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Have you heard about Onesimus? Do you know him?
No, he is not a friend of mine. Neither he is someone I personally knew. I just happened to read the book of Philemon written by the apostle Paul that I saw his name there. Now, when I read his story in this book, I just can’t help but be amazed! It is as if I am reading my own story in the life of Onesimus!
Have you already read the book of Philemon? If not, I suggest you should read it. We can all relate to the story written in this book. It is one of the shortest books of the Bible with only 25 verses on it. And it’s a wonderful book!
The book of Philemon is actually a letter of Paul to Philemon, a believer and Paul’s fellow laborer working for our Lord Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:1). Paul was already a prisoner in Rome when he wrote this letter to Philemon (Phil. 1:1,9, Col. 4:10). Philemon on the other hand, was residing in Colossae (Col. 4:7-9) and it is on his house that Paul would lodge whenever he is in Colossae (Phil. 1:22).
So these two servants of the Lord (Paul and Philemon) are actually dear to each other.
Now, the question is, what’s the purpose of Paul in writing this seems important letter to Philemon? The answer is found in verses 10 to 11 and verse 17 to 18:
“I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds: Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me:” (Phil. 1:10-11)
“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;” (Phil. 1:17-18)
Verses 10 to 11 tell us that Onesimus was once in the company of Philemon but he left him and went to be with Paul. In verse 11, Paul explained that Onesimus was once unprofitable to Philemon when he was still with him but later became profitable to both Paul and Philemon in the ministry.
In verses 17 to 18 it became clearer why Onesimus left Philemon. The apostle Paul told us that either Onesimus has done wrong or has owed something to Philemon. Therefore, base on these verses, it is now clear to us that it is in the company of Paul that Onesimus encountered the Lord and got converted and that he was still unprofitable in the ministry while he is with Philemon. But no matter where we looked at it, one thing is clear, Onesimus has sinned against Philemon.
Now, after Onesimus got converted and after knowing that Onesimus had done something wrong to Philemon, the Apostle Paul felt it is necessary for Onesimus to go and reconcile with Philemon. It was then Tychicus who was given the responsibility to deliver Paul’s letter to Philemon and to accompany Onesimus back to Colossae (Col. 4:7-9).
Below is the map where we can see how far the two have traveled from Rome to Colossae to deliver the letter of Paul to Philemon.
THE OFFENDER, THE OFFENDED AND THE MEDIATOR
This is the reason why I have mentioned that we can all relate to this story. This story of Onesimus is our story. We can all put ourselves in the shoes of these three: the offender, the offended and the mediator.
Once in our lives, someone may have offended us. Perhaps also, you have already become a mediator and have been the reason why two people have reconciled. And of course, all of us can’t deny that we are all sinners (Rom. 3:23). All of us have sinned against God (Rom. 3:9-26). And not only that, at least once in our lives, we have sinned against our fellow human and has greatly offended them.
So below is the scenario of the offender, the offended and the mediator:
1. THE OFFENDER
ONESIMUS – He has done wrong to Philemon his master. He made the 1500 km journey from Colossae to Rome just to run away from him. While in Rome, he meets the Apostle Paul, hears the Word of God and got converted. He would like to stay and continue to help Paul in the ministry but after hearing the gospel, the Holy Spirit convicted him to go back and seek forgiveness and reconciliation with his master Philemon.
Let’s ponder upon this for a while.
Have you also experienced this before? Where you are the offending party and have done wrong to someone and the Spirit of the Lord in you is convicting you to ask for forgiveness? What about now? Do you still feel the Spirit of the Lord convicting you every time you have done something wrong? If It does, it is actually very natural since we are already a new creation after we have been born again. Unlike before, the Spirit of the Lord in us is already convicting us if we have done something wrong. But sometimes, we are grieving His Spirit. Because of our pride, sometimes it is much harder for us to go a few meters to our brother or sister and apologized to them than to travel 1500 kilometers away from them. And it should not be like this.
According to Matthew 5:23-24, if we are the offending party, we need to swallow our pride and be the first to say sorry. If we remember that we have sinned against someone, go immediately and be reconciled to that person. We should always put in our minds that the first to apologize is the most courageous, the first to forgive is the strongest and the first to forget is the happiest. Coward people cannot apologize because to say sorry is only the attribute of the brave.
However, today, there are some Christians who believe that they cannot commit any sins anymore. They believe that they no longer need to apologize if they have done something wrong because they also believe that after they have been born again, they can no longer sin. There are even some Endtime Message churches today where you cannot hear them asking for forgiveness to God in their prayers because of this thinking. These people have been deceived! They would often cite 1 John 5:18 to support this claim:
“We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.”
A careful examination of the above verse will reveal that it doesn’t even support their claim! We have known that after we been born-again, we are baptized by the Spirit of God. That Spirit of God in us is the One that cannot sin. It is the new us. Our new nature. It’s the nature of God that is imparted to us. But we are not only composed of that nature of God in us. We are actually composed of two natures: the old and the new. The old being our sinful nature and the new being the nature of God imparted to us.
Once we are born again, it does not mean that our sinful nature is already gone. No sir! The new nature is only introduced and it is this new nature that will be going to transform our soul in order for our soul to be fully transformed and fully conformed to the nature of God. So there are two natures battling inside us: the Good and the Bad. This is also what brother William M. Branham meant when he said that there are two dogs battling against each other inside of us: the white dog and the black dog. As to what dog wins at the end of the battle, depends on what dog do we often feed. Oftentimes, it’s our old nature (black dog) that prevails. That’s because we feed it more often and we starve the white one. But if only we will often feed the white one, it will always win in every battle and will finally defeat the black dog in us transforming us completely to conform in the nature of God.
Therefore, in 1 John 5:18, the apostle John here is referring to the Spirit of God in us. The new man and our new nature which cannot sin. But if you will also going to read Chapter 1 of 1 John, the apostle John here is referring to us as a whole being with two natures (old & new) battling inside of us. That’s why we read:
1 John 1:8
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
The same apostle told us that we are just deceiving ourselves if we say that we have no sin. It is true that if we have been born again, the Spirit of the Lord is already in us and will going to transform us. But this transforming process is not yet finished. Our soul is still in the process of transformation and our body is not yet glorified. That is why we are still prone to sin. We are still sinning. No one living right now can say that he/she does not sin anymore. That’s why the Lord had taught us to ask for forgiveness. In Romans 7:18-20, the Apostle Paul wrote:
“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.”
Paul explained to us that there are good things that he wanted to do but the evil things are what he is doing. If even the Apostle Paul admitted that he is still sinning even after he got converted and became the Apostle of the Lord, then who are we to proclaim that we are not sinning anymore? We are only deceiving ourselves! Be not deceive brothers and sisters!
We must all remember that in this story, Onesimus represents us, the sinners. All of us have sinned. That’s why it is very important for us to learn how to admit our sins and to ask for forgiveness. Just like Onesimus, for us to be able to ask for forgiveness, is to first admit that we are still sinning. But those people who considered their selves highly, especially the false ministers of today, cannot do this.
If you have the heart of a servant, a humble and contrite one, to ask for forgiveness is not a hard thing for you to do. But if you have the spirit of a Nicolaitan, to ask for forgiveness is as impossible as the tares lowering their selves.
2. THE OFFENDED
PHILEMON – What about if we are the offended party just like Philemon? You treat your neighbor nicely but they steal from you in return. You give them kindness but they do something wrong to you in return. You will feel offended and hurt. And then one day, you hear that this person wants to come back to you. What would you feel? What are you going to do? How will you treat him/her? Are you going to seek justice? What will you use to achieved justice? By law or by grace? How did our Lord Jesus Christ react when He was despised, mocked and treated unfairly?
To answer these questions, we must first know the meaning of the word FORGIVENESS.
Forgiveness came from the root words “fore” which means before and “give” which means to grant. Therefore, to forgive is to grant beforehand. To grant what? To grant freedom. To whom? Is it to the offender? No. To forgive is to grant freedom to someone who is imprisoned of anger, bitterness, vengeance and all the negative emotions. And that someone is no other than you.
Before we can truly forgive someone and wish that someone well, we need first to free ourselves from imprisonment. Remember that this book is called “The Letter to Philemon” because every story of forgiveness is actually not about the offender, but about the forgiver. This is not about Onesimus, this is about Philemon.
In this story, Philemon is a believer and he represents our Lord God to Whom we have all sinned against. He has provided everything for us. He has never failed us but we still choose to disobey Him. Just like the story of the Prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32, we have suffered the consequences for our own actions in disobeying Him. Then we realized our sins and came back to Him for forgiveness. Does He still want to forgive us? How will our Lord treat us if we came to Him after we have offended Him? We will let Luke 15:20 to talked about this:
“And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.”
See? How will our Lord God react if we came to Him to sincerely ask for forgiveness? Will He seek justice? Will He tell us: “Okay, you must do 40 days of fasting, 40 days of prayer, you must do this and do that…” Nay! Read the above verse again. Our Lord is able to forgive us – His children. He also said in Hebrew 8:12:
“For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.”
You see? Forgiveness is more powerful than justice. Grace is much more powerful than the law. In this example, we have seen that love and forgiveness cannot be separated. If we choose to live out the love of God as the purpose of our life, then to forgive is an option that cannot be avoided.
I wanted also to share here another story that I read when I was still young. It was written by an unknown author. It is entitled:
JOHNNY, SALLY, AND THE DUCK
“A little boy visiting his grandparents was given his first slingshot. He practiced in the woods, but he could never hit his target.
As he came back to Grandma’s back yard, he spied her pet duck. On an impulse he took aim and let fly. The stone hit, and the duck fell dead.
The boy panicked. Desperately he hid the dead duck in the wood pile, only to look up and see his sister watching. Sally had seen it all, but she said nothing.
After lunch that day, Grandma said, “Sally, let’s wash the dishes.” But Sally said, “Johnny told me he wanted to help in the kitchen today. Didn’t you Johnny?” And she whispered to him, “Remember the duck!” So Johnny did the dishes.
Later, Grandpa asked if the children wanted to go fishing. Grandma said, “I’m sorry, but I need Sally to help me make supper.” Sally smiled and said, “That’s all taken care of. Johnny wants to do it.” Again she whispered, “Remember the duck.” Johnny stayed while Sally went fishing.
After several days of Johnny doing both his chores and Sally’s, finally he couldn’t stand it. He confessed to Grandma that he’d killed the duck.
“I know, Johnny,” she said, giving him a hug. “I was standing at the window and saw the whole thing. Because I love you, I forgave you. But I wondered how long you would let Sally make a slave of you.”
How long will we allow sins to get hold of us? How long will we let bitterness, anger and vengeance imprison us? Let’s take them to the Lord in prayer and he will give us rest and peace. Remember, on the coming Millennial reign of our Lord here on earth, we will sit in the thrones with Him and He will give us the authority to judge and pass sentence (Rev. 20:4). Now, if we don’t know how to forgive those who have done wrong against us while we are living here on earth, we can never be a righteous judge in the Millennium. Those who only know how to forgive just like our Lord had commanded us in Matthew 6:14-15 are the ones who can sit with the Lord to act as judge.
3. THE MEDIATOR
PAUL – He acts as a mediator between the two. This is the hardest role among the three. Have you been a mediator before? Have you also tried to reconcile two persons? It’s not easy right? Sometimes, they will even give to you all their anger and bitterness that you should be ready for them.
In verses 11, Paul explained that Onesimus had become profitable to him and stated in verses 13 to 14 that he would have wanted Onesimus to stay with him to help him in the ministry. But he put aside this personal desire for more important matters, that is, the reconciliation of Onesimus and Philemon. Why do you think Paul believes that it is more important for Onesimus to be reconciled first to Philemon than to help him in the ministry? We will let the 5th Church Age Messenger, Martin Luther himself to explain this to us:
“Here we see how St. Paul lays himself out for poor Onesimus, and with all his means pleads his cause with his master: and so sets himself as if he were Onesimus, and had himself done wrong to Philemon. Even as Christ did for us with God the Father, thus also St. Paul does for Onesimus with Philemon… We are all His Onesimi, to my thinking.”
You see? This story of reconciliation revolving on the characters of Philemon, Onesimus and Paul about 2000 years ago is not just a story. It is our story as well. It is not just the story of three human beings but a story of what our Lord God has done for us through our Lord Jesus Christ. The lives of the three main characters in this book stand as an allegory. We are Onesimus. Philemon is a picture of our Lord God. And the mediator between us, the Apostle Paul, stands as a type of our Lord Jesus Christ.
At this point, we will now focus on Paul being the mediator since his role is the most important among the three. Martin Luther explained that Paul lays himself out for poor Onesimus and sets himself as if he were Onesimus who had done wrong to Philemon. Why is this? Why is it that Paul did not lay himself for Philemon who is the offended? Why did he choose to identify with Onesimus instead?
The answer is because a good mediator will always try to win back the sinners and the offender to the one they have offended. And to do this, one needs to go to the sinners himself and identify with them to convince them to go back to their master.
This is exactly what our Lord Jesus Christ had done for us about 2000 years ago.
THE CHIEF OF SINNERS
Aside from just being a good mediator, there is also another very significant reason why Paul chooses to identify with Onesimus.
We all know that the Apostle Paul is called “the Apostle born in due time” (1 Cor. 15:8). He was called by our Lord Jesus Himself to be His apostle. But why did the Lord choose him? Was it because of his great intellect on the Scriptures? Was it his indestructible will and drive to enforce the law? Was it his heart and passion for the Word? Because you know, Paul had all of these! All of these things are very useful in the hand of our Lord once they were submitted unto His will. But these are not the reason why our Lord Jesus Christ chooses Paul to be His apostle.
We will then let the apostle Paul himself tell us why he was chosen by our Lord. In 1 Timothy 1:15-16 he said:
“This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.”
Again, why did our Lord choose him? Is it because he was the chief in terms of intellect on the Scriptures? Is it because he was the most charismatic? Is it because he was the most passionate? Nay! But because he was the Chief of all sinners!
We all know that before Paul got converted, he was Saul, a notorious murderer. And not just an ordinary murderer but A CHRISTIAN MURDERER. Many followers of our Lord have fallen upon his feet including Stephen (Acts 7:58). He was authorized to kill Christians by the chief priests (Acts 9:14). He was being greatly feared by every Christian believer that time that even Ananias, the one commission by our Lord to baptized Paul, was hesitant to go and meet him (Acts 9:10-16).
These are the reasons why Paul considers himself the chief of sinners. And these are also the reasons why he can relate to Onesimus and why he identified with him. He had actually done many worst things compared to Onesimus. But this is also the very reason why our Lord Jesus choose him. That in him “Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting” (1 Tim. 1:16b).
Paul serves as our outstanding pattern, our example, that even the chiefest of sinners could possess eternal life! That even the most unlikely person could also be saved. That even the most notorious murderer can become an Apostle of the Lord! Indeed, what amazing grace! Praise be the name of the Lord!
If there is someone who knows what grace really is, it is no other than the chief of sinners himself, the apostle Paul. This is also the reason why in most of his letters, he always opened and closed them by mentioning grace.
The apostle Paul is our pattern that God’s amazing grace can save the worst of sinners. Do you know someone whom you thought “Naaa, this one’s really going to hell!” Think of the Apostle Paul then. If our Lord can save him who is the chief of sinners, how much more those “Onesimus” who have done wrong against us?
Remember: We forgive not because it is good to forgive, but because we are sons and daughters of the Author of forgiveness whose attributes runs within us.
ACCEPT HIM AS YOU WOULD ACCEPT ME
Philemon 1:17 “If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would accept me.”
Consider the acceptance that Paul wanted for Philemon to be granted to Onesimus. We have known that Paul and Philemon were dear to each other. Whenever Paul was in Colossae, he is always lodging in the house of Philemon (Phil. 1:22). By this, we are sure that Paul is always welcome and treated nicely in the house of Philemon. Perhaps the table would always be laid out with nice foods and his needs are looked after whenever Paul came to visit just like what we do whenever we have visitors. He is telling Philemon to do the same with Onesimus.
This is exactly what has happened to us also. After humanity has fallen, all of us had been like Onesimus who had run away from his master. But after our Lord identified with us, we have realized how sinners we are and we have repented on our ways and ask for forgiveness to our Father. The question is would He accept us? Ephesians 1:6 says He will! He will accept us as His beloved!
“To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.”
In fact, according to the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:20, when the son is “yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.” And this is exactly the welcome that we will be going to experience during the Rapture. We are not only welcomed; He will also prepare a feast for us during the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:6-9). He will welcome us just like He had welcomed our Lord Jesus! Praised be the Name of the Lord!
CHARGED THAT TO MY ACCOUNT!
Philemon 1:18 “If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, charged that to my account.”
Now, why would Philemon accept Onesimus? Why would our Lord God accepted us? What would be His basis in accepting us? Is it because we deserved it? Of course not! We deserved nothing! We have sinned against our Lord and we are doomed for death (Rom. 6:23). Our God is also a righteous and a just God. Righteousness demands that all sins should be paid by death.
Paul knew this. He knew that Onisemus still owe a debt to Philemon and justice demands that debt should be paid. And it is for this reason that Paul wrote: “If he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account.” What a relief for Onesimus who probably had no way of paying Philemon. He is literally saved by Paul. And what hope it is for us because we too, had no way of paying our debt we owed to God. But because He is a just God, we read:
“Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”- Rom. 3:24-26
We are for death since all of us have sinned, but our wonderful Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, charge all the punishment to His account! And that’s why justice had been served and we owe nothing anymore.
I KNOW THAT YOU WILL DO MORE
Philemon 1:21 “Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say.”
Finally, look at that statement of Paul. This is only the statement of a person who knows Philemon very well. He is confident that Philemon will not only forgive and welcome Onesimus, but he also knew that Philemon will do more! And this is also what our Lord God had done for us. He did not only forgive us and accepted us, but He did more by giving His Holy Spirit to us to guide us into all truth. In Ephesians 2:4-7 we read:
“But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;). And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.”
Yes, if only we could see everything that our Lord God has done and will do for us, we will eventually appreciate the lyrics of the song entitled “Amazing Grace.”
You may ask: So what happened to Onesimus? Did he deliver the letter and meet Philemon?
Sure enough, he made a long way back to Philemon, gave him the letter and reconciled with him. What’s my proof? It’s because we are reading the letter today. This letter is included in our Bible which is a great proof that it had reach Philemon. If it did not reach him, then we should not be reading it.
Indeed, this humble story of Onesimus had thought us of God’s amazing grace!
May our Lord will continue to guide us into all His truth is my prayer.
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