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 Master.
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 to Thee.’
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
(Click for Part 1)
Verse by Verse
Devotional Study on Philemon
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 Christ Jesus
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 God.”
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 hospitality.
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 and mercy…”
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 said:
“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 discrimination.
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 wisdom.
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 away.
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 gospel.”
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 Jesus.”
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 here.”
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 is.”
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 voluntary
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.
PRINCIPLE: Compulsion is not good leadership but consideration for others is good leadership.
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 but eagerly…”
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 imprisonment.
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 purpose.”
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 around.
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 distinctions.
Paul viewed Philemon as a partner
If then you count me as a partner,
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 and power.”
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 God’s approbation.
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 for them.”
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 minister.”
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 “refreshing” others.
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 beyond duty.
PRINCIPLE: Grace goes beyond duty.
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 shortly.”
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 4:10-16.
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 Spirit.”
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 way.
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 Onesimus.
2Ti 4:11 “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry.”
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 chances.
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 the boards?
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 companions.”
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 personally.
Notice the words “fellow laborer” (Philemon 1), “fellow soldier”(Philemon 2), “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 “grace.”
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.
C H Spurgeon
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.
3-7. 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, brother.
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.
8, 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 Christ.
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.’”
10. I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds:
“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.”
11, 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.”
12. 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.”
13, 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.”
15-17. 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 partner,-
“If thou hast true fellowship and communion with me,” —
17. 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.
18. If he hath coronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account;
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!
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 besides.
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.
20. 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.”
21. 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.
22-25. 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 spirit. Amen
C H Spurgeon
Sermon on Philemon 1:15
(Click here 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 forever”—
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 Master’s use.
Just like 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.
Thirdly our 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 overlooked.
Let love 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 now, and—
Live like 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 Christ’s sake.