After all the dysfunction and relationship problems that Onesimus had previously caused Philemon, take a look at Paul’s appeal to Philemon to now accept Onesimus. Does this sound familiar?
So if you consider me a partner, accept him as you would me. And if he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it – not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self. Yes, brother, may I have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.
Since I am confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. But meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I hope that through your prayers I will be restored to you.
Can you see how Paul is standing in the gap for Onesimus with Philemon, just like Jesus stands in the gap between us and God the Father?
Paul is confident that Philemon will listen to his request and accept Onesimus because Paul is the one making the request. In order for the reconciliation to happen, Paul is willing to be charged for wrongs that he didn’t commit. Paul is choosing to spend of himself – both in monetary resources and in relationship capital – to repair the relationship between two people he dearly loves. Additionally, Paul was confident that Philemon would accept his offer and would do even more than simply tolerating Onesimus – it’s clear from his request that Paul fully believed Philemon would accept Onesimus back into his family.
Similarly, Jesus is confident that God the Father will accept those who trust Him for eternal life because Jesus is the one making the request. In order for our reconciliation to happen, Jesus was willing to be charged for wrongs that he didn’t commit. Jesus chose to spend of himself – by leaving behind the glory of Heaven, willing to be separated from the Father, and then to die a horrible death – to repair the relationship between those he dearly loves. Additionally, Jesus knew that the Father would accept His offering and that the Father would do even more than just tolerate those who believe in Jesus for eternal life. Jesus knew that because of His sacrifice, the Father would bring us into His family.
Paul’s actions are small-scale reflection of what Jesus did for each of us. Without Paul’s assistance, it is doubtful that Onesimus could have been reconciled with Philemon. Without Jesus, there was no way for us to be reconciled with God the Father.
Great things happen when we imitate Jesus. Relationships can be restored and lives can be changed – because we are acting like the One who restored our relationship with God the Father. Our Jesus-changed life will positively affect the lives of others around us and simultaneously point them toward God’s bigger story. The world doesn’t just need to hear the message of Jesus – they need to see it, too.
Paul was able to stand in the gap for his friends because he knew Jesus well enough to imitate Him. If we stay close to Jesus, we too can be small-scale reflections of His great love.