If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me. 18 But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. 19 I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay—not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides. 20 Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord. 21 Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. 22 But, meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I trust that through your prayers I shall be granted to you. 23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, 24 as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers. 25 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. Philemon vv. 17-25
(Studies of Philemon vv. 1-7
and 8-16 appeared in previous issues)
Adam and Eve separated themselves from the Lord God in the Garden of Eden. They acknowledged the separation when out of fear they hid themselves from God whom they had offended. Such is the circumstance of each of us—born in sin and estranged from God.
Yet out of the abundance of His heart, He promised the Savior who would bear the sins of the world; consequently we read, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself…” (2 Corinthians 5:19). Reconciled unto God, we may be at peace, for the Father has forgiven us in Christ Jesus. Each time we look upon the face of the Lord Jesus Christ in the gospel-word, we see the smiling face of a loving Father!
In relation to our study of the Epistle to Philemon, the apostle did not approve of Onesimus’ action in running away from or stealing from his master. Under the circumstances these were punishable crimes. Nevertheless, the counsel in the Apostle Paul’s very personal letter to Philemon strikes the tone of reconciliation.
Both Philemon and Onesimus—converted through the gospel which Paul had shared with them—were dear to Paul. It grieved him to see strife and possible division between two brothers in the faith. In his new life under the sway of the gospel, Onesimus had been helpful to Paul. If Paul had kept Onesimus in his service, he might at least have kept a semblance of peace in the hope that time would heal the wounds between the two converts. Paul chose another route.
Laying his own reputation on the line, Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon. “If then you [Philemon] count me as a partner, receive him [Onesimus] as you would me” (v. 17). Shades of Jesus’ prayer in John 17, “…and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are one” (John 17:11). The Heavenly Father counts us as His own and keeps us in His embrace for the sake of Jesus, who by His atonement has reconciled us to the Father!
Paul offered to make good in Onesimus’ behalf whatever he had
stolen from his master. “But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account” (v. 18). Shades of Isaiah 53:6, “And the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
Martin Franzmann quotes Luther as saying: “…even as Christ did for us with God the Father, thus also does St. Paul for Onesimus, with Philemon. For Christ also has put Himself out of His rights and with humility has prevailed with His Father that He should lay aside His
wrath and His rights and receive us to grace, for Christ’s sake…For we
are all His Onesimi, if we believe it” (Franzmann, The Word of the Lord Grows, p. 128).
Within Christian congregations personal disagreements which delight Satan frequently arise between members. We can go one of two ways under such circumstances. We can let the problem fester and go on estranged or we can address it head-on, speaking (and hearing) the truth in love, recognizing that resolution of a difficulty between two reconciled children of God is a reflection of the love of God toward each. If necessary, we will welcome the assistance of the pastor who by the application of the gospel can facilitate such reconciliation. He will do so with fervent prayer, and with the expectation expressed by “Pastor” Paul to Philemon, “Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord” (v. 20).
The apostle was confident in the power of the gospel to bring about reconciliation between Philemon and Onesimus (v. 21).
The world hates us because we are Christ’s. But we are not starved for love. Our craving for meaningful love is satisfied in our Lord’s promise that He loves us with an everlasting love. The command of our Lord is not burdensome. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). It is no burden as we remember that in love Jesus laid down His life for us (John 15:13) and reconciled us to the Father.
There is joy in heaven over each sinner that repents. We are confident that heaven also rejoices when those reconciled unto the Father live in the confidence of that reconciliation, and further live the reconciliation life toward one another as Paul counseled in his heartfelt letter to Philemon.