As a slave owner, Philemon had total rights over his runaway slave, Onesimus. He even had the right to demand the death penalty. Philemon had become a Christian believer however, and Onesimus had somehow linked up with Paul on his travels, and he too had become a follower of Jesus. The pressing question therefore was, how could Philemon receive Onesimus back into his household.
Paul appeals for generosity in their relationship, based on both faith and the experience of knowing the good they share in Christ. He appeals for generosity in a new relationship. ‘ He is no longer like a slave to you. He is more than a slave, for he is a beloved brother, especially to me. Now he will mean much more to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.’ That was a radical shift in master/slave relationships.
This kind of relationship generosity should be evident in church life today. Social background, education, gender and age, wealth, professional status – these are all trumped by generosity based on a shared experience of having received an abundance of God’s grace. Generosity is more than a promising idea. Paul’s prayer at the head of today’s notes is my prayer for us all.
I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good we have in Christ.