Paul’s letter to Philemon has often been overlooked. Some people even wonder why it is even included in the Bible. Truthfully, it’s a short letter comprised of only 25 verses but it’s a letter filled with heart and message of Jesus. From beginning to end, it’s concerned with showing love, second chances, and mercy to those who need it most.
Apparently, Onesimus had run away from his Philemon, ended up in prison for it, and probably stolen things from him (Philemon 18). Yet, God in his wonderful providence and grace, had brought him to the precipice of a new and better life. While in prison he met a man named Paul who preached Jesus to him and then spent time mentoring and teaching the runaway. As it turns out, Paul knew Philemon and strongly felt that reconciliation was in order.
Throughout this short letter four themes stand out for us to learn.
First, is the message of reconciliation. As I mentioned earlier, reconciliation is a main part of the gospel message. By faith and obedience Onesimus has been reconciled to God and now another reconciliation had to take place. To live his new faith in Jesus, it was necessary for him to return to Philemon.
Second, true Christian love stands out for us. Instead of demanding he accept Onesimus back or even release him to work with Paul, he appeals to Philemon reminding him of his love for Jesus and Paul. Then he recommends that he extend that same level of love to his new brother.
Third, the importance of repentance is seen clearly. Repentance plays an important role in Philemon. True repentance always rights wrongs, seeks to correct the sins of the past, and to generally improve our lives by living by Jesus’ standards. Onesimus had wronged Philemon and as much as Paul valued and wanted to keep him close, he knew that this was necessary for true repentance.
Fourth, we see the power of the gospel to change eternities and lives. Before his obedience to the gospel, Onesimus was useless but now in Christ he is useful. Before he was a runaway slave but now, he is a beloved brother. Like Onesimus this was all of us at some point. Desperately needing acceptance and change and the gospel gives that to us. This is a truth that we must accept for ourselves and for others. Change is possible.
Let me encourage you to read this letter again and as you do, take note of the way the fruit of the Spirit stands out so beautifully.