This has been called “the polite epistle,” for Paul used great courtesy and tact in writing it. Onesimus, a slave, had robbed his master Philemon, and had then run away from him. Hoping to conceal himself best in the metropolis, Onesimus had fled to Rome, where he heard Paul preach and became converted. The apostle sent him back to his Christian master with the following letter of apology. Although its first object was only to restore a runaway slave to his master, it is a weighty letter, and every syllable has substance in it.
Paul knew Philemon was a true believer, and therefore prayed that others might feel the power of his piety, by seeing how he acted in the present case.
This is the best of pleading. Philemon’s heart would be sure to yield to it.
who is so dear to me that he carries my heart with him wherever he goes.
Philemon 13, 14
Though he felt sure that Philemon would have been glad to spare his servant to care for his aged friend, yet Paul would not take the liberty of using his services, but gave Philemon the opportunity to do it of his own accord if he thought fit.
Providence suffered him to run away that he might come under Paul’s influence and become a Christian: the gracious purpose of God overrules evil for good.
partner or true comrade in Christ
Is not this a graceful way of putting it? Who could have the heart to resist such pleading? Yet every word is gentle and quiet. Mild language is mighty.
Our Father in heaven, we hallow thy name,
O’er earth may thy kingdom establish its claim!
Oh, give to us daily our portion of bread;
It is from thy bounty that all must be fed.
Forgive our transgressions, and teach us to know
The humble compassion that pardons each foe;
Keep us from temptation, from weakness, and sin,
And thine be the glory for ever. Amen.