For Teens · People in The Bible · Religious

PHILEMON: Slave or Brother

Paul’s Letter To Philemon

We know that the Apostle Paul was a letter writer. We also know that Philemon was the recipient of one of Paul’s letters. The shortest of Pauls letters to be exact. This letter that we are going to discuss was presumed to be sent while Paul was in jail. Philemon had heard Paul speak in Ephesus and become a Christian in this time. He became the host for a home church. Philemon was also a slave owner, and his slave’s name was Onesimus, also a believer in Jesus.

Appealing To The Heart

We see that Paul starts his letter to Philemon by appealing to the good that he has heard about him. Paul was very good at getting his readers attention and pointing out the good before addressing what could be changed.

Philemon1:4 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. 6: “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.”

Paul did not openly condemn slavery that we know of. However, it is made clear through Paul’s letter to Philemon that he is trying to change the relationship from owner and slave to brotherhood. This is the purpose of the letter. Let’s get to the heart of Paul’s message.

Onesimus Runs Away

Onesimus has robbed his owner and run away. In his running, he has met Paul, and Paul is now telling him to return to his owner because this is the right thing to do. We don’t know when Onesimus became a believer, but Paul clearly states that he is a brother in Christ.

Philemon 1:15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

Urged But Not Instructed

Philemon is urged but not instructed to see Onesimus differently than before he had run away. Paul is asking that he see him as brother, as worthy, as a son of God. It seems that if Philemon could see and accept Onesimus as a brother in Christ, then his title of slave would be diminished. How can we live a life of love, Christ’s love, if we are treating others as our property. If you look at slavery through the eyes of Jesus, how could it be so? If Paul could touch Philemon’s heart and get him to understand the love that Christ had for Onesimus was the same love that Christ had for him, slavery would have to start to disappear. One brother could not OWN the other.

We can see in this letter that Philemon has a choice between law and grace. By law, he has every right to punish Onesimus, his slave, for stealing from him and running away, but if he looks at the situation from the eyes of the Lord, he has only one choice; grace. We see in verse 18 that Paul is being an example of Christ’s love for Onesimus in his own right.

Philemon 1:18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.

The Outcome Is Not The Point

We don’t get to see Philemon’s response to Paul, and I think that is ok. I don’t think the idea was to see what Philemon does and then judge good or bad on how he did. I think the idea of Paul’s letter was so show us an example of how we as humans should be treating any other human, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ.

What Does This Mean For US?

So how does this apply to us, and why do we care that it was important enough to be in the Bible? Well, let’s see. Each and every one of us has, at some point in our life, been employed. You may be the boss or you may be the employee, either way God is speaking to us in this letter. We may not be OWNED by our employer or OWN our employees, but there is some authority in a workplace.

Employees, all employees, but especially those brothers and sisters in Christ, should be treated respectfully. They are created in God’s image the same as you and I. Likewise, employees, your boss may not always be kind, but we are to show grace and forgiveness. The world is not a place that God created for us to use one another to get where we want or think we need to be. You don’t have a right to use another human being as a stepping ladder to climb to the top. Employees, we are not to steal from or hinder the advancement of our employer either. There should be a mutual relationship of hard work, love, grace and forgiveness. There will come a time that we are called to judgement for the way that we have treated ALL people.

Don’t Use And Abuse, Instead Love And Honor

Let the words of Paul to Philemon soak into your own heart. Is there someone that you need to apologize to? Someone who deserves some of God’s grace and forgiveness from you? Just as Paul is telling Philemon that Onesimus is more to him than just a slave, he is his brother. He is also telling the same to us. Those around us are not to be used and abused when we feel like we deserve more. They are to be loved and honored.

Let us pray: God we know that your word is filled with stories, letters and examples of life so that we can learn your heart and know your will. We pray that you would open our eyes and our hearts to yearn for the same things as yours. We pray that we would look at others as our brothers and sisters in Christ and treat them as such. Thank you for the reminder, and thank you for your forgiveness we make a mess of things. In Jesus name, AMEN!