Phm 1:15-17 “For perhaps he therefore 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? If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself.”
Paul continues here to state his case for Onesimus who he loves in the Lord as a son (Phm 1:10). I find comfort in the language of Paul here. He confesses that he does not always see clearly the mind or purpose of God in a thing. However, his faith in God causes him to consider how the hand of god might be in a matter. Still today, there are things that occur in our lives that we might not immediately see the purpose of God in, but our faith teaches us to trust that He does have a purpose.
At no time do the scriptures indicate that Onesimus did the right thing (or a good thing) in the way he treated Philemon. It is a simple truth that, in this situation, Onesimus belonged to Philemon. As a servant, he was bound both by law and the word of God to be a faithful servant (Col 3:22). He not only wronged Philemon by fleeing from him, but he may have taken something of value when he fled to sustain him (Phm 1:18).
While Onesimus’ wrongdoing was not excused, Paul asked Philemon to consider whether God may have used the situation for them to both gain a brother in Christ. Onesimus was gone for a period of time so that when he returned he would be more than a servant. In the time that Onesimus was gone he had been in contact with Paul, had heard about the love of Jesus, and had been changed from being a servant bound by law to being a servant bound by brotherly love.
How many times in our own lives have we fled from what we could only see as an obligation that we did not necessarily want? Yet, we found that our heavenly Father was leading us on a journey that would allow us to return and serve with humility and love. Upon returning, we found not just a servant’s place but a place at the table as family; as a brother beloved. Being a beloved brother, we had a greater desire to serve our brethren than we ever did when we only a servant by law.
Paul declared that he had a very special relationship with Onesimus. Yet, he told Philemon that his relationship should be even more special, seeing that they had a previous relationship in the flesh. Now God was sending Onesimus back as a dearly loved brother. Finally, Paul says to Philemon “If you hold (count) us to have fellowship (partner), receive Onesimus as you would me.”
There are so many wonderful, gospel principles in this account. Like Onesimus, we were unprofitable transgressors. We tried to go our own way, but God in His mercy made us prisoners of Jesus Christ. Being bound to and in Him, we learn to minister to His children. We find ourselves forgiven of our transgressions and received as a beloved brother (or sister). In all of this, we have One who makes intercession for us and says “receive him (or her) as you would receive me.” What wondrous love is this!
May God bless us to see consider His hand in our lives and know that it is He that makes us accepted in the beloved!