Philemon 1-11 … This small letter, just part of a page in our Bibles, is a very special letter because of its diplomatic advocacy in behalf of a runaway slave who appears to have taken money to facilitate his escape. Fortunately, we don’t relate to the concept of slavery at all, but in the first century, and well beyond that time, nearly half the population was in slavery to the other half. Laws protected the property rights of slave owners, who could exact any penalty, even death, for any kind of infraction. Even helping a slave escape was a crime. This short letter is one of advocacy, seeking forgiveness and restoration of the runaway slave (and thief), Onesimus. The verses in this passage begin the letter and focus on the recipient, Philemon. From these few verses, we learn that Philemon has accepted Christ as his Savior and thus is a beloved brother in Christ to the Apostle Paul. Paul had never been to Colossae so it’s likely that Philemon met Paul and came under his teaching during the years Paul was teaching at Ephesus (Acts 19), which was a regional capitol, about 100 miles toward the Aegean coast from Colossae. We also learn that Philemon and his wife, Apphia, sponsored a church of Christian believers that met in their home (v.2). Their reputation for faithfulness and love toward others seems to have been widespread and Paul prays that it might be effective (v.6), probably meaning toward the runaway slave. Paul appeals to Philemon’s good character to receive Onesimus back into his service (v.10) because Onesimus (the name means “useful”) is no longer useless, but useful (v.11).
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