If you read the passage first today, I know what you’re thinking: “Really Randy? You had us read this little personal letter at the end of a week of devotionals on the theological topic of imputation?” Yep! Since I’m writing this way in advance of when it is seen by you, I might just even preach on it on April 7th… although it will be difficult to not use Romans 5.
Have you ever wanted someone to do something, all the while realizing that it is indeed going to cost them some money to make it happen? Perhaps it is a scenario where you know something is good for them, or perhaps it is simply the right thing to do – though you are not sure they will quite see it the same way as you do? You hope so, but you’re not quite sure how they will react when you present it to them. In that you have a high view of them, you expect that it will be well-received, but you can’t quite be positive. So, to make sure that the proper deed will be accomplished, while asking and challenging the person to be responsible and take the high ground position, even with its costs, you finish off your request by saying, “If you won’t pay for it, I will.”
That is what is happening in this personal letter from the Apostle Paul to a fellow named Philemon. This recipient of the letter – an apparently wealthy individual who lived in Colossae and was a part of the church of the Colossians – had a slave named Onesimus who had run away. In the course of God’s sovereignly-directed events, Onesimus comes into contact with Paul, is converted to the faith, and is now being sent back to his owner Philemon.
There is not time now to talk about the issue of slavery in the Roman Empire. Understand that it was not exactly like slavery in American history, and in fact more than half of the population were slaves. Owners and slaves were in the same church together, and Paul did not write to upset these conventions. Though we might picture it more like indentured servitude, it was a crime to do as Onesimus had done.
So Paul writes to implore Philemon to accept him back. Paul speaks of the great benefit he has received from Onesimus, and he tells the owner that he will now not only have a better worker, he will be welcoming back a brother in Christ.
The reason this passage is being used in this series is because of verse 18 – If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. Paul is saying to Philemon that if it is a matter of not accepting him back because of financial loss, that the owner should charge the loss to Paul’s account and he would make good on the debt. This is an example of imputation – the placing of a debt to another’s account, and the consequent transfer of credit that frees the person from the pending execution if the debt is not paid.
So we finish this week on the great doctrine of imputation, thankful – as was the theme in the sermon – that we have a new identity by being “in Christ” … we have Christ’s righteousness which gives us a standing as God’s children. That’s a pretty good deal for a bunch of broken sinners!
Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— 2 also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:
3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thanksgiving and Prayer
4 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. 6 I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. 7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.
Paul’s Plea for Onesimus
8 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9 yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.
12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.
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. 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.
Here is a final set of cross words before all the words are given in the next devotional on Monday. There will be additional words there in a master list that were never listed or defined over the past four weeks:
Glorification – This is a word that defines the final result of our salvation, where our earthly bodies are replaced by eternal spiritual bodies.
Regenerate – or Regeneration – speaks of the actual giving of new life – the very moment of salvation. See Titus 3:5.
Forgiveness – No secret meaning here, as this is our great need as sinners; and to be forgiven by God is the ultimate forgiveness.
Holiness – This is the character of God and is the goal of our lives to grow more and more in this direction.
Sanctification – The process of growing in holiness is called sanctification. There is positional sanctification = our perfect standing before God based upon the cross. There is progressive sanctification = the ups and downs of becoming more and more like Christ. And there is perfect sanctification = the reward of the perfect bodies we receive on the other side.