In a message titled, PREPARE A GUEST ROOM (Philemon vv. 17-25), Paul continues his plea to Philemon. Here we see the request is stated explicitly: “receive him as you would me” (Phile 17). And, “if [Onesimus] has wronged you or owes anything, [Paul says] put that on my account” (Phile 18). In his own handwriting, the apostle emphasizes again, “I will repay” (Phile 19a).
The word “receive,” in verse 17, means to “let into one’s family.” This is what God does for us when we become His child (John 1:12-13; 3:7, etc). He paid a debt we could not pay:
“God made the one who did not know sin [i.e. Jesus] to be sin for us, so that in Him we would become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21 NET).
It is on this basis that God the Father also receives people into His family- FOREVER (Phile 15; Eph. 2:4-7, etc.).
Paul then continues to encourage Philemon to do what is right reminding him he was saved by the apostle’s evangelistic outreach (Phile 19b). Will Philemon “refresh [his] heart?” (Phile 20). The word “joy” in verse 20 is “oninēmi” which is a play on Onesimus’ name meaning “useful.” Will Philemon now be useful to God? (Eph. 4:32; Rom. 12:1-2, etc.). Paul hopes he will “do even more” by obeying with his heart (Phile 14, 21).
“PREPARE A GUEST ROOM FOR ME,” Paul says, because he’s coming! (Phile 22). This fact would encourage Philemon to follow Paul’s instructions as does Jesus’ return for us (e.g. 1 John 2:28). Christians who look to Jesus’ return are more likely to respond well to the grace God has so richly lavished on us and be about His work (Phile 23-25 vs. 2 Tim. 4:8-11, see also 1 Pet. 1:13; 1 Cor. 11:26, etc.).