8 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9 yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus,[a] who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. 12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favour you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.
Paul is pulling out the big guns in this passage, calling in a favour from his friend Philemon. But the benefit is not entirely for Paul himself. It’s also for a character named Onesimus, for unity in the church, and ultimately to bring Glory to God. Onesimus, Philemon’s slave, ran away from his master. He then meets Paul and becomes a Christian and turns his life around. Here’s Paul’s request of Philemon…
Take Onesimus back, treat him as a fellow brother in Jesus, give him his freedom so he can come back and minister with Paul (implied). While we don’t know for sure how Philemon responded to Paul’s request, there is mention of an Onesimus 60 years later by Ignatius of Antioch, bishop of Ephesus. If it is the same man, it’s possible that Philemon did exactly what Paul asked and more and this former slave returned to Paul and served Jesus and the church for the rest of his life.
How amazing is the good news about Jesus! It is a message of love and forgiveness and grace that turns slaves into brothers, enemies into friends, and hopeless situations into the most beautiful triumphs. Only Jesus can do that!
Jesus, for this situation that I’m facing today, I know you are enough. I know you can turn anything around. So, I’m trusting you today. Amen.
Written by Boudy Van Noppen