Philemon Verses 17-20

Philemon 1:17-20, If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me. But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay—not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides. Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord.

Right from the start these verses remind you of a couple of things the Savior, Himself had stated:

“He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” – Matthew 10:40, and

“And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’” – Matthew 25:40.

These statements remind us or in the very least should remind us that God accepts us IN Christ Jesus when we are abiding in Christ and thus we are very dear to God, the Father, inasmuch as Christ Jesus is.

Another interesting point when you do a simple word study is that when the Apostle hints at the relationship with his friend, he kind of boldly makes the statement “IF then you count me as a partner.” That word partner in the original is the word, koinōnon, which is from koinōnia, the word we often use to denote “fellowship.”

Now, because Onesimus was led to the Lord through Paul, as it is assumed that Philemon was also, there truly is a spiritual relationship that does tend to fellowship in the closest bond of brotherhood. What the Apostle is requesting of his friend, is that if Philemon does count him as a brother AND partner in the service of the Lord, then accept Onesimus on the same basis. Spiritually speaking, Paul is telling his friend that they are ALL on the same level as far as the Lord is concerned.

et cross of Christ

I am also positive that due to Paul’s knowledge of not just the covenant Law, but of Roman civil law as well that he was not suggesting to Philemon to treat Onesimus as a “perpetual guest” of the family since in reality Onesimus was still in servitude legally to Philemon. He would still be a servant, but he would in actuality be much more as we stated in an earlier lesson; he would be a brother and partner in faith since now they both belonged and in essence, were both slaves of Christ Jesus.

The following to me is one of the greatest examples of what a person, under the influence of the Holy Spirit could be like when reflecting Christ. Paul knows beyond a doubt that in the eyes of the law, that Onesimus is a criminal. It was also a sin in what he did. Paul doesn’t dwell on that or what the actual crime is other than the obvious of running away and yet it was very common for runaway slaves to either steal money or property to help with their escape. We don’t know Onesimus’ circumstances but we DO know that it was a financial hardship on Philemon and his family because of the loss of what Onesimus’ service meant. Onesimus could have stolen valuables, or just the fact of his running away most likely cost Philemon a great deal not to mention all the emotional baggage that goes with that.

The Apostle though, very matter-of-factly tells Philemon that if there is ANY debt owed on the part of Onesimus, to put it to his, Paul’s, account and Paul will make it right with his friend! Philemon and Onesimus both had a debt that was paid freely by the Savior, Jesus Christ and here Paul is placing himself, to a lesser degree for sure, but still placing himself as a substitute for Onesimus. This was exactly what Jesus did for us with our Heavenly Father, when He placed Himself as our Substitute so that our “accounts,” our “debts” of sin would be paid.

The Apostle isn’t just preaching about salvation and reconciliation, he is, to the degree he is able, imitating Christ Jesus on behalf of Onesimus to Philemon! What an AWESOME example of being truly Christlike! Paul knew that Onesimus’ salvation did not cancel his debts to man, so Paul told his friend to put any debts on his account. What an amazing example of truly living what Christ taught us.

Christ Jesus became our Substitute on Calvary, but when He rose to be with the Father He also became our Advocate, our Intercessor. When the enemy of our souls, goes before God Almighty to make accusations about us as His children, Jesus as our Advocate looks to the Father and says, “I’ve paid for that already, just put it on my account.” Just writing this causes me to tear up with such gratitude, because there is no way in which we could have ever been free of the debt we owe to the Father without His Son, our Savior and Redeemer!

et lamb of God

To continue on and I think this is another awesome point often overlooked; Paul, who usually has someone else dictate his letters because of his poor eyesight, specifically wrote that he was writing (if not the whole letter at least the part about settling accounts) with his own hand. This made the statement to put any payment to his account as a binding promissory that would be backed up by the law itself. When Jesus died on the Cross, when the blood and water spilled from the wound in His side and He breathed His last breath and said, “It is finished,” it was the same as Paul (to a much greater degree of course) signing in his own handwriting. Christ sealed the covenant instead with His blood!

We can look at situations like this and truly see the hand of God moving in and through the lives of all those concerned and then, to top it off, inspire Paul in his writing of the letter. I’m sure at the time, Paul wasn’t thinking that this would be a great example for future generations. No, he was living life as it presented itself to him, knowing that what he wrote in Romans was truth and he didn’t give it a second thought:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. – Romans 8:28.

However, as the saying goes, hindsight is so much clearer than foresight and we have the advantage of not only reading the writing of the Apostle as it was inspired by the Holy Spirit, but we can look back on the whole experience he went through and see the moving of the Holy Spirit in the whole situation! What an amazing and awesome God we truly serve!

It’s hard to imagine what the Apostle could have been thinking outside of his writing, but I’m sure he had given thought to what the Lord had done for him and for all of us in general. After writing in his own hand, promising to settle accounts, I believe he remind Philemon, his friend of the enormous debt that was paid on our behalf by Jesus when he remind Philemon how we are all indebted beyond ability to repay in our gift of Salvation.  Paul went from writing about the natural debt he was willing to undertake to remind his friend and brother of the spiritual debt that is beyond repayment when he stated, “Not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides.” This leads many to believe with surety that the Apostle was responsible for leading Philemon to Christ and thus, with leading Onesimus in the same way, they were all brothers in the sight of God.

et brothers in Christ

Just as a bit of testimony, the one who led me to the Lord did so when we were both in high school just before graduation and even to this day, I can never thank the Lord enough for bringing him into my life to share with me what the Bible says AND allowing the Holy Spirit to work on me. We’ve had our ups and downs over the years and when I fell and stumbled it hurt him tremendously and yet, it was an extreme lesson in the very Intercession and Advocacy of Jesus Christ before the Father and an important lesson in the depths of forgiveness that Jesus is willing to go. I will always be grateful to him in the Lord for taking the time to introduce me to Jesus Christ. How do you repay someone that led you to the Savior who is willing to gift you eternal life?

So it must have been in the Apostle’s thoughts when he reminded Philemon of his salvation.

Before his closing remarks, Paul calls Philemon the endearing term brother now, not partner, but the more personal term and says, “Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord.” Now many other versions are a little bit truer to the original in this verse than the New King James Version or even the King James Version, and I’m sorry if this offends some, but that is why it is so important for true in-depth study to be able to have several reliable versions and especially if you are not versed in the original language used in the Bible.

Here are some examples that are truer to the intent and meaning of what the Apostle is saying in the original Greek.

“Yes, brother, let me benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.” (New American Standard Bible)

“Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.” (English Standard Version)

“I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.” (New International Version)

“Yes, brother, I ought to have some benefit of you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.” (Lexham English Bible)

et refresh my heart

Rather than the term, “let me have joy from you,” the words “some benefit” translate the Greek onaimēn, into that which is obviously related to the word “Onesimus.” The original Greek word denotes something that deals more of a “gain” or of a “profit” when it is spoken. It is a benefit to one party or another and in this case Paul was ending most of the body of the letter with a plea for the benefit of what he was asking. Then he finishes the body of his letter with a remark that started off the letter from back in verse 7 when he applauded Philemon’s nature, “because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother.”

He capped it off like a pair of bookends by stating, “refresh my heart in the Lord.” Paul in essence was stating, “you refresh the hearts of the saints, so therefore in this plea, refresh my heart as well!”

You can see that the Apostle, even though addressing a dear friend and brother-in-Christ, gave Philemon and his household much to think about. But then, when the Lord asks us either about something or to undertake something, doesn’t He also do that with us?

Next post we will conclude with Philemon verse 21-25.

*Unless otherwise noted, Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

About Roland Ledoux

Pastor of Oasis Bible Ministry, an outreach ministry of teaching, encouragement and intercessory prayer from the Holy Bible, the written Word of God and author of the ministry website, For The Love of God. He lives in Delta, Colorado with his beautiful wife of 50+ years and a beautiful yellow lab whom they affectionately call Bella.
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