Part 10 – Paying a Debt He Did Not Owe
To introduce the main theological points of our verses from Philemon in this particular sermon (Philemon 1:17-19a) we began by looking at two very important biblical concepts that are introduced elsewhere. First, we looked at the powerful verses in Colossians 2:9-15 that speak about the work of Christ upon the cross, with a special emphasis on the doctrinal and biblical truth that Christ's sacrifice was the paying off of a debt – a debt to sin that all sinners owed to the Holy, Righteous, and Just Judge of all the earth. In and through the sacrifice of Christ the just and holy wrath of God was appeased because "the Lord is too pure to wink at evil". Justice demands that a price be paid for ones' sins. Christ's sacrifice – being that He was/is human, as well as God (sinless) – was/is the perfect sacrifice that completely pays off our debt of sin once and for all.
The second important biblical concept that we examined before we got into our Philemon verses concerned the Bibles use of 'types'. 'Types' are used of the Lord to foreshadow future important biblical characters, in that they are 'similar' in a particular aspect of their life to another important person – more often than not – Jesus Christ. Jonah was a 'type of Christ' because Jesus said "Just as Jonah was three days and nights in the belly of the large fish, so will the Son of Man be in the belly of the earth" (speaking of His death, burial and resurrection). Mysterious Melchizedek from Genesis was both a king and a priest, and for a couple of other reasons he is seen as a type of Christ; as well as the different aspects of the Temple worship since they were all shadows of the Messiah Jesus Christ.
In this story of Philemon, with Onesimus and Paul we see that the apostle Paul is a 'type of Christ' since he was willing to 'pay off' Onesimus' debt, even though Onesimus was a thieving runaway slave and Paul had personally done nothing wrong to Philemon. Also, Paul is an honored apostle of the Church and shouldn't have to be in the position to pay off the debt of a slave; just as Christ – the Head of the Church – the Creator of the Universe – shouldn't be expected to pay the debt of rebellious sinners – but He did. Onesimus represents the sinner who owes a great debt to the Philemon/Master/God and is incapable of paying. And finally, Paul gives Onesimus – the 'former slave' back to his master Philemon, not as a slave but now as a brother in Christ. In redeeming us, Jesus gives us – former slaves to the devil, the world and our sinful nature – back to the Father, but now as His children – loving bondservants of the Master, the Triune God.
Thank the Lord Jesus Christ that He paid a debt that He did not owe in order for we – spiritually dead sinners – would be made children of the King of kings, forever sitting and eating at His Table as one of His children!