This a personal letter from Paul to Philemon. Philemon was a slave owner that came to know Christ. In the past he had a slave named Onesimus. When given the opportunity, Onesimus found a way to escape.
Onesimus, in his freedom, ran into Paul. After hearing Paul, he also gave his life to Christ and wanted to make right his wrong doings of the past. He told Paul about being a run away slave and it just worked out that Paul knew his master. He convinces Onesimus to go back to Philemon.
This letter is preparing Philemon for Onesimus’ arrival.
In verse 17-19 is one of the finest illustrations of substitution.
“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 it to me. I, PAUL, WRITE THIS WITH MY OWN HAND: I WILL REPAY IT. AND I WON’T MENTION THAT YOU OWE ME YOUR VERY SOUL!”
Onesimus, the unprofitable runaway slave, was to be received as Paul, the great apostle, in the home of Philemon.
Sounds a lot like Christ agreeing to take our place and having all our sins put on him. He took our place in death but he offers us the life only he deserves. Because of this, we have the standing of Christ before God.
The letter also shares how we are to love other people. (Friends and enemies, masters and servants alike)
Paul spoke of the new relationship between master and servant in his other letters. Here he demonstrates how it should work. These men belong to two different classes in the Roman empire hating each other and hurting each other but are now brothers in Christ and they are to act like it.
We see the desire for repentance and urging for forgiveness.
Wouldn’t our world be a better place if people owned their mistakes, sought forgiveness — and then the offended actually forgave!
You have been forgiven and you need to forgive others.