Paul pleads with Philemon to consider Onesimus, the runaway slave, as a brother in Christ and he writes, ‘if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me’ (verse 17). As one writer says: ‘This was a revolutionary and scandalous idea for a wealthy slave owner in Colossae to be asked to welcome back his rebellious slave as a brother (verse 16).’ But this is what Paul asks … because such is the character of Christ, such is the work of Christ. This is the power of the gospel – to demand revolutionary and scandalous relationships. In Colossians [remember that Philemon lived in Colossae] it says, ‘Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all’ (Colossians 3:11).
In this letter, we see what Christian brotherly love looks like in practice. We are to do good to Christian brothers (verse 16) and partners (verse 17) on the basis of love (verse 9) not out of obligation but out of our own free will (verse 14) to those who share the participation (koinonia) in the faith for the glory of Christ (verse 6). Our common faith in Christ (verse 5) makes the church a true family that should care for one another – irrespective of the past or our current social standings. If we truly believe in Jesus as Lord and Saviour, then it must affect our behaviour – especially the way we love and forgive our brothers and sisters for the sake of Christ.
Paul sounds like the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:35) when he says, ‘And if he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.’ (verse 18). Paul intercedes for Philemon to be merciful to Onesimus the way Jesus intercedes with the Father to be merciful to us (Romans 8:34).
Heavenly Father, please grant us to have the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with our spirit so that we may have true brotherly love for our brothers and sisters even across cultural and social barriers. Amen.