A letter from Paul, a prisoner on account of Jesus (and Tim) to Philemon our friend and co-worker, (and to sister Apphia, and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house).
I wish you all God’s grace and peace – Jesus’ grace and peace. When I remember you in prayer, I thank God every time because I hear how much love you have for the people and how faithful to Jesus you are. I’m also praying that you’ll realize how much good you can do for Jesus and that your faith will take concrete action. I really have been gratified and encouraged by your love, because the hearts of the people have been moved by your efforts.
So then, while I could order you to do what’s right, by Jesus, I’d much rather ask you to do it for the sake of love. I’m an old man, you know, and in jail for Jesus. So I’m asking you on behalf of Onesimus, who I’ve adopted while here in prison. Before this he was useless, but now he’s useful to both of us. I’m sending him, and with him my heart, back to you. I wanted him to stay here, because he’s so much help to me during my imprisonment for the movement. But I’d rather not do anything without asking you first – so you would have the chance to step up rather than be coerced. Just maybe this is why he was temporarily separated from you – so you could have him back permanently, and not as a slave but as a brother – by kinship and by mutual association with Jesus – especially to me, and even more to you.
If you consider me your partner then, welcome him as you would me. If he’s offended you or owes you anything, put it on my tab. I, Paul, by my signature, hereby pledge repayment. (Never mind that you owe me your life.)
Brother, for Jesus’ sake let me have this one thing and renew my confidence in Jesus. I’m so confident that you’ll oblige, and will do even more than I’m asking in this letter.
Oh, and one more thing. Get the guest room ready for me. I expect I’ll be free to see you soon, thanks to your prayers.
Epaphras, my cellmate for Jesus, says hello, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demus, and Luke my co-workers.
May Jesus’ grace be in your soul.
Each of us is Philemon.
I’ll bet that at least once a day each of us has the chance to do the right thing. And the right thing is in relation not to one person, but two people:
- the person to whom who you owe a great deal, and
- the person who, maybe, has wronged you.
Maybe, because of course Onesimus, a runaway slave, didn’t really owe Philemon anything. If anything Philemon owed Onesimus. Starting with an apology and reparations.
But, more to the point, you sometimes get the opportunity to do the right thing not because you have to, but because you choose to.
Paul’s advice: when you get that kind of opportunity, take it.