Paul wrote this short letter while he was in prison in Rome. While there Paul came in contact with Onesimus, a runaway slave Paul knew from previous ministry travels. Onesimus trusted Christ in Rome! Paul then sent Onesimus back to Philemon, Onesimus’s master, a believer in a church Paul started. Paul asked Philemon to free Onesimus so he could then go and serve Christ.
As part of Paul’s appeal to Philemon to give Onesimus his freedom, Paul told Philemon that if Onesimus owed Philemon anything Paul would pay such debts (vv. 18-19). Paul asked Philemon to receive Onesimus as a brother and partner in christ, just as he would receive Paul (v. 17). This is a great illustration of justification—our debts were paid by Jesus on the cross so that God receives us just as he receives his Son, Jesus!
Truths to Nail Down and Apply
- Spiritual decisions must be voluntarily made, not forced (v. 14). Forced decisions often are not genuine decisions. When one truly understands the truth of a matter and makes the right decision, that greatly glorifies Christ and results in spiritual growth in life!
- While external distinctions will always exist in this life, they should never adversely affect or separate Christians from one another.
- God accomplishes his purposes through the prayers of his people (v. 22). Paul was in prison and as Philemon prayed for Paul’s release Paul trusted the Lord would answer in accord with His will.