Philemon is a short letter from Paul and Timothy to their fellow workers and the church meeting in his house. Paul tells us he has heard “of your love…and of the faith you have”. Paul is writing to encourage the brethren to keep on “because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you”. Paul is giving the folks some pretty strong direction regarding Onesimus who is being sent back to Philemon and the church there. His life has been changed and now Paul is sending him back, not as a slave, but as a brother.
Here are Paul’s words: “I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment”. Paul has taken this young man under his wing and has led him to faith in Christ. He has discipled him and made him a child or student of his. Who are you investing your life into? Who are you discipling? Who is your Onesimus? Onesimus was Philemon’s runaway slave who became Paul’s “son in the faith,” begotten spiritually while Paul was a prisoner at Rome, where Onesimus hoped to escape detection amidst its vast population. Onesimus doubtless had heard the gospel before going to Rome, in Philemon’s household, for at Paul’s third missionary tour there were in Phrygia believers. Once unprofitable, “Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me”, by conversion Onesimus became really what his name implies, “profitable” to his master, to Paul, and to the church of God.
Paul now is “sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own free will”. Paul is taking a bit of a risk here with his disciple Onesimus. The penalty for running away as a slave is severe, but Paul makes it clear that he is willing to pay whatever the price may be when he writes “If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account…. I will repay it – to say nothing of your owing me even your own self”. That is a pretty strong promise – to take care of any debt or wrong at all. Paul is laying his own reputation and life on the line here. That is the way we need to invest in others – giving our all freely to make a difference for them. Paul has taken a slave and set him free twice – free from his slavery – free from his sin. Who are you investing your life into to set them free? Are you interceding for anyone like Paul did here?