For Love’s Sake
February 1st, 1959 @ 10:50 AM
FOR LOVE’S SAKE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-1-59 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor bringing the morning message. It is our second sermon from Philemon. Next Sunday morning we begin a series of messages that shall carry us through for a long, long time. Next Sunday morning we begin with Paul’s letter, or Apollo’s letter, or somebody’s letter to the Hebrews; which is one of the great, great, meaningful, significant books of the Holy Scriptures. This morning for the second time we preach from this little letter, personal, private, of Paul to a friend who lived in Colosse by the name of Philemon. And this is the letter:
Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, in Rome, and Timothy your brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellow laborer,
And to our beloved Apphia –
his wife –
and to Archippus –
their son –
our fellow soldier, and to the church in thy house:
Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers,
Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints;
That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.
For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the hearts of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.
Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient,
Yet for love’s sake I rather beseech thee, being such an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ.
I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds:
Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me:
It is a play upon his name: "Onesimus" means "profitable." So Paul says:
Which in time past was to thee un-onesimus, but now Onesimus, to thee and to me:
Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own heart:
Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel:
But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly.
For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him forever;
Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?
If thou therefore count me a partner, receive him as myself.
If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee aught, put that on mine account;
I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it: albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides.
Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my heart in the Lord.
Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say.
But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you.
There salute thee Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus;
Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
And somebody added, "Amen."
Well, that’s the little letter. Now, if you have not, aren’t have been much acquainted with it from the listening to the reading of the epistle, you can easily see why it was written. Philemon is a wealthy man in Colosse, in the Roman province of Asia, beyond the capital city of Ephesus. And in far away Rome, on the other side of the Mediterranean world, Paul is a prisoner, and Epaphras, the evangelist of those churches in Asia, is there by his side. And in the providence of God, a runaway slave, who also had taken by thievery what had belonged to Philemon, that runaway slave has come to Rome. And in the great labyrinth of that vast metropolis, he sought secrecy; and that was of course a good place to find it. Now, while this runaway slave was in Rome, in some way that we’re not told, he came under the influence of the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God; and listening to Paul, he was converted, he was saved. And the slave of Philemon became the freedman of Christ.
It would be interesting just to think how that slave could have come under the influence of the preaching of Paul. Paul is a prisoner; he has his own hired house – this is his first Roman imprisonment – and he’s chained to a quaternion guard that is changed three times every day [Acts 28:20]. But he is at liberty to preach; and he has a hall, a hired house where he lives. And though he’s chained to that guard, yet he has perfect freedom to preach the gospel [Acts 28:23-31]. And somehow this slave, who had robbed his master and run away, escaped clear to the other side of the Mediterranean world – somehow that slave heard Paul preach.
Now he might have been brought to Paul by Epaphras. Epaphras lived in Colosse. And of course, being fellow townsmen, and Colosse not being a vast city, Onesimus could have been recognized by Epaphras. Any slave had in his body the stigmata, a stigma, a slave mark; usually it was in the lobe of his ear, sometimes it was marked lividly on his face. Epaphras, who was from Colosse, might have recognized Onesimus. And through Epaphras, Onesimus might have been brought to Paul where he heard the gospel message. Again, Onesimus might have been reduced to starvation and want, and doubtless, since Philemon his master was a personal convert of Paul [Philemon 1:19], though Paul had never been to Colosse, Philemon had been to Ephesus, the capital of the Roman province, and doubtless had taken his slave with him, Onesimus, "profitable, helpful," and it is easily possible that Onesimus knew Paul, and had heard him preach, and knew of the large charity of his heart. And when Onesimus was reduced to want and to famine, he went and sought out the apostle whose large-hearted charity had already been known to him; and asked an alms of the apostle. That might have happened.
Or again, the runaway slave might have been haunted by the memory of those words that Paul preached when his master was converted. It could not have but have made a deep impression upon that slave when his master went down an aisle somewhere in Ephesus and gave the apostle Paul his hand, and his heart to God. And maybe the memory of that day, and the words of the gospel message, in the loneliness of this runaway slave and the weariness of his hiding, came back with convicting force into his soul, and he sought out the apostle, and unburdened his weary heart. We do not know; but in some such way, this runaway slave who had robbed his good master, had found the apostle Paul in Rome, and finding Paul had found the Lord. He was convicted, he was converted, he was saved, he was born again, he became a Christian, he yielded to the overtures of the love of Jesus, he surrendered, he gave himself to Christ, he was accepted, he was baptized, and immediately became a great helper and comforter and servant to the apostle Paul.
But, Paul says in his letter, "As much as he has ministered to me in the bonds of the gospel, even in thy stead, doing nobly, magnificently, even as you would have done had you been here, yet I would not keep him. I must not. I must not, as though it were a benefit of necessity. So, I am sending him back to make restitution" [Philemon 1:9-21]. And in making restitution, Paul meant, in the case of Onesimus, two ways: first, Onesimus himself must give himself back to his master Philemon, return to the bondage of his slavery, making restitution; and second, he must make restitution for what he had robbed from his master Philemon. That is a sign and a mark of the converted soul: making restitution. A thief who has done wrong, all of us who have been saved who have before our conversion ever done wrong, insofar as it is humanly possible, we must right that wrong. Zaccheus said, "Master, since You have come to my house, and I have seen You and heard You, and since I have become a Christian, I will restore to all that I have wrongfully used fourfold" [Luke 19:1-8]. That’s the mark of a Christian man. If I have wronged thee, if I have stolen from thee, if I have taken aught from thee, I will restore; restitution. So Onesimus is sent back to make restitution to his master Philemon.
Now, this sermon are those two things: himself, and what he owed. First of all: himself – that brings before us the institution of slavery. What did it mean when Onesimus went back to his master Philemon? [Philemon 1:12]. Roman law had in it no protection for the slave, none at all, none at all. Roman law had no syllable in it to protect the slave. The slave was in the hand of the master. And the master could mutilate him, could crucify him, could torture him, could do with him as he pleased; and under Roman law there was no protection from the tyranny of the master. And many, many uncounted thousands and thousands of slaves had been crucified for an offense far more trivial than this. So when Onesimus went back, because he was a Christian, when he went back to his master and into slavery, he laid himself open and liable to whatever Master Philemon might choose to do with him.
You know that institution of slavery is an interesting thing; and if we had two or three hours we might discuss it as Christianity met it head on. Slavery was a part of the Mosaic covenant; it was sanctioned by the Mosaic law. However, in contradistinction to the institution in Greece and in Rome, you could hardly recognize it under the Mosaic code. In the Mosaic law, a slave was a part of the family, and a part of the holy congregation. If the slave were a Hebrew, he could not serve at the most but six years; after which his freedom was restored unto him. And if the slave were a foreigner, he was protected by the Mosaic law. It was an institution permitted in the misery of those terrible and dark times. When you leave the Hebrew nation, in which nation the institution of slavery was so small a part, when you leave the Hebrew nation and enter the life of the Greek and the Roman peoples, slavery is the great all-pervading institution. If I could describe the Roman Empire as any one thing above anything else, I would call it an institution of slavery. In free democratic Athens, held up as a paragon of excellence to all political students, in free democratic Athens there were four times as many slaves as there were free citizens. And when you leave Athens, the proportion of slavery in some of those sections of Greece is beyond imagination! For example, it is hard for me to conceive that in the little island of Aegina, which is not more than forty square miles large, in the little island of Aegina, when was written, there were four hundred seventy thousand slaves in a little place not forty square miles. Also, in the territory of the city of Corinth, which was highly condensed and compressed, there were more than four hundred sixty thousand slaves in the city of Corinth, when this was written. And when you leave the Greek institutions and go to the Roman, you come into the same startling slave statistics. It was not uncommon for a wealthy land owner in Italy to own ten to twenty thousand slaves. Now, that great seething mass of humanity, chattel property, was an institution that came from war. When the Roman legions, or the phalanxes of Alexander the Great, when they overran a nation or subjugated a city, they sold the inhabitants into slavery. When Judea, when Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD, the city was sold into slavery; that’s why they were so numerous. When the armies marched and a people were conquered, they became slaves. Also a concomitant of that was sometimes your slave was the highest type of intellectual and cultural and educated person. The Greek slaves taught those barbarians in Rome all of the fine sensibilities that later you know as Roman art and Roman culture and Roman literature. They were a subjugated nation, that Roman Empire, under the iron heel of a great Caesar. And the institution of slavery was universal and indescribable.
Now, the great mass of people who were slaves had to be kept under. And Roman law kept them under. They lived in fear. And the slave was in the hand of his master, like you would have an animal: the slave could not marry; the only conjugal relationships a slave could ever have was at the permissive will and at the assigned lot of the master. It was all in his care. And he could do with the slave as he pleased. There was nothing in Roman law to protect him. When Paul wrote this epistle to Philemon in behalf of Onesimus, at that very time there had just occurred in Rome one of the terrible tragedies of ancient history. You can read of it in Tacitus’ Annals. Pedanius Secundus, a Roman senator, had been slain by his slave in a fit of anger. And the Roman law was that when a master was slain, every slave in the household had to be put to death. Now, Secundus had been slain by a slave in a fit of anger, and the law prescribed the death to the entire household of slaves, and they numbered more than four hundred. Consequently, when the time came for the execution of those more than four hundred innocent servants in the house of Secundus, there was a popular uprising; and the people interposed to rescue the innocent slaves, and a tumult in the city resulted. The Roman Senate accordingly took the matter into deliberation, and I am now quoting from Gaius Cassius, who was a Roman senator, who spoke upon that occasion, and who advocated the enforcement of the Roman law. And he said, I quote:
The dispositions of slaves were regarded with suspicion by our ancestors, even when they were born on the same estates or in the same houses, and learned to feel an affection for their masters from the first. Now however, when we have several nations among our slaves, with various ceremonial rites, with foreign religions or none at all, it is not possible to keep them down except by fear!
And Gaius Cassius won the argument in the Roman Senate; and his will prevailed, and the law was put in force, and the streets of the city were lined with soldiers to prevent an outbreak while they led those more than four hundred slaves to execution. That is the protection they knew under the Roman law. I cannot help but, thinking about that, think of a novel which was written in modern time by, and I can’t remember the author, but the title of it is Marius the Epicurean; and the philosopher sits in the Coliseum and looks down at those bloody gladiatorial combats, and he philosophizes and says, "What is needed is the heart that would make it impossible to look upon such a spectacle, and the future would belong to the force that could create that heart." What is said by that, what is put in the lips of that philosopher I cannot help but think when I read a thing like this, "What is needed is the heart to make such an institution impossible; and the future would belong to the force that could create that heart." And that force was the Christian faith.
Here’s where I wish I had my hour to discuss how Christianity met head-on the institution of slavery. It’d be very profitable for us today. There are ways to do things; there are ways not to do things. Christianity has a sure way; it never fails. It may be long, may be tedious, it may be trying, may be difficult; but when Christianity achieves a result, it is done. Well, we must go on.
The slave Onesimus must be sent back to Philemon, so Paul says; and Onesimus returns [Philemon 1:9-12]. Now you have a wonderful occasion here by which Onesimus can be returned to Philemon. Epaphras, who is the evangelist of the Roman province of Asia, is going back to Asia from Rome with a circular letter written by Paul to the churches of Asia that you call Ephesians [Ephesians 1:1]. And Epaphras is taking a copy of that letter to Laodicea, which is just ten miles from Colosse; and he is also carrying a letter to the church at Colosse itself [Colossians 4:16]. So when Paul sends Epaphras from Rome to the Roman province of Asia with the circular letter, and with a special letter to the church at Colosse, he sends Onesimus along with Epaphras, that Epaphras might plead his case. So the slave comes with his friend to make intercession for him. But, but, Paul is still somewhat afraid. That’s a serious thing, a slave to rob his master and run away; and Paul is still a little concerned about the fate of Onesimus. So he sits down, and he writes a letter to Philemon with his own hand [Philemon 1:19]; and he places that letter in the hand of Onesimus, that when he comes to Colosse and returns to his master in penitence, he might hand to Philemon this letter.
Now, I have taken time – because I think you ought to know some things as well as love the Lord; it doesn’t hurt for a Christian to know something; because we’re dumb doesn’t mean we’re pious; doesn’t hurt for a Christian to know some things. I’ve taken time right here to copy a letter that Pliny the Younger wrote in behalf of a slave. And I want you to compare the two. Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger, they were uncle and nephew, those two men were contemporaries with Christ and Paul; they lived at the same time. Pliny the Younger was a governor over there in Bithynia. And he, Pliny the Younger, as well as the Elder, but especially the Younger, Pliny, Pliny, P-l-i-n-y, Pliny is a type of the noblest Roman. He is a man of great intellectual acumen, with tremendous literary ability and with noble sentiments. I repeat: Pliny the Younger is the noblest type of a Roman. Now Pliny wrote to a friend in behalf of a slave that the friend had freed, and had done him wrong. And so Pliny writes to his friend. Now I quote that letter. This is one of the most famous letters in the world; now look at its beauty. Then I want you to compare it with the letter Paul wrote. Pliny writes:
Your freedman, with whom you had told me you were vexed, came to me and throwing himself down before me clung to my feet as if they had been yours. He was profuse in his tears and his entreaties, he was profuse also in his silence. In short, he convinced me of his penitence. I believe that he is indeed a reformed character because he feels that he has done wrong. You are angry, I know, and you have reason to be angry, this I also know. But mercy wins the highest praise just when there is the most righteous cause for anger.
Isn’t that a great sentence?
You love the man, and I hope will continue to love him. Meanwhile, it is enough that you should allow yourself to yield to his prayers. You may be angry again if he deserves it, and in this you will be the more readily pardoned if you yield now. Consider, concede something to his youth, something to his tears, something to your own indulgent disposition. Do not torture him lest you torture yourself at the same time. For it is torture to you when one of your gentle temper is angry. I am afraid lest I should appear not to ask but to compel if I should add my prayers to his. Yet I will add them the more fully and unreservedly because I scolded the man myself with shortness and severity; for I threatened him straightly that I would never ask you again. This I said to him, for it was necessary to alarm him; but I do not use the same language to you. For perchance I shall ask again, and I shall be successful again, only let my request be such as it becomes me to prefer, and you to grant.
Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t that marvelous rhetoric? Isn’t that glorious sentiment? That’s the noblest and the best you’ll ever find in ancient literature. But it has nothing of the sweet appeal and heart of this letter: "If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself. If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee aught, put that on mine account; I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it" [Philemon 1:17-19], the most famous I.O.U. ever, ever penned.
For perchance he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever;
Not now as a slave, but above a slave, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?
I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds:
For love’s sake I rather beseech thee, being such an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ.
[Philemon 1:10, 9]
And on and on it goes. You enter another world; you enter the world of the heart, and of the spirit, and of the soul, when you enter the world of the Christian faith.
Now I hasten to this conclusion. I said he was sent back for restitution, in restitution, to give himself to Philemon [Philemon 1:9-12]. Wouldn’t you like to picture as he comes up the road and comes to his master’s house, maybe along the way he had seen two or three crosses where slaves had been crucified; it was as common a sight as a street corner is to us in the city of Dallas. And the vultures circling overhead and some of them eating away; oh, what a horrible institution! And Onesimus sees that; and when the time approaches and the house is seen in the distance, and he nears it, oh, with what trepidation of soul, with what trembling of spirit, with what perturbation of mind, with what anxiety and care, when he stands in front of his master from whom he’s run away and whom he’s robbed. But he holds in his hand this letter. And we all could see the scene for ourselves, I think. And Philemon looks at him, "You, Onesimus." And Onesimus falls at his feet. And the fellow prisoner tells the story of his conversion. Onesimus lifts up his face, tear-stained, I would think, and confesses his wrong and asks forgiveness.
All right, now the second part of that restitution: and he must repay what he owes, but how? He doesn’t have anything to pay with; he’s a slave. He has nothing. And restitution has to be made, and how? And he holds in his hand the letter: "If you count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself. If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee aught, put that on mine account; I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it; I will repay it" [Philemon 1:17-19].
Does that remind you of anything else? Does that remind you of you? Does it? Does that remind you of our Lord, our Savior, standing before God? You know, I got a new idea of that old hackneyed phrase, "a poor, lost sinner": poor, standing before God, and in debt, and in debt. We owe to God how many instances where we’ve fallen short [Romans 3:23]. Our debt to God; and the Lord seeks payment, and we have nothing wherewithal to pay. How would you remunerate God? How would you repay God what you owe the Lord? How would you do it? Fallen short, fallen short, in a thousand ways, in a thousand days, how would you repay? How would you pay?
"Lord, I have nothing with which to pay. My righteousness is as filthy rags [Isaiah 64:6]. All of the goodness of my life is as a stained garment. I have nothing wherewithal to pay my debt to God, what I owe the Lord." And our Lord says, "If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee aught, put that on Mine account; I will pay it" [Philemon 1:18-19]. And when we stand before the Lord, and the Lord would meet out to us the penalty of our sins – what is that? "The wages of sin is death [Romans 6:23],And the soul that sins shall die" [Ezekiel 18:20]. – and we stand before the Lord, and the Lord looks into your face, and asks you, "Are you guilty? Have you ever sinned?"
"Did you do this wrong?"
"Do you owe this debt?"
"Guilty." And we stand in the presence of Him who searches the soul and who knows the heart. "Lord, You know I am guilty." Like the cry of Job, "I have sinned; what shall I do unto Thee, O Thou preserver of men?" [Job 7:20]. Guilty; and the penalty is death. "And the wages of sin is death" [Romans 6:23]. And our great Savior says, "If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee aught, put that on Mine account; I will pay it" [Philemon 1:18-19]. And that death of our Lord was a substitutionary death; it was for you, it was for us. He died in our stead. He took our place. He paid our debt [1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 10:5-14]. That’s why in glory, when they sing, it’s all praise, and honor, and dominion, and power, and glory be unto Him who was slain for our offenses, who was delivered up for our sins [Romans 4:25]. "It is unto Him who hath washed us in His own blood, and made us kings and priests unto our God forever and forever" [Revelation 1:5-6]. Poor, lost sinners, we [Romans 6:23]. Undone and condemned, we. Under the penalty of our sins, we. He paid the debt, He washed us in His own blood, and He died in our stead [2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5], and we have life, and freedom, and glory, and forgiveness all because He paid it all. "If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee aught, put that on mine account; I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it" [Philemon 1:18-19].
Now, could you imagine the end of it? [Onesimus] there before his master, and the letter in his hand, and Philemon reads it. And I can just see, can’t you? I can just see Philemon as he says to Onesimus, "Onesimus, for Paul’s sake, stand up, stand up, arise, you are forgiven." And some of these days, bless God, when we are prostrate in His presence, poor and lost, confessed sinners, the Lord our Father will say to us, "For Jesus’ sake, for His sake, for the love and the tears, for the cross and the blood, for His sake all is forgiven. The debt is paid" [Ephesians 4:32]. Oh! what it is that a Christian owes to Jesus. If we have any hope it’s in Him; any life, it’s in Him; any forgiveness, it’s in Him; any blessedness, it’s in Him.
And that’s the gospel message that we preach. Is there someone today who in trust would turn to receive the free pardon of our sins in Christ, would you come? Would you say to this preacher and to this great congregation, "Today, today, I accept all that Christ can mean and hath done for my soul. Today I accept Him as my Savior, my hope, my life. If I were to die today, I would die in the hope, in the faith, in the forgiveness, in the love, and in the mercy of Christ Jesus." "In my hand no price I bring, simply to His cross I cling." Would you come? Would you come? Is there a family here to put their lives with us in the church? As the Spirit of Jesus shall open the door and lead the way, would you come and stand by me? "Here I am, pastor, taking the Lord as my Savior, or putting my life in the fellowship of the church." As the Spirit of Jesus shall woo and speak to your heart, would you come, and make it now? While we stand and while we sing.
– "profitable"; name commonly borne by slaves
A thief and a runaway slave of Philemon, sought secrecy in Rome
came under the influence of the preaching of Paul
a. Perhaps accidental
encounter with his fellow townsman Epaphras
Perhaps pressure of want caused him to seek alms from one whose large-hearted
charity was a household word in his master’s family
Perhaps memory of the words of Paul when his master was converted made deep
He listened to Paul, was convicted and converted – the slave of Philemon became
the freedman of Christ
a. Became great helper
sends him back to Philemon to make restitution
must return, however valuable to Paul
What he had taken must be repaid
a. Zaccheus(Luke 19:1-8)
returning, Onesimus placed himself entirely at the mercy of his master
Roman law had no protection for slaves
institution of slavery
by the Hebrews under sanction of the Mosaic Law
contradistinction to institution in Greece and Rome, under Mosaic code the
slave was part of the family, part of the holy congregation
masses of humanity as property came from war
great mass of slaves had to be kept under – could not marry, only conjugal
relationships at permissive will and assigned lot of the master
law that when a master was slain, every slave in the household had to be put to
PedaniusSecundus slain; popular uprising to rescue more than four hundred
Modern fiction Marius the Epicurean
favorable opportunity for returning Onesimus to his master
carrying a letter to Laodicea and to Colosse
a. Paul writes letter
to Philemon to put in hand of Onesimus
of Pliny the Younger written in behalf of a slave
III. Repaying the debt
has nothing to repay with – in his letter Paul vows to repay the debt(Philemon 17-19)
debt we owe to God we cannot pay(Isaiah 64:6,
Romans 6:23, Ezekiel 18:20, Job 7:20)
pays it for us(Revelation 1:5-6)