Sunday, 22 July 2018
If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me. Philemon 1:17
Paul has just asked Philemon in the previous verse to receive Onesimus “no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother.” He then gave the parameters of that brotherly status with the words, “especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.”
He has established the parameters then by asking Philemon to reckon Onesimus as a brother to Paul, and even more then as a brother of his own. Paul had already identified Philemon as a “brother” in verse 7. Thus, he is asking that the same relationship between him and Philemon be understood as existing between the three of them (inclusive of Onesimus) now.
With that understanding, he now pens a word carefully chosen to speak of the relationship between himself and Philemon, koinónos. It is one who participates mutually and belongs equally in a fellowship. Thus, he is a “joint-participant.” And so, Paul’s words could be paraphrased, “If then you count me as a joint-participant in fellowship.” They are brothers in Christ, but to what extent? Paul is asking that Philemon not only consider their fraternal bond because of Christ, but their mutual partnership in Christ. What is the difference? A good example of one who is a brother, but who is not on a mutual level is found in 2 Thessalonians 3:14, 15 –
“And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”
Clearly, Paul makes a distinction between one who is a brother in fellowship and one who is not in fellowship. Paul is asking for Philemon to count him as one in fellowship. He then explains the way that he can express this special bond by saying, “receive him as you would me.” He elevates Philemon’s treatment of Onesimus to the same treatment as he would give to Paul himself. In such an act by Philemon, Paul would know that their fellowship was mutual, grounded, and truly directed to the same great goals within the church.
Life application: How far are you willing to go to prove the depth of your fellowship with another. Onesimus has committed a grievous offense against Philemon, but Paul is asking that it be forgiven entirely. Are we willing to act in the same manner for the sake of Christian fellowship? Let us consider the state we were in before coming to Christ, and then let us consider the great forgiveness we have received in Him. From there, we can then more readily see that whatever we forgive of others in Christ is truly nothing in comparison to what we have received.
Great, glorious, and gracious heavenly Father! We thank You for the infinite forgiveness which was granted to us through the giving of Your Son. In Him, a debt which could never be repaid by us was swept away completely. Now, give us willing hearts to act in a similar manner when lesser, earthly offenses are brought against us. When we are asked to forgive, help us to not withhold that which is requested. In this, we can reflect You in our actions, and so help us to do so. Amen.