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Dearest Philemon … I Will Pay His Debt

If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.
Philemon 18

Paul is well aware of the effect his letter is having on his friend. He has just asked this wealthy, upper class business man to welcome Onesimus, his lowly slave, as he would welcome Paul, his spiritual mentor (vs17). Paul softens the financial blow by offering to pay any debts Onesimus might owe. There is no way Onesimus can right the wrongs that have occurred by his running away. 

So Paul swears, in his own handwriting, to keep his promise. And then he turns the screws a little: not to mention that you (Philemon) owe me your very self (vs19). It is assumed that Paul was indirectly responsible for Philemon’s salvation, possibly through the church in nearby Ephesus where Paul spent three years. That would make both Philemon and Onesimus Paul’s spiritual sons.

Ladies, you and I are Onesimus. Once we were slaves to ourselves and to sin and to death. Like Onesimus, we ran, ran, ran away from our Master and would still be running, if not for someone like Paul who took us in. Coincident or not, Onesimus found his way to Paul’s house. Paul told him the story of Jesus. Somewhere along the way a dear friend told you the story of Jesus. 

And Jesus knew we owed a debt way too big for us to pay. He graciously paid your debt and mine, in full, on the cross. We are free, free, free.

There is no one beyond redemption, not even a runaway slave. You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus…there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-28). Good news for Onesimus. Good news for you and for me.

At this point, what choice did Philemon have? His financial excuse was long gone—he would not be out any money. However he could take Onesimus back as a slave and no one would be the wiser. After all, the letter was in his hands to do with as he wished. No one else need read its contents. Or he could greet Onesimus with open arms as an equal, in which case his status in Colosse could be seriously jeopardized.       

The lessons of grace and mercy and forgiveness were Philemon’s to absorb or not, as they are ours.

Nancy P

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