This is another one of Paul’s letters from prison, but this is to an individual: Philemon. It starts out very similar to Paul’s other letters. He gives his standard greeting (grace and peace), thanks God for Philemon’s faith and love, and prays for Philemon to have an every deeper faith.
Oh, and speaking of a deeper faith, here’s a way that he can express it! While Paul has been in custody, he’s had the opportunity to evangelize Onesimus, who is an escaped slave. It turns out that he’s escaped from Philemon, Paul’s personal friend. Paul wants Onesimus to stay with him, but realizes that Onesimus needs to make things right with Philemon first. So Paul sends him back, but encourages Philemon to accept him as a brother in Christ and forgive him of any debts he may have incurred. If Philemon isn’t in a forgiving mood, Paul says that he can just charge the debts to him! Paul also utters an important phrase at the end: “I knew that you would do even more than what I am asking you to do.” He really does expect Philemon to forgive Onesimus, release him, and let him return to Paul.
While Paul isn’t trying to set the stage for a slave rebellion, he is showing that there is a better way, particularly for how believers relate to each other. He is truly encouraging Philemon to live out Colossians 3.11: “Here there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and in all.“
Are we willing to live that way in our own lives?