I’ve never thought much of the book of Philemon. Mostly I just wonder if I am pronouncing it right when I come across it, but God spoke to me out of nowhere. I heard “Philemon” plain as day. I read it once, twice, three times. I had a hard time finding what it was I was supposed to be learning from this book at first. I believe with all my heart that each word in the Bible has a purpose, but Philemon doesn’t seem like much without God opening your eyes and heart to understanding. For a book with one chapter, there sure are many things it has to offer.
Philemon was written by Paul while he was in prison in Rome. During his imprisonment, he met Onesimus, a runaway slave, and led him to faith in Jesus Christ. This book reveals the letter Paul sent to Philemon, the master of Onesimus. Onesimus had stolen from Philemon and fled to Rome, where he became close to Paul and found salvation. In Paul’s letter to Philemon, he was asking him to welcome Onesimus back as his brother in Christ, not as a slave.
During this time period, slaves were viewed and treated as property, not people. When a runaway slave was caught, they could be badly beaten, tortured to death as a lesson to other would-be runaways, or they could have the letter F (for Fugitivus) seared into their foreheads with a hot iron. With severe punishment possibly facing Onesimus when he returned home, the obvious question seemed to be, why would Paul send him back knowing the repercussions for a runaway slave? Though we don’t know exactly why, we do know that Paul wanted to see a transformed people. For a master and slave to treat each other as brothers was revolutionary. Paul may also have been suggesting that true repentance means facing the past, trying to reconcile though the risk might be costly.
In verse 18 Paul says “If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.”
Does that sound familiar at all? This story, that seems like a simple letter, parallels what Jesus did for us on the cross, laying down his life to pay for our wrongs. Paul also hoped that Philemon would forgive Onesimus, and become a living illustration of the grace Onesimus had already received through Christ.
This book is a beautiful picture of forgiveness and reconciliation. C.S Lewis said, “Everyone says that forgiveness is a wonderful idea, until he has something to forgive.” This letter to Philemon serves as a great example of the importance of equality and acceptance in the body of Christ.
The book also doesn’t tell how Philemon reacted to the letter, or to Onesimus’ return. What a cliff hanger! Upon further research, I learned that the name Philemon means “affectionate or kiss” or “one who kisses” in Greek, which coincidentally is how friends or family were greeted.
There is no evidence (that I could find) of the outcome, however, I don’t think it is a coincidence at all that Philemon’s name means what it does. It may seem like a small detail, but even the smallest details matter to God! ❤️