3 Takeaways from Philemon in the Bible
- Amanda Idleman Contributing Writer
- 2021 30 Jun
Philemon is a short book that is located in the New Testament. Even though it is only one chapter long, there are many highly applicable lessons for our everyday lives from this small book. Paul is the author of this letter. He is writing a personal letter to his friend about a matter that is close to his heart. As we read Philemon, we see how Paul graciously and passionately advocates for his friend Onesimus; a man he considers to be a son. Paul shows care and kindness as he addresses Philemon as he speaks to how he should handle his relationship with Onesimus. This letter is a great example of how we can have difficult conversations in a clear but loving way. Paul never gives social barriers a thought when he talks about these two men who have very different backgrounds. He models the truth that we are all equals in the body of Christ. Paul’s letter is an example of how to show Christian love, forgiveness, and how to advocate on the behalf of those who are in need.
Who Are Philemon and Onesimus in the Bible?
Paul spent more than two years in Asia Minor in Ephesus during his third missionary trip. During this time Paul ministered to a man named Philemon, who was a slave owner from the city of Colossae. Paul and Philemon became close. We know this because Paul addressed Philemon as his “beloved brother.” One of Philemon’s slaves named Onesimus had escaped and ran away from Colossae to Rome. He was hoping he would be harder to be found while residing in a more crowded city. Onesimus came in contact with Paul and Paul shared the gospel with him. After this encounter in AD 60 or 61, Paul writes a letter to Philemon from his prison cell in Rome. He also sends Onesimus back to Colossae.
What Was Paul's Purpose in Writing to Philemon?
Paul writes this letter to Philemon as a deeply personal appeal for Philemon to show kindness and love to his escaped slave. Paul uses very personal language to show how passionate he is about his views on how Onesimus should be regarded. In verse 12 Paul calls Onesimus “his very heart” and verse 10 says he is his “son.” It is clear through Paul’s words that he cares deeply for this new convert to Christianity. Paul’s letter illustrates how we can apply God’s call to be loving, to forgive, and to respect the dignity of all humans to our everyday lives. Paul writes this very heartfelt letter because He wants to ensure that Philemon does his part to live out the Gospel in the ways he handles his daily affairs. When you become a believer there is no part of your life that is not God’s business.
3 Takeaway from the Letter to Philemon
1. Love and Forgiveness Should Be Applied to All People
Paul was writing to Philemon to express the need for him to show the same love and forgiveness God had shown him to Onesimus. Because Paul and Philemon had a strong personal relationship, Paul’s words would have extra force. Paul saw the genuine work God had done in Philemon’s life (Philemon 1:19) and now he was requesting Philemon to forgive Onesimus and to embrace him as a brother in Christ (Philemon 1:16).
Paul’s words prompt Philemon to transition Onesimus from slave to brother because of their shared faith in Christ. This would have been a big step for someone living in their culture. He was asking Philemon to offer his escaped slave more than mercy but to show true love and forgiveness. Paul makes the case that slavery did not make Onesimus any less deserving of God’s love. He fully embraces Onesimus as his own brother and fervently advocates on his behalf. Our sinful nature tells us to assign value to people groups based on their station in life. The Bible teaches that God's love and forgiveness is for all people. God desires us to show mercy, walk with humility, and to love justice (Micah 6:8). Paul’s letter encourages Philemon to be humble, just, and merciful in his dealings with Onesimus.
2. We Are Equal in Christ
Paul did not let Onesimus’ role as Philemon’s escaped slave to hold him back from sharing God’s love and his own affection with him! Paul’s willingness to embrace Onesimus as his own son shows that in Christ, social constructs have no bearing on our status in the Kingdom of God. We are all equal brothers and sisters in Christ. We are all deserving of God’s love and the love of other believers! This understanding should change our behavior and lead us away from actions that would hold back our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Paul says in verse 16, “no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.” As Christ-Followers we are prompted to elevate others from places of captivity. Paul did not just write to spare Onesimus punishment from his master but he goes much farther in asking Philemon to release Onesimus from slavery and elevate him to status of brother. Paul’s actions prompt us to view how we interact with people who may be oppressed or in need with a very different perspective than the world. The world wants to assign value to people based on their influence, weath, race, educational background, and on the list of ways we either inflate or deflate others. Christ sees equal value in every human, regardless of those factors. The takeaway for us is that we need to be people who are working to embrace and elevate our brothers and sisters in Christ.
3. We Need to Speak Up for Others
Paul’s love for Onesimus prompts him to act! He works diligently on his behalf to ensure that Onesimus’ relationship is restored with Philemon and that his needs are taken care of. Living a life marked by the love of Christ requires action on our part. We should not stand silent when people we love need our help. Paul used his relationship with both of these men as a bridge to help mend the brokenness that had occurred between them. Our advocacy goes much farther when it comes from a place of trust and relationship. Paul was confident that his words would be heeded and exceeded by Philemon because he had a strong connection with this man (Philemon 1:21). Whenever possible our advocacy should be paired with relationships in order to ensure our words are marked by love, understanding, and are able to be received well.
This short letter is filled with so much love, passion, and truth. Paul openly shares his great love and appreciation for both Philemon and Onesimus because he wants to protect the relationship he has with both parties. Paul also sets a strong example with his words on what it means to be a brother or sister in Christ. It means we are all to be embraced as equals no matter our differences. Philemon is a powerful lesson on how we can “speak truth with love” to those we are close with. Paul’s words are full of great truth and great love.
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Amanda Idleman is a writer whose passion is to encourage others to live joyfully. She writes devotions for My Daily Bible Verse Devotional and Podcast, Crosswalk Couples Devotional, the Daily Devotional App, she has work published with Her View from Home, on the MOPS Blog, and is a regular contributor for Crosswalk.com. She has most recently published a devotional, Comfort: A 30 Day Devotional Exploring God's Heart of Love for Mommas. You can find out more about Amanda on her Facebook Page or follow her on Instagram.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
These verses serve as a source of renewal for the mind and restoration for the heart by reinforcing the notion that, while human weakness is inevitable, God's strength is always available to uplift, guide, and empower us.
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