Paul the Apostle was writing from a prison cell to Philemon. He was overjoyed about the love and faith that he was hearing about Philemon and the other believers in Jesus Christ. Most of us are familiar with the phrase “pay it forward,” which is an act of kindness toward another person or group of people. For example, a family is out to dinner and the meal is paid for by someone unknown to them or somebody, at the drive-through window, who orders coffee or fast food. The person in the auto in front of you pays for your food and drink without them even knowing about it until they get to the window. The clerk then tells the person, “Your coffee and food are paid for from the person who just left.” Now I am sure that would make your day! I have been fortunate to have been a recipient a couple of times in a Dunkin Donut drive-thru and have also paid it forward a few times.
Paul’s letter to Philemon was somewhat of a favor to ask of him because he was instrumental in leading Onesimus a runaway slave from Philemon, so Philemon has little trust in this guy who abandoned him. Now that his life has changed Paul led him to Christ and was discipling him. Paul wanted him to be an encourager for the other believers. Paul even mentions that he is now profitable to them and himself. "I appeal to you for my [own spiritual] child, Onesimus [meaning profitable], whom I have begotten [in the faith] while a captive in these chains. Once he was unprofitable to you, but now he is indeed profitable to you as well as to me. I am sending him back to you in his own person, [and it is like sending] my very heart," Philemon 10-12 AMP).
Paul did not want to use his authority when sending Onesimus but notice he treats Philemon and the church with respect and speaks to them as adults and not like little children who needed reprimanding, for example, "do this or else." Rather he states, "that he would rather appeal to you." "Therefore, though I have abundant boldness in Christ to charge you to do what is fitting and required and your duty to do, Yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you just for what I am–I, Paul, an ambassador [of Christ Jesus] and an old man and now a prisoner for His sake also–I appeal to you for my [own spiritual] child, Onesimus [meaning profitable], whom I have begotten [in the faith] while a captive in these chains. Once he was unprofitable to you, but now he is indeed profitable to you as well as to me," (Philemon 9-11).
Paul wanted Philemon to be willing to take him back to encourage and to work for him. Maybe Onesimus stole from Philemon or did something dumb, but we are not sure of his actions or why he ran away, except that he was a slave who was owned by Philemon. Paul even offers to pay it forward and “charge it to my account” or another way was to put that on my account if Onesimus has wronged him in any way. Whether before or during the current stay. "If then you consider me a partner and a comrade in fellowship, welcome and receive him as you would [welcome and receive] me. And if he has done you any wrong in any way or owes anything [to you], ‘charge that to my account’. I, Paul, write it with my own hand, I promise to repay it [in full]–and that is to say nothing [of the fact] that you owe me your very self," (Verses 17-19 AMP).
Paul and Philemon had a great bond and friendship, but he trusted Onesimus and felt he was able to release him back with confidence to be a blessing to Philemon and the others.
I like Paul’s reasoning because he talks to Philemon and does not demand him to take him. Philemon takes him voluntarily and with a heart of compassion and forgiveness just like Jesus would do for us when we come to him with humility and eat our own selfishness and pride. "But it has been my wish to do nothing about it without first consulting you and getting your consent, in order that your benevolence might not seem to be the result of compulsion or of pressure but might be voluntary [on your part]," (Verse 14 AMP).
Onesimus is more of a brother now to Paul and Philemon rather than a slave. They are all slaves to Christ because of the love they have for God and now the love and bonding they have for each other. When a friend or even a stranger "pays it forward" or forgives and settles the debt or offense that is true love that is priceless. Just like the sacrifice that Jesus Christ paid on the cross.
Ask the Lord to guide you to be a friend or even a mentor to somebody else. The reality is that none of us are worthy, but God’s love makes us worthy by restoring grace and mercy to each of us. Now we have His power of love and wisdom to reach out to others and to "pay it forward."
Pastor Andy Provitola