November 7th 2009

Paying The Debt

9th of a series of studies from Philemon

“If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me”

Philemon 18 (NIV UK)

Would you pay another person’s debt? It is risky business and one against which the book of Proverbs speaks out (22:26).

Let’s recap the story so far. Philemon had a slave called Onesimus, who ran away to Rome, where, as a result of Paul’s preaching, he became a Christian. Paul decides to send Onesimus back to Philemon, and his letter is intended to ask for Philemon’s acceptance of Onesimus, now a brother in Christ as well as being still Philemon’s slave in Roman law.

Paul’s desire is that Onesimus have a fresh start with Philemon, and in his own handwriting, thus making it like a legal contract, he offers to pay any outstanding debts incurred by the slave. Maybe Onesimus had taken money or goods when he absconded. We don’t know all the details.

What is clear is that, in offering to pay anything owing by Onesimus, Paul reflects the mind of Christ. Sinning is like incurring a debt that needs to be paid. Paul explained to the church in Colossae, where Philemon no doubt attended: Christ “forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross” (2:13-14 TNIV).

I like to think that maybe Philemon wiped out any and all the debts of Onesimus. Paul seems to think he would. Maybe Philemon granted his slave, now his Christian brother, freedom. But I am looking at it through the eyes of a supposedly liberated 21st century Christian. Things were not so clear cut back in Roman times.

In reality most of us probably settle others’ debts. Maybe we bail out our children from time to time. Or we help out a friend. Or we pick up a tab that someone has accumulated. Of course, such is society today that we all have to take due care and advice when necessary in such matters.

Perhaps you have felt the emotional and mental relief when someone has paid a debt for you. How much greater is the spiritual comfort of knowing that Jesus Christ has paid the debt for you and me, and now we are free?



Our Father, thank you that your Son, Jesus Christ, has paid my spiritual debt and that now I am free in Him.


Study by James Henderson

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