A Shakespearean drama couldn’t have better highlighted the tension of slavery, or proffered a more noble solution to it. The main characters in the Divine “play” are Paul (the apostle), Philemon (the slaveowner) and Onesimus (the slave).
Act I. (Unkempt and weary from a long journey, the slave Onesimus is now standing again at the door of his owner, Philemon’s house. He holds a letter in his hand). Having fled from Philemon some time earlier, Onesimus had serendipitously crossed paths with Paul. He was taught the truth of Christ, and became a disciple. Presently, he hands the letter to Philemon. It is from Paul, an apostle—and a beloved friend of Philemon (v.1).
Act II. (A few months earlier) Though useful to him, Paul had decided it better to send Onesimus back to his Master (v. 11). Ah, but how? In this letter—breathed out by the Spirit of God—is a personal appeal to Philemon, to receive Onesimus back on two grounds: (1) that Onesimus was now a “brother in Christ,” and should be so received and treated (v. 16); and (2) that Philemon “owed Paul his life besides,” having escaped slavery to sin through Paul’s efforts (v. 19). Continue reading