Today’s Reading: Philemon 1:1-25 (additional reading: Psalm 101:1-8 & Proverbs 26:20)
Every book in the New Testament has a purpose behind its writing, a story that prompted the author to take up his pen. This is certainly true in the letter to Philemon. He was a wealthy Christian who lived in Colossi and who had been converted through Paul’s preaching. Philemon had a wife named Apphia and a son named Archippus, and they had many slaves in their household, among whom was a man named Onesimus. It seems clear from the letter that Onesimus robbed his master, Philemon, and perhaps having been discovered or betrayed had to flee for his life. Colosse was not a large town and a fugitive from justice could not stay there and remain undetected. Where better to hide out and disappear from official view than in the capital city of Rome, which would always have large numbers of foreigners within its walls. Yet, in the providence of God, he somehow came into contact with Paul, the very man who had led his master to Christ, and the result of this encounter was that Onesimus became a Christian.
Paul sketches a revealing pen-portrait of himself. “I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment.” The affectionate reference to Onesimus, “my child, Onesimus” is typical of the warm bond of love, which existed between Paul and his converts. It’s a comment on what the grace of God had worked in the apostle himself.
This is the one-time self-righteous Pharisee, the Jew who was so proud of his parentage and spiritual pedigree going back to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But after the transforming encounter with Christ, a radical change in his attitudes has come about, enabling him to speak of Onesimus in a way in which he would never have dreamed of. It is no empty formula but a fact which enables him to speak of a Gentile, and a Gentile slave at that, taken from the very dregs of Roman society, and refer to him as a son.