This Sunday gone I preached a sermon on Paul’s letter to Philemon (though much better second time around in the night service). During the sermon I focused on reconciliation from theology to practice, a tidbit on Paul and slavery, and even threw in some virtue ethics for good measure. But it was during the sermon that I noticed that Paul’s letter to Philemon is perhaps the best illustration of justification by faith that I can imagine, something applied concretely to human relationships.
Note vv. 17-18: “So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.”
Paul is saying here that he is willing to put himself in the place of Philemon and bear the cost of Onesimus’ financial error. Indeed, Paul volunteers to have the cost charged/reckoned/imputed (logizomai) to himself. On the converse side, Paul then asks that Philemon receive Onesimus as if he were Paul. Paul embeds his own apostolic status in Onesimus despite the fact that he is a lowly slave.
So, Paul offers to pay the price of someone’s transgression (though he does not offer to trade places with Onesimus) and he urges that one of lowly status be treated with regard to the status and stature of another.
Paul wants the penalty for Onesimus’ failure credited to himself and his own status credited to Onesimus. So that Onesimus is, in effect, simil servus et apostolus.
Hmm. What does this remind you of? Double imputation does come to mind!!