From Slave to Brother (Philemon 1:15-16)
By: Amanda Idleman
Today’s Bible Verse: Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 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. - Philemon 1:15-16
Philemon is one of the shortest books in the New Testament. Even though it is only one chapter long, there are many highly applicable lessons for our everyday lives from this small book. Paul is the author of this letter. He is writing a personal letter to his friend, Philemon, about a matter that is close to his heart.
In Paul’s letter, he graciously and passionately advocates for Philemon’s former slave Onesimus; a man he met, led to Christ and now considers to be a son. Paul shows care and kindness as he addresses Philemon’s relationship with Onesimus.
This letter is a great example of how we can have difficult conversations in a clear but loving way. Paul never thinks about social barriers when he talks about these two men of very different backgrounds. He models the truth that we are all equals in the body of Christ. Paul’s letter is an example of how to show Christian love and forgiveness, and how to advocate on the behalf of those who are in need.
Paul was writing to Philemon to express the need for him to show the same love and forgiveness God had shown him to Onesimus. Because Paul and Philemon had a strong personal relationship, Paul’s words would have extra force. Paul saw the genuine work God had done in Philemon’s life (Philemon 1:19), and now he was requesting Philemon to forgive Onesimus and to embrace him as a brother in Christ (Philemon 1:16).
Paul’s words prompt Philemon to transition Onesimus from slave to brother because of their shared faith in Christ. This would have been a big step for someone living in their culture. He was asking Philemon to offer his escaped slave true mercy, love, and forgiveness.
Paul makes the case that slavery did not make Onesimus any less deserving of God’s love. He fully embraces Onesimus as his own brother and fervently advocates on his behalf.
Our sinful nature tells us to assign value to people groups based on their station in life. The Bible teaches that God's love and forgiveness is for all people. God desires us to show mercy, walk with humility, and to love justice (Micah 6:8). Paul’s letter encourages Philemon to be humble, just, and merciful in his dealings with Onesimus.
Paul’s love for Onesimus prompts him to act! He works diligently on his behalf to ensure that Onesimus’ relationship is restored with Philemon and that his needs are taken care of. Living a life marked by the love of Christ requires action on our part. We should not stand silent when people we love need our help.
Paul used his relationship with both men as a bridge to help mend the brokenness that had occurred between them. Our advocacy goes much farther when it comes from a place of trust and relationship. Paul was confident his words would be heeded and exceeded by Philemon because he had a strong connection with this man (Philemon 1:21). Whenever possible, our advocacy should be paired with relationships in order to ensure our words are marked by love, understanding, and are able to be received well.
This short letter is filled with so much love, passion, and truth. Paul openly shares his great love and appreciation for both Philemon and Onesimus because he wants to protect the relationship he has with both parties. Paul also sets a strong example with his words on what it means to be a brother or sister in Christ. It means we are all to be embraced as equals no matter our differences. Philemon is a powerful lesson on how we can “speak truth with love” to those we are close with. Paul’s words are full of great truth and great love.
Amanda Idleman is a writer whose passion is to encourage others to live joyfully. She writes devotions for My Daily Bible Verse Devotional and Podcast, Crosswalk Couples Devotional, the Daily Devotional App, she has work published with Her View from Home, on the MOPS Blog, and is a regular contributor for Crosswalk.com. You can find out more about Amanda on her Facebook Page or follow her on Instagram.
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