Paul’s short letter to Philemon encapsulates Christ’s role as mediator between God and man. He presents an object lesson of reconciliation through forgiveness. One Christ performed on our behalf and we are called to perform on his behalf, even as Paul did for Onesimus.
The problem: Onesimus, a slave to Philemon, fled his master’s house. In his desire to be free of a master and rule his own life we are given this description.
“Onesimus … which in time past was to thee unprofitable …” (11)
Onesimus was as we were or are when we cling to the control of our own lives.
“THEY ARE ALL GONE OUT OF THE WAY,
THEY ARE TOGETHR BECOME UNPROFITABLE;
THERE IS NONE THAT DOETH GOOD, NO, NOT ONE.”
“For all have sinned,
and come short of the glory of God;”
Romans 3:12, 23.
Left to our own devices we are the unprofitable servant in Jesus’s parable of the talents found in Matthew 25:30.
“And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness:
there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
In Onesimus’s fleeing, the love of Christ pursued and overtook him.
Paul willingly took on a debt Onesimus could not pay.
“If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought,
put that on mine account;”(18)
Christ took our debt.
“For the wages of sin is death –
But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 6:23;5:8;
For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21.
Paul interceded on Onesimus’s behalf.
“but now profitable to thee and to me…
perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever;
Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?” (15,16)
So Christ has interceded on our behalf . We –
“Which in time past were not a people,
but are now the people of God:
which had not obtained mercy,
but now have obtained mercy.”
Onesimus did not choose slavery. He was either born into it or sold into it. His fleeing did not free him. His choosing to be enslaved to Christ did. For a new relationship now existed between the master and the slave. They became brothers with Christ belonging to the same Father.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek,
there is neither bond nor free,
there is neither male nor female:
for ye are all one in Christ Jesus…
And because ye are sons,
God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son
into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
Wherefore thou art no more a servant but a son;
and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”
Galatians 3:28; 4:6,7.
We, too, are born without a choice. By nature we are born slaves to sin, sold into slavery by our first father, Adam. We sin because we are sinners. But, before time began, our heavenly Father chose to give a new birth with a new nature in Christ Jesus his Son to all who believe.
“Therefore if any man be in Christ,
he is a new creature:
old things are passed away;
behold, all things are become new …
For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus…
The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit,
that we are the children of God … Romans 8:16;
And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s … 1Corinthians 3:23;
Many flee slavery to sin by their own good works and pleasures to find they become more enslaved than at the beginning. There is only one place to find true freedom.
“Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him,
- If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed:
- And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free…
- Whosoever committeh sin is the servant of sin.
- And the servant abideth not in the house for ever:
- but the Son abideth ever.
If the Son therefore shall make you free,
ye shall be free indeed.”
Onesimus found freedom not in fleeing from his circumstances but in surrendering to the One who freed him in his circumstances. We are free to make the same choice. Surrendering to sin and self leads to death. Surrendering to Christ and righteousness frees us from death to life. Freedom comes in surrender. To whom or what have you surrendered?