Vol.XV No.XII Pg.5
February 1979

Master Of Onesimus, But Slave Of Christ

Robert F. Turner

(continued from previous page)

the slave for a brother." Meyer)

If you count me as your partner receive him as you would me. If he has wronged you or owes you anything, put it on my account. I will repay it, — even though you owe me even your own self. Yes, brother (I may as well acknowledge it) I do beg your help in the Lord. Brighten my heart in the Lord (as you have the hearts of other saints). I have confidence in your obedience, knowing that you will do more than I say.

I trust that through your prayers I may be released from prison and come to you, so get ready for my stay. Various saints salute you. The grace of our Lord be with your spirit.


The personal nature of this letter is striking, the nearest N.T. parallel to it being 3 John: "unto Gaius the beloved." The whole epistle was likely written in Paul's own hand (v. 19). He may have written many such letters but this is the only one preserved. It is addressed not only to Philemon but "to the church in thy house," whereby the Holy Spirit teaches all saints these vital lessons.

Commendations of Philemon are not to flatter, nor are they related to wealth or worldly position. They are prayer material, praising his service of God and its good effects.

Paul beseeches "with a gentle yet distinct assertion of his own authority" (Expositors). Without denying his "calling" or "rank," he sets it aside in favor of a loving plea from an aged prisoner. The Greek of v.20 translates literally, "Yes, brother, I (ego) of thee may have help..." Expositors quotes Lightfoot as saying, "The emphatic e g o identifies the cause of Onesimus with his own." Paul unashamedly pleads, Yes; I want something from you, in the Lord.

Recognition of "rights" in this matter are dual: those which the social order of the day dictated, and that which is expected of saints. The first century society gave Philemon rights over his slave, and Paul did not paint a banner and take to the streets against those "rights." As Robertson says, "Paul has been criticized for not denouncing slavery in plain terms. But when one considers the actual conditions in the Roman empire, he is a wise man who can suggest a better plan than the one pursued here for the ultimate overthrow of slavery." Paul imposed, in gentle but unmistakable fashion, the "right" things for both Philemon and Onesimus to do, as Christians.

He could not "force" Philemon to free Onesimus --- for our weapons are not carnal (2 Cor. 10:4-f). But truth, properly applied, can "bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." Could Paul have altered the Roman law regarding slavery there is every reason to believe he would have done so. But he did not neglect the greater power-- divine principles planted in the heart of men like Philemon --- which could and did doom the pagan concept of slavery. As Luther wrote, "We are all (Christ's) Onesimi if we will believe it." God speed the day when more men will be His slave.