One of the most forgotten letters of Paul, maybe the most forgotten letter, is a personal letter written to a man named Philemon. Sandwiched between Titus and Hebrews, this short letter contains an interesting appeal from Paul to this man Philemon.
Apparently, Philemon had a slave named Onesimus. By God’s providence, Onesimus ran away from his enslavement and was discovered by Paul, who shared the Gospel with him and taught him to follow Christ.
Now, Paul, pricked by his conscience, wants to send Onesimus back to Philemon. But, he makes an appeal to him. He says:
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… For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
Paul urges Philemon to receive Onesimus, no longer as a slave (bondservant), but as a brother in Christ.
What a wonderful picture of the Gospel that would be! For we know that in Christ, we are no longer slaves to this world and its ruler. Christ has freed us from our bondage to sin and brought us into the Kingdom of God. Now Philemon has this wonderful opportunity to extend similar grace to Onesimus by receiving him as brother rather than a slave.
God calls us to do the same. Not that we have slaves to free, but we do have the opportunity to extend grace to people who are indebted to us. “Forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors.” God has freed us from all our debts because of sin and now calls us to show that same love to others. We are not to hold grudges. We are not to value someone’s money more than their life. God has forgiven us of the greatest debt, so we can forgive others their small offense against us.
We are no longer slaves, we have been freed. Let us live free, rejoicing in the grace God has shown us and releasing others from any debt they owe us in order that they might see and rejoice in the grace of Christ as well.