Scripture: Philemon 1:1-21
“Maybe this is the reason that Onesimus was separated from you for a while so that you might have him back forever— no longer as a slave but more than a slave—that is, as a dearly loved brother…” Philemon 15-16 (CEB)
While a prisoner in Rome, Paul wrote a carefully crafted personal letter to Philemon, a fellow Christian, and owner of an enslaved person named Onesimus, who had stolen from Philemon and run away. In Rome, Onesimus came under Paul’s ministry and accepted Christ, and he was now willing to return to Philemon. That’s why Paul wrote this appeal for Philemon to welcome Onesimus as a Christian brother.
Paul presents in these 21 verses a powerful, counter-cultural message of forgiveness and reconciliation. It was vital for his friend Philemon and is essential for us as well. Paul took a position radically revolutionary for his time by asking his brother-in-the-Lord to receive Onesimus not as a slave but as a fellow believer. Paul saw how unity in the body of Christ cuts across worldly position, occupation, social or economic status, and nationality.
We have been called to this same unity as siblings in Christ. The evil of slavery still exists in many parts of the world because we do not see one another as siblings in Christ. Divisions and prejudices are everywhere-even within our churches and families. Too often we separate ourselves from others simply because of political platforms, racial identity, religious and educational background, or social hierarchies. And each instance of division saddens the Lord a little bit more.
Paul implored Philemon to see Onesimus as a brother in Christ; we too need to see one another as siblings in Christ and children of God. Jesus’ death and resurrection reconciled us to God and made it possible for us to be united as one body.
Forgiveness, reconciliation, and social transformation are at the heart of the Christian message.