As I was reading Philemon this morning it struck me how powerfully yet subtlety Paul deals with the issue of Onesimus and Philemon. I think many would condemn Paul today for his “weak” stance on slavery but it couldn’t be further from the truth. When the end game isn’t to free slaves but to free souls through a revolution of radical love and devotion to God slavery (and many other despicable practices with it) have an expiration date. In a world where change means coming through with a bulldozer Paul understood that the times weren’t ready for that. Instead of demanding it of Philemon he places his faith in love and appeals to the Spirit of God living inside him. He says in verse 8,
“Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love”.
We don’t get a Biblical layout of what happened as Tychicus and Onesimus returned with Paul’s letter to Philemon but tradition points to a happy reunion. The truth is that this gives us such a beautiful picture of reconciliation. The former slave and his slave master now embrace as brothers. The economy of grace truly is a wonderful and scandalous thing. In it we let go of our natural grievances to pick up our supernatural love. If it doesn’t seem fair that’s alright, it isn’t. That’s kind of the point. What a wretched eternity fairness would bring!