The Gospel in Philemon

This article is part of the Christ in All of Scripture series.

The Gospel Changes Us

The central gospel themes in Paul’s shortest letter are surprisingly substantial. Philemon teaches us simply yet profoundly that the gospel transforms us from the inside out. God’s grace in the gospel therefore has the power to reconcile people and transform relationships. When a wealthy slave owner and his fugitive slave both encounter the gospel of grace, they are forever changed. Though they were both formerly slaves to sin, they have become prisoners of grace, each learning how to move from being self-centered to becoming other-oriented.

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In this way Philemon and Onesimus were following the reconciling footsteps of their Master, the servant Jesus Christ, who “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” in his incarnation, humble and sinless life, and obedience to death on the cross (Phil. 2:5–8). This sacrificial service was predicted by Jesus himself, who told his disciples, “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43–45).

Because of Jesus, the ultimate reconciler who made peace on the cross (Col. 1:20), we must let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts in all of our relationships, since we are one body with Christ who is our head (Col. 3:15). In this way, the gospel will transform us from the inside out, not by compelling us against our will to love one another, but by changing the will itself.

This article is adapted from the ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible. Browse other articles in this series via the links below.

Old Testament

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New Testament

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