Philemon 17–20 (ESV) — 17 So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. 18 If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.
This passage is often held up as evidence that Onesimus must have taken something from Philemon, which had caused the conflict between the two. This is a possibility, but not necessarily true. Paul’s words “If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account” could also just be Paul using a rhetorical statement, not related to any particular thing, to cover any possible issues in the reconciliation of Philemon and Onesimus. It would be the equivalent of saying “If there is anything else that you feel you are owed, charge it to me.” We must be careful not to read too much into this statement.
Paul is seeking reconciliation between Philemon and Onesimus and is working as the mediator. In some ways we see a picture of what Jesus has done for us in how Paul is appealing to Philemon. Our sin has separated us from God, but Jesus, our Mediator, goes to the Father on our behalf and says, “Whatever he owes, charge it to me. Receive him as you would receive me.” It is a wonderful and beautiful picture of the forgiveness and reconciliation that happens between God and those who trust in Jesus Christ and all he has done for us.
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