If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it…
By way of introduction, I will repeat how I began the previous post: Onesimus was a slave/servant of Philemon, who had a house church in the city of Colossae (v.1-2, cf. v.23-24 w/Col 4:7-17). Onesimus escaped his earthly-master, stole some goods on the way (v.18), and intended to disappear into the big city of Rome. It was not hard for runaways to disappear in Rome.
But somehow, and in some way, Onesimus came into contact with Paul, who was in prison (v.1, cf. Acts 28:16-30), and became a believer in Christ (v.10, 16). Paul, wanting to do right by Philemon, and in considering Onesimus’ new birth; seeks reconciliation between the two men who are now brothers in Christ (v.8-17; namely v.15-16). Paul wants to put things right for the sake of not only Onesimus, but for the church in Philemon’s home. Onesimus would have obviously caused a stink upon escaping!
Paul seeks, above all things, reconciliation between Philemon and Onesimus. Up to verse 18, Paul has: greeted Philemon and the church as a prisoner of Christ Jesus (v.1-3); shown and reminded Philemon what he thinks of him and who he is in Christ (v.4-7); and by way of relational and spiritual rhetoric, appealed to Philemon for the sake of reconciliation with Onesimus (v.8-16). In verse 17 Paul writes that if Philemon considers Paul to be his partner (which points to the other connections they have [friend, v.1; fellow worker, v.1; brother vv.7,20]), then he will receive Onesimus in like terms. In other words, rejecting Onesimus back would be a rejection of Paul.
This leads well into Paul functioning as a Christ-figure (v.18-19a). From the words in v.18-19a, it is clear that Onesimus escaping resulted in losses for Philemon (and the house church?). Perhaps the losses were just due to the loss of labor and having to hire a new servant. But most believe (as do I) that Onesimus had actually stolen things as he escaped. So not only was Onesimus an illegal escapee, he was also a thief!
But Paul doesn’t name Onesimus’ sins. He simply says, if there is anything he owes you, I got it covered. Whatever it was, Paul says, count it as my debt.
This is amazing! Sound familiar?
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God
made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross, (Col 2:13-14).
He made him who knew no sin to be sin so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God, (2 Cor 5:21).This is the Great Exchange. This is substitution. (see a previous post on The Reason and Necessity of Substitution and Satisfaction) And in this story, Paul is putting up himself as a Christ figure. This is Paul in full Christ-likeness. He is taking all debts that Onesimus has against Philemon and he says “they are now my debts” (in the verse, “charge that to my account”). He also pleads with Philemon to consider him in place of Onesimus at the point of encounter (v.17).
Was it Christ’s debt that Christ paid for sinners? No. It was ours. Was it Paul’s debt to be paid? No. It was Onesimus’. Paul took on Onesimus’ debt, in like spirit of Jesus taking on the debt of sinners. Paul is playing the substitute. (To play the analogy out fully, Paul places Philemon in the place of God and says, “use me as your sacrifice, not him”.)
In all this, Paul is pointing to Christ. Paul is pointing to the Gospel.
"Hey Philemon, remember what Christ did for you? Now consider Onesimus."