Onesimus and Philemon AS Partners In the Lord

Onesimus and Philemon AS Partners In the Lord

Here in this little letter we are introduced to Philemon and Onesimus. Paul speaks very highly of Philemon as a brother in the Lord. He mentions ‘the church in your house’. We see that he also was a slave owner. Onesimus was a slave, a slave that belonged to Philemon, a slave that had run away and hence was ‘useless’ to Philemon. BUT (aren’t you thankful that there is often such a ‘but’ in the lives of disciples?!), Paul converted him and now is sending him back to Philemon.

Paul doesn’t ask Philemon to grant freedom to this slave. Instead, he writes: “If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me” (Philemon 1:17). Now, having been converted by Paul, Onesimus was his brother in the Lord. Now he was to regard this runaway slave with the same respect as he did Paul the apostle. He was to acknowledge this run-away slave as a partner. The Greek word translated ‘Partner’ here is defined in the BDAG Greek Lexicon as “one who takes part in someth. with someone, companion, partner, sharer.”

It seems likely that Onesimus would join himself to the ‘church in his (Philemon’s) house. How is that going to work out? We see then that some things are just plain difficult. Ask Onesimus to return to his master? Ask the master to receive Onesimus?

Yet, such things are the outworking of our fellowship in the Lord. In this relationship, there is neither bond nor free (cp. Gal. 3:28-29), yet, living in the world, there were still masters and slaves. While their status as brethren in the Lord may be brothers and partners, their social status in the community was still judged on society’s standards.


·        We not only are all brethren in the same family in the Lord, we are asked to consider each other as fellow workers and partners in serving the Lord.

·        If you were Philemon, could you do this?

·        If you were Philemon, WOULD you do this?

·        If you were Onesimus, would you return to your master?

·        Having received such accolades from the apostle Paul, would you become ‘uppity’?

Being brethren and accepting one another can be difficult. Thus, we are encouraged to STRIVE to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3). Wouldn’t you like to know the story of how this all worked out when Onesimus walks through the door of Philemon’s house? 

Hugh DeLong