THE WORD: From slave to beloved brother

PHOTO CAPTION: “Saint Paul Writing His Epistles” attributed to Valentin de Boulogne (circa 1618) is a painting in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. (Public Domain)

The Book of Philemon, or the Epistle of Paul to Philemon, ranks third in our look at the shortest books of the Bible after Third John and Second John. This single-chapter book has just 25 verses.

Philemon was a wealthy Christian who hosted a church in his home in Colossae. Paul wrote to Philemon on behalf of a runaway slave named Onesimus who had wronged Philemon, his owner. The letter is addressed to Philemon but also includes Apphia, Archippus and the church in Philemon’s house. The additional recipients are like an ancient CC line which lets the readers know that Paul intended the request to Philemon as a more public matter.

Paul met Onesimus after his escape and subsequently shared the gospel with the fleeing slave. Onesimus then helped Paul during his imprisonment. Because of his love for Onesimus, Paul asked his brother in Christ to elevate his former slave. While Paul doesn’t make a broad statement against slavery, he does speak for the humanity of slaves and asks for any debts owned by Onesimus to be put on Paul’s account. The book is a simple of example of loving people regardless of their station.

Philemon 15-16

15 For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever; 16 Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?