Philemon was evidently a wealthy Christian of Colosse who had been won to Christ through Paul's ministry, possibly at Ephesus. Onesimus was one of Philemon's slaves who had apparently stolen from his master and fled to Rome. Under the providential leading of the Lord, this runaway slave was brought into contact with Paul, who led him to Christ. Legally, Philemon could have had his slave killed for disobeying, but Paul stepped in to intercede for the new Christian and saved his life. This brief letter speaks to our hearts since it pictures, in a vivid way, the heart of the great Apostle Paul. His purposes in writing were to inform Philemon that his slave was safe and saved, to ask Philemon to forgive Onesimus, and to request Philemon to prepare a room for Paul.
Of course, the main lesson of the letter is its picture of Christ. Just as Paul was willing to pay the price for disobedient Onesimus, so Christ paid the price for your sins and mine on the cross. Paul wrote, "receive him as myself." This is a reminder to us that we are "accepted in the beloved" (Ephesians 1:6). No one will ever enter heaven on his own merits--only on the merits of Jesus Christ. When the believer stands before the Father, Christ will have to say, "receive him as Myself." Thanks be to God that our sins have been covered by His precious righteousness.
The Christian today needs to keep in mind the distinction between "accepted in Christ" and "accepted to Christ." The one who has trusted Christ for salvation is forever accepted in Christ, and can never be rejected by the Father. Whenever the believer sins, he is accepted, but not acceptable! It is necessary to confess that sin and receive Christ's cleansing. Because we are accepted in Him, we have sonship; as we live a life acceptable to Him, we have fellowship with Him.
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