Philemon 1:10-11, 17-19a




Philemon lived in a city called Colossae when he heard that a great man named Paul          

was preaching at Ephesus.

So he traveled from Colossae to Ephesus to hear Paul preach.



He accepted Jesus.

He returned home.



He founded a Church.

Paul’s letter to the Colossians was written to that Church.



But there was a problem.

Philemon was a slave owner.



He owned a slave named Onesimus.

Onesimus even decided that he wouldn’t be a slave anymore.



He stole some of his master’s money;

Made a dash for freedom;



Went to Rome.

He planned to get lost in the big city.




He knew his stolen money wouldn’t last forever.

And he wondered what to do when it ran out.



He was a fugitive from justice.

He had no hope;



No future.

According to Roman Law, a runaway slave could be executed.



If anyone recognized him, he could perish.

He was afraid of the authorities.



He hid in the shadows.

About this time, the authorities arrested Paul.



The Jews wanted to kill him.

But Paul was a Roman citizen.



He appealed his case to Rome.

It took awhile, but he was eventually shipped off to Rome.



The Romans were good to him while he waited on his case to be heard.

They even let him preach.



One day, he was preaching.

And the runaway slave, Onesimus, was in the crowd.




Onesimus was touched by the message.

He accepted Jesus as his Saviour.



Paul struck up a conversation with him.

I can almost hear how it went.



“Where are you from Onesimus?”

“I’m from Colossae.”



“I have a good friend in Colossae.”

“I won him to Jesus.”



“What’s his name?”




Onesimus was stunned.

He couldn’t believe his ears.



This was his old slave master;

The one he had stolen from;



The one he was running away from.

Paul could tell something was wrong.



He wanted to know what it was.

Onesimus wondered what to do.




Christians are told to put on the whole armour of God;

Told to have our loins girt about with truth (Eph. 6:13-14).



But telling the truth could cost Onesimus.

He might have to be a slave again.



He might be executed.

Onesimus thought about it.



But he didn’t think about it very long.

He had made a commitment to Jesus.



Telling the truth would glorify Jesus.

But telling a lie would break the Ten Commandments.



He would take a stand.

No matter what it cost, he would tell the truth.



Nothing else would do.

He explained the situation to Paul.



And then, Paul had a problem.

My mom would say he was caught between a rock and a hard place.



He was caught between his old friend, Philemon, the slave owner.

And his new friend, Onesimus, the runaway slave.




He thought about it.

There was only one way to handle this.



Onesimus had broken the law.

His sin could not be overlooked.



Paul said, “You will have to go back to Philemon.”

“But I will be your mediator.”



“I will write a letter to Philemon.”

“You will take it to him.”



Onesimus agreed.

He would not let Jesus down.



Paul wrote the letter.

It’s in the Bible.



It’s called the Book of Philemon.

Paul told Philemon, “I have you on my prayer list.”



“I’ve heard of your love;”

“Of your love for Jesus,”



“Of your love for others” (Verse 5).

“I’ve heard of your faith.”




“I pray that your faith will result in good works;”

“That your faith will cause you to make a difficult decision.”




He said, “As an apostle, I could boldly order you to make it” (Verse 8).

“But for love’s sake, I’m pleading with you to forgive Onesimus” (Verses 9-10).



He stole from you.

He ran away.



You can have him executed.

But I’m pleading with you to love him the way Jesus loved you;



To forgive him the way Jesus forgives you.

He’s been useless to you.



But he’s changed.

He’s come back to you.



He will help you.

I would like to keep him with me (Verse 13).



But I can’t do that.

He’s your slave.



“I will not force this decision on you.”

“I ask you to forgive him because you want to.”



But Paul didn’t stop there.

He said, “I’m not asking you to take him back as a slave.”



“I’m asking you to take him back as a brother;”

“To treat him like a brother in the flesh;”



“And to treat him like a brother in the Lord” (Verse 16).

Then, Paul made a profound statement.



“If I’m your brother,”

“Onesimus is your brother” (Verse 17).



If one Christian is your brother,

Every Christian is your brother.



You can’t have it both ways.

Onesimus is your slave.



Or, Onesimus is your brother.

If he is your brother, you have to forgive him.



And set him free.

But Paul didn’t stop there either.



He knew that restitution had to be made.

So he added, “If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee aught, put it on my

account” (Verse 18).



“I Paul have written it with mine own hand.”

“ I will repay it” (Verse 19a).



Now, it’s important to understand that this is a real story.

A secular writer named Ignatius wrote a history of the early Church.



He wrote that Onesimus was a Bishop in the early Church.

That’s quite a change.



This runaway slave and thief became a Bishop in the early Church.

So this is a real story.



But it seems that God had more than one reason for putting this story

in the Bible.

It’s a beautiful picture of salvation.



I want to backtrack.

And make nine quick points.



1st---Every one of us has been a slave;

Not a slave to Philemon;



A slave to Satan.

A slave to bad habits, excuses, materialism;



Apathy, indifference, or whatever.

Onesimus struggled with it.




Paul struggled with it.

And we have struggled with it.



The purpose of our life is to give our highest allegiance to God.

But we often give it to Satan.



We let him control our thoughts and actions.

We let him decide what we will watch on TV, what we read, where we go,



Whether we will go to Church or not;

Whether we will pray or not.



Whether we will witness or not.

2nd---Every one of us has run from something;



Not from Philemon;

From a deeper relationship with Jesus.



Many of us may be on the run right now.

We know what God wants us to do.



But we don’t want to do it.

3rd---Every one of us has felt the hopelessness that Onesimus felt.



A runaway slave had no hope.

If he got caught, he could die.




A slave to Satan has no hope.

The soul that sinneth shall surely die.



God will in no wise clear the guilty.

The person who steps out of this life without Jesus will perish.



Yes, many lost people say, “I’m a good person.”

“I hope to go to heaven.”



But the Bible makes it clear that they have no hope.

Souls are being destroyed every day because people are slaves to Satan.



They are running from Jesus.

And they won’t stop.



4th---Every one of us needs a Mediator.

Paul mediated between Onesimus and Philemon;



Between the slave and the slave master.

He wrote to Philemon, “I beseech thee for Onesimus.”



He knew about mediators.

He told Timothy, “There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ     

Jesus” (I Tim. 2:5).



All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

But not even one of us can mediate our case before God.



Some say this is the twenty-first century.

And we won’t accept this.



But the God of the Bible is the absolute authority over everything that exists.

And when we stand before Him, we will need a Mediator.



We will need Jesus to say what Paul said, “I beseech thee for this one.”

“Why we will need a Mediator?”



God requires it.

That’s all we need to know.



God requires it.

His requirements are not make-believe.



His requirements are absolute necessities.

5th---We have to make things right with the Master.



Paul told Onesimus, “If you want to start a new life, you have to go to


“You have to clear your record.”



Many of us would like to stop being a slave to apathy, bad habits, excuses,   

materialism, etc.

We would like to live a better life.



But before we can live a better life;

We have to clear our record with the Master.



Jesus said, “No man can come to the Father, but by me.”

Peter said, “Neither is there salvation in any other:”



“For there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we

must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

So we have to clear our record with the Master.



But why does He require us to have Jesus as our Mediator?

Jesus bore our sins in His own body.



He endured the wrath of God on the cross.

He died in our place.



God gave Him a reward.

He’s our Mediator.



In fact, He’s the only Mediator that God will accept.

6th---Every one of us needs forgiveness.



Onesimus needed forgiveness.

He couldn’t go home without it.



What if we couldn’t go home?

What if we couldn’t see our loved ones?



Wouldn’t that be awful?

Paul asked Philemon to forgive Onesimus;



To take him back;

To act like he had never done anything wrong.



I would guess that this was hard for Philemon.

It’s hard to forgive those who hurt us;



Hard to act like they’ve never done anything wrong.

But that’s what we need from God.



If we’re going to go home (heaven), we need forgiveness.

We need for God to act like we have never done anything wrong.



7th---Every one of us needs to be set free.

Paul told Philemon, “Onesimus is either your brother or your slave.”



“I’m asking you to treat him like a brother and set him free.”

The Church is not a place for slaves and slave masters;



There are no second class citizens in the Church.

The saved are our brothers and sisters in Christ.



And we are obligated to give them this new standing.

Yes! Onesimus was a thief.



Yes! Onesimus was a runaway slave!

Yes! Some in the Church have done some awful things.




But if they are our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are obligated to treat them

as equals.

Look at what happened to that thief and runaway slave.



He became a Bishop in the Church.

Everybody in the Church has done something wrong.



But if we treat our brothers and sisters in Christ the way we are suppose to treat     

them, there is no telling how much good they will eventually do in the Kingdom

of God.

8th---Every debt must be paid.



Paul knew that Philemon owned Onesimus;

That Philemon’s money was stolen by Onesimus;



That Philemon deserved to be paid for his losses.

So Paul said, “Put it on my account;”



“I Paul have written it with my own hand,”

“I will repay it” (Verses 18-19).



This is what Jesus said when He took our place on the cross.

“Put it on His account.”



“I will pay their debt.”

          Jesus paid it all,

          All to Him I owe;


          Sin had left a crimson stain,

          He washed it white as snow.

9th---Every saved person is a changed person.

Paul said, “Onesimus has changed.”



“He has come back to you.”

“He will help you.”



Let this sink in.

Some people say they can’t tell the difference between Christians and




But Christians are suppose to be different.

Christians are suppose to be salt and light.



People should be able to look at us and know that we have been with Jesus.

When Jesus becomes our Lord, we stop being a slave to Satan.



We stop letting Satan manipulate our lives.

If we haven’t changed since we got saved, something is wrong.



If we don’t have a different attitude about the things of God since we got saved,     

something is wrong.

In a case like that, a person needs to use this altar.



And straighten it out.