Verse of the Day Devotion. Philemon 1:16
“No longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” – Philemon 1:16
The main theme in this book is Onesimus, a runaway slave from Philemon. He was a fugitive who had robbed his master and then fled to Rome, where he believed he could hide in the large city and thus not be found. Onesimus encountered Paul, who was in prison, who helped him become a Christian. Then finding out that he was a slave of Philemon, Paul wrote this letter to him regarding Onesimus. “Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do that which is proper, yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you. since I am such a person as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus “ Philemon 1:8-9. Paul starts by saying he does not want to enforce compliance with his words but wants Philemon to do this of his own accord, in an attitude of love which governs the Christian. And by mentioning his age and imprisonment, he can expect that Philemon will pay due respect to what he has to say.
Then he brings up his request. “I appeal to you for my child, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment, Onesimus, who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me. And I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart,” Philemon 1:10-12. Paul had led Onesimus to salvation through Christ while he was imprisoned. Obviously, his conversion was real, and Paul wanted to get this truth across. Then he uses a play on words. ‘who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me’. The name Onesimus means useful or profitable. It was a common name for slaves in that day. Prior to his salvation, Onesimus had been useless or unprofitable to Philemon, but now he had become beneficial to both Philemon and to Paul. Upon becoming saved Onesimus lived up to his name.
Paul wrote this letter to Philemon, asking/pleading him to accept Onesimus back, but not as simply a slave but as a Christian, a brother in Christ. Paul really loved Onesimus because of the great blessing he had been to Paul. In fact, in the next verse he would have liked him to stay. “Whom I wished to keep with me, that in your behalf he might minister to me in my imprisonment for the gospel; but without your consent I did not want to do anything, that your goodness should not be as it were by compulsion, but of your own free will. For perhaps he was for this reason parted from you for a while, that you should have him back forever,” Philemon 1:13-15. Paul would have liked to keep Onesimus with him, for he had rendered faithful service and could continue to give to him. Nevertheless, he does not want, under any circumstances, to encroach upon the decision which only Philemon, as the slave’s rightful master, could make. He wanted Philemon to make the decision on his own without any compelling by Paul.
Then he says, if he goes back, the following in our focus verse, “no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” Philemon 1:16. He asks him not to receive him back as a slave, but as a brother in Christ. That is how Paul saw him, and he was encouraging him to feel the same. And then finally, “If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me.” Philemon 1:17. Paul wanted Philemon to accept Onesimus as he has and would accept him. Their fellowship is grounded in their belonging to one Lord. This deeply binding relationship draws them together into common activities, in faith and love. On the basis of this bond, Paul makes his request in which he not only intercedes for Onesimus, but even identifies himself with him. All the love that Philemon will give to Onesimus will be considered as love that he had given to Paul himself.
We need to exhibit these characteristics in our lives. Employers, political leaders, and parents must follow the spirit of Paul’s teaching by treating Christian employees, co-workers, and family members as members of Christ’s Body. Christians in modern society must not view helpers as ways to achieve their ambitions but as Christian brothers and sisters who should receive gracious treatment. Also, all Christian leaders must recognize that God holds them accountable for the treatment of those who work for them, whether the helpers are Christians or not. We all will eventually answer to God for our actions toward others.
William Funkhouser MDiv, ThD, Founder and President of True Devotion Ministries.