The Biography of a Runaway
“For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me.” – Philemon 1:15-17
If ever a New Testament story depicts the redemptive work of Jesus Christ in a very picturesque way, it would be the little epistle of Philemon. Paul writes to a fellow believer and old friend named Philemon, a wealthy layman in Colossae. Paul pens this letter on behalf of a runaway slave by the name of Onesimus that he has recently met while in prison at Rome. Onesimus had deserted his post of service under his master Philemon, and had come to the larger city of Rome to “get lost in the crowd.” We do not have all of the details, but Paul and Onesimus gloriously meet by divine intervention, and Paul leads Onesimus to faith in Christ. Paul became aware of Onesimus’ story of desertion. It probably floored Onesimus when he found out that Paul just so happened to be an old friend of Philemon. Can you imagine how Onesimus felt? Here was a runaway slave running from his old life of slavery. The last thing he wanted to be associated with was his past. And low and behold, the one man he gets to know in the big city just so happens to be a friend of his master and owner! But in his process of discipling Onesimus, Paul explains to him that the right thing to do was go back to Colossae and humbly submit himself to his master Philemon. I am sure that this was the last thing on Onesimus’ radar, and that he was taken aback to such a suggestion. But Paul told him not to worry, that he would write a letter to his old dear friend Philemon and explain the whole story, and share that Onesimus was a fellow believer, and an heir to God. Paul wrote the letter, and sent Onesimus as the deliverer. I can’t even imagine how white Onesimus’ knuckles must have been as he clung to that letter stating his free position in Christ.
This is a beautiful story of the redemptive work of Christ in our life. It serves as a cameo-snapshot of what Christ does on our behalf as He represents us and pleads our case before God. In our story, the actions of the Paul reflect the redemptive work of Christ, and reveal to us tells various truths about our Lord Jesus’ love for us. To begin with, Jesus accepts your position. Salvation is not a respecter of race, gender, financial status or even social status. God saves all different types of people. He saves wealthy men like Philemon, and He saves slaves like Onesimus. Unlike man, God does not see people from a social or economic position, for there is equal footing at the cross. Secondly, Jesus argues your problem. Paul was an advocate for Onesimus. He writes to Philemon and says, “Give this guy another chance. He has been saved, so now He is your brother.” Thirdly, Jesus assumes your penalty. He takes the punishment for Onesimus. Paul said to Philemon, “whatever He owes you, put on my account (Vs 18).” This act of grace is what Jesus also did for us. As believers, our sins were charged to Jesus’ account. Finally, Jesus assures your pardon. Just like that sealed letter carried by Onesimus sealed his fate, our pardon has been gloriously sealed by the blood of Jesus (Vs 16). I wonder what it was like when Onesimus showed up to Philemon’s place with a submissive heart and a sealed letter from Paul. I also wonder what Philemon’s face looked like when he read that Onesimus was no longer a slave but a son. I do not believe that Onesimus slept in the slave house that night; instead I believe he slept in his master’s house.
– Pastor Eric