One of Paul's shortest and the most explosive letters, the book of Philemon demonstrates the Gospel through action. It's written to Philemon whose slave Onesimus ran away and became a believer under Paul's teaching.
Paul urges Philemon to forgive Onesimus and accept him back as an equal. Because they are both followers of Jesus, God's grace has made them partners under the new humanity that Jesus has established.
While Paul doesn't mention Jesus' death and resurrection directly in this letter, he offers to take on any punishment Onesimus deserves, a demonstration of what Jesus did on the cross. He encourages Philemon to do the same as he reconciles to Onesimus before God.
At a Glance
NIV Bible Philemon Introduction
One of the people Paul chose to deliver the letters we know as Colossians and Ephesians was a man named Onesimus. Onesimus was originally from Colossae, and would have been known to the people there. But Paul was compelled to write a separate letter for him. This was because Onesimus had been the slave of a wealthy Colossian named Philemon, in whose home the church met. Onesimus had run away, probably robbing Philemon in the process. In Rome he had become a follower of Jesus. He’d been helping Paul in prison, but now Paul needed him to return to Colossae. Paul’s hope was that Philemon would not only forgive Onesimus, but welcome him as a brother and no longer a slave.
Paul’s brief letter to Philemon stresses the change in Onesimus’s life. His name meant useful in Greek, and Paul tells Philemon that while he had formerly been useless (a servant Philemon couldn’t count on), now he could be useful to both of them. Paul doesn’t put Philemon under any obligation. His appeal is on the basis of love, and he promises to honor the demands of justice by making restitution himself if necessary.
Most likely Paul’s appeal was successful, or this letter would not have been preserved. In the life of Onesimus we have a clear example of the kind of transformation that occurred in thousands of lives as the gospel message spread throughout the Roman Empire.
As of 12/2023 Spoken Gospel has no Philemon introduction