Summary: Paul’s plea for Onesimus shows his willingness to redeem his friend before his master. A Christ-like example of redemption and justification.

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„h Abraham Lincoln, when an attorney, was approached by a wealthy man who passionately insisted on bringing a suit for $2.50 against an impoverished debtor.

„h Lincoln tried to discourage him, but the man was bent on restitution.

„h When he saw that the man would not change his mind, Lincoln agreed to take the case and asked for a legal fee of $10, which the plaintiff paid.

„h Lincoln then gave half the money to the defendant, who willingly confessed to the debt and paid the $2.50!

„h Restitution was made through the act of a third party. The proceeds were given freely to Lincoln, and he passed them on to help restore another.

„h That is precisely what our message is about this morning.

1. Introduction / Background

A. Philemon was a believer in Colossae, who came to Christ through the evangelistic efforts of Paul. He was a wealthy man; a leader within one of the Colossian churches. He was also a slave owner, as many wealthy people of his time.

01. He owned a slave called Onesimus, and at some point this slave ran away from home, probably taking some property from his master Philemon to finance his travels

02. It is reasonable to assume that Philemon was enraged by this; he had likely paid good money for this slave

(a) OT price for a good slave was 30 shekels of silver (same as a donkey)

(b) By comparison, 12 shekels would pay your rent for one year

B. Onesimus was on the run;

01. His crime (runaway slave) was punishable by death under Roman law (let alone the probable theft charge)

02. Somewhere in his travels, he encounters Paul. He probably ministers to Paul as a servant would, and through the testimony of Paul, he too becomes a Christian.

03. This creates a genuine dilemma. Paul desires to keep Onesimus with him, but realizing he is better of with his master, he sends him back to Philemon.

04. The real problem is how will Philemon respond to Onesimus?

C. Enter Paul, who writes a letter to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus. He sends it with him as he returns to Colossae.


(a) Paul asks not just that Philemon spare his life (which is significant)

(b) He also expects him to accept Onesimus


2. Scripture Exposition

A. Greeting (vv.1-3)

B. Thanksgiving and Prayer (vv.4-7)

01. I always remember you and thank God for you (appreciation)

02. I hear about your faith / your love for the saints (reputation)

03. Be active in sharing your faith (admonition)

04. So you will have full understanding of everything we have in Christ (expectation)

C. The Plea for Onesimus (vv.8-21)

01. Therefore¡KHERE IT COMES! A transitional conjunction that means ¡§because of what has already been shared¡¨

02. A play on words (v.11) Onesimus means ¡§useful, profitable¡¨

03. I¡¦m sending him back

(a) If you consider me a partner (v.17)

(b) Welcome him as you would welcome me

(c) Not as a slave, but an equal; a brother; joint heirs in Christ


(i) If he owes you anything from the life he led before, charge it to me!

(e) Writing with my own hand

(i) Use of secretary, with final greeting from Paul¡¦s hand

(ii) This letter is so personal, he writes it all

(f) I will pay it ¡V even though you owe me your very life!

(g) Imagine being Onesimus, appearing before Philemon with this letter

(h) Imagine being Philemon!

(i) Onesimus has not one redeeming quality. It is Paul¡¦s intercession and justification of him before an angry master

(ii) How else can he answer? How could he justify rejection?

D. Paul¡¦s final plea (ie. the CLOSE)

01. I do wish to have some benefit from you (another play on Onesimus¡¦ name)

02. Refresh my heart in Christ (cf. 7)

03. Confident of your obedience (not to me but to Christ)

3. Consider the three characters in this story in light of our own justification

A. Onesimus; a runaway slave, doomed to die under Roman law.

01. A thief and a runaway slave

02. Worth no more than a donkey before his rebellion

03. Onesimus represents the sinner

(a) Standing before an angry God, unable to make restitution for his sin

(b) Sentenced to death for the sins he has committed

(c) No redeeming qualities apart from those given to him by someone else (Paul)

B. Philemon; a wealthy slave owner, master of Onesimus, a leader in the church at Colossae

01. Has no reason to spare this slave¡¦s life

02. Resolved to carry out the punishment due to Onesimus

03. Has done nothing illegal, immoral or unethical; was not the cause of Onesimus¡¦ crime

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