Philemon 1:18

Monday, 23 July 2018

But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. Philemon 1:18

Paul, now speaking of Onesimus, says, “But if he has wronged you.” Philemon, even after all of the words of Paul requesting mercy upon himself, and also of restoration (implying leniency) upon Onesimus, knows that Philemon may feel that a debt is owed because of what Onesimus has done. Onesimus may have failed to perform certain jobs before running away, costing Philemon money. Even if not, Onesimus had escaped which may have caused a search to be made. Notices may have been sent out identifying Onesimus. In this, there may have been some sort of expenses.

What is important to understand though, is that Paul doesn’t actually say that Onesimus owed anything. He simply raises the matter, preempting any later call for recompense to be made. Paul, however, writes the issue of having done wrong in the indicative mood. This may imply that the hypothetical supposition is actually a certain fact. Paul is tactfully and carefully choosing his words to alleviate any greater feelings of injury to Philemon while still acknowledging that he very well may have been wronged.

At this point, Philemon could get the letter, look at Onesimus standing there, and say, “For Paul’s sake, I am forgiving you and granting you your freedom, but before that happens, you owe me for what you cost me.” By Paul stating in advance that Onesimus may have wronged him, he is letting it be known that he has already considered this fact as well. With this in mind, he then says, “or owes you anything.”

This would then cover any perceived debt owed by Onesimus. Even if he hadn’t stolen anything, his failure to work before, or during, his absence could be considered a chargeable loss. Paul has preempted frustration building up in Philemon by noting any such perceived loss now. Instead of feeling that he is on the losing end of Paul’s heartfelt request, Paul then says, “put that on my account.”

Paul’s choice of wording here is ellogeó. It is a word found only here and in Romans 5:13, and it signifies imputation. In essence, he is saying that if Onesimus has done wrong, Paul desired that the debt be imputed to him and that Onesimus would be found not guilty of any chargeable offense. There could be no perceived loss if Paul was willing to ensure that any such loss was covered. Paul is willing to pay a debt he did not owe in order to keep Onesimus from being obligated to a debt he had no way of paying.

Life application: There are times when people are simply unable to pay their debts. It is at these times that we should consider helping them out, if at all possible. However, we need to be wise in this matter. The book of Proverbs gives instances when it is unwise to be surety for another (one example is Proverbs 17:18). Many things must be taken into consideration before we act, but there are certainly times when we should act. Be wise, but be willing to give as the situation dictates.

Lord God, help us to be wise when we are asked to help others out. There are some people who have needs, but who have not been responsible with their lives, leading to those needs. There are others who have been gracious, prudent, hard-working, and yet they have come upon hard times. Help us to be wise and discerning about these things. It is sure that Your word gives us many examples to guide us, and so help us to apply its precepts carefully at all times. Yes, help us in this, O God! Amen.

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