Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord.
Paul writes to his friend and Christian patron Philemon about a delicate situation: Onesimus, Philemon’s slave, has run away (and probably stolen from his master too) and during that absence has himself become a Christian. Paul breaks from conventions of the period to ask that the Philemon welcome Onesimus back as his own brother and Paul’s “son.” He further pleads for the slave’s freedom so that he can join Paul in his own missionary work and promises to pay any debts owed to him.
There is much language and imagery in this brief letter that echoes the famous line that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for all are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3.28). Paul reconfigures conventional relationships by asking Philemon to view them in light of his belief in and commitment to Christ. Jesus is the lens through which we see, experience, and live anew, and this new life may well challenge our habits and beliefs, patterns and institutions.
Paul insists that no matter the status of a person in “the real world,” each member of the Christian community is radically equal to one another in Christ. Through mutual love in Christ comes this deep spiritual kinship that diminishes the importance of social inequity.