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The Gospel in 25 Verses

The Book of Philemon

John L. Kachelman, Jr. 


I. A London city missionary whose success among fallen women had been remarkable, after a visit to the country, was returning through Yorkshire. He stopped at an inn, after tea the matron went to a drawer taking out the daguerreotype of a beautiful girl, handed it to the missionary saying, "It is my daughter, gone, lost ... Please take with you this last memento of the one we love so well, if ever in your great city you see her face, go to her tell her that her old home still waits for her her mother's heart still yearns for her." These words are a beautiful way of expressing the gospel's storyline.

1. The gospel! That expression brings thoughts of great joy happiness peace to all men who know understand God's love. 

2. The gospel! It is a system of thought that has changed civilization, influenced legal codes, molded nations. 

3. The gospel! One word can well summarize the entire story that beckons weary men women ­ Grace! 

II. The gospel is illustrated well by the short book of Philemon. 

1. This is the shortest of all Paul's epistles is actually a personal note to Philemon, a citizen of Collossae. 

2. This short letter is a warm appeal on behalf of a runaway slave who has become a Christian. 

3. The urging of full forgiveness, the exhortation to exercise grace, the goal of reconciliation all point to the marvelous gospel of Christ. 


I. The events surrounding this brief book are easily known. 

A. A slave had run away from his Master reached Rome. During the stay in Rome the slave somehow became a Christian through Paul's teaching. After becoming a Christian the slave knew he had to make full restitution of all wrongs possible ­ he decided to return to his Master. The interesting twist is seen in the fact that the Master was also a Christian a friend of Paul's (1). Paul wrote the brief letter as a mediation for Onesimus. 

B. The status of slaves during this period was precarious. 

1. The slave was viewed as a "walking tool," of value only as far as useful to the Master. Slaves could be disposed of for any reason of the Master ­ scourging, mutilation, death were common. 

2. Due to harsh conditions it was common for slaves to run away. But even harsher penalties were enforced to prevent slaves from running away. Normal penalties were torture, then death. Some escaped death but were branded with "F" on their forehead representing the Latin word FUGITIVUS meaning "runaway." 

3. If a runaway slave desired to return there was a clause in Roman Law which provided for "advocacy." This stated that the runaway could get a friend of the master to intercede prevent any punishment. Some cases reveal that the advocate's plea was so successful that the returned slave was adopted into the Master's family. 

C. This is the setting behind Philemon. But the story is enhanced because of the participants being Christians. The outcome is generally understood to be in v. 17 v. 21. Full forgiveness, total reconciliation, admission as a fellow family member. There could not have been a better ending for Onesimus Philemon! 

II. As this account is further considered it becomes a wonderful illustration of the gospel message. 

A. We see a straying servant. 

1. He once served his master but then rebelled left the authority of the master. 

2. Such is true regarding all men women (Is 53:6; Ro 3:23). Unfortunately man chooses to rebel against God's directions choosing his own way he leaves God's authority rule (Ps 95:10; Jere 44:5). 

3. There are countless millions who live in the world like Onesimus ­ fugitives from their rightful Master. They are in a desperate predicament. 

B. We recognize the just condemnation. 

1. The fugitive knew no security peace for he was always alert of the FUGITIVARII, a group who made it their business to recover runaway slaves. There was always the burden of punishment hanging over their heads. 

2. How true is this fact in the lives of those who have run away from God's authority! (Ro 5:18; 2 Ths 1:8,9). Men women who live without God find only a gnawing guilt, an emptiness of spirit, a tragedy of existence! They are fugitives vainly trying to run away from God and escape the just condemnation of their rebellion. The penalty for such is awful ­ John 3:19. 

3. Who among us would feel comfortable under such a penalty? 

C. Note the willing Advocate. 

1. There were provisions for the runaway slave to be restored there are provisions for us ­ an Advocate who will plead our case with the Master (1 Ti 2:5). 

2. Just as Paul did for Onesimus, Jesus is willing to do for each of us. Paul put himself in the place of Onesimus (v. 18) Paul constrained Philemon by love to accept the penitent slave; Paul forsook personal rights acted humbly. What a beautiful illustration of what Jesus has done for us (Philip 2:5-10: Ro 5:6-9). 

D. Note the grace extended. 

1. What could Onesimus have done to avoid the punishment? Nothing! There was no way out! 

2. What can fallen man do to avoid the penalty of his rebellion to God? Nothing! (Is 64:61; Ep 2:9). 

3. In both instances the only factor preventing the punishment was grace! (Ep 2:8,9). Here is the "god news" that all fugitives long to hear. Amnesty is available! But we must be careful that we understand the conditions of God's race (Is 1:18-20). The amnesty, the absolute freedom from a just condemnation is conditioned upon one "obeying" God. 

a. Willing to no longer walk as you want but now willing to walk exactly as God directs - REPENT! (Lk 13:3). 

b. This leads you to joyfully confess Christ as God's Son (Mt 10:32) be immersed (Ac 22:16). 

E. Note the accomplished reconciliation. 

1. Philemon's house was reunited a greater spirit was found. Harmony, peace happiness reigned (v. 11). 

2. Once wayward man is reconciled through faith by grace, there will be great joy (Lk 15:10; Ro 5:10,11; Ga 4:5). 


I. Now, how does the story of Philemon Onesimus Paul apply to us 2,000 years later? It reveals the preciousness of the gospel message! In this touching scene we have true-life elements : One embarks in life with rejection of authority reliance upon personal choice only to find a dreary hope-forlorn wandering in sin the futility of man's strength wisdom. The wanderer eventually finds one willing to offer hope, rest, intercession, peace. Such is the gospel's "good news." Those who are worn battered by the world can flee to Jesus for refuge help. In Christ the wanderer is born again finds a way to have all debts canceled, an Intercessor to plead his case before God. The Intercessor is effective persuades the Father to accept the wanderer as a son. How marvelous is the sinner's redemption his restoration with God! This beautiful message is so simple! 

A sick Tennessee soldier signaled to a hospital visitor said, "Stranger, the man that lay on that cot next to mine was taken out this morning I have the same sickness. I don't know how soon my turn will come. I want you to tell me what I need to do." The visitor began to explain the way of salvation. "Stranger," said the earnest soldier, "couldn't you make it very plain to a poor feller that never got no schooling?"

There can be no simpler way of telling the gospel its commands than by reading 1 Co 15:3,4 illustrating the message with Philemon Onesimus. 

II. The blessings of the gospel can be yours today (Hos 2:23; 2 Co 6:16b-18; Micah 7:19). 

III. You are like Onesimus today. The sobering question ­ in what condition are you like him? 

1. As a fugitive slave ­ running from God's authority; trusting your choices; plagued with guilt harboring emptiness? 

2. As a restored slave ­ you have returned to God's authority; submitted to His will; accepted the intercession of Christ; are now adopted into God's family? 

3. Please listen to God's plea in Is 1:18,19. 

4. Go back to first illustration - "Her old home waits her mother's heart yearns for her."

Copyright 1998 by John L. Kachelman, Jr. may be reproducted for non-commercial purposes at no cost to others.

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