Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer, to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints, that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother. Therefore, though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting, yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you–being such a one as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ–I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me. I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart, whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the gospel. But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary. For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, 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. If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me. But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay–not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides. Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord. Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. But, meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I trust that through your prayers I shall be granted to you. Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. (Philemon 1:1-25)
The Slave That Came Home
It is not the smallest book in the Bible but it is not the largest. Weighing in at 438 words the book of Philemon is sandwiched between Paul’s letter to Titus and the powerful Hebrew book. Its main subject is a runaway slave named Onesimus. A Christian named Philemon was the master of Onesimus and at some time the slave had fled from his master. Making contact with Paul Onesimus had obeyed the gospel. Torn between his own desire to have Onesimus be a part of his work and sending him back, Paul writes this letter to his friend and fellow laborer asking Philemon to receive his runaway slave back. The good news was that Onesimus had become a Christian.
Paul weaves into his letter sincere appeals to the good character of Philemon. He implores him of the man he lost who was not profitable is being returned as one of great blessing because of his faith in Christ. The gospel changes hearts. It may not change a station in life (such as slavery) but it will change a relationship. How wonderful the message of redemption can move a heart to do more with their life than before. The reason Onesimus ran away is unknown but the reason for his return is known. A slave of Christ was going back to be the obedient servant as the will of God required.
Turn the camera a few weeks later when the slave returns home. Philemon is concerned Onesimus ran away but in reading the letter tears of joy fill his heart. Embracing the slave he now calls him “brother.” What a story of conversion. The home of Philemon with Apphia, Archippus and the church rejoice in the new child of God – brother Onesimus. Now that is a great story.
Conversion is primarily an unselfing. (E. T. Starbuck, The Psychology of Religion, 1901)