While he was imprisoned in Rome, Paul met a runaway slave named Onesimus, who had fled from Colosse to Rome. Paul realized that he personally knew Onesimus’ master. The Epistle to 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 and to church unity. Philemon was a church leader in Colosse. If he harbored bitterness toward Onesimus, it would color his Christian witness and the witness of the church to the nonbelieving community.
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; Col. 3:10-11). The apostle sent Onesimus back to Philemon, not as a slave but as his son in Jesus and as Philemon’s “beloved brother” in the Lord (Philemon 16, NKJV).
Paul knew that runaway slaves had a bleak future. They could be apprehended at any time. 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 better 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 colaborer in the Gospel with Paul (Col. 4:9). Paul was so fervent, so adamant, in his desire for reconciliation between them that he was willing to pay out of his own pocket any financial issues that might have arisen from what happened between the two believers in Jesus.
|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? How can these principles prevent a breakdown in the unity of your local church?