THIS letter to Philemon is unique among Paul's epistles, for it is the only private letter of his to have survived.
THE BASIS OF PAUL'S LETTER
Paul writes because he is sending the slave Onesimus back to bis master. Not only did he steal from Philemon (v18), but under Roman law his running away was punishable by death. Having found his way to Rome, Onesimus obviously met Paul and became a Christian (v10). Although still a slave,he returns as one who is very dear to Paul: his son (10). heart (12) and 'better than a slave, as a dear brother' (16).
• What changes can we thank God for in our own lives?
THE BASIS OF PAUL'S APPEAL
Paul will not force Philemon to have Onesimus back, as slaves had no rights in the Roman Empire rather he appeals on the basis of love (8), for he's aware of the quality of Philemon'sfaith and love, which has 'refreshed the hearts of the saints' (4-7). Making a wordplay on Onesimus' name, which in Greek means 'useful', he adds: Formerly be was useless to you, but now be has become useful both to you and me' (11).
•Are we known as somebody who is welcoming and forgiving of others, especially when they have made mistakes or wronged us?
We don't know for sure what happened to Onesimus, although when Ignatius writes to the church at Ephesus 50 years later, he mentions bishop Onesimus. This could just be the same person! Here is evidence of God's grace at work, for 'Christianty is the power which can make bad men good' (J.Denney).
By PAUL HARDINGHAM