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Philemon and Onesimus

Today we remember Philemon and his former slave Onesimus with an excerpt from Fear, Love, and Trust: Following God’s Commandments—Level B Teacher Guide.

Introduction

The wages of our sin is death, and we cannot purchase our salvation through good works or any other means. Jesus took on the debt we owe God for our sin, and He paid the debt in full through His death on the cross. In his letter to Philemon, Paul urges Philemon to extend this forgiveness from God to his former bondservant Onesimus.

Devotional Reading

Paul provides an astounding example of Christian contentment. As a Pharisee, Paul enjoyed wealth, comfort, prestige, and authority. He was educated and had a position of influence and respect in the Jewish community. This all changed when the Lord introduced Himself to Paul on the road to Damascus. With the comfort and peace of the Gospel also came the loss of all the comforts and privileges Paul had enjoyed. He was rejected by former Jewish colleagues, was reduced to earning a living as a tentmaker, and endured frequent beatings and imprisonment. Nevertheless, Paul embraced the Lord’s calling, accepting his circumstances.

Paul desires that Philemon will accept the change that the Lord has made in Onesimus’s life and receive his former bondservant as a brother in Christ and fellow servant. This is a substantial request, as Philemon had a financial investment in Onesimus. In writing to Philemon, the apostle enjoins him to consider the larger picture. Onesimus is now a Christian, and as we read in the letter, this former bondservant has assisted Paul in his ministry. Paul’s prayer is that Philemon will see the Lord’s hand in this situation and release his bondservant into the Lord’s ministry.

As sinners, we struggle with the same challenge. We often allow our covetous desires for the things of this world to lead us into sin and away from a relationship with our heavenly Father. God graciously gives us all that we need. In fact, God does this even for unbelievers. What’s more, God enjoins us to pray to Him as a child speaks to a father, asking for the things we want. There is no sin in making efforts to achieve goals in this life: education, friends, marriage, children, career, and the like. However, when we desire these things more than we love God, or when we pursue them with a willingness to disobey our heavenly Father, we sin.

Paul’s willingness to pay the price of Onesimus’s freedom points us to the work of Jesus Christ. Like Paul, Jesus was not legally or morally obliged to pay the price of our freedom. He chose to do so in grace. Paul knew that Onesimus would never be able to purchase his own freedom. As sinners, we could never free ourselves. Jesus came into the world as a human being and took our debt upon Himself. Going to the cross, He paid it in full, setting us free from the slavery of sin and death and making us children of the heavenly Father forever.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, daily You lavish Your love on us through the people You provide to care for and help us. Give us thankful and content hearts for these blessings, knowing that You love us. . . . We pray all this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Devotional reading and prayer are from Fear, Love, and Trust: Following God’s Commandments—Level B Teacher Guide, pages 93, 99 © 2017 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

 

Written by

Anna Johnson

Deaconess Anna Johnson is a marketing manager at Concordia Publishing House. After graduating from the deaconess program at Concordia University Chicago, she continued her studies at the University of Colorado—Denver in education and human development. She has worked as a church youth director and served a variety of other nonprofit organizations, such as the Lutheran Mission Society of Maryland. Anna loves playing video games and drinking a hot cup of tea almost as much as she loves her cat and her husband.

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