1:1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker,
1:2 to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:
1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
1:4 When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God
1:5 because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus.
1:6 I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ.
1:7 I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.
1:8 For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty,
1:9 yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love–and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus.
1:10 I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment.
1:11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me.
1:12 I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you.
1:13 I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel;
1:14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced.
1:15 Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever,
1:16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother–especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
1:17 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.
1:18 If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.
1:19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self.
1:20 Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ.
1:21 Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.
This passage represents to two main lessons. The first is to defend those who have radically changed and the second is to exercise a heart of forgiveness. The context of this passage is that Paul is writing a letter on behalf of a run away slave, Onesimus. He had run away from Rome and as a result broke both the Roman law and defrauded his master. Paul knew that those issues had to be dealt with, and therefore decided to send Onesimus back to Rome. He sent with him a very important letter urging Philemon to forgive Onesimus an welcome him back to service as a brother in Christ.
Paul has seen the change in the life of Onesimus. He has seen that this man had been radically transformed by God’s Grace. He wanted for Philemon to see that and to extend a heart of forgiveness. Philemon had every reason to hold a grudge and to punish him. However, Paul makes a compelling and deep argument that Christ has performed a change in this mans heart, and that he would now be used as a tool to help spread the message of Christ and serve alongside those ministering in Rome.
The main verse that portrays this urgent point that Paul makes about Onesimus being changed and now being useful is found in verse 11 “Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me”. This sums up the change that Paul has witnessed in him. Prior to his run away, Onesimus was not a committed slave to Philemon nor was he committed to the work of Christ. Now not only has he been saved but he is ready to go back to serving along side Philemon in a much deeper way.
There is no one that is ever outside the reach of God’s Grace. Change can happen in a person’s life in ways that we can never imagine. He also sets the expectation that we too should not give up on those who appear to be “hopeless” cases. This passage should fill our hearts with hope because we were once that person who was deemed to be lost and are now saved. It should also fill our hearts with a sense of urgency to keep praying for those who are lost and allow for God to do the saving work in their lives.
The story of Onesimus is one of great interest over the last two centuries as nations grappled with ending slavery. But of what use is it for the church today?
While it deal rather indirectly with the wrongness of slavery, it deals quite directly with the fact that in Christ we are all brothers. We are all sisters. We are all once body. Paul wished to send Onesimus back, not as a slave, but as a fellow worker in Christ and a brother.
no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother–especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
We must always remember that no one is more important than another. The pastor is not more important than deacons. The deacons not more important than the congregants. New Christians are not subservient to the older Christians. Wealthy church donors are no more important than the poorest in the congregation. We have all been grafted together in the same vine by the master vine-dresser. As such, may we always treat all of our brothers and sisters as Christ would and may we try to outdo each other in loving and caring for each other.