The Slave (His Obligations)

December 17, 2012 at 11:26 am | Posted in Biblical friendship, John, Outcasts of Ministry | 5 Comments
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Last time we saw that:

1. The owner of a slave determines his usefulness.
2. The overseer of a slave determines his usefulness.

Now we will see that:

3. The obligations of a slave determine his usefulness.

As a disobedient, runaway slave, Onesimus incurred a debt, or an obligation, he could not pay. But after he was saved, when he became a servant to Christ, the Apostle Paul taught him that he must live up to his obligations. Onesimus owed a debt to Philemon – either for stealing or running away in violation of his legal bondage. Paul wrote to Philemon and basically told him that he did not want to impose upon him as a brother in Christ. Paul had ministered to Philemon and they both served the same Lord, so it would not have been out of line for Paul to simply ask Philemon to forgive Onesimus for Paul’s sake, and let him stay with Paul. But that’s not what Paul did. He sent Onesimus back, and told Philemon, “He may not be able to pay what he owes you, but…”

If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account; I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it: albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides.

Philemon vv. 18-19

We have all been in Onesimus’s situation. We all owed a sin debt we could never repay. Isn’t that a wonderful picture of what the Lord did for us on the Cross? And the promise and security we have as believers? “Put that on my account,” says Christ to the Father. “I’ve already paid it all.”

Onesimus was useless as an earthly slave because he owed a debt he could never pay back. But as a servant of Jesus Christ, he had someone to stand in his place, in love, and say, “Charge it to my account.”

When the Lord Jesus spoke to His Disciples, He said,

Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.

John 15:14-15

A servant has to obey. Obedience is not really his choice. We might say that’s a big difference – a servant has to obey, but a friend doesn’t. However, it’s different when you’re a friend of the king. See, the king’s friends have a special relationship with the king. The king’s friends are his servants, but they have reached the level of friendship as well, because they have already shown they can be trusted to obey. With whom does a king share his secrets? His closest friends. When the king says, “Jump,” his servants ask, “How high?” But his friends don’t ask “how high,” because when the king says “jump,” his friends are already two feet in the air.

You can see an example of this in the case of Abraham, who the Bible calls “a friend of God.” In Genesis 18, two angels and the Lord came to visit Abraham in his tent in the heat of the day. He was nearly 100 years old, but for about 15 verses Abraham went into hyper-drive. Not only did he get busy ministering to his guests, but he encouraged everybody else to do the same. After a while, the two angels leave, and the Lord stays behind to share His secrets with Abraham – in other words, to talk with His friend.

We can also see David’s close friends (II Samuel 23:13-17) hear him sighing for a drink of water, upon which they risk their lives to go get it from a special well.

The secret of the LORD is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant.

Psalm 25:14

One day in Heaven we’ll have face-to-face fellowship with the Lord, but I’m glad I don’t have to wait to have true fellowship with Him. I can be a trusted friend, and a useful servant now. But I have to remember that God is the owner of my life, not me. I need to be accountable to my overseers – to remember to be loyal to those God has placed in authority over me. Finally, I need to remember that I could never pay the debt for my sins. Christ Jesus had those charged to His account. But I do need to respond in love and live up to the obligations He has graciously entrusted to me.

A runaway slave in ancient times was an outcast. In modern society slavery is no longer legal, but a servant of God, although he might be an outcast in the world, can be a friend of God and a child of God. God the Father will in no wise cast out His children.

All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.

John 6:37

The Slave (His Owner and Overseer)

December 4, 2012 at 11:50 am | Posted in Outcasts of Ministry | 13 Comments
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This is a continuation of a series of lessons entitled Outcasts of Ministry: The Addict, the Slave, and the Man Who Fell Out of Church.

The Slave

For I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the LORD; because they called thee an Outcast, saying, This is Zion, whom no man seeketh after.

Jeremiah 30:17

The people of Zion were considered to be outcasts, and part of what led to them being outcasts was that they had been taken into captivity. They had been enslaved by another nation.

Therefore fear thou not, O my servant Jacob, saith the LORD; neither be dismayed, O Israel: for, lo, I will save thee from afar, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall return, and shall be in rest, and be quiet, and none shall make him afraid.

Jeremiah 30:10 (emphasis added)

Being called a slave has a negative connotation in society today. One sibling says to another, “Could you go to my room and bring me my shoes,” and the reply comes back: “I’m not your slave!” Therefore, it might sound strange to us when someone invites us to become God’s “slaves.” The most common word in the Bible for a slave is “servant.” Historians estimate that in New Testament times approximately one-third of all the inhabitants of Greece and Italy were slaves. There were millions of slaves in the Roman Empire. Many of the first believers in the New Testament were slaves. Slavery in the United States is illegal today (unless you count some of the housewives or church custodians I know!) But when it comes to being a slave, or a servant, there is no shame in being a servant of the Most High God.

For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant.

I Corinthians 7:22

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,

Romans 1:1 (emphasis added)

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.

James 1:1 (emphasis added)

Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ:

II Peter 1:1 (emphasis added)

Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called:

Jude v. 1 (emphasis added)

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:

Revelation 1:1 (emphasis added)

Even the Old Testament saints carried this designation:

And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.

Revelation 15:3 (emphasis added)

I want to look specifically at the account of a man named Onesimus, who was a slave in the earthly sense and a slave in the spiritual sense. He is found in the Book of Philemon. The Book is called “Philemon” not because it was written by Philemon, but because it is a letter written by the Apostle Paul to Philemon. Philemon was a Colossian believer who owned a slave named Onesimus. Onesimus ran away. We don’t know the reason why. It may have been because he had stolen something from his master, or it may have been because Philemon, as a Christian, had become too lenient on him, and Onesimus took advantage of the situation to plan his escape. Philemon made his way to Rome, which would have been a good place to hide, but there he encountered the Apostle Paul, who led him to Christ.

Paul himself was a prisoner at Rome, but he had a certain amount of freedom to spread the Gospel, and apparently he treasured his relationship with Onesimus. The name “Onesimus” meant “useful,” and the name “Philemon” meant “one who kisses.” If you have ever been made a little uncomfortable by a fellow church member who was little too touchy-feely and huggy-kisssy in his greetings to you at church, you may be surmising that this was the real reason Onesimus ran away!

Despite bearing the name “useful,” though, as a runaway slave Onesimus turned out to be anything but useful to his master. Conversely, as a servant to God, Onesimus became extremely useful. The Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to make something of a play on words about this in his letter:

I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds:

Philemon v. 1

Onesimus escaped from his own bonds, and ended up helping Paul – and the work of the Lord – in Paul’s bonds.

Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me:

Philemon v. 11

Paul wrote to Philemon as if to say, “Old ‘Useful’ was useless to you, but he’s been useful to me – he’s finally living up to his name!”

Whether someone is a slave (servant) to Christ, or whether someone was an earthly slave with an earthly master – and Onesimus was both – three main things determine a slave’s “usefulness:”

1. The owner of a slave determines his usefulness.

See, before Onesimus was saved by Jesus, he wasn’t just owned by Philemon. He was in a greater bondage than the bondage of earthly slavery. Just like you and me, he was a slave to sin, and in a sense he was owned by Satan.

Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:

I Peter 1:18-19

If you are truly a Christian, that means you were “redeemed.” “Redemption” is the act of purchasing a slave out of slavery. There is a price that was paid for your redemption. It wasn’t a monetary price, and it certainly wasn’t your own good works. Redemption in Jesus Christ doesn’t cost us anything, but it is not free. The price of redemption for the unforgiven sinner, the slave of Satan, is the precious blood of Christ. As the once-popular hymn says, “What can wash away my sin? What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

A slave owned by the devil, bound with the cords of sin, is completely useless to the work of the Lord, but a servant of God, rightfully purchased, set free, and then lovingly owned by the One Who created him in the first place, is very useful.

2. The overseer of a slave determines his usefulness.

An overseer is under a slave-owner, but over the slave. An overseer is responsible for watching a slave work on an everyday basis. A slave knows who his owner is, but he knows his overseer personally. Before Onesimus was saved, when he was a servant in the household of Philemon, he had an earthly overseer. After he met the Apostle Paul, and became converted, Paul in a sense became his “overseer.” As servants of God – even though we serve Him directly – He has placed overseers over us.

Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

Hebrews 13:17

And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you;

I Thessalonians 5:12

As an earthly slave, Onesimus betrayed his overseer by running away, and maybe worse.

If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account;

Philemon v. 18

But as a servant of God, Philemon was a great blessing to his overseer.

Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel:

Philemon v. 13

Next time we will see that the obligations of a slave also determine his usefulness.

Eternally Paid in Full

March 12, 2010 at 9:04 am | Posted in Eternity | 17 Comments
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In the Book of Philemon, the Apostle Paul acts as a guarantor on behalf of a runaway slave, Onesimus. Onesimus illegally ran away from his master, Philemon, and wound up meeting Paul. Paul led him to Jesus Christ, and Onesimus was saved. Paul, who was in prison at the time, sent Onesimus back to Philemon with a letter.

Paul’s promise to Philemon in this letter is an illustration of the role that Jesus Christ, the Great Guarantor, plays in the salvation of Christians on a far grander scale.

If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account; I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it…

Philemon vv. 18-19

Before I was “born again” to new life in Christ Jesus, I owed a debt to God I could never pay. My sins had violated His holy law, and no amount of good works or anything else could make up for it. The Lord Jesus, on the hill called Calvary, paid off my sin-debt in full with His blood.

Such a transaction is difficult to describe, first of all because of its enormity and greatness, and second of all, because of the overpowering emotions it evokes in those who have been saved. I would probably not agree with every point of theology held by the Puritans, but you have to give them credit for this: As one preacher said, they thought great thoughts about God. Here is a passage from Puritan preacher and theologian, John Flavel, that some have called “The Father’s Bargain.” It imagines a conversation between God and Jesus in the councils of eternity as the Son agreed with the Father to do what Paul promised to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus: to pay his debt in full, no matter how great.

Here you may suppose the Father to say, when driving his bargain with Christ for you:

Father: My Son, here is a company of poor miserable souls, that have utterly undone themselves, and now lie open to my justice! Justice demands satisfaction for them, or will satisfy itself in the eternal ruin of them: What shall be done for these souls? And thus Christ returns.

Son: O my Father, such is my love to, and pity for them, that rather than they shall perish eternally, I will be responsible for them as their Surety; bring in all thy bills, that I may see what they owe thee; Lord, bring them all in, that there may be no after-reckonings with them; at my hand shalt thou require it. I will rather choose to suffer thy wrath than they should suffer it: upon me, my Father, upon me be all their debt.

Father: But, my Son, if thou undertake for them, thou must reckon to pay the last mite, expect no abatements; if I spare them, I will not spare thee.

Son: Content, Father, let it be so; charge it all upon me, I am able to discharge it: and though it prove a kind of undoing to me, though it impoverish all my riches, empty all my treasures (for so indeed it did, 2 Cor. viii. 9. “Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor”), yet I am content to undertake it.

John Flavel

Please do not tell me that God will start charging sins to my account, now that I am saved… after Jesus Christ paid for them so thoroughly and so completely.


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