Jan. 24; 2013
Searching the Scriptures
“Search ye the Scriptures…they are they which testify of Me.” John 5:39
On the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to
My wife Barbara refers to this Epistle as one of the small “nuggets” of Scripture. I do not recall ever seeing a Commentary on this small rather insignificant Epistle nestled in our Bibles between Titus and Hebrews. I say insignificant only from the standpoint that it is overlooked by most all, yet it is full of teaching and very “profitable” for our learning. The word “profitable” is aptly used as Paul is enjoining Philemon to receive as a brother in Christ one named “Onesimus” who was once a slave to Philemon. Philemon meaning “Affectionate Master”; is pronounced Fee-le-mon and Onesimus meaning “Profitable or Useful”; is pronounced, O-nees-i-mus. The key to this Epistle lies in verse 18, wherein Paul says: “put that on mine account”.
It is accepted, by those scholars who have touched upon this Epistle that Onesimus, while a slave or servant of Philemon, stole something from him and then fled from Colosse to Rome where he met Paul and became a Christian. What Onesimus stole, its value and reason for the theft are not germane to our subject nor are they mentioned in Holy Writ. The Mosaic Law addressing such an incidence is noteworthy and was regulated with the purpose of restricting its duration, not the damnation thereof; (Exodus 21:2 & Lev. 25:39). Exodus 22: 1—4; teaches us that the Law of theft required restitution to the extent of at least double the value of the amount stolen, and in some cases even five times more. If the thief could not make the required restitution then he was to be sold for his theft and therefore by his labor did he make restitution for the evil deed he had committed. We are also taught in Exodus 21:2 that a slave might be redeemed at any time by relatives. Having now been at least minimally informed regarding the foresaid; one should be enabled to more clearly perceive the message presented in this Epistle. Let us begin our Study.
Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellow laborer, And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in thy house: Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Vs: 1—3). We find Paul here identifying himself as a prisoner, whereas in most other Epistles he uses the title; Paul an Apostle. This is most significant. Three trains of thought are set before us: Paul is indeed a prisoner at Rome, Paul is indeed a prisoner (follower) of Jesus Christ, and thirdly Paul is placing himself before Philemon as a servant / slave much like Onesimus, the one he is pleading for. Apphia is the wife of Philemon and it is uncertain whether Archippus is a son of Philemon, or perhaps a new minister to the church of Colosse. Note that this Church is in the house of Philemon. Some today feel that without some grandiose building we cannot have a church. This is being caught up in the world. Where is the true Church? Even today small congregations are being blessed by God, some, more so than the Big Church down the street.
As Paul is interceding on behalf of Onesimus, observe how he sets up his petition to Philemon. Vs: 4—7: “I (Paul) thank my God, making mention of thee (Philemon) 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 a great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.” 1) Paul builds up Philemon by stating: “I thank my God, making mentioin of thee always in my prayers. 2) “Hearing of thy (Philemon’s) love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints.” Toward all saints, of course includes Onesimus his brother in Christ. 3) “That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus”. In other words Paul is saying, “word has it that your faith is being effective and people see the good you are performing on behalf of Jesus Christ”. 4) “For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.” We are glad and have great comfort and the hearts of the saints are lifted up by you. Notice Paul also calls him brother. If you were going to go to a dear friend seeking a favor, would you not approach in much the same way? Something to the effect: Hi, my good friend, I have heard nothing but good things about you. It seems that everyone I talk to tells me what an outstanding job you are doing. I am proud to call you my friend.
Vs. 8—10: “Wherefore, 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. I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds:” We are now going to get to the heart of this letter to Philemon. Paul is saying that while he could be bold, as an apostle of Christ, to enjoin, (command, or order) Philemon which would be more convenient (easier). However, out of his love and respect for Philemon he is urgently begging and pleading on behalf of Onesimus, his spiritual son, whom he has begotten while a prisoner. In other words Paul converted Onesimus to Jesus Christ and thus procreated him unto eternal life. This is what Paul means when he says that he is beseeching or pleading to Philemon on behalf of his spiritual son, Onesimus.
Speaking of Onesimus Paul further states; vs. 11—14: “Which in time past was to thee (Philemon) unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me; Whom I have sent again; thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels: 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.” Receive him, that is, mine own bowels, means receive him as my son. I could have kept him here with me where he could have been a helper to me but without your approval and consent, I would do nothing. I am not imposing myself upon you for I would hope that you would receive him willingly, and not begrudgingly of necessity.
Now Paul puts a positive spin on it. Vs. 15—16: “For perhaps he (Onesimus) 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?” The entreaty of Paul toward Philemon is that while Onesimus may have left him (Philemon), or otherwise fled from him while a slave for a season, perhaps it was for the gain of all three, Paul, Philemon and Onesimus, forever. All three were indebted to God and prisoners for the sake of Jesus Christ. Philemon was indebted to Paul for Paul leading him to Christ. Onesimus was indebted to Philemon as he was a slave to him. Onesimus was indebted to Paul for leading him to Christ and Paul was indebted to Onesimus as he ministered to Paul while Paul was in prison and to Philemon for receiving Onesimus at the behest of Paul. This Epistle could justly be titled the Epistle of Three Debtors as all three were indebted one to another and all three to Christ.
Vs. 17—21: “If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself. If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account; 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. Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord. Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say.” “If thou (Philemon) count me (Paul) therefore a partner,” evidences “fellow worker” and is very aptly placed as Paul is asking Philemon to show the proof of his love. Ref: 2 Cor.8:23 Paul says if Onesimus has wronged or owes anything to Philemon, to put it on Paul’s account and that he will repay it. Paul goes on to say, but keep in mind that I do not say to you how you owe me, even unto your own soul. Yea, but I rather have joy in you that you do this thing and even more than I ask, out of your obedience, respect and love toward me.
Salutation and conclusion. Vs.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 paphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus; Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellow laborers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.
Notes of Interest
Several things are hidden from us on the surface of this Epistle. There is much learning if we merely dust off the top layer of soil and read between the lines. A few items I mentioned above as I offered the exposition of the Epistle. I would like to illuminate some light on a few pearls which were embodied within the shell of the oyster.
The theme of this Epistle, while hidden, is obviously forgiveness. The word is never used within the writing itself.. Verse 18 provides the essence: of it: “If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account.”
Another word, redemption, is also implied, but not used. Verse 18, is an example of it also: “If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account.”
Thirdly, the word imputation stands right before us, but is not uttered. It also is embraced in verse 18.
All three of these words, forgiveness, redemption, and imputation are expressly pillars of the Christian faith and doctrine of the church.
Let’s look at these three from a Scriptural or Biblical point of view.
Forgiveness: In the Old Testament “The priest made atonement for the people and their sins would be forgiven them” Lev. 4:20 However this only had a typical significance in that the sacrifices merely passed-over or covered the sin, until Christ fulfilled the true sacrifice of himself upon the Cross. The believer’s salvation rests upon the faith that he has been forgiven of all his trespasses toward God, past, present and future, thus his standing in Christ is complete. A believer is subject to chastisement from the Father, but never to condemnation. I Corinthians 11: 32. Just as we read above; the Mosiac Law demanded a required a time frame or duration of recompense, not a damnation of the sinner. Therefore the example is set: As Christ forgave us, so should we forgive our fellow believers. Ephesians 4:32. Notice not to everyone or everybody, nor even the world, but to one another, ie: fellow believer’s.
Redemption: Again we must turn to the Old Testament. To be redeemed is to be freed or released from bondage. It fell to the nearest kinsman to avenge the blood of a slain relative. Redeemers were reckoned to be full brothers, next to them the father’s brothers, then full cousins, finally the other blood relatives of the clan. (Lev. 25:48) To redeem is to pay the price. Christ is man’s Redeemer; and it centers in the atoning work of Christ on the Cross. As He paid the price for human redemption; and on account of which, Christ is called the Redeemer.
Imputation: Impute means to “reckon over unto one’s account” The phrase “the righteousness of God”, found often in the book of Romans, signifies not merely that God Himself is righteous but that there is a righteousness which proceeds from God. Since no human being in God’s eyes could be considered righteous; “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one,” (Rom; 3:10); it is clear that an imputed righteousness, the very righteousness of God Himself, is sinful man’s only hope of acceptance with the Holy One. We see then that the cross furnishes both the legal basis for the remission of sin, and likewise the legal basis for the imputation of righteousness: All of which Christ embodies.
Paul most humbly pleads with Philemon on behalf of Onesimus in a Christian and Brotherly manner. Seeking Philemon in verse 18, to “put that on mine account” any wrong or debt that Onesimus may have incurred toward Philemon. Not only in seeking the forgiveness of Philemon, but also placing himself as his redeemer, and says he will impute the sin of Onesimus.
Prior to closing this Commentary, I would like to peel back one more layer of the onion, so to speak. What has been before us, as we look under the microscope, reveals once again the Work of the Holy Trinity. The Father forgives, Christ Redeems, and the Holy Spirit imputes. Meaning merely that God the Father forgives us our sin, not only our daily sin, but also the sin bestowed upon mankind as a whole from Adam down through the ages. Jesus Christ, the Son, redeems us with His blood on the cross, taking the sin from us and laying it upon Himself as the ultimate sacrifice. And The Holy Spirit imputes, the righteousness of God upon us, enabling us to become Holy in the eyes of God. This mysterious Triune phenomenon re-enforces our Commentary upon the Epistle of Jude. Verse one of that Epistle begins with; “To them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called.” To be forgiven and sanctified (set-aside) is a work of God, the Father; being redeemed (purchased) and preserved (kept-safe) is a work of Jesus Christ, and to have righteousness be imputed toward us, and called (to His service) are functions of the Holy Spirit. The chosen of God therefore may rest, knowing that the God-Head declares before the ungodly world; “put that on mine account”!
My, Oh My: How beautiful the workings of the Lord. To quote David: “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and has crowned him with glory and honor.” (Psalms 8: 4 & 5). “O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!” (Vs.9)