I would have liked to keep him with me, so that on your behalf he could minister to me in my chains for the gospel.
I. HE DID SEND HIM BACK. "Whom I have sent back to thee in his own person, that is, my very heart."
1. Onesimus did not return of his own accord. He might, perhaps, have had some not unnatural misgivings as to the character of the reception he would meet with as a returned slave who had acted a dishonest part, and might have been ashamed besides to appear again in a community where his misdeeds had been made known.
2. The apostle recognized Philemon's right to the restored services of his fugitive slave. The gospel does not abolish civil rights. The conversion of Onesimus did not secure his manumission. Yet the gospel planted principles in society which in due time abolished slavery everywhere. "Wast thou called being bond-servant? Care not for it: but if thou canst become free, use it rather" (1 Corinthians 7:21).
3. He did not even wait till he had received an answer from Philemon as to the terms in which Onesimus would be received back into the Colossian household. He sent Onesimus at once in charge of his two letters, namely, that to the Colossian saints and that to Philemon himself.
4. Yet the apostle acted in the whole matter with the deepest affection for the poor bond-servant. He speaks of him as "his own heart." What account Christianity makes of the meanest classes of society!
II. THE APOSTLE'S EXPLANATION OF HIS CONDUCT AND MOTIVES IN THE WHOLE TRANSACTION.
1. His first feeling was to retain Onesimus about his person to do him the service that Philemon himself would have gladly done. He had now. become profitable, according to the happy significance of his name. But it was not for the apostle to interfere with another man's servant.
2. The true cause of his sending Onesimus was that he would do nothing without the consent of his master. "But without thy mind would I do nothing." But the motive that prompted this determination was that "thy goodness should not be as of necessity, but of free will." If the apostle had kept Onesimus for the sake of the benefit to be derived, from his personal ministration, the whole transaction would have worn a semblance of constraint. We have no right to extort benefits from our friends against their will.
3. The providential aspect of the matter. "For perhaps he was therefore parted from thee for a season, that thou shouldest have him forever."
(1) Nothing in this statement extenuates the misdeeds of Onesimus, which God overruled for good.
(2) The acts of the meanest individual in society are included in the sphere of Divine providence.
(3) God makes up for the losses of his saints in his own time and way. Philemon has his once unfaithful servant restored to him on an entirely new footing of advantage.
(4) The restoration of the fugitive slave is to an eternal relationship. The earthly tie is sundered by death, but grace gives an eternity to the holy relationships of earth.
4. The new relation established between master and servant. "Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, most of all by me, but more than most of all by thee, in the flesh and in the Lord." The apostle does not say, "not a servant," but "not as a servant;" for grace did not abrogate the old tie of master and servant.
(1) The brotherhood of saints is common to all the relationships of life. Philemon and Onesimus are now brethren beloved.
(2) Pious servants are to be more regarded, as they are more faithful, than servants without religion.
(3) There are none dearer to ministers than their converts.
(4) There was a double obligation to duty on Philemon's part corresponding to the double tie - that of the flesh and that of the Spirit - by which he was now connected with Onesimus. - T.C.
In thy stead he might have ministered unto me
(M. F. Sadler, M. A.)
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
(W. Jones, D. D.)I. The apostle intimateth his desire to have retained Onesimus with him, and that he was loath to suffer him to depart from him: which declareth THAT THE PRESENCE OF THOSE THAT ARE DEAR UNTO US IN CHRIST IS WELCOME, PLEASANT, COMFORTABLE, AND MUCH SET BY, AND WE GREATLY DESIRE TO KEEP THEM CONTINUALLY WITH US. For as love is the knot of conjunction that bindeth us together, though we be absent and far severed one from another, so it craveth and requireth the bodily presence of those whom we entirely love, which howsoever we cannot obtain in this life, forasmuch as our earthly affairs will not suffer it, yet we shall be sure to enjoy it perpetually and without end in the life to come, when we shall have the greatest joy and comfort one in another that can be wished or desired; such as the eye hath not seen, nor the ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive.
II. Note with me the end why he desired to retain Onesimus with him, THAT THE SERVANT MIGHT DO SERVICE TO HIM IN THE MASTER'S STEAD. The end, then, is the ministry and attendance which Paul might of duty require of Philemon himself. If then the master be bound to do his service, and wait upon the apostle, much more the servant! Whereby we may note how great right and jurisdiction he that hath gained a man in Christ hath over him whom he hath gained, so that he may challenge not only one of his servants, but himself to minister unto him, and to help him in temporal and transitory things. For he that hath received spiritual blessings cannot without great unthankfulness deny corporal benefits, so that it cannot be expressed how well he hath deserved of that person whom he hath won by the Word of God. "And delivered him by his ministry from the power of darkness, and translated him into the kingdom of His dear Son."
III. We may observe in the apostle's correcting of his former grant, that as he is commended that doth his duty that is required of him, freely and willingly, so he is worthy to be praised and commended, that DOTH NOT GO ABOUT TO WRING AND WREST A BENEFIT AGAINST A MAN'S WILL, though it be due debt and a bounden duty, but laboureth by all means, that it may be voluntary, and not upon necessity; for hereby it cometh to pass oftentimes, that he not only getteth a benefit, but winneth his heart and good will that giveth it, and many times it falleth out that the mind of the giver is more to be respected than the gift itself, as we see in the poor widow mentioned in the gospel, who casting into the treasury two mites, is said to have given of her penury more than all the rich men that bestowed of their superfluity.
(W. Attersoll.)I. WHATEVER GIFTS ARE BESTOWED UPON US, TO THIS END THEY ARE BESTOWED TO PROFIT WITHAL, TO HELP ONE ANOTHER, and to edify that body whereof we are members.
II. It is our duty TO FOLLOW THE EXAMPLE OF OUR LORD AND MASTER CHRIST JESUS, He came to serve, not to he served: to minister, not to he ministered unto: to redeem, not to rule.
III. TRUE RELIGION CONSISTETH IN MINISTERING TO THE SAINTS, IN HELPING AND SUCCOURING OF THE POOR, in employing himself to the good of others, as a candle that spendeth and wasteth itself to give light to them that are in the house. It consisteth not in bare knowledge, but in practice; not in an idle faith, but in the fruits of love. Uses:
1. This serveth to reprove those that have forgotten all true service to the faithful. Many there are that have no feeling of the troubles that fall upon the servants of God. Their eyes are closed, and their hearts are hardened; they have no bowels of compassion to minister unto them, they have no hands open to relieve them. The rich of our Churches, who have this world's goods given unto them, are either in their unsatiable desires poor, wrongfully getting, miserably keeping, unconscionably scraping, and unjustly pulling from others without mean or measure; or else they spend their wealth and consume their substance, some in sumptuous apparel, others in excessive feastings, others in worse uses, all being unnecessary and fruitless things, unprofitable for the Church or commonwealth, so that little can be spared for the poor saints, and that which is spared is as hardly drawn from them as a piece of flesh out of their sides. These men never think of doing service to others, but of serving their own turns and commodities, which ought not so to be among them that profess Christ Jesus, who served not Himself.
2. Seeing we are servants to all, to help them by all the means we can, by comfort or counsel, by word or deed, by our wealth or authority, or whatsoever God shall enable us; from hence ariseth a great comfort unto a man's conscience, and an assurance of his peace and acceptation with God, to pray unto Him with comfort for His graces, not doubting to obtain them, if we have been serviceable and comfortable unto others, especially to the servants of God, that are as dear to Him as the apple of His eye. It is a means of excellent joy and peace to a man, to consider that he hath employed all the good things he hath to the use of God's house and His household servants, for when any common danger shall fall, or he find anguish and affliction of conscience for sin, he may be assured of comfort, seeing God hath wrought this sincerity, and set it as a seal of His mercy in his heart.
3. Seeing God requireth of all true Christians, of what condition soever they be, according to the means afforded unto them, to use their gifts, their power, their possessions, and whatsoever benefits they have received, to use them to the comfort and service of God's saints, it kindleth the affections of God's people to bless and praise God for them, to speak well of them, to pray unto God for them, and to obtain greater blessings for them than they have bestowed. Thus they that do good to the Church do good to themselves; they that give much unto them do receive more themselves, and such as have been helpful and serviceable to God's people, shall find them as their remembrancers to God, who will not forget the labour of their love, and the duty of their service.
4. Seeing God requireth service to His Church at our hands to do all good to them by all good means, it is our duty to inquire and learn the estate of the distressed Church, that we may know and be informed where and when and how it is afflicted. This is one misery of the faithful, that men do not regard them when they are in misery. The Lord hath determined that there shall be always some objects offered unto us and set before us to exercise the fruits of our faith and love.
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