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 you own self besides.
If you feel he has wronged or cheated you put it down to my account.
I’ve written this with my own hand; I, Paul, hereby promise to repay you.
(Of course I’m not stressing the fact that you might be said to owe me your very soul!)
Philemon 18-19 from J.B. Phillips
The above is grace, and grace is the gospel. It exemplifies what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. The massive debt, because of sin, we owe has been paid by another. Here is the doctrine of acceptance and the doctrine of substitution wonderfully portrayed for us in this living object lesson. It was Martin Luther who noted, “All of us were God’s Onesimus.” We were slaves. We were debtors– slaves and debtors caused by our own sin. We merited nothing. On our own, we stand exposed and wretched before a God who is absolutely righteous and holy. Now, here comes the grace– “If this one has wronged you or owes you anything, put that on my account… I will repay.” That is what Paul says here.
Onesimus owed Philemon a large material debt, but Philemon owed Paul an even greater spiritual debt– one impossible to repay, only which could be honored. What Paul requested Philemon to do with Onesimus is exactly what Jesus Christ has done for us. Like Philemon we were slaves, but our slavery is to the cruel master of sin, but God… (there is that wonderful conjunction)… but God has forgiven us. We have been set free from our sin as Christ has paid the price demanded. It was the love of God which paid our bill. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes on Him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
Roman law was clear and demanding upon the runaway slave. The law demanded branding, punishment and even death; God’s holiness and righteousness demand that sin be punished as well. Graciously, God created a way to pay that debt, giving all who receive the gift of salvation equal standing by the precious blood of Christ and offering to them eternal life through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Repeating Luther– “ All of us were God’s Onesimus.” Yet because of God’s grace, we can say as John– “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” From Phillips– “Consider the incredible love that the Father has shown us in allowing us to be called ‘children of God’– and that is not just what we are called, but what we are.” I John 3:1