The apostle Paul writes to Philemon, “If he [Onesimus] has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ” (Philemon 18-20 ESV).
We’re not sure what Onesimus owes Philemon. Perhaps he stole money from his master when he fled. Regardless, Onesimus is in debt. And he owes Philemon some kind of payment.
Yet, the apostle Paul realizes something. Onesimus is unable to pay Philemon back. His debt is greater than his ability to pay. Restitution is beyond his ability to accomplish. And that’s when Paul steps in, promising to pay whatever Onesimus owes his master.
And that sounds a lot like Jesus.
You know the beloved hymn. Elvina M. Hall writes, “Jesus paid it all, All to Him I owe; Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.”
Forgiveness comes with a cost. It’s not free. It’s not easy. And it always involves a sacrifice. Just ask Jesus who paid the ultimate price for our sin.
The apostle Peter writes to fellow believers, “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Pet. 1:18-19 ESV).
Those of us who know Christ as Lord and Savior have been forgiven by His blood on the cross. Why? Because, like Onesimus, we have no way of paying our debt. We are unable to make ourselves right with our Master. His standards are far too high. And that’s why salvation comes only by grace through faith in Christ (see Eph. 2:8).
Christ has paid the debt on our behalf, and now, He calls us to forgive others (see Eph. 4:32; Col 3:13). But, as we clearly see, forgiveness comes with a cost.
A few weeks ago, I wrote, “God doesn’t call us to forgive without first giving us an example of what forgiveness looks like. And there’s never a time when God asks us to forgive someone more than we ourselves have been forgiven.”
Paul understands this. So much so that he is willing to pay any debt Onesimus might owe to Philemon. Acting as Onesimus’s guarantor, Paul makes his promise. But as we look closer, we see something else.
After promising to pay Onesimus’s debt, Paul informs Philemon of his own debt. He writes, “… to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ” (v. 19-20 ESV).
So, Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon (v. 12). He asks Philemon to forgive Onesimus (v. 17). Paul promises to pay Onesimus’s debt (v. 18). And now, Paul is asking that after Philemon and Onesimus settle the matter, Onesimus is able to return to him (v. 20). Why? Because Paul finds Onesimus useful for spreading the gospel, and he wants Onesimus by his side.
Again, that sounds a lot like Jesus.
After all, He has paid our debt. And now, He requests our allegiance to Him. He desires us to spread the gospel as His ambassadors.
You see, forgiveness comes with a cost. Even still, there’s never a time when it costs us more than it cost Christ to forgive us.
May we follow in the footsteps of Paul. Or, more accurately, let us follow in the footsteps of Christ. And let us embrace the cost of forgiveness.