Accounting 101 in Philemon


If he 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. —Philemon 18-19

John MacArthur, in “The Motives of One Who Forgives”

But then notice what he says in parenthesis. “Lest I should mention to you that you owe to me even your own self as well.” What is he saying here? He’s saying, “By the way, I know Onesimus owes you a debt, but may I remind you that you owe me a greater debt than he owes you?” Here’s Paul’s plan. Put his debt on my account, then cancel it because you owe me so much. That’s what he says.

Now there’s a principle here. Philemon is not just a man who is owed the payment of a debt. Philemon is also a debtor who owes a far greater and unpayable debt to Paul. Onesimus owes Philemon a material debt. Philemon owes Paul a spiritual debt. Onesimus owes Philemon a temporal debt. Philemon owes Paul an eternal debt. Why? Paul had given him the gospel. Paul had led him to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. How is he ever going to pay that back? So he says Onesimus’ debt should be put on my account and then cancel because you owe me so much, because I was used by God to deliver you from death and hell.

Now the principle is just that simple. Somebody does something against you, offends you, owes you something, remember this, you owe such unpayable debts to others who have generously and graciously and faithfully and lovingly benefited you with the richest of spiritual blessings and they don’t demand payment and neither could you pay it should they demand it, so can’t you release the simple temporal financial debt or obligation of one who has only offended you in an earthly way? That’s his point.

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