During his third missionary journey, Paul ministered in Asia Minor among the people of Ephesus and saw many converts among both residents of Ephesus and visitors to the city. One of the visitors converted under Paul’s teaching was a man named Philemon, a slave owner from the nearby city of Colossae, who eventually became a fellow co-worker of Paul. Philemon had a slave named Onesimus who had escaped from him and ran away to Rome. However, in Rome, Onesimus, met Paul and became a believer. Paul wrote a personal letter to Philemon and sent Onesimus the slave back to Colossae. In the letter, Paul made a request to Philemon to forgive Onesimus, to accept the slave as a brother in Christ, and to consider sending Onesimus back to Paul, as a fellow co-worker.
Philemon 1:8 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9 yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains.
Paul is saying that although he has the spiritual authority to order Philemon to do something, he chooses not to. Instead he chooses to make a humble appeal to Philemon to do what he suggested. What Paul did displayed respect for an individual. Some spiritual leaders order their followers around expecting to be respected yet not showing respect for their followers. Not so Paul.
Going out of the way to help someone
Philemon 1:18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back…
Paul was so determined to help this slave that he was willing to take on any financial compensation that Philemon may have demanded. He even stated that he wrote this promise with his own handwriting so there is no dispute that Paul had not made that guarantee.
This reminds me of the story of the good Samaritan who also went out of his way to help the victim of a robbery. Helping someone usually cost us something. It could be time or perhaps it could cost us money. Are we willing to pay the price to show love?
Show love by forgiving
Philemon 1:17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.
Paul encouraged Philemon to show love to his slave in a tangible way – by forgiving him. If we love someone, we are willing to forgive that person. That is why God could forgive us. Because He loves us.
Rom 5:8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
Show love by being hospitable
Philemon 1:1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— 2 also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:
Philemon 1:22 And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.
From the verses above, we see that Philemon was a hospitable man. He allowed the church to meet in his home and he probably even allowed missionaries to stay with him. That is why Paul later asked him to prepare a guest room for him.
This is yet another tangible way to show love to someone – by practising hospitality.
No status discrimination
Philemon 1:15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.
Paul encouraged Philemon to accept Onesimus back not as slave but as a fellow brother.