Sermon #577                                          Miscellaneous Sermons


          Title:           The Story Of The Runaway Slave

          Text:           Philemon 15


          Subject:     The marvelous grace of God displayed in the story of Onesimus.

          Date: Sunday Morning – May 6, 1984

          Tape #      




          Today, I want to tell you a story. We will call it The Story of the Runaway Slave.


Philemon was truly a gracious man (v. 5).


·        He loved Christ.

·        He maintained a church in his house.

·        He was a benevolent friend to the Apostle Paul.

·        He treated his servants kindly and graciously.


Onesimus was a slave whom Philemon had come to trust.


Philemon had given Onesimus charge over certain of his household good. He trusted his treasures to the care of this slave as a steward. But Onesimus betrayed his Master’s trust. It is one thing to have a thief break into your house and rob you; but it is something far more insulting and painful to bear to be betrayed by one whom you trust, to have one of your own household to rob you. Well, Onesimus took his Master’s goods and ran. He ran away to Rome. There he hoped to lose himself in the crowded streets, among the vagabonds and street people.


          At last Onesimus was brought into that room where God’s servant, Paul, was a prisoner. He heard Paul preach the gospel of God’s grace in Christ, and this poor runaway slave became a true believer.


          You know the rest of the story. Onesimus still belonged to Philemon. He was a wanted man. His master had a lawful right to have him executed. The only right thing for this slave to do was to return to his master and hope that he would be gracious. My friend, you still belong to God. You are a wanted man. Justice cries out for your execution. It would be lawful, righteous, and just for God to slay you. The only thing for you to do is to go to God, confessing your guilt, pleading the merits of his Son, the Lord Jsus Christ, and hope that he will be gracious.


Perhaps He will admit my plea,

Perhaps will hear my prayer;

But if I perish I will pray

And perish only there.


I can but perish if I go,

I am resolved to try;

For if I stay away I know,

I must forever die.


          Once Onesimus was converted, the Apostle Paul took down his pen and paper, and under the direction of God the Holy Spirit, he wrote this little epistle to Philemon with his own hand, with the hope of both preserving Onesimus’ life and making reconciliation between Onesimus and Philemon.


          This brief little epistle is full of instruction for us. I see four things here that arrested my attention as I read this letter from Paul to Philemon.


1. Here is an example of true Christian love.


·        Paul showed great love in his regard for Onesimus.


Paul took this degraded, loathsome creature in. Once he had been converted by the grace of God, Paul regarded hima nd treated him as his own son. Though Onesimus and Timothy were very different men before they were converted (Timothy was a moral, upright young man. Onesimus was the offscouring of society.), after they were converted, they were both equal in Paul’s eyes. (In Christ there is no difference.)


·        Philemon showed great brotherly love in his reception of Onesimus.


Though Philemon had been greatly wronged by this man, he received him again into his household, freely forgiving him the wrong he had done (Matt. 6:14-125).


          My friends, you and I should cultivate this tender spirit (Eph. 4:32).


          If God forgives us, surely we may forgive one another. If Christ receives us, surely we ought to receive one another. This kind of love is the law that rules in the hearts of God’s elect. “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34-35).


2. Here is an example of substitutionary redemption (v. 18).


          Onesimus had wronged Philemon. He had betrayed his master’s trust, despised his master’s goodness, and stolen his master’s goods. Onesimus owed much to Philemon. But listen to this. Paul says, “If he hath wronged thee ought, put that on mine account.”


          Now, my friends, that is exactly what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for us (Isa. 53:4-10).


3. Here is an example of divine forgiveness (v. 17).


          Paul says, “If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself.” Onesimus was forgiven through the intercession of another. He was accepted, not as a slave, but as a brother, an equal. And he was accepted because of another.


·        We have been forgiven through the intercession of Christ.

·        We have been accepted as the sons of God, in every way equal to Christ in God’s sight (1 John 3:1).

·        We have been accepted because of another, even because of the Lord Jesus Christ.


4. But the thing which stands out most beautifully in the text is this – Here we have an example of God’s wondrous, amazing, irresistible grace.




          In the case of Onesimus, we see clear evidence that the grace of God is always effectual and irresistible, and can never be thwarted in its purpose. Grace is not God’s will to save. Grace is God’s act of saving.




          Taking the case of Onesimus as our example, I want to show you five things about the grace of God.


·        The grace of God always takes the initiative in salvation.

·        The grace of god rules and overrules all things to accomplish its purpose.

·        The grace of God is always successful.

·        Grace always gives God the glory.

·        The grace of God is a door of hope for perishing sinners.


I. My friends, the grace of God always takes the initiative in salvation.


Grace first contrived the way

To save rebellious man;

And all the steps that grace display

Which drew the wondrous plan.


Grace first inscribed my name

In God’s eternal book:

‘Twas grace that gave me to the Lamb,

Who all my sorrows took.


                   A. Onesimus was the object of sovereign election.


                   This poor slave did not know it, but he was the chosen object of God’s eternal, electing love. He was not worthy of God’s love. He did not desire God’s love. He did not seek God’s love. Nevertheless, he was loved of God from eternity. God had said concerning Onesimus, “I will be his God and he shall be my son.” And so it came to pass.


·        Grace passed by many slaves who were just like Onesimus, and chose him.

·        Grace passed by many men and women at Colosse who were far more noble than Onesimus, and chose him.


As a general rule, the most unworthy of the unworthy, the most loathsome of the loathsome, the most useless of the useless, the most vile of the vile are the objects of God’s grace. Who are you, and what am I that God should be merciful to us? (1 Cor. 1:26-29; Jer. 31:3).


          Brethren, do not ever forget where you were, who you were, and what you were when the grace of God found you (1 Cor. 1:26-28; 6:9-11; Isa. 51:1).


Illustration: The remembrance room.


3. Be sure you understand this, the grace of God is always sovereign (Rom. 9:15-16).


        You have no claim upon the grace of God. God is in no way obliged to show you mercy. He can save you if he will, or he can damn you if he will. It is up to him. God is not in your hands. You are in God’s hands. The Lord God is sovereign. He does as it pleases him.


·        God chooses some, and passes by others.

·        God sent his Son to redeem some, but not others.

·        God sends the gospel to some, and refuses to send it to others.

·        God sends his Spirit to call some, and leaves the rest to their own chosen darkness and ignorance.

·        This is God’s right as God. We gladly submit to his total, absolute sovereignty (Rom. 9:18-21).


Mortals, be dumb; what creature dares

Dispute His sovereign will?

Ask no account of His affairs,

But tremble and be still.


Just like His nature is His grace,

All sovereign, and all free;

Great God, how searchless are Thy ways,

How deep thy judgments be!


          B. The Grace of God sought Onesimus


          Onesimus did not seek God; God sought Onesimus. Onesimus was not looking for the Lord; the Lord was looking for Onesimus. Onesimus did not want grace; grace wanted Onesimus. Onesimus did not come to grace; grace came to Onesimus. Onesimus did not find the Lord; the Lord found Onesimus.


          The name of God’s church is “Sought Out” (Isa. 61:12). The Lord God declares, “I am found of them that sought me not” (Isa. 65:1). Modern day religion says to the sinner, “You take the first step, and God will do the rest.” God says to the sinner, “Without me, ye can do nothing. You have no ability and no will to come to me. I will come and be gracious to whom I will be gracious.” Grace always takes the initiative in salvation.


·        God chose us; we did not choose him.

·        God gave us life; we did not give life to ourselves.

·        God sought us; we did not seek him.

·        God came to us; we did not come to him.


‘Tis not that I did choose Thee,

For, Lord, that could not be,

This heart would still refuse Thee,

But Thou hast chosen me.

Thou from the sin that stained me

Washed me and set me free,

And to this end ordained me,

That I should live to Thee.


‘Twas sovereign mercy called me,

And taught my opening mind;

The world had else enthralled me,

To heavenly glories blind:

My heart owns none before Thee,

For Thy rich grace I thirst;

This knowing, if I love Thee,

Thou must have loved me first.


II. The grace of God rules and overrules all things to accomplish its purpose (John 17:1-2; Rom. 8:28).


          Onesimus had no right to rob his master and runaway; but God was pleased to make use of Onesimus’ sin to accomplish his conversion. In the wise arrangement of Divine providence, Onesimus’ evil deed brought him to the place where God would be gracious to him (Psa. 76:10). See verse 15.


          We must be careful here. Onesimus did exactly what he wanted to do. He freely exercised his free-will, and chose the path of wickedness. But still, God had a hand in the whole affair. This is what the old puritans used to call prevenient grace, grace that goes before and prepares the way for grace. (Compare Acts 2:23; 4:27-28).


Illustration: Adam’s Fall


          A. Onesimus madly ran the sinful course of his own free-will.


          Had God not sovereignly intervened, this man’s actions would have surely brought him to ruin.


          B. But God’s purpose of grace could not and would not be overturned.


·        Onesimus must come to Rome.

·        Onesimus must hear the gospel from Paul’s lips.

·        Paul and Onesimus must be brought to Rome at the same time – At just the right time.


How will it all happen? The Lord God called the old serpent, Satan, into his service.


·        Satan will tempt Onesimus, just at the right time, and persuade him to steal his master’s goods.

·        Satan will lead an angry mob to have Paul arrested at Jerusalem.

·        Having robbed his master, Onesimus was filled with fear and fled to Rome.

·        At last, on the appointed day, Onesimus comes before Paul, and Paul preached the gospel to him in the power of the Holy Spirit. God, when he intends to be gracious, always brings the sinner whom he has chosen to the preacher whom he has chosen.


·        Perhaps he had been arrested.

·        Perhaps he came to Paul for help.


At any rate, Onesimus and Paul meet face to face, at the appointed time, in the appointed place, for the appointed purpose. And I am here to tell you that it is true –


God moves in a mysterious way

His wonders to perform;

He plants His footsteps in the sea,

And rides upon the storm.


Deep in unfathomable mines

Of never failing skill,

He treasures up His vast designs

And works His sovereign will.


Note: Here is a word of comfort and encouragement for you whose sons and daughters break your hearts through their rebellion and waywardness. Sometimes this is God’s appointed way of grace.


          It is far better to lose them for a season and gain them for eternity than to keep them at home in self-righteousness and to lose them for eternity. The wise thing for us to do is simply to submit to the will of God. “It is the Lord, let him do what seemeth him good.”


Illustration: The Sailor in Havannah.


                             Aren’t you glad to know that the grace of God rules and overrules all things to accomplish its purpose? Grace is always on time.


III. The grace of God is always successful.


                   Grace cannot be defeated. Grace cannot be thwarted. Grace cannot be overturned. Grace cannot be resisted. God had chosen Onesimus, and Onesimus must be saved.


          A. Grace preserved Onesimus, provided for Onesimus, protected Onesimus, and led Onesimus all the days of his life, even in his rebellion (Heb. 1:14; Hos. 2:8).


          B. At the appointed time, grace conquered Onesimus’ heart (Ezek. 16:3-8).


          By the power of God’s grace, Onesimus was made a new man in Christ – Behold the wondrous, transforming power of the grace of our God! Grace changes a man’s character, and grace changes his behavior – At work, at home.


          Rowland Hill used to say, “I would not give half a penny for a man’s piety if his dog and cat were not better off after he is converted.”


          C. Mark this down, my friends, the grace of God will be successful, it will always be successful (Rom. 8:29-30).


          The good Shepherd goes seeking his sheep. He never gives up the search until he finds his sheep. And he always fetches his sheep home.


IV. Grace always gives God the glory.


          This is the reason why God does things the way he does them, so that we might be “to the praise of the glory of his grace” (Ezek. 16:62-63).


                   I am sure that Onesimus gave God the glory due unto his name, and so do I – “Salvation is of the Lord.”


·        He chose me.

·        He redeemed me.

·        He sought me.

·        He called me.

·        He came to me.

·        He gave me life.

·        He gave me faith.

·        He preserves me.


V. The grace of God is a door of hope for perishing sinners.


          My friends, the God that I preach to you is the God of all grace. “He delighteth in mercy.” Come now to the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16). Come in Submission. Come in Repentance. Come in faith. Come home.


Illustration: Tie a white hankerchief!


          Grace alone makes the difference (1 Cor. 4:7).