Philemon 1:17-19 (NIV) 17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back–not to mention that you owe me your very self.
On verses 17-19: Earlier in verses 8 to 16 we saw Paul acting as a mediator between Philemon and Onesimus, trying to help Philemon and Onesimus reconcile with one another. But here in these verses we see Paul going beyond what a typical mediator would do. For while a mediator’s role is help two warring sides reach an agreement, a mediator normally does not sacrifice himself just so that the two sides can reconcile. But that’s what Paul does. Paul writes in verses 17-18, “So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.” To emphasize how serious he is about this, Paul even takes his secretary Timothy’s pen and writes these words himself on the scroll: “I will pay it back” (v19).
What is Paul doing? He’s putting himself on the line, sacrificing his own reputation and financial well-being, all so that Philemon would forgive Onesimus and take him back.
Where did Paul learn such loving self-sacrifice? From Jesus Christ. When we had sinned against God, when the punishment we deserved for our sin was death and separation from God, Jesus took that punishment for us. All the wrongs we had done and all the debts we owed God were charged to Jesus. Jesus put himself on the line and sacrificed himself all so that the debt we owed God would be canceled, so that we could be forgiven and reconciled to God. More than being our mediator, Jesus is the sacrificial lamb who makes our forgiveness possible.
I love how Paul uses this real life situation to show both Philemon and Onesimus how knowing and following Jesus can make all the difference when there are problems in our relationships. May you too be a peacemaker who shows those around you who Jesus is by your actions and words.
Philemon 1:20-22 (NIV) 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask. 22 And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.
On verses 19b-25: Here Paul reminds Philemon of their special relationship: how it was through Paul’s ministry that Philemon found eternal life in Jesus Christ (thus Paul’s words in v19b – “You owe me your very self”). In asking Philemon to forgive and take back Onesimus, Paul is reminding Philemon, “Remember, buddy, you owe me!” He expresses confidence that Philemon will go even beyond what Paul has asked (v21).
Finally, Paul ends his letter by:
asking Philemon to prepare a room for him (v22). This points to Paul’s ongoing friendship with Philemon as well as Paul’s faith that he will be released from prison soon. It also reminds me that we should make room for Jesus in our daily lives as we await His return;
telling Philemon how many of their mutual friends say hi (v23-24); and
praying a blessing over Philemon’s life (v25).
What can we learn from this? It’s in real relationships and doing life together with other brothers and sisters in Christ that we experience God’s love. Most likely you didn’t come to Christ on your own, but God used another person to lead you to Him. Without their friendship, their prayers, their leadership or their presence in your life, you would not have experienced God’s love the way you have. That’s why being devoted to a good church community is so important, for it’s there in the middle of real life and real relationships that we get to practice the love of God with one another.
Take a minute to thank God for the Pauls in your life, those whom God has used to lead you to Christ, to teach you His Word and to model God’s love so that you can experience more of Him.
Heavenly Father, thank You for sending Jesus Christ to be my sacrificial lamb, so that my sins could be forgiven, my debts canceled, and I could be reconciled to You. Thank You also for sending “Paul’s” in my life, for using them to lead me to You, to show me who You are and to demonstrate what following You is all about. Use me to be a Paul to others. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!