While he was imprisoned in Rome, Paul met a runaway slave named Onesimus who had fled from Colossae to Rome. Paul personally knew Onesimus’ master.
The Epistle of Philemon is Paul’s personal appeal to his friend regarding a restored relationship with the runaway slave.
Relationships mattered to Paul. The apostle knew that fractured relationships are detrimental to spiritual growth. Philemon was a church leader in Colossae. If he harbored bitterness toward Onesimus, it would color his Christian witness.
Read Philemon 1-25. What important principles about restored relationships can we find here? Remember, the key word is principles .
At first glance it is somewhat surprising that Paul did not speak more forcefully against the evils of slavery. But Paul’s strategy was far more effective. The gospel, ideally, breaks down all class distinctions (Gal. 3:28). The apostle sent Onesimus back to Philemon, not as a slave but as his son in Jesus and Philemon’s “beloved brother” in the Lord (Philem. 16).
Paul knew that runaway slaves had little future. They could be apprehended at anytime. They were doomed to a life of destitution and poverty. But now, as Philemon’s brother in Christ and willing worker, Onesimus could have a wonderful future. His food, lodging, and job could be made secure under Philemon. The restoration of a broken relationship could make a dramatic difference in his life. He became a “faithful and beloved brother” and co-laborer in the gospel with Paul (Col. 4:9).
Drawing from the principles of the gospel as seen here, what can you take away that can help you deal with whatever stresses and strains, even fractures, you have in relationships with others?