Reading through the Bible together
The Philemon Principle
The book of Philemon is transformational. This brief letter with its 25 verses can be summed up in what can be called the Philemon Principle—“get right with God and with each other and do it now”.
Philemon was written from a Roman prison (circa AD 60) and is the shortest of Paul’s letters. It dramatically challenges Philemon to forgive his runaway slave Onesimus. Paul’s appeal was made more complicated since Onesimus had apparently stolen valuables when he left. Onesimus meets Paul in Rome and was converted by him. Onesimus repents of his wrongs. Then Paul and Onesimus develop an elegant and ethical strategy to set the matter straight.
Onesimus decides to voluntarily return to Colosse with a companion by the name of Tychicus and the letter to Philemon (Colossians 4:7-9). The intent of the letter is to appeal to Philemon for reconciliation with Onesimus, to smooth the way for his return and presumably his freedom. As the letter was designed to be read to the church at Colosse, Paul practically demonstrates the forgiving relations Christians are to have to each other as predicated on God’s forgiveness. Likewise in this same letter, though in an implied manner, Paul provides a rationale for the unsustainability of slavery in a Christian context.
Though the word forgiveness is never mentioned in Philemon, it is clearly implied. The book is packed with powerful principles and is a case study on the subject of forgiveness. It also outlines both how the offender and the offended should relate to the issues of restoration and restitution. Each of the implied theological principles is undergirded by a call to action: the Philemon Principle.
The Philemon Principle was life changing then and it can be life changing now.
Delbert W. Baker
Vice President, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists