(post by Robby Robinson)
Philemon is an interesting book within the New Testament. It is a letter from the Apostle Paul to Philemon about the reception of a runaway slave named Onesimus.
While the issue of slavery and the New Testament is an important issue, this is not the central theme of this letter. The central theme is the reconciliation of a relationship (Philemon 8-21). Essentially, this letter is a lesson on the proper attitude in the horizontal (with other people) relationships in our lives. It assumes that because there is a right vertical (between God and us) relationship, these are the principles we need to have in our horizontal relationships.
It does not dictate the specific actions that must happen in reconciliation, but it does dictate the attitude (Philemon 8-9). Paul asks Philemon to do the “right thing” concerning Onesimus. (Remember according to Roman law, Onesimus was a criminal and could have possibly stolen from Philemon, 18-19.)
Paul explains to Philemon that Onesimus is returning as a “brother”, a fellow believer in Christ.
Paul does this for two specific reasons; one is to show that Onesimus is a changed man and that the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus has changed. The second reason is to tell Philemon the foundation for forgiveness and reconciliation; the Gospel.
Paul also reminds Philemon of his conversion and nature before redemption, (vs. 19-20), a clear reminder of the Gospel and the affect on Philemon.
This is a reminder to us the foundation of reconciliation, or the restoration and improvement of a relationship, the Gospel. Due to Christ’s work of redemption, salvation and restoration between God and believers, we can have true reconciliation with those around us. Because God forgave us, we can forgive. Because we have reconciliation with God, we can seek reconciliation with others.