Philemon 17-18. 17 So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. 18 If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.
Martin Luther spoke of the “great exchange” that occurred on the cross. On the cross, Christ exchanged our sin for his righteousness. Our debt was laid on him and his freedom was laid on us, all by means of our union with Christ. We were in Christ as he was on that cross. Our sin was in him. And we were in him when we were vindicated and raised from the dead. His righteousness is now in us. Us IN CHRIST and CHRIST IN US.
This word was translated as “sharing” in verse 6, and here in verse 17 it is translated as “partner.” Often in our English Bibles it is translated as “fellowship.” And of course we conjure up images of church picnics, going to Sunday School Christmas parties, or talking with each other after church in the parking lot.
But koinonia is a much deeper word. And it is directly connected to our union with Christ. The idea is that because we are all IN CHRIST, we are also all IN ONE ANOTHER. We are mutually members of one another (Rom. 12:5). We are all the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12). We belong to one another. Therefore, to reject any one Christian, is to reject both Christ himself and all other Christians. And to accept any one Christian, is to accept the Lord Christ, and all other Christians. That’s koinonia.
What this means is that, in Christ, Christians can now live out the great exchange for one another, just as Jesus did for us. And that is exactly what Paul is doing in the book of Philemon. Paul and the runaway slave, Onesimus, will exchange positions.
Onesimus will take on the position of Paul – receive him as you would receive me.
And Paul will take on the position of Onesimus – If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.
You see Paul isn’t just appealing to Philemon’s sense of honor, or even his “Christian kindness.” This goes even deeper than the character of Philemon. It goes to the character of Christ himself. It goes deep into the doctrine of our shared union with Christ, our mutuality, our koinonia.
Is there someone that you know of that could benefit from a “great exchange” today? Someone who could use some good old fashioned koinonia? Whose debt might you cancel or assume as your own? Who might you receive into friendship as you would Christ or even as another Christian that you like more? Who do you need to reconcile with as if they weren’t just themselves, but representative of the entire body of Christ?
You see in Christ all Christians are a package deal. When you received Jesus, your received his whole body, his entire bride, all his siblings – the whole church. No longer can we set aside someone that has wronged us, or someone that we don’t like very much, or someone that just simply isn’t our cup of tea. No, our union with Christ, our koinonia with one another, demands that we accept one another in the Lord.
And who knows, like with Philemon and Onesimus, when we work to close the gap between two individual hearts in Christ, we might just be closing a gap between two entire groups of people. Between masters and slaves. Rich and poor. Old and young. Black and white. Male and female.
But to do this work will require great risk and pain. The great exchange always does. To exchange your life for another’s will require the crucified life. It will require carrying the cross.
Onesimus didn’t deserve to take on Paul’s position. He didn’t deserve to be received back by Philemon, or to be not only forgiven but also freed by Philemon. No, he didn’t deserve it. But neither did you or I when Christ died for us, forgiving us all our debts, and freeing us from all our bondage. The great exchange of koinonia will never be about what we have earned or achieved. It will always only be about grace.
“To live is Christ” has placed us both into Christ, and therefore into one another. Through this mutual koinonia we now can live out the great exchange of Jesus for each other. Sharing our position of freedom in Christ with those who desperately need his grace.
Is there someone that you have failed to accept or receive into your life? What has made this difficult?
You in Christ
How does knowing that Christ exchange his life with yours on the cross empower you to share your life with others today?
Christ in you
Who can you exchange lives with today? How?
Playlist: Beautiful Exchange.
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