Brotherly Love Is Active
Highlights From Philemon
JESUS CHRIST gave his followers the “new commandment” that they love one another just as he loved them. (John 13:34, 35) Because of that love, they would even die for one another. Yes, brotherly love is that strong and active.
The apostle Paul was sure that brotherly love would motivate Philemon, a Christian associated with the congregation at Colossae, a city in Asia Minor. Love had already prompted Philemon to open his house for use as a Christian meeting place. Philemon’s slave Onesimus had run away, possibly stealing funds to finance a voyage to Rome, where he later met Paul and embraced Christianity.
While imprisoned at Rome about 60-61 C.E., Paul wrote a letter addressed primarily to Philemon. It appealed to Philemon to receive returning Onesimus in a spirit of brotherly love. Read this letter, and you will see that it is a fine example of affection and tact—one that Jehovah’s people can well imitate.
Commendation for Love and Faith
Addressing Philemon and others, Paul first gave commendation. (Verses 1-7) The apostle kept hearing about the love Philemon had for Christ and all the holy ones and about his faith. This moved Paul to thank Jehovah and brought him much joy and comfort. Do we personally commend fellow believers who are exemplary in love and faith? We should do so.
Exhortation on the basis of love is always desirable in dealing with fellow Christians, as Paul’s words show. (Verses 8-14) After his tactful approach, the apostle said that although he could order Philemon “to do what is proper,” he chose to exhort him instead. To do what? Why, to receive the slave Onesimus back in a kind manner! Paul would have liked to retain the useful services of Onesimus but would not do this without Philemon’s consent.
Seemingly unfavorable developments often prove beneficial, as Paul next indicated. (Verses 15-21) Actually, good had resulted when Onesimus had run away. Why? Because Philemon could now have him back as a willing, honest Christian brother, not as an unwilling, possibly dishonest slave. Paul asked Philemon to welcome Onesimus back even as Paul might be welcomed. If Onesimus had wronged Philemon in any way, the apostle would make repayment. To make Philemon still more willing to comply, Paul reminded him that he himself was indebted to the apostle for becoming a Christian. Hence, Paul was sure that Philemon would do even more than he was asked to do. What a tactful, loving appeal! Surely, this is the way we should deal with fellow Christians.
Paul concluded his letter with a hope, greetings, and good wishes. (Verses 22-25) He hoped that through the prayers of others in his behalf, he would soon be freed from prison. (As Paul’s second letter to Timothy shows, those prayers were answered.) Concluding his letter, Paul sent greetings and expressed the wish that the undeserved kindness of Jesus Christ might be with the spirit shown by Philemon and his fellow worshipers of Jehovah.
[Box/Picture on page 23]
More Than a Slave: Regarding the return of Philemon’s runaway slave Onesimus, Paul said: “Perhaps . . . he broke away for an hour, that you may have him back forever, no longer as a slave but as more than a slave, as a brother beloved, especially so to me, yet how much more so to you both in fleshly relationship and in the Lord.” (Philemon 15, 16) In the Roman Empire, slavery was enforced by the imperial government, and Paul recognized such “superior authorities.” (Romans 13:1-7) He did not advocate a slave’s revolt but helped such individuals to gain spiritual freedom as Christians. In harmony with his own counsel for slaves to be in subjection to their masters, Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon. (Colossians 3:22-24; Titus 2:9, 10) Onesimus was now more than a worldly slave. He was a beloved fellow believer who would be in relative subjection to Philemon as a better slave, one governed by godly principles and displaying brotherly love.