“I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds: Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me:” – Philemon 1:10-11
The book of Philemon is one of the shortest books in the bible, yet is a powerhouse of moral standing, examples of good Christian character and council, and a real life parable (or parallel) of God’s redeeming Grace. In this short, one chapter book, we read a letter written by Paul to Philemon. Philemon was a wealthy Christian whom Paul had previously converted, who now had a church in his home.
The letter Paul writes to Philemon has only one purpose, to reconcile Onesimus (who’s name means “useful“) to his master. You see Onesimus was once a servant in Philemon’s house, but he had stolen from his master and fled. However this thief (not unlike the one on the cross) in his running from his master, ran into Jesus and everything changed.
Onesimes became a Christian and under Paul’s leadership set out to make things right. On the surface of this text we can see themes of forgiveness, humility, compassion, selflessness, freedom from bondage, and love played out in this short, one chapter book. However, perhaps the most powerful and beautiful (how be it, usually overlooked) theme in this story is that of reconciliation.
Paul (humbling himself to Onesimes’s level of servant-hood by declaring himself a slave of the Lord), writes Philemon on behalf of Onesimes. In doing so he comes across as a type of Christ, an advocate and mediator between this sinful thieving servant who is worthy of death under the law and his good master. Paul offers to take Onesimes’s debt upon himself that he might be reconciled in good standing to his good master. Yet not only was he to be reconciled to the same position as before but because of Paul’s selfless love and mediating on his behalf, he was to be received as better then before. No longer as a slave but as family, even as Paul himself.
“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, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord? If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself. If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account; I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it:” – Philemon 1:15-19
In like manner, we as Christians, once either in bondage to sin or a slave under the law, are now through Christ who took our debt upon himself and sits in heavenly places at the right hand of God as our mediator, has reconciled us to our Good Master. Yet not as slaves to the law as before, but to better! Because of Jesus we are reconciled as family, being received “even as He”! Joint heirs, brothers and sisters with Christ Jesus!
“But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” Galatians 4:4-7
*Read Full Book of Philemon