Paul wrote this letter as a plea for a runaway slave of Philemon’s named Onesimus. He had stolen from Philemon then ran away to Rome where he met Paul. Subsequently he accepted Christ as his Savior, so Paul was writing this letter as he was sending Onesimus back to Philemon, but he wanted Philemon to accept Onesimus as a brother in Christ.
This letter is an example of grace in how it demonstrates the action of true Christian fellowship through the power of Christ.
In verses 8-9:
Paul could have commanded Philemon to accept Onesimus back but instead he used diplomacy. He based his request on the Christian commitment of Philemon for they were brothers in Christ. Paul was not looking for Philemon to obey grudgingly, but to agree with Christian love. We see this in the statement “for love’s sake.” This is the brotherly Christian love that they had for each other.
In verses 10-11:
In biblical times, a master could kill a runaway slave, and that is why Onesimus was afraid of returning to Philemon. Paul was writing the letter to explain the new relationship with Onesimus for he was now a brother in Christ, and not just a slave.
Paul had been in prison when Onesimus accepted Christ. So, Paul was asking Philemon to forgive him and accept him as a brother. Christians are to forgive those as we have been forgiven. Genuine forgiveness implies we treat the one we have forgiven as we would want to be treated. Have we treated those we have forgiven with kindness or are they still isolated from us?
The name Onesimus means useful or profitable. This says Onesimus had not been useful/profitable as a slave, but now that he is a brother in Christ, he is profitable/useful to both Paul and Philemon.
In verses 12-13:
Paul is requesting that Philemon accept Onesimus as though he were accepting Paul. In addition, Paul expresses that he wanted to have kept Onesimus with him since Paul was in jail at the hour of composing the letter and that Onesimus could minister to him.
In verses 14-15:
Paul is stating that he would not keep Onesimus with him since it would not be correct however on the off chance that Philemon wanted to send him back to Paul was acceptable. Albeit Onesimus was yet a slave as indicated by Roman law, his status and relationship with Philemon was presently extraordinary, for he was currently a brother in Christ.
Are there any barriers in our homes and churches? What separates us from other believers? Is it race, financial status, education, or personalities? Are some believers acting as if they are better than others or that they have more knowledge than others? Are any fellow believers so fully in charge that they do not recognize other believers that can assist? God calls us to unity so we should tear down any obstacles and commune with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Christian relationships must be filled with mercy, forgiveness, and acceptance.
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