Philemon: Taking the High Road
Paul's letter to Philemon is unique for several reasons. It is a private letter, addressed to a personal concern of Paul's, and the only complete private letterof Paul's that we have. The occasion for the letter is that Onesimus, a runaway slave, has converted to faith in Christ through the influence of Paul. Onesimus became a trusted and valuable friend as well as a coworker of Paul’s during his imprisonment in Rome. The power of this letter lies in the issue of slavery and Paul's understanding and compassion for the master and slave. However, when we enter into our new life in Christ, there is no room for class and status. In Christ's Kingdom, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.
Paul engaged Philemon, a leader in the church, to receive back the one who hurt him, stole from him, and used him. Paul asked of Philemon what Paul himself would do when offended and taken advantage of by others. For the sake of the gospel, he would receive that person back with forgiveness, and consider this occasion to be in the providence of God. That on our journey of separation from God, the consequence of such a journey often finds the grace of Jesus Christ. Philemon alone could decide what love required of him in his relation to Onesimus, as well as to Paul. Paul is not seeking any selfish thing for himself, only something for the sake of Christ. Paul was persuaded not by selfish desire, but only to be obedient to the gospel of love. That must be the end to which we seek to persuade all persons.
Is your heart persuaded to show love to those who have offended you, especially to those who have found Christ, and would return to a fresh new beginning with you? This is the essence of what Jesus said, "No longer do I call you servants, but I have called you friends" (John 15:15).