Men of the Bible Series - Onesimus (Philemon 11-12)
Philemon 11-12, “Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me: 12 Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels.”
Philemon is one of Paul’s four prison letters. The other prison epistles are Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. It’s one of four personal letters to individuals written by Paul. The others are I Timothy, II Timothy and Titus. Philemon is the shortest of Paul’s epistles, but in just 25 short verses, Philemon mentions 11 people and makes many spiritual applications and is filled with numerous doctrines, particularly, the doctrine of imputation.
In Philemon we see a slave named Onesimus. He was owned by Philemon. Philemon was a wealthy Colossian believer. He was a longtime friend of Paul. Onesimus left Philemon and he fled to Rome. Perhaps he fled to Rome because of its population, he believed he would never be found. On his way to Rome, he crossed paths with Paul and this resulted in him being saved. We do not know exactly how their paths crossed. This we do know, that at some time Onesimus accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Saviour (Philemon 10).
Upon hearing his testimony, Paul realized that he knew Onesimus’ master and decided to send him back to Philemon. By all rights, Philemon could have had Onesimus put to death. But Paul would write a letter to Philemon explaining what had happened to Onesimus so that upon Onesimus’ return there would be no hostility. Onesimus then took this letter and journeyed back to Colossae, to the home of Philemon.
Before Onesimus became a Christian, he was unprofitable (Philemon 11). He was inefficient and unfavorable to Philemon. After Onesimus’ conversion and transformation he was highly beneficial (Colossians 4:9). Onesimus became fit for the Master’s use (II Timothy 2:21). Onesimus’ name means profitable. God can save that person and make them into something great for His glory and use. That person is very profitable for the ministry. God did not save us to sit, but to serve. But Paul wrote Philemon to let him know that Onesimus was profitable for him. Onesimus’ transformation was so powerful that Paul stated in his letter that he desired to keep Onesimus with him to serve with him in the ministry (Philemon 13). Paul asked Philemon to receive Onesimus back, not as a servant, but as a brother beloved (Philemon 16). Paul requested Philemon to treat Onesimus as he would treat Paul himself (Philemon 12). Not only because of what Christ had done for the both of them, but because of what Paul had done for them.
If Onesimus still owed Philemon anything that he couldn’t work out, then Philemon was put it on Paul’s account. In this epistle, we see Jesus as the payer of our sin-debt. How undeserving we are of God’s grace and mercy. Through this epistle we see what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. We had a debt that we owed to God that we could not pay (Romans 5:12). Because Jesus never sinned, He could pay it and did pay it. Impute means to put on someone's account; to charge something to another’s account. Imputation is the act of God whereby our sins are put on Christ’s account and His righteousness is put on our account. When a person trusts Jesus for salvation, Jesus takes their sins upon His record and then places His righteousness upon their record. Just as it is with our sins, they have been charged to the life of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a beautiful picture of Jesus Christ taking our sins and allowing our sins to be charged to Him. If we take it for what it means, it can affect our lives in understanding how much the Lord Jesus Christ loves us.
Just as Jesus willingly paid our debt for offenses against God to free us from slavery to sin, Paul expressed the same character that Jesus showed by offering Himself as a substitute for Onesimus’ debt. Paul truly imitated Jesus and lived what he preached (I Corinthians 11:1; Ephesians 5:1). One of the most rewarding experiences in the Christian life is the privilege of introducing others to Jesus. Those who actively communicate their faith both in actions and words are fulfilling Jesus’ Great Commission to take His message to all the world (Matthew 28:19). Anyone who has had the opportunity to lead another person to faith in Jesus Christ knows the tremendous sense of joy, purpose and fulfillment that comes from helping someone enter a personal relationship with God. Leading others to Christ is perhaps the highest good we can do for them in this life.
Jesus placed your sins on His account. If you go to the LORD, He will take Christ’s righteousness, which is perfect, and He will accredit it to your account. Because Christ’s righteousness is placed on your account, you’ll never stand before God at the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15), not because you’re sinless, but because of your account. If you will receive Jesus Christ (Gospel), He will accredit your account with perfection because He has already accredited your sin onto Jesus Christ. If you have never accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour, call upon Him right now. Jesus earnestly wants to impute your sin to His record and impute His righteousness to your record.
PRAYER: Father in Heaven, thank You for sending Jesus to pay for our sins that we would be made righteous in Your sight. Please help me to be profitable to You and to Your people as I do Your work, In Jesus name, AMEN!
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Dr. Blackman is passionate about helping others grow in the grace of the Lord. His devotions are centered on how to grow closer to the Lord through a personal relationship.