If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. Philemon 1:18
Nearly eight years ago, I entered Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge – a Christian addiction treatment facility – for my opioid addiction. My insurance covered some of the treatment cost, but the organization wouldn’t survive only off private insurance. They’re able to keep their doors open, helping those struggling with addiction, because of others who’ve given of their own money to support the cause. I benefitted from their generosity and God used those donated dollars to help transform my life. So, now in recovery, I too must give of my own time and money to similar ministries, attempting to help those who struggle as I have. I can’t force others to find recovery, but if they’re willing to work for it, I want to be a part of helping them find it. In doing so, I invest in them. In doing so, I invest in the eternal.
Paul did something similar in today’s passage. In his letter to Philemon, Paul asked Philemon to forgive Onesimus, a servant who’d once stolen from Philemon and then run away. Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon with this letter in hand. Philemon had a legal right to financial compensation and to reclaim ownership of Onesimus. In offering to pay for the cost of the financial loss, Paul essentially bought Onesimus’s freedom, using his own money to do so. Onesimus did need to cooperate, going back to Philemon to ask forgiveness, but freedom, reconciliation, and restoration may not have been possible without Paul’s financial sacrifice.
If we’re willing, we also may invest in the freedom of others. We can’t force anyone to find faith or recovery, but we can make it possible for those seeking help to find it. If we’re willing to give, God can use our time, money, and effort to help those in need. What prevents us from doing so? Usually, we’re simply selfish. We’d all prefer to keep our time and money for ourselves than to give it away.
In reading the story of Paul and Onesimus though, Paul’s money holds little significance to us personally. It wasn’t ours and we have no attachment to it. We don’t know how much Paul might have paid and we don’t care because it’s not important. What’s important is that Onesimus was set free. We should strive for the same attitude with our own time and money. In keeping them, we gain nothing permanent. In investing in the lives of others though, we gain that which can never be taken away. In obeying God by being generous to others, we invest in our own future as well as theirs.