Paul had the authority to order Philemon
to receive and forgive his slave,
and allow him to return to
But Paul, instead, wrote this letter to his friend
and had Onesimus carry it home.
Philemon’s character and love for the saints
was something Paul knew he could trust.
He knew Philemon would understand
he should be merciful as well as just.
For the slave had become like a deacon
serving an imprisoned believer,
and like his master Philemon
was now a giver rather than a receiver.
“I am sending him –
who is my very heart – back to you.
I would have liked to keep him with me
so that he could take your place
in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel.
But I did not want to do anything without your consent,
so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced.
Perhaps the reason he was separated from you
for a little while was that you might have him back for good –
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 man and as a brother in the Lord.”
Philemon 12-16 (NIV)
diakŏnĕō1247 – to be an attendant, i.e. wait upon (menially or as a host, friend or [fig.] teacher); techn. to act as a Chr. deacon: - (ad-) minister (unto), serve, use the office of a deacon.
Onesimus had gone from being a lost, runaway slave to being a person who took care of Paul in prison, a deacon to him, and dear to him. However, slavery was legal in that time; and Paul felt it necessary to return the servant to his owner.
He pointed out to Philemon that as a leader of the church, he should and did send help, and Paul would have liked to have kept Onesimus with him to do Philemon’s service of ministering to him in prison. But he wanted Philemon to make his own decision about how to receive Onesimus and whether or not to allow him to return to Paul. As an apostle, Paul could have demanded that Philemon do as he urged him, but he did not. I believe he wanted Philemon’s response to be of his own free will that he might enjoy the blessings of forgiving and accepting his new brother in Christ.
Philemon’s name derives from a word meaning friend. The strength of his friendship with Paul was evidenced in earlier verses. Paul counted on his brother in Christ to receive his former slave as a baby Christian and nurture him. Are there those that we might think “beneath” us that we should be leading to Christ and discipling? How should we receive all believers? Are they not all near to the heart of God?
Father, help me to receive all believers as brothers and sisters. Help me to view them as my family and my fellow heirs to your kingdom. Help me to be forgiving and kind even when I have been wronged. Help me to value my brothers and sisters in Christ as your beloved children. Thank you for adopting me into your eternal family!