personal attitude toward the situation. “Bold” here
conveys the idea of right or authority. Paul has the right or
authority to command Philemon to free Onesimus but he does not
choose that course of action.
to command you what is fitting
Paul had the right to “command” Philemon to release Onesimus but he
chose to appeal to his character. Paul could have said, “I could
pull rank on you Philemon but I do not choose to do so.” The word
“command” signifies to charge, to enjoin, to order.
“Fitting” is that which pertains to what is due, duty, convenient.
It is right and proper for Paul to exercise his authority as an
apostle to command Philemon to release Onesimus.
PRINCIPLE: Discernment in dealing with follows is a great
characteristic of an outstanding leader.
At times, it is not wise to use our authority or prerogative.
Judgment is something that eludes many of us. Knowledge is the
accumulation of facts whereas judgment is the correct use of the
facts. May God give the church many wise leaders who use discernment
in their dealings with people. Discernment is the ability to
distinguish between the good and the best. It is the ability to
separate the facts to form the best judgment. This is an acceptable
Php 1:9 “And this I pray, that
your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all
discernment, 10 that you may approve the things that are excellent,
that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ,
11 being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus
Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
yet for love’s sake I rather
appeal to you—
Paul sent the runaway slave Onesimus back to Philemon from Rome
with a letter to Philemon. Paul makes his appeal to Philemon to
forgive Onesimus on the basis of Paul's love for Onesimus and
Philemon's love for Paul. Paul does not pull rank but makes an
appeal based on his status as a troubadour for the cause of Christ.
PRINCIPLE: Love is a much greater motivator than coercion.
APPLICATION: Love goes much further in negotiations than
acid. We have the carnal option to scream and hostilely set forth
our case but it will most likely boomerang on us.
being such a
one as Paul, the aged,
Paul appeals to Philemon’s love on the basis of his age and
situation as a prisoner – “such a one.” Older men could appeal to
others with authority based on their age as a veteran in the cause
of Christ. Older men were considered wise and authority came from
wisdom in the first century.
and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ
Paul’s mention of his imprisonment is an appeal to Philemon to
release Onesimus so that he could help Paul in prison.
PRINCIPLE: Respect for
those mature in Christ is to the benefit of all who draw on their
APPLICATION: We do not respect troubadours for the cause of
Christ like we should in our day. This is to our own loss.
I appeal to you for
my son Onesimus,
Paul repeats the word “appeal” from verse 9 giving emphasis to this
word. This word denotes encouragement and not a command. Paul pleads
to Philemon to forgive his slave for stealing from him and running
Paul calls Onesimus his “son.” Paul fathered Onesimus in the faith.
This is a term of affection. Philemon’s runaway slave, someone not
dear to him, was dear to Paul.
1Ti 1:2 “To Timothy, a true son
in the faith…”
2Ti 1:2 “To Timothy, a beloved son…”
Titus1:4 “To Titus, a true son in our common faith…”
whom I have begotten while
in my chains
Paul led Onesimus to the Lord in prison. Paul was not only a
prisoner but he was a prisoner in chains. He did not need comfort or
the right situation to lead someone to Christ.
Philemon came from the upper crust of society and Onesimus came from
the scum of society. Jesus touched both of them equally.
1Co 4:15 “For though you might
have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many
fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the
PRINCIPLE: God uses
individuals to lead others to Christ.
APPLICATION: God saves
people from all levels of society equally. He saves the down and out
and the up and out. It makes no difference to Him. We come to Him
just as we are without privilege or status. The grace of God reaches
into any strata of society.
God uses Christians to reach those without Christ. When we lead
someone to Christ, they are our spiritual children. They are our
“sons” in the gospel (Ti 1:4). We do not have the personal power to
regenerate people. We are simply the conveyors of truth.
Ro 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of
the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for
everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.”
who once was unprofitable to you,
Paul speaking to Philemon, the slave owner of his slave Onesimus,
says that he was “unprofitable” to him. He frankly admits how
Onesimus stole from Philemon and fled as a fugitive from Colosse to
Rome. Onesimus was not a good business deal to Philemon. Now Paul is
sending Onesimus back to him.
but now is profitable to you and to me
The meaning of the name Onesimus is useful. Paul uses a pun and
clever play on words to indicate that the “unprofitable” slave has
become profitable to both Paul and Philemon. He ministered to Paul
in prison and he will make a difference in Philemon’s business.
Onesimus now lives up to his name.
PRINCIPLE: God’s grace radically transforms those who yield
to it so that they become profitable to those around them.
APPLICATION: Personal transformation in Christ changes one’s
perspective on a broad range of values. It changes spirituality and
morals but it also changes how people view their work.
There are two time periods for every Christian: 1) before Christ and
2) after Christ. Before Christ we had one set of values and after
Christ another set.
Ep 2:1 “And you He made alive,
who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked
according to the course of this world, according to the prince of
the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of
disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in
the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of
the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with
which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us
alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and
raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly
places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the
exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ
Those transformed by Christ
make a significant contribution to society. The chief way to change
society is to change the heart of individuals. We change a nation by
transforming one individual at a time. No government can reach its
potential without a maximum number of individuals committed to the
highest of values.
Without a set of values we do not truly live but simply exist. We
work, eat, drink, and sleep. Horses do that as well! This explains
why there is so much barnyard morality out there. People live like
animals. Jesus Christ can take the raw sewage of human nature and
give that person a new nature.
I am sending him back.
Paul sent the fugitive slave Onesimus back to his master Philemon
with a letter of reference, the epistle to Philemon. Onesimus is
standing in the presence of Philemon as Philemon reads this letter
from Paul. Onesimus’ credibility in coming to Philemon with this
letter is apparent.
In Colossians 4:7-9 we learn that another person by the name of
Tychicus came with Onesimus to Colosse.
Col 4:7 “Tychicus, a beloved
brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord, will
tell you all the news about me. 8 I am sending him to you for this
very purpose, that he may know your circumstances and comfort your
hearts, 9 with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one
of you. They will make known to you all things which are happening
Note that Paul calls Onesimus
a “faithful and beloved brother.” Onesimus was more than a casual
Christian. Paul could count on him, “I have complete confidence in
Onesimus so you can count on him too, Philemon. I stand behind him.
It makes little difference what he was; I want to tell you what he
You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart
Paul’s spiritual son, Onesimus, was Paul’s “own heart.” The word
“heart” means seat of emotions. Paul had deep feelings for Onesimus.
Paul led Philemon to Christ so how could he punish Onesimus if
Onesimus was so close to Paul? This is cordial persuasion!
PRINCIPLE: Regeneration is the cause of conversion.
APPLICATION: Regeneration is the cause of conversion. The
person who comes face-to-face with Jesus Christ cannot help but have
his life turned around. Instead of lying and cheating, he or she now
cares about integrity and being honest with other people. Only Jesus
Christ can make that change. Jesus can do what psychology and
sociology cannot do.
whom I wished to keep with me,
It was Paul’s desire to keep Onesimus in Rome so that he could
minister to Paul in prison. Prisoners in the Roman Empire depended
on outsiders to meet their physical needs.
that on your behalf he might minister to me
Paul would use Onesimus for logistical and ministry reasons while in
prison. The phrase “on your behalf” indicates that Onesimus served
in the place of Philemon in ministering to Paul in jail. This is an
indirect appeal to Philemon to send Onesimus back to Paul in Rome.
in my chains for the gospel
Paul reminded Philemon that he was in jail because of the gospel.
The gospel message is worth the risk of imprisonment. The word
“gospel” means good news. It is good news that Jesus died for our
sins and rose again to win victory over sin and death.
Php 1:7 “…just as it is right for
me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart,
inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of
the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace.”
Php 1:12 “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which
happened to me (imprisonment) have actually turned out for the
furtherance of the gospel…”
PRINCIPLE: Clarity of
moral principles enables us to make quick and true moral choices.
APPLICATION: It is important to have a clear view of what
belongs to whom. If we understand what belongs to others, we can
make crisp and clear moral decisions. Otherwise, it is very easy to
rationalize things in our favor.
But without your consent I wanted to do nothing,
Paul had no thought of keeping the renegade slave Onesimus without
Philemon’s consent. Paul did not presume on the fact that he led
Philemon to Christ.
that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but
Paul did not want to provide extrinsic motivation to Philemon to
release Onesimus. He wanted Philemon to make the decision of his own
will. This is the only use of the Greek word for “voluntary” in the
New Testament. The idea is willingness to do something without being
forced or pressured to do it but to do it of one’s own free will.
is not good leadership but consideration for others is good
APPLICATION: Good leadership appeals to volition rather than
imposing commands on others against their will. We do not want
others to do what we want simply because we said so. We want them to
do what they do because they want to do it.
1Co 9:17 “For if I do this
willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been
entrusted with a stewardship.”
1Pe 5:2 “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as
overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain
Pontifical leadership is not
effective leadership. Issuing decrees, encyclicals and fiats
suppresses the volition of our followers. Coercion always boomerangs
back to the leader. Nagging and pressuring people to serve the Lord
will not produce people who genuinely serve the Lord and desire to
do it of their own free will.
2Co 9:7 “So let each one
give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity;
for God loves a cheerful giver.”
For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose,
Paul suggests to Philemon that God used the bad situation of
Onesimus’ temporary departure as a renegade slave for His own
purpose. God turned evil into good. The evil of this slave’s
thievery and flight to Rome lead to his salvation and a better
employee for Philemon. God turned evil into good in Paul’s own
Php 1:12 “But I want you to know,
brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned
out for the furtherance of the gospel, 13 so that it has become
evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my
chains are in Christ; 14 and most of the brethren in the Lord,
having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak
the word without fear.”
The word “perhaps” shows that
the providential work of God is veiled to men so Paul could only
speak of that work with provisional deliberation. He had no
exclusive admission to the eternal counsels of God. God has a
purpose in everything but only He can announce what it is. However,
in this case, the outcome in Onesimus’ life made it apparent what
God intended for Philemon’s loss.
that you might receive him forever
The transformation that occurred in Onesimus changed his whole value
system. If necessary, he will be a faithful slave to Philemon
without any hitches. The thief turned Christian will be honest, “You
can trust Onesimus now, Philemon. A temporary loss of Onesimus’
services now results in a new brother in Christ and a lasting
fellowship with him.” Onesimus’ conversion led to an eternal
relationship between him and Philemon. It was a fellowship that
transcended the social structure of master and slave.
The words “while” and “forever” stand in stark contrast. Philemon’s
temporary loss of Onesimus’ services and money resulted in something
that will last forever. There was a big gain for a relatively small
loss. Onesimus departed lost but he returned saved forever. They
will have a fellowship on very high elevation.
PRINCIPLE: God overrules evil for good.
APPLICATION: God has a purpose for everything that happens to
us. God even has a purpose in evil for He overturns evil for good in
our lives. God’s providential grace takes finite circumstances and
uses them for His infinite purposes. We can see God’s hand in our
situation if we take notice.
Ge. 45:5 “But now, do not
therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me
here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.”
Ge 50:20 “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant
it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save
many people alive.”
Ps 76:10 “Surely the wrath of man shall praise You; With the
remainder of wrath You shall gird Yourself.”
Ro. 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to
those who love God, to those who are the called according to His
no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother,
Slavery was universally practiced in the Roman Empire. This slavery
was abusive, harsh and immoral. Christianity’s approach to social
injustice was personal regeneration and not social reform. If a
maximum number of people turn to Christ, this will turn society
1Co 7:20 “Let each one remain
in the same calling in which he was called. 21 Were you called while
a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free,
rather use it. 22 For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is
the Lord’s freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is
Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves
of men. 24 Brethren, let each one remain with God in that state in
which he was called.”
Paul did not request that
Philemon to free Onesimus but that he treat him as “a beloved
brother.” Master and slave were to take pleasure in one another as
beloved brothers in Christ. There is no spiritual hierarchy when it
comes to being in Christ. Paul called Onesimus a “beloved brother”
in Colossians 4:9. Paul, Philemon and Onesimus were all on the same
spiritual plane. A slave socially stands on the same spiritual plane
as the master.
especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and
in the Lord
Onesimus was a “beloved brother” to Paul and to Philemon as well.
Onesimus was “especially” beloved to Paul but now “much more” to
Philemon. He was a slave in the “flesh” and a brother “in the Lord”
to Philemon. Philemon had much more vested in Onesimus than Paul.
PRINCIPLE: Spiritual status transcends social distinctions.
APPLICATION: When a person becomes a Christian, our
relationship to them changes. They now belong to our spiritual
family. We cannot be indifferent toward fellow members of the body
of Christ because we belong to God and each other. People relate to
us in who spheres: 1) physically, mentally, emotionally and 2)
spiritually. The latter is the higher sphere. It transcends social
Paul viewed Philemon as a partner
If then you count me as a
Paul viewed Philemon as a partner in ministry and he assumed that
Philemon felt the same way. Paul makes a plea on the basis of their
partnership and fellowship in the Lord.
2Co 8:23 “If anyone inquires
about Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker concerning you. Or
if our brethren are inquired about, they are messengers of the
churches, the glory of Christ.”
receive him as you would me
The word “receive” means welcome. Philemon should welcome
Onesimus as he would welcome Paul himself. The word “as” measures
the affection that Philemon had toward Paul. Paul says in effect,
“Credit to Onesimus any regard you have for me. Receive him as you
would receive me.”
PRINCIPLE: Each Christian holds the same status quo before
God because of Christ.
APPLICATION: Every Christian is complete in Christ. We all
hold the same spiritual position and status quo before God.
Ep 4:1 “I, therefore, the
prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with
which you were called…”
Col 2:9 “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily;
10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality
But if he has wronged you or owes anything,
Since Onesimus wronged Philemon, Paul asks Philemon to charge
him with any financial loss Philemon may have incurred.
put that on my account
Paul uses an accounting term in this phrase. Paul does to Philemon
what Christ did to Paul. Christ paid the price for his sins. Paul
was willing to pay a price for Onesimus. He willingly endorsed a
promissory note for him. The implication of what Paul says here is,
“Put that on my credit card.”
PRINCIPLE: Grace gives as grace receives.
APPLICATION: Paul was not guilty but he was willing to pay
the price for Onesimus’ guilt. Jesus did the same for us. Christ was
the sinless Savior who bore our guilt on the cross. This is grace.
Grace is what God does on our behalf. Merit is what we do to gain
Is 53:6 “All we like sheep have
gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And
the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
Jn 1:29 “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said,
‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’”
2 Co 5:21 “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that
we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
He 7:25 Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who
come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession
None of us qualifies to walk
in God’s presence but Jesus put His credit to our account so that we
can. We are acceptable to God in Him. Jesus assumed our spiritual
obligation. Christian should assume the spiritual obligation
of other believers because as we received grace we should give grace
to other believers.
I, Paul, am
writing with my own hand.
Paul placed himself under legal contract by writing with his own
hand. This is equivalent to a personal autograph. Paul puts his
signature to the book of Philemon.
I will repay—
Paul says, “I will make good the debt Onesimus owes you,
Philemon. I do not care about the cost.”
not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides
Paul speaks of restitution. It is a just act toward Philemon to
return Onesimus and pay back whatever he had stolen.
Philemon owed a debt to Paul, his salvation. Philemon was a man to
whom Onesimus owed a debt but Philemon owed a debt as well.
Philemon’s debt was greater than Onesimus’ debt – his was an eternal
debt to God. He also owed a debt to Paul for sharing the gospel with
him so Philemon had a double debt.
PRINCIPLE: We all are indebted to someone so we should never
hold grudges against anyone.
APPLICATION: If someone
acts unjustly toward us, we need to remember that we are debtors as
well. We owed an eternal debt we were unable to pay so none of us
has the right to hold grudges against anyone.
Paul requests an affirmative action from Philemon. He expects a
“yes” from Philemon.
let me have joy from you in the Lord;
The apostle Paul will have “joy” if Philemon forgives Onesimus.
“Joy” here is literally profit. The name Onesimus means profit so
this may be a play on words on his name. If Philemon forgives
Onesimus, that will be profitable for Paul.
Paul loved both master and slave. He uses entreaty to appeal to
Philemon and not a command. He does not use coercion but appeals on
a personal basis.
refresh my heart in the Lord
Philemon was known for refreshing the saints (v. 7). Now he has
a chance to refresh the apostle Paul. The words “me” and “my” are
emphatic in the Greek. Paul says, “Philemon, you have blessed many
others, would you bless me this time? If you deal kindly with
Onesimus, you will bless me and refresh me. I seem to plead for
Onesimus but I am beseeching for myself as well.”
Ministry should always be “in the Lord” (cf. v. 16). We do it for
the Lord and in His power. This is the polar opposite for
ministering in self-interest. This is the fellowship of ministry.
Philemon’s release of Onesimus will refresh Paul and advance the
cause of Christ.
PRINCIPLE: God expects us to bless other people.
APPLICATION: Some of us cannot teach or preach but we can be
a blessing to others. Ask God to show you how you can personally
bless others. We used to sing, “Make me a blessing.” In an age of
self-centeredness we need a modern song with the same idea.
Ga 6:10 “Therefore, as we have
opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of
the household of faith!”
He 6:10 “For God is not unjust
to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward
His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do
Be a blessing to the family of
God, to the household of faith. Many of us look for a blessing for
ourselves rather than be a blessing to others. Let us pray, “Lord,
help me take the load off someone today.” People around us have much
deeper problems than we know. It is our opportunity to discover
where people hurt and help them.
Problems come in different packages. Some are financial, some
personal and some family. If we spread some sunshine in their lives,
it will make their load lighter. This is the ministry of
Having confidence in your obedience,
Paul had confidence that Philemon would treat Onesimus well. The
word “obedience” is a stronger word than his more indirect previous
appeals. This “obedience” is not to a command of Paul but to the
will of God. Paul understood something about Philemon’s commitment
to the will of God.
I write to you,
The freedom of Onesimus is the purpose of the epistle to Philemon.
knowing that you will do even more than I say
Paul anticipated that Philemon would do more than his request to
forgive Onesimus and refresh the apostle Paul. Paul’s high view and
expectation of Philemon is further motivation to Philemon.
Is 32:8 “But a generous man
devises generous things, And by generosity he shall stand.”
The “more than I say” may
imply that Philemon will free Onesimus and maybe even permit him to
go back to Rome to minister to the apostle Paul. Grace always goes
PRINCIPLE: Grace goes
APPLICATION: Grace is always magnanimous and far-reaching. It
goes beyond duty and necessity. Grace always has its root in the
believer’s volition. Grace does not need coercion to motivate it. It
does what it does because of God’s grace in the heart.
Confidence in others leaves them with an opportunity to do more than
what is necessary. Confidence does not preclude the responsibility
of addressing concerns we might have about their future action.
It is wise to trust God’s people. This is the appeal of expectancy.
Having high expectations from God’s people will result in mutual
trust and effective ministry.
But, meanwhile, also
prepare a guest room for me,
“Guest room” is literally lodging. This is a place for Paul to stay
when he visits Colosse. It is a personal request for hospitality.
Ro 16:23 “Gaius, my host and
the host of the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the treasurer of
the city, greets you, and Quartus, a brother.”
for I trust that through
your prayers I shall be granted to you
“I shall be granted to you” implies that the Roman government
will release Paul from jail shortly. Paul initially planed to go to
Spain after Rome (Ro 15:24,28). He may have altered his plans to go
back to the Lycus Valley (eastern Turkey) and visit Colosse. That is
why he looked forward to visiting the Philippian church again.
Php 2:23 “Therefore I hope to
send him at once, as soon as I see how it goes with me (freed from
jail). 24 But I trust in the Lord that I myself shall also come
The word “your” in “your
prayers” is plural indicating that the entire church that met in
Philemon’s home prayed for Paul.
PRINCIPLE: God answers intercessory prayer.
APPLICATION: Paul depended on the prayers of fellow believers
and we need to do the same. Peter was delivered from jail because of
intercessory prayer of the saints.
Ph 1:19 “For I know that this
will turn out for my deliverance (from jail) through your prayer and
the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ…”
“Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you…”
We come now to the conclusion of Philemon 23-25. We find greetings
from five people: Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke. One
of these was a fellow prisoner (Epaphras) while the other four were
“fellow workers.” All these people are mentioned in Colossians
Col 4:7 “Tychicus, a beloved
brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord, will
tell you all the news about me. 8 I am sending him to you for this
very purpose, that he may know your circumstances and comfort your
hearts, 9 with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one
of you. They will make known to you all things which are happening
here. 10 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the
cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he
comes to you, welcome him), 11 and Jesus who is called Justus. These
are my only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are of the
circumcision; they have proved to be a comfort to me. 12 Epaphras,
who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always
laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect
and complete in all the will of God. 13 For I bear him witness that
he has a great zeal for you, and those who are in Laodicea, and
those in Hierapolis. 14 Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet
you. 15 Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the
church that is in his house.”
The New Testament mentions Epaphras three times. He was the founder
of the church at Colosse and the catalyst for evangelism in the
Lycus Valley. Paul probably led him to Christ. Philemon knew him
well. Colosse was Philemon’s hometown. Paul made two references to
Epaphras in the book of Colossians.
Col 1:7 “…as you also learned
from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister
of Christ on your behalf, 8 who also declared to us your love in the
Col 4:12 “Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ,
greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you
may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. 13 For I bear
him witness that he has a great zeal for you, and those who are in
Laodicea, and those in Hierapolis.”
Epaphras fervently prayed for
the Colossian church. He prayed for their maturity (stand perfect
and complete) in Christ.
my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus,
Epaphras was in jail with Paul in Rome. He was Paul’s cellmate.
The church at Colosse may have sent Epaphras to Rome to minister to
Paul in jail and while there he was imprisoned as well.
“In Christ Jesus” indicates Paul’s constant connection that his
imprisonments were related to the person of Christ.
Epaphras sends his salutation to Philemon and church family.
Greeting is an issue of courtesy and respect.
1Pt. 3:8 “Finally, all of you
be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers,
be tenderhearted, be courteous…”
PRINCIPLE: Prayer for
the maturity of a local church is the responsibility of especially
the pastor but also of everyone in that church.
APPLICATION: Prayer for the maturity of a given local church
is an often-overlooked prayer. Maybe this is the reason why so many
churches struggle. They fight over the least situation. They have
very few Christians who can stand above the fray and operate on
biblical norms. Are you praying for the maturity of your church?
as do Mark,
Mark was the nephew of Barnabas (Col 4:10; Ac 12:12). His mother Mary
had a large house in Jerusalem where the church assembled for prayer
(Ac 12). Barnabas was the brother of Mary. Peter led Mark to Christ
(1 Pe 5:13).
Paul and Mark had a sever falling out (Ac 15:38, 39, 40; 2Ti 4:11)
because Mark wanted to go home to his mother. He found the going
rough. Missionary work was too difficult for him. His first attempt
at missions was a complete failure. When Barnabas later attempted to
take Mark again on a missionary journey, Paul would have none of it,
“Mark is not going this time.” As a result of this, a great schism
occurred between Paul and Barnabas. Paul took Silas instead of
Barnabas. Barnabas parted ways with Paul and took Mark on a separate
Later, Mark grew in maturity and by the writing of Colossians and
Philemon. Paul and Peter both affirm the value of Mark in ministry.
John Mark made good on his second attempt. He finished strong. One
indication of this is that Mark’s name is listed here. Mark himself
is a reminder of the forgiveness that Philemon needs to extend to
2Ti 4:11 “Only Luke is with me.
Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for
1Peter 5:13 “She who is in Babylon, elect together with you,
greets you; and so does Mark my son.”
PRINCIPLE: God is a God
of second chances.
APPLICATION: Some of us do not start out well but we end well
and that is what counts. When it comes to Christian work, it does
not matter as much how poorly you begin, what really counts is how
well you finish. The score at half time is not nearly important as
the score at the end of the game.
If we do not have tenacity in ministry, we will become cynical,
critical, negative and bitter. If God leads us into ministry, we
must love people, including our detractors. We understand that our
critics keep us from pride.
How many people go into the ministry and do not make it the first
time? They are of sensitive spirits and people hurt them. Criticism
beats them down and they become discouraged and leave the ministry.
Then God gives them a second chance. In their second ministry, God
uses them together in a marvelous way. Jonah was a failure the first
time out but God gave him a second chance. God is the God of second
Do you have the caliber of character not to hold a grudge against
someone who hurt you in the past? Can you let past injuries go by
Colossians 4:10 mentions Aristarchus with Mark. Aristarchus was a
fellow prisoner with Paul. He was a Macedonian (Ac 19:29) who lived
in Thessalonica (Ac 27:2) and a close associate with Paul. He went
with Paul on his collection mission to Rome.
Ac 19:29 “So the whole city was
filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord,
having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians, Paul’s travel
Ac 27:2 “So, entering a ship of Adramyttium, we put to sea, meaning
to sail along the coasts of Asia. Aristarchus, a Macedonian of
Thessalonica, was with us.”
Demas here is commended as a “fellow laborer” of Paul. Later he
became infamous for defecting from Paul. Paul censured Demas in 2
Timothy 4:10 as forsaking him because he loved this present world.
However, at this point, he is Paul’s “fellow worker.” Demas started
out well but he did not finish well.
Luke is the “beloved physician” and evangelist. He was a Gentile
doctor and author of the gospel of Luke. Two of this list of five
wrote two of the gospels. Luke was a constant companion of Paul and
was with Paul in Rome (Col 4:14; 2Ti 4:11). Luke suffered many
trials with Paul. Note the “we” passages in the book of Acts
16:20,21,27,28. This indicates that Luke was with Paul on his
second missionary journey. He was also with Paul in Jerusalem (Ac
20:6) and on the voyage to Rome (Ac 27). He was with Paul in Paul’s
final imprisonment (2Ti 4:11).
my fellow laborers
These last four people were Paul’s “fellow laborers.” These were
people engaged in the cause of Christ. They all knew Philemon
Notice the words “fellow laborer” (Philemon 1), “fellow
“fellow prisoner” (Philemon 23) and “fellow laborers” in this verse. Paul
is interested in companionship in ministry.
PRINCIPLE: God uses teams to do His work.
The grace of our Lord
Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen
This is the customary salutation by Paul. He emphasizes “grace” in
his salutations. Paul began with “grace” (verse 3) and he ends with
Ga 6:18 “Brethren, the grace of
our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.”
Ph 4:23 “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.”
The word “our” unites the
readers and the greeters in one corps of faith. They have the common
spiritual bond of “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is our
Lord Jesus Christ who bestows grace on us.
Philemon needed the grace of
God to forgive Onesimus. It was not possible for Philemon to do this
in his own power.
The New Testament does not record the outcome of Paul’s appeal to
Philemon for Onesimus. We know that the Roman Empire released Paul
from prison so we presume that he kept his word and went to Colosse.
PRINCIPLE: God’s grace
sustains us in any situation.
God’s grace is available to us all. We need it to sustain our
Christian lives. Grace provision in Jesus Christ is sufficient to
meet any need we have for living the Christian life.
Exposition of Philemon
Verse 1. Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, —
This is one of Paul’s private
letters, though it has the stamp of inspiration upon it. It was not
written concerning church business, nor to teach some great
doctrinal truth, but there was a runaway slave who had come to Rome,
and who had been converted under Paul’s ministry, and Paul was
sending him back to his master; and this was the letter which he was
to take with him, to make some sort of apology for him, and to ask
his master to receive him with kindness, and to forgive his fault.
Every word of this Epistle is very wisely put. Paul begins by
calling himself “a prisoner of Jesus Christ.” Who would not grant
him his desire when he was wearing a chain for Christ’s sake? If a
letter were to come to you from some beloved minister, whom you knew
to be lying in a dungeon and likely soon to die, you would be
greatly touched if you noticed the traces of the rust of his fetters
on the letter. “Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ,” —
1, 2. And
Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and
fellowlabourer, and to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our
fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house;
He joins Timothy with himself,
to give double weight to the message. Probably Timothy was well
known to Philemon, and much respected by him, so he puts Timothy’s
name that there might be two to plead with him. Then, notice the
loving titles with which Paul addresses Philemon: “our dearly
beloved, and fellow laborer.” Probably the person whom Paul called
“beloved Apphia” was Philemon’s wife, so he writes to help also
for perhaps the wife was the more tender-hearted of the two, so she
might put in a good word for Onesimus, and her husband would all the
more readily grant Paul’s request. He also mentions Archippus, who
was either the pastor of the church at Colosse, or an evangelist who
stayed occasionally at the house of Philemon. So he mentions him
with all the rest of the household who met there for worship, and so
made up the church in the house.
Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus
Christ. I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers,
hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord
Jesus, and toward all saints; that the communication of thy faith
may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which
is in you in Christ Jesus. For we have great joy and consolation in
thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee,
Paul recalls how much Philemon
had done in the comforting of persecuted and poor saints. And when
you are about to ask a favor of anyone, it is well to show your
gratitude for what you or others have already received from him.
9. Therefore though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee
that which is convenient, yet for love’s sake I rather beseech thee,
being such an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus
He says in effect, “I am an
apostle, and I am your spiritual father, so I might have spoken with
authority to you, and have said, ’It is your duty to do this;’ but I
am not going to do anything of the kind. I am going to plead with
you, and beseech it of you as a kindness and a favor. Pay a loving
tribute to my old age; and beside that, I am a prisoner shut up in
the dungeon for Christ’s sake; hear the clanking of my chains, and
grant my request for love’s sake.’”
I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my
“He came to hear me preach in
the prison. He has been listening to me while I am still a captive,
and he has been given to me, as another son in the gospel, to be a
comfort to me in my bonds. I beseech you for him.”
12. Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now
profitable to thee and to me: whom I have sent again:
“He was thy slave, and
therefore I have sent him back to thee.”
Thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels:
“Look upon him as though he
were my very heart, and receive him as you would receive me if I
could go to you.”
14. Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might
have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel: but without thy
mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were
of necessity, but willingly.
“I would have kept him,”
says Paul, “for I need someone to be my companion, to comfort me in
my distress; but I would not do it without asking your leave, lest I
should seem to take advantage of you. Though I know that you would
willingly consent to it, yet, nevertheless, that it might be
perfectly voluntary on your part, I have sent him back to you, that
you may do as you will with him.”
For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest
receive him for ever; not now as a servant, but above a servant, a
brother beloved, especially to me, but how much more unto thee, both
in the flesh, and in the Lord? If thou count me therefore a
“If thou hast true fellowship
and communion with me,” —
Receive him as myself.
How beautifully this is put
all through! It very much reminds me of our Lord Jesus Christ, who
seems to say to the Divine Father, “This poor child is in
fellowship with me. Receive him, therefore, as myself;” and this is
just what God does in the case of repenting and believing sinners;
he receives them just as if he could see Christ in them.
If he hath coronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine
How generously this is put by
this poor prisoner at Rome, and how gloriously, in this, he is like
our Master, who stands as Surety for us!
I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it: albeit I
do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self
Paul had been the means of
Philemon’s conversion, so he was immeasurably in debt to the
apostle; but Paul only gently reminds him of the fact as a reason
why he should deal kindly with Onesimus for his sake.
Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels
in the Lord.
“You have refreshed others,
then, surely, you will not let me be without refreshment now You
have been very kind to all sorts of saints; then you cannot be
unkind to the man who is your own spiritual father.”
Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that
than it also do more than I say.
This is delicately yet
forcibly put, and we feel certain that Philemon must have done as
Paul wished, even though we have no record of the fact.
But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your
prayers I shall be given unto you. There salute thee Epaphras, my
fellowprisioner in Christ Jesus; Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas,
my fellowlabourers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your
Sermon on Philemon 1:15
for sermon on Philemon 1:2
Onesimus - A Runaway Slave
Philemon 1:15 “Perhaps he
therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him
Nature is selfish, but grace
is loving. He who boasts that he cares for nobody, and nobody cares
for him, is the reverse of a Christian, for Jesus Christ enlarges
the heart when he cleanses it. There is none so tender and
sympathetic as our Master, and if we be truly his disciples, the
same mind will be in us which was also in Christ. The apostle Paul
was eminently large-hearted and sympathetic. Surely he had enough to
do at Rome to bear his own troubles and to preach the Gospel. If,
like the priest in the parable of the good Samaritan, he had “passed
by on the other side,” he might have been excused, for he was on the
urgent business of that Master who once said to his seventy
messengers, “Salute no man by the way.” We might not have wondered
if he had said, “I cannot find time to attend to the wants of a
runaway slave.” But Paul was not of that mind. He had been
preaching, and Onesimus had been converted, and henceforth he
regarded him as his own son. I do not know why Onesimus came to
Paul. Perhaps he went to him as a great many rogues have come to
me—because their fathers knew me; and so, as Onesimus’ master had
known Paul, the servant applied to his master’s friend, perhaps to
beg some little help in his extremity. Anyhow, Paul seized the
opportunity and preached to him Jesus, and the runaway slave became
a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul watched him, admired the
character of his convert, and was glad to be served by him, and when
he thought it right that he should return to his master, Philemon,
he took a deal of trouble to compose a letter of apology for him, a
letter which shows long thinking, since every word is well selected:
albeit that the Holy Spirit dictated it, inspiration does not
prevent a man’s exercising thought and care on what he writes. Every
word is chosen for a purpose. If he had been pleading for himself,
he could not have pleaded more earnestly or wisely. Paul, as you
know, was not accustomed to write letters with his own hand, but
dictated to an amanuensis. It is supposed that he had an affection
of the eyes, and therefore when he did write he used large capital
letters, as he says in one of the epistles, “Ye see how large a
letter I have written unto you with my own hand.” The epistle was
not a large one, but he probably alluded to the largeness of the
characters which he was obliged to use whenever he himself wrote.
This letter to Philemon, at least part of it, was not dictated, but
was written by his own hand. See the nineteenth verse. “I Paul have
written it with mine own hand. I will repay it.” It is the only note
of hand which I recollect in Scripture, but there it is—an I O U for
whatever amount Onesimus may have stolen.
Let us cultivate a
large-hearted spirit, and sympathize with the people of God,
especially with new converts, if we find them in trouble through
past wrong-doing. If anything needs setting right, do not let us
condemn them off-hand, and say, “You have been stealing from your
master, have you? You profess to be converted, but we do not believe
it.” Such suspicious and severe treatment may be deserved, but it is
not such as the love of Christ would suggest. Try and set the fallen
ones right, and give them again, as we say, “a fair start in the
world.” If God has forgiven them, surely we may, and if Jesus Christ
has received them, they cannot be too bad for us to receive. Let us
do for them what Jesus would have done had he been here, so shall we
truly be the disciples of Jesus.
First, let us look
at Onesimus as an instance of divine grace.
We see the grace of God in his
election. He was a slave. In those days slaves were very ignorant,
untaught, and degraded. Being barbarously used, they were for the
most part themselves sunk in the lowest barbarism, neither did their
masters attempt to raise them out of it. It is possible that
Philemon’s attempt to do good to Onesimus may have been irksome to
the man, and he may therefore have fled from his house. His master’s
prayers, warnings, and Christian regulations may have been
disagreeable to him, and therefore he ran away. He wronged his
master, which he could scarcely have done if he had not been treated
as a confidential servant to some extent. Possibly the unusual
kindness of Philemon, and the trust reposed in him may have been too
much for his untrained nature. We know not what he stole, but
evidently he had taken something, for the apostle says, “If he hath
wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account.” He ran
away from Colosse, therefore, and thinking that he would be less
likely to be discovered by the ministers of justice, he sought the
city of Rome, which was then as large as the city of London now is,
and perhaps larger. There in those back slums, such as the Jews’
quarter in Rome now is, Onesimus would go and hide; for among those
gangs of thieves which infested the imperial city, he would not be
known or heard of any more, so he thought; and he could live the
free and easy life of a thief. Yet, mark you, the Lord looked out of
heaven with an eye of love, and set that eye on Onesimus.
Were there no free men, that
God must elect a slave? Were there no faithful servants, that he
must choose one who had embezzled his master’s money? Were there
none of the educated and polite, that he must needs look upon a
barbarian? Were there none among the moral and the excellent, that
infinite love should fix itself upon this degraded being, who was
now mixed up with the very scum of society? And what the scum of
society was in old Rome I should not like to think, for the upper
classes were about as brutalized in their general habits as we can
very well conceive; and what the lowest scum of all must have been,
none of us can tell. Onesimus was part and parcel of the dregs of a
sink of sin. Read Paul’s first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans,
if you can, and you will see in what a horrible state the heathen
world was at that time, and Onesimus was among the worst of the
worst; and yet eternal love, which passed by kings and princes, and
left Pharisees and Sadducees, philosophers and magi, to stumble in
the dark as they chose, fixed its eye upon this poor benighted
creature that he might be made a vessel to honor, fit for the
his nature in his grace,
All sovereign, and all free;
Great God, how searchless are thy ways,
How deep thy judgments be!
“I will have mercy on whom I
will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have
compassion,” rolls like thunder alike from the cross of Calvary and
from the mount of Sinai. The Lord is a sovereign, and does as he
pleases. Let us admire that marvelous electing love which selected
such a one as Onesimus!
Grace also is to be observed,
in the next place, in the conversion of this runaway slave.
Look at him! How unlikely he
appears to become a convert. This man had been dishonest, and he was
daring withal, for after taking his master’s property he was bold
enough to make a long journey from Colosse to reach Rome. But
everlasting love means to convert the man, and converted he shall
be. He may have heard Paul preach at Colosse and Athens, but yet he
had not been impressed. At Rome, Paul was not preaching in St.
Peter’s: it was in no such noble building. But it was probably down
there at the back of the Palatine hill, where the praetorian guard
have their lodgings, and where there was a prison called the Praetorium. In a bare room in the barrack prison Paul sat with a
soldier chained to his hand, preaching to all who were admitted to
hear him, and there it was that the grace of God reached the heart
of this wild young man; and, oh, what a change it made in him
immediately! Now you see him repenting of his sin, grieved to think
he has wronged a good man, vexed to see the depravity of his heart
as well as the error of his life. He weeps; Paul preaches to him
Christ crucified, and the glance of joy is in his eye: and from that
heavy heart a load is taken. New thoughts light up that dark mind;
the very face is changed, and the entire man renewed, for the grace
of God can turn the lion to a lamb, the raven to a dove.
Some of us, I have no doubt,
are quite as wonderful instances of divine election and effectual
calling as Onesimus was. Let us, therefore, record the
lovingkindness of the Lord, and let us say to ourselves, “Christ
shall have the glory of it. The Lord hath done it; and unto the Lord
be honor, world without end.”
The grace of God was
conspicuous in the character which it wrought in Onesimus upon his
conversion, for he appears to have been helpful, useful, and
profitable. So Paul says. Paul was willing to have had him as an
associate. He was evidently of a kind, tender, loving spirit. Paul
at once called him brother, and would have liked to retain him. When
he sent him back, was it not a clear proof of change of heart in
Onesimus that he would go back? Away as he was in Rome, he might
have passed on from one town to another, and have remained perfectly
free, but feeling that he was under some kind of bond to his
master—especially since he had injured him—he takes Paul’s advice to
return to his old position. He will go back, and take a letter of
apology or introduction to his master; for he feels that it is his
duty to make reparation for the wrong that he has done. I always
like to see a resolve to make restitution of former wrongs in people
who profess to be converted. If they have taken any money wrongfully
they ought to repay it; it were well if they returned seven-fold. Do
not think it is to be passed over by saying, “God has forgiven me,
and therefore I may leave it.” No, dear friend, but inasmuch as God
has forgiven you, try to undo all the wrong, and prove the sincerity
of your repentance by so doing. So Onesimus will go back to
Philemon, and work out his term of years with him, or otherwise do
Philemon’s wishes, for though he might have preferred to wait upon
Paul, his first duty was due to the man whom he had injured. That
showed a gentle, humble, honest, upright spirit; and let Onesimus be
commended for it: nay, let the grace of God be extolled for it. Look
at the difference between the man who robbed, and the man who now
comes back to be profitable to his master.
What wonders the grace of God
has done! What wonders the grace of God can do! Many plans are
employed in the world for the reformation of the wicked and the
reclaiming of the fallen, and to every one of these, as far as they
are rightly concerned, we wish good success; for whatever things are
lovely and pure, and of good report, we wish them God speed. But
mark this word—the true reforming of the drunkard lies in giving him
a new heart; the true reclaiming of the harlot is to be found in a
renewed nature. She must be washed in the Savior’s blood, or she
will never be clean. The lowest strata of society will never be
brought into the light of virtue, sobriety, and purity, except by
Jesus Christ and his Gospel; and we must stick to that. Let all
others do what they like, but God forbid that I should glory save in
the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, secondly, we
have in our text, and its connections, a very interesting INSTANCE
OF SIN OVERRULED.
Onesimus had no right to rob
his master and run away; but God was pleased to make use of that
crime for his conversion. It brought him to Rome, and so brought him
where Paul was preaching, and thus it brought him to Christ, and to
his right mind. Now, when we speak of this, we must be cautious.
When Paul says, “Perhaps he departed for a season, that thou
shouldest receive him forever,” he does not excuse his departure. He
does not make it out that Onesimus did right—not for a moment. Sin
is sin, and, whatever sin may be overruled to do, yet sin is still
sin. The crucifixion of our Savior has brought the greatest
conceivable blessings upon mankind, yet none the less it was “with
wicked hands” that they took Jesus and crucified him. The selling of
Joseph into Egypt was the means in the hand of God of the
preservation of Jacob, and his sons, in the time of famine; but his
brethren had nothing to do with that, and they were none the less
guilty for having sold their brother for a slave. Let it always be
remembered that the faultiness or virtue of an act is not contingent
upon the result of that act. If, for instance, a man who has been
set on a railway to turn the switch forgets to do it, you call it a
very great crime if the train comes to mischief and a dozen people
are killed. Yes, but the crime is the same if nobody is killed. It
is not the result of the carelessness, but the carelessness itself
which deserves punishment. If it were the man’s duty to turn the
switch in such-and-such a way, and his not doing so should even by
some strange accident turn to the saving of life, the man would be
equally blameworthy. There would be no credit due to him, for if his
duty lies in a certain line his fault also lies in a certain line,
namely, the neglecting of that duty. So if God overrules sin for
good, as he sometimes does, it is none the less sin. It is sin just
as much as ever, only there is so much the more glory to the
wonderful wisdom and grace of God who, out of evil, brings forth
good, and so does what only omnipotent wisdom can perform. Onesimus
is not excused, then, for having embezzled his master’s goods nor
for having left him without right; he still is a transgressor, but
God’s grace is glorified.
Remember, too, that this must
be noticed—that when Onesimus left his master he was performing an
action the results of which, in all probability, would have been
ruinous to him. He was living as a trusted dependent beneath the
roof of a kind master, who had a church in his house. If I read the
epistle rightly, he had a godly mistress and a godly master, and he
had an opportunity of learning the Gospel continually; but this
reckless young blade, very likely, could not bear it, so away he
went, and threw away the opportunities of salvation. Now, had it
come to pass that he had joined in the insurrections of the slaves
which took place frequently about that time, as he in all
probability would have done had not grace prevented, he would have
been put to death as others had been. He would have had short shrift
in Rome: half suspect a man and off with his head was the rule
towards slaves and vagabonds. Onesimus was just the very man that
would have been likely to be hurried to death and to eternal
destruction. He had put his head, as it were, between the lion’s
jaws by what he had done. When a young man suddenly leaves home and
goes to London, we know what it means. When his friends do not know
where he is, and he does not want them to know, we are aware, within
a little, where he is and what he is at. What Onesimus was doing I
do not know, but he was certainly doing his best to ruin himself.
His course, therefore, is to be judged, as far as he is concerned,
by what it was likely to bring him to; and though it did not bring
him to it, that was no credit to him, but all the honor of it is due
to the overruling power of God.
See how God overruled all.
Thus had the Lord purposed. Nobody shall be able to touch the heart
of Onesimus but Paul. Onesimus is living at Colosse; Paul cannot
come there, he is in prison. It is needful, then, that Onesimus
should be got to Paul. Suppose the kindness of Philemon’s heart had
prompted him to say to Onesimus, “I want you to go to Rome, and find
Paul out and hear him.” This naughty servant would have said, “I am
not going to risk my life to hear a sermon. If I go with the money
you are sending to Paul, or with the letter, I shall deliver it, but
I want none of his preaching.” Sometimes, you know, when people are
brought to hear a preacher with the view of their being converted,
if they have any idea of it, it is about the very last thing likely
to happen, because they go there resolved to be fireproof, and so
the preaching does not come home to them: and it would probably have
been just so with Onesimus. No, no, he was not to be won in that
way, he must be taken to Rome another way. How shall it be done?
Well, the devil shall do it, not knowing that he will be losing a
willing servant thereby. The devil tempts Onesimus to steal.
Onesimus does it, and when he has stolen he is afraid of being
discovered, and so he makes tracks for Rome as quickly as he can,
and gets down among the back slums, and there he feels what the
prodigal felt—a hungry belly, and that is one of the best preachers
in the world to some people: their conscience is reached in that
way. Being very hungry, not knowing what to do, and no man giving
anything to him, he thinks whether there is anybody in Rome that
would take pity on him. He does not know anybody in Rome at all, and
is likely to starve.
Perhaps one morning there was
a Christian woman—I should not wonder—who was going to hear Paul,
and she saw this poor man sitting crouched up on the steps of a
temple, and she went to him and spoke about his soul. “Soul,” said
he, “I care nothing about that, but my body would thank you for
something to eat. I am starving.” She replied, “Come with me, then,”
and she gave him bread, and then she said, “I do this for Jesus
Christ’s sake.” “Jesus Christ!” he said, “I have heard of him. I
used to hear of him over at Colosse.” “Whom did you hear speak about
him?” the woman would ask. “Why, a short man with weak eyes, a great
preacher, named Paul, who used to come to my master’s house.” “Why,
I am going to hear him preach,” the woman would say, “will you hear
him again. He always had a kind word to say to the poor.” So he goes
in and pushes his way among the soldiers, and Paul’s Master incites
Paul to speak the right word.
It may have been so, or it may
have been the other way—that not knowing anybody else at all, he
thought, “Well, there is Paul, I know. He is here a prisoner, and I
will go down and see what prison he is in.” He goes down to the
Praetorium and finds him there, tells him of his extreme poverty,
and Paul talks to him, and then he confesses the wrong he has done,
and Paul, after teaching him a little while, says, “Now, you must go
back and make amends to your master for the wrong you have done.” It
may have been either of these ways; at any rate, the Lord must have
Onesimus in Rome to hear Paul, and the sin of Onesimus, though
perfectly voluntary on his part, so that God had no hand in it, is
yet overruled by a mysterious providence to bring him where the
Gospel shall be blest to his soul.
Now, I want to speak to some
of you Christian people about this matter. Have you a son who has
left home? Is he a willful, wayward young man, who has gone away
because he could not bear the restraints of a Christian family? It
is a sad thing it should be so—a very sad thing, but do not despond
or even have a thought of despair about him. You do not know where
he is, but God does; and you cannot follow him, but the Spirit of
God can. He is taking a voyage to Shanghai. Ah, there may be a Paul
at Shanghai who is to be the means of his salvation, and as that
Paul is not in England, your son must go there. Is it to Australia
that he is going? There may be a word spoken there by the blessing
of God to your son which is the only word which ever will reach him.
I cannot speak it; nobody in London can speak it; but the man there
will; and God, therefore, is letting him go away in all his
willfulness and folly that he may be brought under the means of
grace, which will prove effectual to his salvation. The worst thing
that can happen to a young man is sometimes the best thing that can
happen to him. I have sometimes thought when I have seen young men
of position and wealth taking to racing and all sorts of
dissipation, “Well, it is a dreadfully bad thing, but they may as
well get through their money as quickly as ever they can, and then
when they have got down to beggary they will be like the young
gentleman in the parable who left his father.” When he had spent
all, there arose a mighty famine in that land and he began to be in
want, and he said, “I will arise and go to my father.” Perhaps the
disease that follows vice—perhaps the poverty that comes like an
armed man after extravagance and debauch—is but love in another
form, sent to compel the sinner to come to himself and consider his
ways and seek an ever-merciful God.
Onesimus might have stopped at
home, and he might never have been a thief, but he might have been
lost through self-righteousness. But now his sin is visible. The
rogue has displayed the depravity of his heart, and now it is that
he comes under Paul’s eye and Paul’s prayer, and becomes converted.
Do not, I pray you, ever despair of man or woman or child because
you see their sin upon the surface of their character. On the
contrary, say to yourself, “This is placed where I can see it, that
I may pray about it. It is thrown out under my eye that I may now
concern myself to bring this poor soul to Jesus Christ, the mighty
Savior, who can save the most forlorn sinner.” Look at it in the
light of earnest, active benevolence, and rouse yourselves to
conquer it. Our duty is to hope on and to pray on. It may be,
perhaps, that “he therefore departed for a season, that thou
shouldest receive him forever.” Perhaps the boy has been so wayward
that his sin may come to a crisis, and a new heart may be given him.
Perhaps your daughter’s evil has been developed that now the Lord
may convince her of sin and bring her to the Savior’s feet. At any
rate, if the case be ever so bad, hope in God, and pray on.
text may be viewed as AN EXAMPLE OF RELATIONS IMPROVED.
“He therefore departed
for a season, that thou shouldest receive him forever; not now as a
servant … but a brother beloved, especially to me, but how much more
unto thee?” You know we are a long while learning great truths.
Perhaps Philemon had not quite found out that it was wrong for him
to have a slave. Some men who were very good in their time did not
know it. John Newton did not know that he was doing wrong in the
slave trade, and George Whitefield, when he left slaves to the
orphanage at Savannah, which had been willed to him, did not think
for a moment that he was doing anything more than if he had been
dealing with horses, or gold and silver. Public sentiment was not
enlightened, although the Gospel has always struck at the very root
of slavery. The essence of the Gospel is that we are to do to others
as we would that others should do to us, and nobody would wish to be
another man’s slave, and therefore he has no right to have another
man as his slave. Perhaps, when Onesimus ran away and came back
again, this letter of Paul may have opened Philemon’s eyes a little
as to his own position. No doubt he may have been an excellent
master, and have trusted his servant, and not treated him as a slave
at all, but perhaps he had not regarded him as a brother; and now
Onesimus has come back he will be a better servant, but Philemon
will be a better master, and a slave-holder no longer. He will
regard his former servant as a brother in Christ.
Now, this is what the grace of
God does when it comes into a family. It does not alter the
relations; it does not give the child a right to be pert, and forget
that he is to be obedient to his parents; it does not give the
father a right to lord it over his children without wisdom and love,
for it tells him that he is not to provoke his children to anger,
lest they be discouraged; it does not give the servant the right to
be a master, neither does it take away from the master his position,
or allow him to exaggerate his authority, but all round it softens
and sweetens. Rowland Hill used to say that he would not give a half
penny for a man’s piety if his dog and his cat were not better off
after he was converted. There was much weight in that remark.
Everything in the house goes better when grace oils the wheels. The
mistress is, perhaps, rather sharp, quick, tart; well, she gets a
little sugar into her constitution when she receives the grace of
God. The servant may be apt to loiter, be late up of a morning, very
slovenly, fond of a gossip at the door; but, if she is truly
converted, all that kind of thing ends. She is conscientious, and
attends to her duty as she ought. The master, perhaps—well, he is
the master, and you know it. But when he is a truly Christian man—he
has a gentleness, a suavity, a considerateness about him. The
husband is the head of the wife, but when renewed by grace he is not
at all the head of the wife as some husbands are. The wife also
keeps her place, and seeks, by all gentleness and wisdom to make the
house as happy as she can. I do not believe in your religion, if it
belongs to the Tabernacle, and the prayer-meeting, and not to your
home. The best religion in the world is that which smiles at the
table, works at the sewing-machine, and is amiable in the
drawing-room. Give me the religion which shines boots, and does them
well; cooks the food, and cooks it so that it can be eaten; measures
out yards of calico, and does not make them half-an-inch short;
sells a hundred yards of an article, and does not label ninety a
hundred, as many tradespeople do. That is the true Christianity
which affects the whole of life.
If we are truly Christians we
shall be changed in all our relationships to our fellow men, and
hence we shall regard those whom we call our inferiors with quite a
different eye. Do let us think of others, especially of those whom
Christ loves even as he does us. Philemon might have said, “No, no,
I don’t take you back, Mr. Onesimus, not I. Once bitten, twice shy,
sir. I never ride a broken-kneed horse. You stole my money; I am not
going to have you back again.” I have heard that style of talk, have
not you? Did you ever feel like it? If you have, go home and pray to
God to get such a feeling out of you, for it is bad stuff to have in
your soul. You cannot take it to heaven. When the Lord Jesus Christ
has forgiven you so freely, are you to take your servant by the
throat and say, “Pay me what thou owest?” God forbid that we should
continue in such a temper. Be pitiful, easily entreated, ready to
forgive. It is a deal better that you should suffer a wrong than do
a wrong: much better that you should overlook a fault which you
might have noticed, than notice a fault which you ought to have
through all your actions run,
And all your words be kind,
is said in the little hymn
which we used to learn when we were children. We should practice it
the blessed virgin’s son,
That meek and lowly child.
God grant we may, of his infinite grace.
If the mysterious providence
of God was to be seen in Onesimus getting to Rome, I wonder whether
there is any providence of God in some of you being here now! It is
possible. Such things do happen. People come here that never meant
to come. The last thing in the world they would have believed if
anybody had said it is that they would be here, yet here they are.
With all manner of twists and turns they have gone about, but they
have gotten here somehow. I do pray you, then, consider this
question with your own heart. “Does not God mean to bless me? Has he
not brought me here on purpose that this night I may yield my heart
to Jesus as Onesimus did?” My dear friend, if you believe on the
Lord Jesus Christ, you shall have immediate pardon for all sin, and
shall be saved. The Lord has brought you here in his infinite wisdom
to hear that, and I hope that he has also brought you here that you
might accept it, and so go your way altogether changed. Some three
years ago I was talking with an aged minister, and he began fumbling
about in his waistcoat pocket, but he was a long while before he
found what he wanted. At last he brought out a letter that was well
nigh worn to pieces, and he said, “God Almighty bless you! God
Almighty bless you!” And I said, “Friend, what is it?” He said, “I
had a son. I thought he would be the stay of my old age, but he
disgraced himself, and he went away from me, and I could not tell
where he went, only he said he was going to America. He took a
ticket to sail for America from the London Docks, but he did not go
on the particular day that he expected.” This aged minister asked me
to read the letter, and I read it, and it was like this—“Father, I
am here in America. I have found a situation, and God has prospered
me. I write to ask your forgiveness for the thousand wrongs that I
have done you, and the grief I have caused you, for, blessed be God,
I have found the Savior. I have joined the church of God here, and
hope to spend my life in God’s service. It happened thus: I did not
sail for America the day I expected. I went down to the Tabernacle
to see what it was like, and God met with me. Mr. Spurgeon said,
‘Perhaps there is a runaway son here. The Lord call him by his
grace. And he did.” “Now,” said he, as he folded up the letter and
put it in his pocket, “that son of mine is dead, and he is in
heaven, and I love you, and I shall do so as long as I live, because
you were the means of bringing him to Christ.” Is there a similar
character here now? I feel persuaded there is—somebody of the same
sort; and in the name of God I charge him to take the warning that I
give him from this pulpit. I dare you to go out of this place as you
came in. Oh, young man the Lord in mercy gives you another
opportunity of turning from the error of your ways, and I pray you
now here—as you now are—lift your eye to heaven, and say, “God be
merciful to me a sinner,” and he will be so. Then go home to your
father and tell him what the grace of God has done for you, and
wonder at the love which brought you here to bring you to Christ.
Dear friend, if there is
nothing mysterious about it, yet here we are. We are where the
Gospel is preached, and that brings responsibility upon us. If a man
is lost, it is better for him to be lost without hearing the Gospel,
than to be lost as some of you will be if you perish under the sound
of a clear, earnest enunciation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How
long halt some of you between two opinions? “Have I been so long
time with you,” says Christ, “and yet hast thou not known me?” All
this teaching and preaching and invitation, and yet do you not turn?
O God, do
thou the sinner turn,
Convince him of his lost estate.
Let him linger no longer, lest
he linger till he rue his fatal choice too late. God bless you, for
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