The little book of Philemon is one of those books in that Bible that I thought had no value for me – I mean it only covers one page and is just Paul’s personal letter to a friend about a slave. Not as inspiring as the Psalms, not instructive like his letters to Timothy, not even about Jesus like the Gospels. Until I saw it through fresh eyes and the Holy Spirit. Philemon is the entire Gospel of Jesus Christ in 25 verses.
Philemon was the owner of a slave named Onesimus, who desperately desired freedom from his bondage. He did the only thing he could do and ran away from his master, and apparently stole from him as well. Through God’s grace he connects with Paul who is in prison and who leads Onesimus to salvation in Christ. Now he wants to make things right with his master, but fears the repercussions of his actions. Paul intercedes for him, reminding Philemon that his former slave is now his brother in Christ. Paul asks for Onesimus’ release so that he can serve with Paul.
The gospel says that you and I were slaves to sin and death, and though we desperately desired to be free, our best attempts only made our situation worse. We are fearful of God, condemned because of our sinful human nature. Then through God’s grace, Jesus finds us and offers us true freedom. Now we can come to God without fear because Jesus has made things right between us and intercedes before the Father for us.
The heart of this book is also the heart of the Gospel: “If [Onesimus] has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me . . . I will pay it back” (v. 18, 19). You and I have wronged God and we owe Him a debt we can never repay. Jesus took our sin-debt and paid it with His own precious blood. If you are in Christ, you are no longer a slave to sin and death. You are free by God’s grace. You are a child of God and a Christ is your brother. There is power in every word of the Word of God. Power to set you free.