The Epistle to Philemon touches upon servitude among the Jews in the time of Christ and His Apostles. The key to Paul's letter to Philemon is the Hebrew fugitive law in Deut.23v15-16. This missive is proof that Paul acted in strict accordance with Mosaic requirements.

Paul gave Onesimus shelter in his own hired house in Rome, while Paul was awaiting trial. Paul would not betray Onesimus or deliver him up into the power of his master (Philemon) as a fugitive. Paul did not send word to Philemon to come to Rome to prove that Onesimus was Philemon's slave and to take Onesimus back home. Instead, Paul benignly protected and quietly instructed Onesimus about Jesus. Then Paul sent Onesimus back (by his own consent) as a trusted and honored messenger, and as a BROTHER, bearing a request to Philemon concerning Onesimus' own freedom!

Paul did not accuse Onesimus of running away wrongfully. On the contrary, Paul stated that it was because of the merciful providence of God that Onesimus had departed from Philemon for a brief time, so that Onesimus might be received once more later, no longer as a servant, but--far more than as a servant--as a beloved Christian brother! In this letter Paul besought Philemon to receive Onesimus as he would have welcomed Paul himself--as a partner. Whatever wrong Onesimus may have done to Philemon, even though he may have been unprofitable to him (at the time), Paul now takes upon himself. Paul did not intimate that the wrong was in Onesimus' running away from Philemon. No, whatever wrong Onesimus had done during his "unprofitable" state of bondage, that situation was irrelevant because of the profound change in Onesimus' spiritual status. In order that there might be no shadow of remaining claim by Philemon against Onesimus whereby he might say, "I (Philemon) will keep you (Onesimus) still in bondage until you work out your debt," Paul takes all of Onesimus' debts upon himself, whatever they might be, and becomes a guarantor for Onesimus. The result is that Onesimus was to be viewed as a free man, and no longer as a slave (GSN1401 - doulos)

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