“If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself.” (Philemon 17)
The “him” in our text verse is Onesimus, a servant to Philemon. Obviously, Onesimus had run away from Philemon, for verse 15 states, “For perhaps he therefore departed for a season.”
However, verse 11 relates that Onesimus had received the Salvation in Christ; “Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me.” Therefore, Paul said he had sent Onesimus back to Philemon (Philemon 12). Paul asked Philemon to receive him back:
“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?” (Philemon16)
Paul told Philemon if Onesimus owes you anything, then put it on my account, I will repay it. Then Paul adds, “Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say” (Philemon 21).
The reason Paul could say this about Philemon is that Paul knew him, “unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer” (Philemon 1b). Paul further describes Philemon’s spiritual state in verses 5 and 7:
“Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints” (Philemon 5)
“For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels (hearts) of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.”(Philemon 7)
Paul called Philemon “beloved” and “fellowlaborer.” Paul was saying, “You are my brother in Christ and you are serving Christ as I am in His Kingdom. Christ is our Master, Lord, and Head” – thus showing that Philemon was completely submitted to follow Christ in word and deed.
Paul also relates the proof that Philemon is a child of God and a servant of God, “that I have heard of your love and faith toward Christ and all saints.” That is, you love Christ above all and you walk by Faith, believing His Word. To further prove my belief in Philemon, you have refreshed the hearts of the saints, that by word and deed.
“But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1 John 3:17)
“My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18)
“And hereby (by your words and deeds) we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure (persuade) our hearts before him.” (1 John 3:19)
Philemon is our example of a changed man. He had a servant to run off without permission, and it was unprofitable for Philemon. But now Paul tells Philemon that Onesimus has been saved, converted from darkness to light (and in Colossians 4:9, Paul calls Onesimus “a faithful and beloved brother.”) “Now Philemon, you must receive him back, not as a servant only, but as a fellow brother in Christ, even though he be in position to you as a servant.”
Now, Philemon had to make a choice. The questions facing Philemon and us are: What would Christ do? What does Christ require of us when faced with receiving one back into our fellowship that did hurt to us by separating from us; had become unprofitable to us; had cost us?
The challenge is not to what Onesimus would do in coming back to Philemon. No, the test was upon Philemon. What would he do? How would he react? How would he treat Onesimus?
Christians have a testimony of love and compassion, but you may face a test of forgiving someone at this present time that is greater than you can bear; your hurt may be great; your pain may be unbearable. Your thoughts may be, “It is not my fault. I did not do anything to cause this situation. And yet I am called on to forgive, to forget, to receive back, and to restore.” Philemon may have even thought, “Onesimus is but a servant, and now Paul tells me to forgive him and receive him as ‘a brother beloved’ even though he was still in the position of a servant.”
Yes, if you have been changed inwardly from darkness to light, made to love God; then really you have no choice but to love those who profess Christ as Savior. You cannot have respect of persons (show partiality or favoritism) in any way; no, not because of physical traits, gender, nationality or what their past was.
God commanded Ananias His servant to go and lay hands on Saul that he might receive his sight (Acts 9:10-22). Ananias answered God by saying (verse 13), “Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem.” And Saul has come to do the same here in Damascus to Your saints. Here Ananias was presented with a choice to obey God or his own selfish fear. God told Ananias (verse 15), “Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.”
What was Ananias to do? He did not owe Saul any compassion. Why help this murderer? And yet Ananias was a servant of God; a man of God; a disciple of Christ. Therefore his only choice was to walk by Faith believing God’s Word of what God had for Saul to do for His Name’s sake.
Ananias obeyed God and the rest is history (Acts 9:17-22).
Child of God, do we really have a choice, since we are born-again children of God, recipients of the Grace and Mercy of God?
Having been given mercy, can we do less than follow Christ and show mercy, with the end forgiveness to those who have wronged us? No, we cannot. We must do as Philemon, and even more. Not only forgive, but extend Christ’s love to the forgiven in all areas of life. It is not a matter of position of employment; it is a matter of an attitude of the inner man of Charity toward another that is to be received and forgiven.
The Book of Philemon is a very small Book in God’s Word. But the message it proclaims is powerful and is all-important:
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another…If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us…” (1 John 4:11-13)