10. Paul tells Philemon to receive Onesimus the way he would receive Paul. "So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me" (1:17). This is perhaps as strong as anything he has said: Philemon, how would you see me, treat me, relate to me, receive me? Treat your former slave and new brother that way.

11. Paul says to Philemon that he will cover all Onesimus's debts. "If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account" (1:18). Philemon would no doubt be shamed by this, if he had any thoughts of demanding repayment from his new brother, because Paul is in prison! He lives off the gifts of others. Philemon is the one who is to prepare a guest room for Paul! (1:22).

The upshot of all this is that, without explicitly prohibiting slavery, Paul has pointed the church away from slavery because it is an institution which is incompatible with the way the gospel works in people's lives. Whether the slavery is economic, racial, sexual, mild, or brutal, Paul's way of dealing with Philemon works to undermine the institution across its various manifestations. To walk "in step with the truth of the gospel" (Galatians 2:14) is to walk away from slavery.

Walking with you toward Jesus,

Pastor John 

By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: www.desiringGod.org. Email: mail@desiringGod.org. Toll Free: 1.888.346.4700.

Original publication date: September 29, 2009