Read Philemon 1-25
Two very different men imprisoned for two very different reasons found themselves next to each other in the same prison. One, Onesimus the slave, was there for a crime committed against his master, Philemon. The other, Paul the Apostle, was there for a “crime” committed for his Master, Jesus Christ.
Onesimus needed rescuing. He thought that stealing and running away from his master Philemon would be the deliverance he’d wanted. Instead, it landed him in jail where we find his story right smack in the middle of HIS story. The one about man’s rescue.
In prison, Onesimus found the Apostle Paul who shared with him God’s rescue plans for freedom. Ironically, Paul’s sharing of those rescue plans is exactly what had gotten him into trouble. You see, Paul knew the One who had drawn up the plans for their rescue and, on behalf of Jesus Christ, he offered them to any and all who would trust those plans. Onesimus trusted, and HIS story continued.
But it was nowhere near the end. The book of Philemon shows us a picture of undeserved love and grace through the relationship between Onesimus and Philemon. Their relationship had changed because Jesus stepped in, and now they were now brothers through Him (v16).
When Paul wrote this letter to Philemon, he implored Onesimus’ pardon. Paul appealed to the love and the grace with which Almighty God had rescued each of them. As in all of the letters that Paul and Peter and John had written to the churches, Paul challenged Philemon to live what he claimed he believed. And all of these letters, these epistles, fit perfectly into HIS story as the word of man’s rescue spread and the Church began to grow.
I wonder how each of us might respond if we were sent a letter from one of the apostles. What if God, through the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, implored each of us to live out our faith in such a drastic way? I mean, it couldn’t have been easy for Philemon to just let his slave off the hook for a crime committed directly against him. What might that say to his other slaves? What might the other slave owners think?
Here’s the thing, though: we do have those letters. They do apply to us. By the all-knowing Holy Spirit’s infallible inspiration, Paul and the other epistle writers challenge us to do the same. We might not be slave owners who need to show love to a runaway slave, but the truth applies no less to us.