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READING: Philemon 1 – Philemon’s Love & Faith and Plea for Onesimus


This is the letter Paul sent to Philemon by Tychicus when Paul sent Onesimus back to the master from whom he, the slave, had run away. Paul addressed Philemon as “our beloved fellow worker” in this short letter of 460 words in English (346 in Greek). His prayer of thanks to God is when he remembers Philemon’s love and faith he has toward the Lord Jesus. He prays, “That the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for Christ’s sake” and adds that he has received “much joy and comfort from your love, my brother.” 

Then Paul gets to what he wants to say to Philemon about Onesimus. “I am bold enough to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake, I prefer to appeal to you” as an old man and a prisoner for Christ Jesus. “I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment… I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart.” Paul said he would have been glad to keep him that Onesimus might serve him on behalf of Philemon “during my imprisonment for the gospel” but “I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord.”  

Paul next says, “Perhaps this is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother – especially to me, but how much more to you. If you consider me your partner, receive him as you would me.”  

Paul offers if Onesimus has wronged Philemon or owes him anything, to charge it to Paul’s account to repay – but also reminds Philemon, “to say nothing of your owing me even yourself. Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord.” 

Paul, confident of Philemon’s obedience, says “I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say… and prepare a guest room for me, for I hope that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.” 

If you were Philemon, what would you have done? Paul has put him in a position such that, if he remains faithful to Christ, he will either tell Paul to take him, which would mean freeing him for that is obviously what Paul wanted, or at least receive him back into his own household, not as a slave but as a beloved brother. 

This makes me wonder if those “good Christians” in the early centuries up to the mid-20th century of our nation ever read this brief epistle from the hand of Paul, who did not justify slavery but was teaching Philemon how a Christian master should treat any slave, especially a brother in Christ.  

What would I have done in the deep south in the early to mid-1800s? 

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PRAY FOR YOURSELF 

Father in Heaven, my prayer is that I, in Philemon’s place, would have given Onesimus to Paul who obviously wanted Philemon to set Onesimus free. But I do not know if this would have been what I would have done. Help me to be able to do what is right in our evil age.  in the name of Jesus, Your Son, and my precious Savior, AMEN!i 

MY PRAYER FOR YOU (and for myself) 

Holy Father my prayer for all who read this and for myself, is that we meditate on the dilemma I propose above and convert that into how I should live in the post-slavery world. I offer this prayer for myself, and for all who read this, in the precious name of Jesus, I pray, AMEN!  

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