Saint Paul writes to Philemon

The second to last in the Pauline corpus of letters we have (or the last if, as scholars tend to do today, you discount the letter to the Hebrews) is the rather short letter to Philemon. The main characters here are Philemon, a Christian householder, and Onesimus, a servant of Philemon’s who seems to have displeased his master and fled away from him, and found his way to the side of Paul, who he may have expected would send just this type of message back to Philemon. Paul begins by commending Philemon for his charitable work, and then makes this charity the basis of his request: that Onesimus be pardoned. Paul calls Onesimus ‘the child of my imprisonment,’ for he has probably received the slave into the Christian religion while himself suffering one of his frequent periods of imprisonment.

“I prefer to appeal to this charity of thine. Who is it that writes to thee? Paul, an old man now, and in these days the prisoner, too, of Jesus Christ; and I am appealing to thee on behalf of Onesimus, the child of my imprisonment. He did thee an ill service once; now, both to thee and to myself, he can be serviceable, and I am sending him back to thee; make him welcome, for my heart goes with him.”

Philemon, 9-12

So Philemon is requested that he accept back his servant, and to forgive all, for Onesimus is now more than a slave/servant, he is also a Christian and so a brother in Christ. 

“Do not think of him any longer as a slave; he is something more than a slave, a well loved brother, to me in a special way; much more, then, to thee, now that both nature and Christ make him thy own.”

Philemon 16

Paul promises to settle any debts that Onesimus may have with Philemon on his own account. I anything, this short letter demonstrates the Christian fellowship of those of different social strata, something that we may recognise from other letters that deal with good Christian behaviour in the milieu of the ancient world, where the relationship of slave to salve-owner was very much taken as a given and was yet beyond reform. Churchmen like Paul would have had to beg in this fashion for the welfare of slaves. And the letter demonstrates the heart of the Apostle Saint Paul, trying his best to obtain a good result for one of his dear sons.

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