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A DEBT OF GRACE

Daily Devotional Philemon 1:12–25


Salvation is by grace. We cannot earn it. The gift we have received from Christ is so great that we could never pay it back. And although we cannot repay this debt, we still owe something to Jesus. As the old song says, “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe.”


Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

MATTHEW 6:12


As we close our study of Paul’s letters from prison, we are reminded of all that we owe to Jesus. Many of the Christian duties Paul emphasized in his prison letters, especially in those sections that describe the nature of the Christian life, come together in the apostle’s appeal to Philemon.


Philemon owes a debt of gratitude to Paul (v. 19). Onesimus, who had broken the law by running away, owes it to Philemon to return to him but in a humble spirit (v. 11; see also Eph. 6:5-6; Col. 3:22). Philemon, in turn, has an obligation to recognize that he and Onesimus are equals in Christ. Now that he belongs to Christ, Onesimus is “no longer as a slave, but better than a slave.” He should be even dearer to Philemon than he is to Paul “as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord” (v.16).


Paul’s request calls for sacrifice on both parts. Onesimus sacrifices his pride by returning to his old master. Philemon will lose a servant if he sends Onesimus back to Paul. Commentators are divided on whether Paul expects Philemon to free Onesimus. Elsewhere, however, Paul warns Christians not to become enslaved and urges those who already are slaves to obtain their freedom if possible (1 Cor. 7:21–23). Paul tells Philemon to charge any wrong that Onesimus has done or debt he has incurred to Paul’s account (v. 18). If there is shared loss, there is also love. Love for one another, and ultimately for Christ.


>> As we conclude these studies of Paul’s letters from prison, what are your takeaways? What have you learned about the Christian life? How has Paul encouraged you to become more faithful to Jesus?


Pray with Us


Being more faithful to You means having more of You—a deeper intimacy and stronger bond with You, Lord. We love You and worship You and want our lives to bring You glory. Lead us in the way we should go!

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