Onesimus Reflects on St. Paul’s Letter to My Owner Philemon: Slaves, Brothers & Redemption

by Steve Ray on February 19, 2020

Onesimus here! I’m reflecting on St. Paul’s Letter he just wrote about me to my Owner, Philemon, as recorded by Paul in his Letter to Philemon:

I was a slave—his property. He owned me. He controlled every minute of my life. I could not think, act or decide for myself. I ate and slept when or if he allowed me to. I had no rights, no personal life, and no freedom. Few laws restricted the treatment of slaves in the Roman Empire.

357C1543-DD9B-48C8-9F10-B6668D8D6675-1442-0000054BAFC02A23Some were treated with respect, as members of the household; others were ill-treated. I was a piece of property. Escape and freedom consumed my thoughts by day and my dreams by night. To have a family, to go where I wished, to be out from under the hard work and harsh laws—to be free!

My name is Onesimus and my master is, or should I say was, Philemon. I say was because I robbed him, escaped and ran. As a fugitive I traveled over a thousand miles toward Rome where I could anonymous; lost in the teeming crowds and far from my old master.

The punishment meted out to an escaped slave was brutal, especially to a thief. But when I finally crept into Rome under cover of night, I was soon surprised. The surprise changed all my plans. I ended up going back to my master of my own free will—but let’s not get ahead of the story.

SlaveAbout five or six years ago an itinerant preacher had visited in Ephesus and since Ephesus was the gateway to Asia Minor everyone in our area eventually heard his message (Acts 19:10, 26).

This preacher’s name was Paul and he was announcing a new god—one that claimed to be the one and only true God. This new deity’s name was Jesus Christ. I was a slave in the neighboring city of Colossae, about 100 miles to the southeast. (Col 4:9).

My master Philemon passed through Ephesus on one of his journeys where he heard Paul preaching. He became a follower of this new deity and became a Christian. Paul never visited Colossae but his influence was sure felt. When my master returned home changes took place; he even turned the house into what he called a “church” where they had weekly meetings.

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