Have you ever read Philemon?
It is one of the one chapter books of the New Testament that often gets overlooked.
In the video above, noted scholar and author NT Wright shares his observations about this little book and how it shows the Christian message in action. He read it when he was 5 years old and it has stuck in his thoughts. He makes the intriguing comment, if only Philemon had survived from the early writings, we would have gained a good window into what Christian believed and how radical this faith was and is.
Wright beautifully sums up the power of the letter by remarking how Paul has figuratively placed one arm onto Onesimus (the run-away slave) and his other arm to Philemon (his partner/supporter in Gospel work) thereby modeling the reconciling love of Christ who has outstretched his arms on the cross linking Jew and Gentile, black and white, male and female, slave and free. We need to see this kind of radical barrier breaking just as much today. This is what the amazing and powerful Gospel of Jesus can do!
Below is the full text of the letter to Philemon.
Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.
For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.
One thing more—prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping through your prayers to be restored to you.
Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.