The Grace of Christ in Daily Life

 •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 8
The brief epistle to Philemon furnishes us with a lovely picture of the way in which the grace of Christ operates in the relationships and circumstances of everyday life. The Apostle pleads with his brother in the Lord for Onesimus, who, being the property of Philemon, had run away (perhaps robbing him first), but who had been brought to Christ through contact with Paul himself, while a prisoner in Rome. By Roman law the master had ample authority to punish him severely for such conduct. His behavior, too, was more aggravating, in that he served an excellent master, not a tyrannical man of the world. Paul pleads for him, that in Philemon’s heart divine grace and love might triumph over any feelings of annoyance and anger.
Generally the inspired epistles of Paul are occupied with the great doctrines of Christianity. He was the privileged vessel for the unfolding of the wondrous counsels of God concerning Christ which had been kept secret since the world began. Now he gives an example of the way Christianity occupies itself with all the practical details of daily life, that in these the grace of Christ may be expressed by those who believe. We are thus preserved through the operation of the Holy Spirit from being mere theorists.
The Uniting Power of Grace
The uniting power of divine grace is much to be observed in this epistle to Philemon. After the Apostle’s usual greeting of grace and peace, his heart bursts forth in thanksgiving to God. He gratefully recognizes all the good in his dear brother. He blesses God for his love and faith toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints. The bowels of the saints were refreshed by him. We may always observe this gracious way in the epistles of Paul. In cases where there was much to blame, if anything of Christ was to be seen, he gladly owned it and gave thanks — an important lesson for our souls to learn in the school of God in this day. There is so much to grieve the spirit and to draw forth our remonstrances and rebukes that we are apt to overlook the measure of the Spirit’s fruit that is really there. Philemon’s love to all the saints was about to be severely tested. Onesimus was now a saint; would he love him? It is not easy to love those who have done us a positive injury, yet nothing less is according to Christ. This loving recognition of grace in Philemon is the basis of this epistle. Paul proceeds on the ground of it and appeals to his fellow-laborer’s heart.
How to Plead for Another
He looked for reciprocation. Having owned Christ in him, he expected Philemon to do the same towards himself and to recognize the claim grace had given him. The poor prisoner would have great joy and consolation by reason of the love of this excellent Colossian.
Having cleared the way, having struck chords to which he was sure Philemon’s heart would respond, the Apostle proceeds to plead the cause of the erring one. He would not use authority. “Though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient, yet for love’s sake I rather beseech thee.”
He would not stand on the position of authority that the Lord had given him in the assembly, intending this to act on Philemon, in order that Philemon might not stand on his position over the one who served him. Suppose he had sent back Onesimus with an apostolic mandate. Doubtless it would have been obeyed, and the runaway pardoned and reinstated. But would this have satisfied his heart? Where then would have been the precious display of the grace of Christ which rises above all, even the deepest evil, and not only forgives but welcomes the transgressor to its bosom forever? Nothing less than this would meet the desire of that heart which longed above all to see Christ displayed in all His members below.
He then presents two other considerations.
A Manner Worthy of God
First, Onesimus was his own child in the faith, one for whom he had great affection. He also added, “Whom I have begotten in my bonds.” In time past he was unprofitable to Philemon, but now profitable to him and to Paul in every way. The Apostle desired greatly to retain him, that on his master’s part he might minister to him in the bonds of the gospel, but he would not ignore Philemon’s rights. Let none suppose that this affords any sanction to slavery. The case rather opens the way for Philemon to allow Onesimus to serve in the relationship of a brother. The Spirit does not, in this epistle, pronounce at all as to the right or wrong of the matter. The day has not come to set the world right. When glory bursts and the Lord Jesus reigns, God’s order will be carried out through the universe, but until that day, divine instructions are given to the saints of how grace overcomes disorder in earthly relationships. Paul would have Onesimus received in a manner worthy of God, not now as a mere slave, but as a brother in the Lord. Onesimus could be a help to Philemon now, in contrast with his behavior in the past. It would appear he had shown an aptitude in the Lord’s service as well. Being Paul’s child through grace, he must be received as himself, and if he owed his master anything, Paul would repay. Mighty fruit of divine grace and love! Where had Paul learned this, if not from Him who in deepest grace undertook His people’s cause and paid their mighty dues? “I will repay” was our Saviour’s language, as it were, as He went to the cross for us. The cold, selfish heart of man can never produce such sentiments, but they are natural to those born of God.
Freely Received, Freely Give
Second, he reminds his brother Philemon that he owed all to himself: “Thou owest unto me even thine own self besides.” Here we reach, as it were, the top of the scale. Philemon was himself a monument of saving grace. Paul had brought Christ to him. Having freely received, Philemon must now freely give. Having been forgiven ten thousand talents, he must now willingly forgive the hundred pence. As Paul said to Titus, we are to be gentle and meek and are to act in the spirit of grace towards men, because we ourselves were once foolish, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another, but are now recipients of the kindness and love of our Saviour God.
Paul desired that Philemon would give him joy, that he would refresh his bowels in the Lord (vs. 20). If it so refreshed God’s servant Paul to gaze upon this display of divine grace, how much more the Lord! He loves to see Himself reproduced practically in His own that are in the world. Paul now leaves the matter, having confidence in his beloved brother that he would do even more than he had said. He looked for the superabundance of divine grace. He counted upon him that thus it would be.
May the Spirit of God write these things in our hearts! This is Christianity indeed. It is a mighty power, forming the heart and permeating all our circumstances, lifting us entirely above every human consideration and giving us, practically, days of heaven upon the earth.
Adapted from W. W. Fereday