August 20, 2023

Philemon: The Beautiful Salvation of a Slave

Speaker: David Jordan Series: Journey Through the Bible Scripture: Philemon 1:1–25

Download the Philemon Bible Journal Outline

Open your Bibles, if you would, to the book of Philemon. If you're new with us today, I've been preaching through the entire Bible, one book at a time. So, I will cover an entire book of the Bible in one sermon. Today, you’re fortunate because this is Paul's smallest letter. So, Philemon is easy to digest in one message. For a challenging one, go back and listen to Isaiah.

There is one word that will fundamentally change your understanding of Christianity. This word is used, translated into English, about 118 times in most of the normal translations today. But there are a couple recent ones where it is translated this way, over 400 times. So, imagine not seeing a word in English, four times as many times, until just recently. This word describes our relationship to Jesus Christ, it is characteristic of who we are in Christ. This word is used 80 times in the gospels alone to describe the relationship that we have with Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, when some of the English translations began to come about, this word was not in vogue, you could say. They were scared of it. No, this is too much for people to handle. And so, they began translating this word in a new way that they hadn't, for many centuries. And it has done much harm, I think, to our understanding of who we are in Christ. It has made it more casual, more friendship based, more peer to peer. But once you see this word, you will never be able to unsee it in the Scriptures. And of course, that word is “slave.”

Servant and slave work overlap many times in Scripture. And this word “slave” in most of your Bibles, is translated “servant” or “bondservant.” But there are great differences between those two words and what they mean, contextually. Let me just point out two of them, and I think that'll clarify it. A servant is one who works voluntarily, a slave is forced. Servants are hired, slaves are owned. Just those two differences alone, you can see there's a glaring difference in those words. They are not really comparable, as though they were synonymous.

Ask a voluntary person and someone around the world about those two titles, and they would gladly choose servant. You need to understand this because it's fundamental to who we are in Jesus Christ. The Greek has six words that mean “servant,” and the word doulos is not one of them. And that is the word, sorry to use those phrases, but that is the word that has been translated “servant” over and over and over again. And I don't think there is a translator on the planet that's trying to obscure the meaning of Scripture, but I think what they've done is they have toned down the very nature of who we are. And so casual Christianity has really taken over and people think that just a casual relationship with the church and with our Jesus Christ is sufficient because we see ourselves as completely voluntary servants to our Lord and not slaves.

Jesus didn't see it that way. Jesus told his disciples “whoever would be great among you must be your servant,” and that's the word for “servant.” “And whoever would be first among you, must be your slave.” Now the ESV is forced to translate it “slave” there because it's a different word for “slave” in this passage, then “servant.” “Servant” is where we get “deacon” from here. And there are other words for “servant” as well. But it says, “even as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus told the disciples, who loved to argue about being first, “if you want to be first, you need to be a slave.” To be first means to be the slave of your brothers and sisters in Christ.

There are many, many examples in the New Testament of this. John 8:34-36, “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Now, translate that to “servant.” And then think about what that implies, for your salvation and your service. The Son has to set you free. The Son has to do this, you are incapable of doing that on your own. That will impact your understanding of what some call “free will.” That is to be able to choose outside of your fully depraved nature, according to good desires. That's really what “free will” means. But if you are a slave of sin, you are forced to choose only varying degrees of sin.

Jesus used this understanding in Matthew 13, Matthew 18, Matthew 21, Matthew 22, 24, 25. And that's only in Matthew. Peter calls himself and John, “slaves” of the Lord in Acts 4:29. Demons knew this too, demons knew this too. You say, “that's a leap.” Well, we have in Acts 16 a demon possessed girl. And the Legacy Standard Bible renders, doulos as “slave” so you won't have to guess. It says this in Acts 16:17, “Following after Paul and us. She kept crying out,” that is the demon possessed slave girl, she said, “These men are slaves of the Most High God who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” Even the demons know, we are slaves of Jesus Christ.

Paul in his greeting, in Romans and Philippians calls himself “a slave of Jesus Christ.” And you say, “why does this matter?” Well, let me ask you a question. Are you a Christian? Then you are a slave of Jesus Christ. And you should rejoice. He is the most loving, kind, benevolent, all powerful, compassionate God. Who not only loves us beyond belief, but has a will for our lives that is much better than anything you and I could ever imagine. And he wants us to follow that will and not the crumpled, always changing, ever breaking will. That you and I come up with from week to week. He wants us to have his own will carried out in our lives perfectly. In fact, he even calls us to that and you're familiar with that phrase, it’s called: “be holy.”

That we are slaves of Jesus Christ, and the Scriptures say that, is undeniable. But to understand Philemon we need to understand a little bit of what first century slavery was like. First of all, if I say “slave” and you think African American, you're probably someone on this continent. There are 190 some countries in the world now, (I don't know where the others went, there used to be over 200) but 167 of them still practice what is called modern slavery. Where someone is forced or coerced, against their free desires and choices, to do certain things; with physical punishment as a result if you don't. So, they have relabeled this “modern slavery.” 167 countries! In the first century though, any age, gender, or ethnicity could be a slave.

Remember this is from the very beginning. You remember Joseph, sold by his own brothers, into slavery. The people that they were trying to sell Joseph to didn't go, “Oh, no, we shouldn't do this.” They were like, “Sure, we'd love to take Joseph.” Right? And eventually he ends up in Egypt. This was 1800 BC. We can figure out when, about when, Joseph died. He died about 1800 BC, that’s a long time ago. And that's really early in the Scriptures. But in the first century, slavery was so pervasive in the Roman society that no one even attempted to change it. And it was different than what we have here, though it was not a favorable thing for those who were subjected to it. There were about 50 million people in Rome, almost 12 million were slaves. Staggering! Slaves could be doctors, musicians, teachers, artists, librarians, accountants. It was not uncommon for a Roman to train his slave at his own trade. They had opportunities for education and training in almost all disciplines. Some were treated very well. And some were not. If you were a rural slave, you probably hated life. You were probably in the mines, you probably had a short lifespan, life was incredibly difficult, or you probably worked in the fields all day long.

If you were in the city, you were probably part of someone's household, you were probably taking care of your manager’s children. And you probably even had education. In the first century, most of the people who were slaves by the time of Jesus Christ, were not captured into slavery, they were born into slavery. So, the Roman conquests, Ottoman Empire, all those kinds of things; what they would do is that when they were conquered lands, they would take all the people and ship them off, right? You're familiar with this in the story of Scripture, right, when the Israelites were sent off for 70 years, to Babylon. Same thing. And they were told, “plant vineyards and work for the welfare of Babylon.” You’re going to be there a while. That was God's plan for them.

Slavery was dark though. Slaves had no rights under Roman law. They could be killed by their masters. They were under the sole discretion, their lives were under the sole discretion of their master. Although if you killed your slave, it would be financially detrimental. The average price of a slave was five years wages. It could be as much as five times that amount, though. In each case, the slave was under the complete and unquestioned authority of their master. The nature of their lives depended on the kindness or cruelty of their master, and they were to obey fully. And yes, we are going to get to Philemon. But you need to understand this because this is a touchstone issue for us. It is still very sensitive, and for good reason. Christianity has used the Bible at times to justify this evil. It should not be. And you're going to see how God attacks this institution. By the New Testament era, slavery was changing. In AD 20, slaves could give testimony in court. It's not that they were seen as fully human, they were seen as property. But they were beginning to get some of the normal rights of other people. They were even permitted to own their own property.

But here's the thing, the New Testament nowhere condemns slavery directly, nowhere. Had Jesus and the apostles done so, they would have been crushed by the most powerful empire in the world, they would have been slaughtered. Any slave in an insurrection would have been brutally put down, and the gospel would have been swallowed up by a message of social reform. Christianity did, however, sow the seeds of the destruction of slavery. But it would not be changed by social upheaval, but it would be changed by changed hearts. The Book of Philemon illustrates that principle very, very clearly. “Rather than directly attack this terrible practice,” one commentator says, “Christianity disarmed the institution from within by radically changing the relationship between slaves and masters.” And that is exactly what you see in the book of Philemon. You see, if you can affect the heart, you can affect permanent change. But if you just affect social reform, then you are at the whim of whoever is most in control of social and political life, which as you know, ebbs and flows quite a bit. But if you affect the heart, then you are changing someone for eternity and changing how they treat someone instantly. The Bible commands owners to treat them with justice, and respect.

And it is hard for us to grasp but here's what I want you to think about. I want you to think about how Philemon is spoken of. Philemon is a slave owner, and his slave Onesimus. Okay. So, how does the Bible speak about this man called Philemon? And are we able today, with all of the corruptions that we have and all of the bad decisions that we have, are we able to see the beauty of love come through in the book of Philemon? I would suggest a couple of resources if you want to look into this more. To get an accurate understanding of the history of this evil practice. You can do two things. One, you can listen to the Just Thinking podcast. If you don't know what a podcast is, ask one of the Patrick Henry students. You can look into MacArthur's book, Slave, which goes over the wording. You can check that out in our library. If one's gone and you want one, just ask us, we'll buy you one, you can take it home. Third, you can pick up the Legacy Standard Bible or the Holman Christian Standard Bible and read those, it translates the word accurately.

But Philemon is a beautiful story. If you have your Bible journal, this little bulletin, you can look there at the themes and the overview. The overview is inside there, you can take notes. But Philemon is about this, it's about the beautiful salvation of a slave. It's about the beautiful salvation of a slave. Let's see how that happens. Look in your Bibles, if you would, to Philemon. There's only one chapter. So, I will just reference the verses, look at verse one. I'll be reading out of the ESV. So, you'll see the word “bondservant” instead of “slave.” And let me read the first seven verses to you. And you're going to see this, point one here, that Christian love runs deeper than cultural norms. Christian love runs deeper than cultural norms.

Philemon 1–7
Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.

Is that the character and nature that you would think of when you think of a slave owner? You're going to have to wrestle with this. We're not a church that sugarcoats the Word. We're not going to say, “Oh, slavery was great by the first century,” and just kind of make this sound good. I'm not thinking that you and I can even think through what the Roman mindset was. And the cultural mindset was of these days. As we mentioned earlier in our Grace Equip time that, you know, so many kind commands are given to the Israelites to take care of the sojourner, to take care of the one who is traveling through. But you're going to have to work to understand the Bible for what it says, for what it says. Philemon was a godly man. He was a godly man. If you agree with Paul's words, in verses five through seven, you have to come to the conclusion that he was a godly man. Was he without sin? Of course not. He's known for his love and faith toward Jesus Christ. That's what the Scriptures say. The text is very clear that Jesus is his Lord. And that's going to be very important, very important. Keep that in your mind as we're reading through Philemon, that the Scriptures, inspired by God, say Philemon is a slave of Jesus Christ. That Jesus is his Lord and Master.

And he doesn't just have a little bit of love, he demonstrates a love, in verse five, “for all the saints,” all of them. At this point, it's pretty clear Paul is trying to say that he follows the first and greatest commandment, to love God with his whole heart. To love God with his whole heart. And we're going to answer the question, “Well, then why did he have slaves?” But I want to put forward that there are things in our lives which we hold on to very dearly and we are very reluctant to give them up. We have created in our own minds a blind spot in our lives for a sin that we really like, we really enjoy. Whether it's one that we do that goes before us, right? Scripture says some of our sins go before us. Others say, they follow behind. But we have created, at times, room in our heart for these things, and it takes someone else to come along and say, “You've got a gigantic blind spot here.” And you need to have people in your life that care enough about you to put their arms around you and to say, “For the sake of Jesus Christ, you need to consider this blind spot.”

Paul, look in Philemon 7, he got so “much joy and comfort from [the] love” of Philemon. When people think of you, do they think like that? I get so much love from that person. When I see this lady coming, she is just so kind, she's always talking about Jesus. When she sins, she asks for forgiveness. You know, is that the kind of personality that people see with you because your personality is driven by Holy Spirit inspired godliness? That was Philemon, that was Philemon. He refreshes the saints. He's got a church in his house, not just a small group, once or twice a month. Like that's the place where they're going to gather, the ekklesia. They're going to gather together for the purpose of worship, to worship the Lord Jesus Christ and this was a very healthy church.

You see, for you and I, as we think about the great love that a Christian should have. That goes beyond cultural norms, we need to also consider our own lives. That we have weak spots and other people do too. And one of the hardest things is when you get to know somebody's weak spot, the hard thing is not to always see them just for that weakness. Right? Because I know that's what you're thinking about with Philemon. All you're hearing is, “Yeah but, yeah but, yeah, but what about this?” Do you want to be known for the most glaring sin in your life? Or do you want to be known for the Savior who forgave you for that sin? Right? See, we have to extend that to other people. We have to extend this understanding that God forgave us. And so, we have to extend that to others. Now, if they're continually and perpetually in their sin, they just need to be rebuked.

Again and again, out of love, with complete patience for all. Right? That's how leaders are supposed to deal with them. That's how we, as brothers and sisters in Christ, are supposed to speak to each other with great grace. You'll see that demonstrated in Philemon. Paul starts out the letter and he just points out the good things about Philemon. He points out the things that he's doing really, really well. I don't know if you've got somebody that just kind of rubs you the wrong way. I'm sure there's no pastors like that. But if there's somebody in your life that rubs you the wrong way, maybe today is the day you begin to forgive them completely. You begin to see them with the grace that God sees you with. That you are to forgive, as Ephesians says, like you have been forgiven. You are to love like you have been loved. You are to extend mercy like you have been extended mercy. And I just want to tell you, that if you want a strong, dynamic, healthy functioning church for the glory of God, it's necessary.

At this point, we can say Philemon’s character is something we should emulate. So, the first point was that Christian love runs deeper than cultural norms. The second point is, “Paul's remarkable request for forgiveness and fellowship.” Paul's remarkable request for forgiveness and fellowship. Look at verse eight, again of chapter one. [Philemon 8-10] “Accordingly,” Paul says, “though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love's sake I prefer to appeal to you – I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus – I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment.” Philemon 11, “(Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.)” Philemon 12-14, “I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord.”

Philemon is urged to receive him back as a new man, as a new man. Paul is most likely in imprisonment in Rome, this will be his first imprisonment. This would be when he's under house arrest, where he's free to kind of come and go. He's got someone watching him, but he can receive people. But if you go from around Laodicea, the Colossian area, which is over in modern day Turkey (I guess it would be this way for you guys), and you go over to Rome. The quickest, most direct route – if you're doing land and straight through sea, back to land – is about 1,300 miles. He's not sending him across town. He's confident he's going to go all the way back and not run off again. It doesn't even enter Paul's mind that there's any way Philemon is not going to go back to the situation that was so bad that it caused him to leave, to flee. And when you would run away, you would have to think it through because you would probably be identified as a runaway slave. Which means someone else could capture you and take you for theirs, or send you back for a reward, or just have you killed. 1,300 miles on the run.

But Onesimus had given his life to Jesus. That's what it means in verse 10 when it says, “whose father I became in my imprisonment.” Paul led him to Christ. Paul gave him the gospel that changes and transforms thus. And if you're saved, it's the same gospel that that has saved you. And Onesimus, which the word means “useful” or “beneficial.” Paul's doing a play on words here. He says, “he was useless to you.” Obviously, he ran away 1300 miles, he wasn't staying. You can't have a worker, right? There's no remote working at that point. Right? He's gone. So, “he was useless to you” and now he is useful both to you and me. And Paul's like, “Here's why I'm sending him back. It's not because he's not useful to me, I would love to keep him, have him here of his own accord to work with me. He's become very useful to me already. But I'm sending him back to you. Because that's what is right.”

Philemon 12, Paul said, it's like sending you “my very heart.” The embodiment of Paul's transformed nature. His unending love for the Jews and the Gentiles to know Jesus, it's like he's sending his very heart back to Philemon. You see, in a very short shot time, Onesimus had demonstrated his changed nature. But see if you just think we’re voluntary in and out of serving Jesus Christ. “I just decide and it's all me it's no grace, it's only grace because I've chosen Christ and because of that he owes me his grace.” Right? That's the transaction. “I've done this, so you give me that.” And we're in and out of this, “Oh, I don't want it today.” No, he has been changed completely and he demonstrates this nature. If you get run over by a truck, you are going to be visibly changed. And you think we can impact God Almighty and not be changed? That's what we think. Because we think we're voluntary servants, in and out of our love for Jesus Christ, but not slaves. Not willingly, of our own accord. Yes, we must repent and believe. Yes, we must have faith. Yes, we must say, “Jesus Christ, please save me.” Yes, we must confess with our mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead and we will be saved. Right? All you Bible Bee experts out there, I know you, you're probably thinking of 100 more. It is amazing that God would do anything of his grace in our lives. And yes, we have to have faith and believe, but it's all of God's grace.

In the book of Colossians, we read about Onesimus. You see, while Paul was writing the book of Colossians, is the same time Onesimus was with him. You can see that in Colossians 4:9. And in that passage, there are a couple of other brothers in Christ who are mentioned. One is Tychicus. It's a great baby name, Tychicus. But Paul calls him a slave. And he also talks about Epaphras, Paul calls him a slave, as well. I think Aristarchus is in there, he mentions him as a fellow brother.

But with Onesimus, he calls him a “beloved brother.” As he does Tychicus, but he doesn't use the word “slave” of Onesimus. But everybody else he does and then he says, he’s “one of you.” Can you hear the compassion in Paul as he's writing the inspired Word of God in Colossians 4, to gently deal with this beloved brother who is new in the faith, now on fire for Jesus. Doesn't call him a slave. But as he's writing this letter to the Colossians, in chapter four, he’s like, “This guy, yeah, he's a slave of Jesus. This guy, he's a brother in Christ. This guy, he's also a slave of Jesus. And Onesimus is one of you.” He's so compassionate, so thoughtful about his words. In Colossians 4:9, he's going to send Onesimus back to carry this very letter, with the others, all the way back to Colossae. He calls him, “our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here.” He's going to give testimony to Jesus Christ. Onesimus was more than useful, he was faithful. You see, he can be changed, just like you and I can be changed.

There are periods of time in our life where we do not feel very useful to the Lord, let alone anyone else. And we go, “Lord, how can you ever use me? Look at this I've done, and this I've done, and this I've done. Lord, I just, you know, I feel like you got the wrong guy.” You remember who else said that? Right, Moses? “Are you sure? I can't even talk? And maybe, maybe you got the wrong guy.” “No, I got the right guy. I, God Almighty, did not make a mistake. Thank you for that suggestion, Moses.” Right? That's what he did. Suggesting God made a mistake. No, same thing with you and I, when we feel like we can't be used by God for his glory. You, as a transformed person, can be very useful to God. As we learned in Titus, if you feel like an unclean vessel, then prepare yourself. Become useful to the Master, it says in Titus. And Paul even surmises, starting in Philemon 15, that his salvation is why all this happened. Look in Philemon 15-17. “For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while,” Paul writing to Philemon about the runaway slave Onesimus, “that you might have him back forever, no longer as a [slave],” “bondservant” in the ESV, “but more than a [slave], as a beloved brother –especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me.”

If Jesus wasn't Philemon’s Lord, Paul would not have been so sure that he would receive Onesimus back the way he did. Not as a bondservant but as a beloved brother. Some commentators think maybe he would set him free at this point. Maybe he would relinquish any type of ownership. Grammatically, you can take that, here. But I think what Paul is specifically trying to say is that, “now you have a brother in Christ, that's most important.” Please don't receive him as a slave, receive him as a brother in Christ. You can't do both. You must accept him into your home, but more than that, you must accept him as an equal, as a coheir. See Onesimus was now a coheir of Christ. He was a child of the Most High God. He had received the same mercy that Philemon did.

And again, Paul is not going to say, “You know, you should never have slaves.” Because he's doing more than that. You could release your slave and still be unkind to him. But I want you to receive him. In other words, at a minimum of the five years’ salary that you purchased him for, forget about that. When you think about this man who is coming back, forget about getting your money out of him. You need to see him as a human being, as an ambassador for Jesus Christ. “Receive him as you would receive me,” Paul says, “I am an ambassador in chains. That's who I am, my identity in Christ is bigger than my circumstance.” And you and I, you know, we may have older relatives who've been part of these things. But if you're a younger man, and you haven't really lived through this, it's probably easier for you to think about these things.

But I'm just trying to help us see that this slave is now a son. That's where his value comes from, not his social status. Your value doesn't come from how many degrees you have, or how much you know, it comes from who you know. And it doesn't just come from who you know, it comes from who made you. You are made in the image of God, everyone on the planet is. And we must treat them that way. To get rid of these institutions would be amazing. But you can get rid of this institution and still go to hell. Did you hear that? You can get rid of this institution and still go to hell.

But if you are saved, you rise above those things. Onesimus was a temple of the Holy Spirit on the way back. He's coming back, forever different. You see, our greatest need is not financial. And you've probably said, “Well, if I just had a little bit more,” right. You're quoting Rockefeller and don't even know it. “If I just had a little bit more, things would be good. You know, if I got a little upgrade here or there, or the house paid off, or….” It doesn't matter if the bills are piling up and your health is going down. Our greatest need is Jesus Christ. Not just to be saved, but to be holy. To give him glory in how we live. And Philemon is about giving glory to God in how they lived. Paul is paving a way for them to give God glory, in all these things. You can lose your job, all your friends can be upset with you, your parents or children might not talk to you. And while those things are troubling, they're temporary. At best. You might be in an argument with someone right now. You might get your feelings hurt. You might not get asked out to lunch when you know other people are going, but that's temporary.

You might have a hard time talking with other people, you might have a hard time evangelizing the gospel, and sharing the gospel. But even that is temporary. We want to focus on what is eternal while we are living here. And what is eternal is living out the gospel for the benefit of others. Like Philemon to refresh other people, to be known as loving to other people, all people. When you die, the Lord returns, and you get that new body that you want so much. Especially the older we are things break down. They start talking to us, right? You start going for a walk and your knee starts talking to you like, “I thought we had a deal. You don't use me and I won't cause you any pain.” You go to the fridge and you just you know… right? Or when you get that new body, and everything works perfectly, and you can see people with genuineness, pure genuineness. You could see them with the pure love of Christ. We long for that day.

But let me ask you a question: Are you 100% sure you're going to heaven? Would other people who know you be 100% sure you're going to heaven? See, hopefully those answers are the same. Are you going to live in heaven? Are you going to live on the New Heaven and the New Earth? The New Jerusalem that comes down? Are you going to walk on those streets of gold? Are you going to have a dwelling place made for you? Well, we're all going to have a dwelling place. One might be in the New Jerusalem and one might be at the Lake. You know, the hot one, the hot Lake. No one lives at the Lake; they live in the Lake. Now is the time to get right with Jesus Christ. If you're right with everyone else, but not Jesus, nothing matters. Nothing else matters. Hear me, you have to be right with Jesus Christ. Now.

All mankind is guilty of sin. The entire Bible makes that clear. We think there's just a few verses in Romans three that makes that clear, the entire Bible makes that clear. You are derived from sinful parents. Back to Adam and Eve and somewhere in Noah's family. Right? Holiness is what we need. And without holiness, you won't see the Lord. Isn’t that what Hebrews says? Without holiness, you will not see the Lord. And the only way we can get holiness is to have Jesus Christ's life, death, resurrection be applied to our account. To be seen as having the righteousness of Christ, but truly seen as that in God's eyes. When he died on the cross, He died to set you free. That’s slave language. That you are free indeed, because of what he did. That is grace-fueled language. He died in our place so that we can be with him, and the wrath comes from him. You're not just free from your sin, you are free from the wrath of God. And from that there is no escape. That was Onesimus’s greatest need. And once he got saved, everything changed. Not just in heaven later. But didn't it change everything in his life? It changed his friends. It changed his job. Don’t go quitting your job and say, “My pastor told me to do that.”

It changed everything. It changed his outlook on others. He's going back 1,300 miles. We're not talking about a big cruise ship. You know, just take the shocks off your car and try and drive 50 miles. That's what he's doing right? He's going 1,300 miles back to this guy, who by Roman law, could kill him. He has so much trust in Jesus Christ that he's going to be warmly received, by the one who could take his life. That's what Christianity, that's what Jesus does, to hard hearts. It changes them and makes them new. They're calloused and they're hard and they go their own way. But then they're struck by the grace of God. And as we believe in him, he showers us with his grace. He gives us a new nature, a new outlook on life. Our purpose is now to glorify God and not ourselves. [Onesimus] not only believes that for himself, but he believes that for the one whom he is going back to.

Well, Paul is so kind as he makes this great request of friendship and restoration. That he also cares for Philemon’s needs. He says, “If he…owes you anything,” there in verse 18, look there, “If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything.” That's why we think maybe he stole something, but at a very minimum, he ditched work, right? So, “charge that to my account.” Let's say he was 20 years’ worth of wages. Are you willing, just like that, to pay 20 years’ worth of wages to restore the relationship between two people? That's love.

Philemon 19, “I, Paul, write this with my own hand.” And this is technical, legal language, “I will repay it.” He said it, he wrote it, put it in a document with his name, guaranteed it was him, writing with his own hand. Philemon is now carrying a legal document. [Philemon 19] “to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord.” He lays it out there. He reminds him, “Salvation came to you as well through my preaching of the Gospel.” “Refresh my heart in Christ.” He's appealing to the nature that Philemon already has. Right in the first few verses. “You refresh the saints, all the saints, I want you now again to refresh my heart in Christ.” In other words, “As I see you do what is right, it restores my soul.” Philemon 21, “Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.”

Forgive this man out of the grace of your heart, not because he deserves it. Does that sound like what Jesus does? Forgive us because of who Christ is. Not because of who you and I are. Forgiveness will cost you and you have to be willing to pay that price. But it will also bless you. Immensely, bless you. Bitterness carries a burden we were never meant to carry. Forgiveness releases that burden. And you know that you're no longer bitter about someone because you're praying God blesses them. For Philemon to receive Onesimus back as he would receive Paul, means that he's going to shower Onesimus with joy and love and refresh his heart as well. All the things he does for Paul he's going to do for this man. And Paul's confident he will do even more than he's asked.

Point number three, as we conclude here. You see this deep friendship continuing, Philemon 22, I love this. “At the same time,” as if this wasn't enough, right? “prepare a guestroom for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.” “The one who has asked you to take this guy back, not require any payments of his, I’ll pay them. And also, yeah, prepare a room for me in your house. I'm coming.” Paul's the guy who invites himself over. That's what he's doing here. [Philemon 23-25] “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your Spirit.”

Paul loves him but he's also providing accountability, isn’t he? “I'm going to show up and see what you've done.” That's what he's saying. “And I'm going to do that from inside your own house.” Now that's a good accountability partner, right? There is so much in Philemon that just shows the graciousness, the love of relationships. It demonstrates real forgiveness, it demonstrates real mercy. It demonstrates how we plead for others for Jesus to work in their lives and to do the right thing. But we do plead. It just brings so much glory to God. And it fundamentally changes our relationships with others. Love, forgiveness, equality in Jesus Christ, bring deep fellowship among believers. A heart change can conquer any sin, including slavery, and it could even conquer your sin, by the grace of God. Let's pray.

Father God, help us in our American sensibilities, and help us to see the Word for what it is, a beautiful salvation of one made in your image. What a wonderful, marvelous picture, Lord God? And then Father, help us to forgive others as you’ve forgiven us. Help us, Lord God to be merciful to others, as you are merciful to us.

And Lord God, I just pray right now that you would help all of us to be right with you. If we're saved, to confess our sins to you and to live with a clean heart. And, Lord God, if someone's here who doesn't know you or isn't 100% sure they're going to heaven, Lord, I pray that you would just convict them by your Holy Spirit right now. That they would give their lives to Jesus Christ. That they would believe in him, confess their sins, and be saved by his grace.

Let's just take a moment right now and pause and talk to God Almighty, and get ourselves right with the Lord.

Lord God, we love you. We praise you and we're so thankful that you have changed us and made all things new. In your precious, Holy Name, Amen.