Reconciliation as a Permanent Status (Philemon 15-16) ~ A Devotion for May 30, 2014

“For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave bur more than a slave, as a beloved brother – especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me.” ~ Philemon 15-17

Explanation of the Text: In this particular text, we can see the process of reconciliation taking place. Paul does not ask that Philemon release Onesimus from being a slave, nor does he try to make excuses for the harm that Onesimus may have caused. Instead Paul points to the fact that God was at work in Onesimus’ life and therefore, he should be received back as a fellow believer. We cannot possibly know all of the plans that God has or the way in which He constantly works His plan (although we can be sure of God’s will as it is revealed by His word). For this reason, in verse 15 Paul indicates this is possibly why Onesimus and Philemon were parted. It is plausible that God chose to use this process in order to bring Onesimus into a relationship with Himself, and thus it should not be questioned, but rather rejoiced over because there is now a new believer in Jesus Christ. Paul also notes in the same sentence that while they were separated, it was only temporary so that they could be joined together forever. What a picture of the future to come! Exchanging the temporary struggles for a permanent status in the body of Christ.

We also see that Onesimus’ status has changed. While yes, he is still a slave, he is now more than that in that he is a brother in Jesus Christ, which makes him family to Philemon. Equating this back to the previous verse, we see also that this status as a brother is permanent, it is forever. Note also that it is in the flesh and in the Lord. This is best summarized by John MacArthur when he states, “How much more could Philemon now enjoy fellowship with Onesimus both in the flesh, as they worked together, and in the Lord, as they worshiped and ministered together.”[1]

Finally, Paul appeals to his own relationship with Philemon indicating that Onesimus should be received in the same way that Paul would. In other words, as a fellow believer in Jesus Christ, Onesimus is worthy of the same reception as Paul, because they are equals before God.

Examination & Application of the Text: There are two things to look at in this text for our evaluation of living today. Firs is to note the temporal versus the permanent. Paul indicates in verse 15 that Philemon and Onesimus were separated temporarily but this had eternal consequences. There are situations that may be endured in life, specifically where we may be separated from someone, but we must look at the long-term effects, which could be the eternal consequences. Our mindset must always be future oriented, keeping in mind this perspective impacts how we face situations that may come into our own lives.

The second aspect is the point of reconciliation. As being a family of God, we should function as a family. Paul calls Onesimus a beloved brother, indicating that he is loved by God. Likewise, we should love our fellow brothers in Christ.


[1] John F. MacArthur Jr., Philemon, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), 221.

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