The Apostle Paul wrote, “Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord” (Philemon 8-16, ESV).
Maybe like no other epistle that he wrote, this letter to a friend named Philemon shows that the Apostle truly did embody the gospel of Christ. The New Living Translation’s take on verse 11 reads, ” Onesimus hasn’t been of much use to you in the past, but now he is very useful to both of us.” That is the power of Christ. Someone who was perceived of little to no value is now seen as priceless. In fact, this letter challenges the church to truly be the church. A community centered upon the transformational work of Jesus. Philemon was called to embrace a runaway slave as nothing less than a brother. He had every legal right to imprison him (maybe even to take his life) . . . and yet he was to extend forgiveness and impart new status upon him. Is that what your church is famous for? Inviting the untouchables, unlovables, and unlikelies? Those who have no value to the world around them?
I hope you relate a bit to each party in this situation. I am sure, if you are anything like me, you have felt like Onesimus. A slave. A runaway. Somewhere along the way you stumbled upon the cross and now are a part of the family of God. By no work of your own. Just Grace. And other times you are being challenged to play the part of Philemon. To give that which you did not deserve to someone who does not deserve it either. You want retribution. To be paid back what is fairly yours. You just can’t believe that this person before you could be forgiven either. In fact, you are troubled by it. Because every time you look them in the eyes you are reminded that you were at one time no different than they are. Will you call them friend? Maybe it is time you live like Paul. That not only you embrace the outsider – but you speak on their behalf. Become the voice for those who do not have one of their own.