November 5: Philemon

Randall Grossman

"I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment."-Philemon 10
Why would a personal, even private, letter like this be included in the Bible? What was the Holy Spirit doing when he caused this work to be inspired and circulated with the rest of Scripture for the edification of his people in all times and places? 
We cannot know the mind of the LORD in all things of course, but evidently it is to show the power of God to transform  lives. Philemon was a friend of Paul's who had been converted and returned to his home in Colossae to host a church there. One of his household servants, a slave named Onesimus, had stolen from him and run away. This man had gone to Rome, and somehow had been introduced to Paul and led to Christ there- perhaps while they both were in prison. Now Onesimus was a free man, but as a free man in Christ he was sent back to his master Philemon to make amends. Paul sent him carrying this letter in order to bring about reconciliation between the Christian master and the Christian slave.
Can you imagine that meeting? Philemon had been wronged, and had every right to make an example of Onesimus by punishing him to the full extent of the law. Onesimus must have feared for his life, knowing that Philemon could have him put to death - even death on a cross. It is an astonishing act of obedience to his new Master that Onesimus would return to his earthly master and submit to his will. Following Jesus meant willing to be crucified. Sound familiar? 
We have no Scripture to tell us the effectiveness of Paul's intercession, but it is not hard to imagine the difficult, but deliberate, steps to reconciliation taken that day. Jesus and the apostles took no public stand against the practice of slavery, but the gospel set into motion forces that would eventually overthrow the whole system of human bondage. The story of Philemon and Onesimus shows us how the Lord used changed lives - one at a time - to bring spiritual and physical freedom to the world.