Much of the New Testament contains letters from Paul to the various churches he helped to establish in his travels. Many times he wrote to them in order to remind them what needed to be done or to admonish them for certain things he had heard they were allowing that went against the teachings of Christ. I found that the book of Philemon is also a letter from Paul to an old friend of his… and to the church held in his house.
Philemon, besides being a Christian and friend of Paul’s, was a wealthy slave owner… and one of his slaves, Onesimus, had ran away. Evidently Paul had met the young man, probably in prison, and had led him to the Lord. Now the young man needed to return to his earthly master, Philemon, and Paul was intercedeing on his behalf. Under the strict Roman laws of that time, runaway slaves were severely punished when captured and returned to their owners.
First Paul thanks Philemon for his faithfulness and love for the Lord and his fellow believers. Then he tells him about Oneimus and that he is sending him home a changed man. Knowing that Philemon is a true follower of Jesus, he asks that he accept the young man and treat him not as a slave when he returns, but as he would treat Paul himself…as a beloved member of God’s family. In verse 18 Paul says, “If he hath wronged thee, or owes thee anything, put that on my account.”
Paul has confidence that his friend will do as he asks and welcome the young man with open arms.
The book of Philemon to me is a reminder of the Lord’s grace and forgiveness when we first decided to believe. Just as Paul did for Onesimus, Jesus intercedes for us. It is also a reminder that we must put into practice the things we are taught as Christians…to forgive others as we have been forgiven. Just as Jesus did for us, Paul took responsibility for any debts owed. To insure our salvation, Jesus took our sin upon Himself and paid the debt for us…with His own blood.
The Book of Philemon contains only one chapter that is 25 verses long, but what a powerful message it sends of love and forgiveness. Through its reminder, may we all do as Paul asked Philemon to do and remember what James tells us in James 1:22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only…