Paul writes this letter to Philemon on behalf on Onesimus. Paul asks Philemon to forgive his former slave and to accept him as his brother, as a fellow Christian. Onesimus had run away (and possibly stolen) from Philemon. Now a Christian, Onesimus has repented and wants to make things right with Philemon, but he fears receiving the culturally deserved punishment.
What struck me about this letter was its genial tone, the eloquent words, and the gracious approach Paul took in dealing with this matter.
Paul could have commanded Philemon to free Onesimus, but instead of using authority, Paul used words of love, words that allowed Philemon to make his own choice (just as God gives us free will).
Paul could have decided to keep Onesimus with him and not say a word to Philemon. But Paul chose to be truthful with Philemon and to give Onesimus the opportunity to make things right with Philemon.
Paul could have placed the burden on Onesimus to return to Philemon and handle things himself, even if it meant receiving his punishment. Instead, Paul took the time to write this beautiful letter on behalf of his fellow Christian.
Each of us has probably been, to some degree, in a position like Philemon's -- wronged and fully justified in seeking restitution under the law. I'm sure you'd agree that it's not easy to descend from such a righteous position and to relinquish the satisfaction of justice. It's not easy to say, "That's fine. Don't worry about it. Yes, I forgive you." Each of us has probably been, to some degree, in situations like the one Onesimus cornered himself into -- sinning, then repenting, wanting forgiveness, and fearing punishment. But we have nothing to fear, for God IS righteous and able to exact His justice, and because Jesus has written His own letter for us, God has forgiven us.
Dear God, we pray for the grace to live our lives guided by love. May we repent when we've sinned. May we forgive when we've been wronged. May we always choose to do the right thing, whether or not we're approached with the eloquent words of love. Amen.