PHILEMON A FELLOW WORKER (Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ)

Philemon is famous in the New Testament of the Bible as he is the recipient of a personnel letter from St. Paul. Pauls letter to Philemon is only letter addressed to an individual on a personal matter, which has found a place in the canonical books of the New Testament. It is a small letter with only 25 verses.

Philemon was a rich and prominent Christian in the Church at Colossae. He owned a slave named Onesimus who ran away from his master perhaps after robbing him.

Then somehow he came into contact with Paul who was in prison either as Ephesus or at Rome.

Paul refers to Philemon as our friend and fellow worker. In the opening salutation of the letter Paul refers also to our sister Apphia and our fellow-soldier Archippus. Some bible scholars believe that the two characters are probably the wife and the son respectively of Philemon.

In his greetings Paul has mentioned, the local Church which regularly met in Philemons house. So Philemon must have been a well-known and acceptable figure in the local Church at Colossae.

Paul has written the very personal letter to Philemon with a personal request on behalf of Onesimus. Coming in contact with Paul, Onesimus became a Christian. Paul writes, I make a request to you on behalf of Onesimus, who is my own son in Christ; for while in prison I have become his spiritual father (Phil. 10).

Onesimus must have known Paul while he was serving his master Philemon. So when he ran away and reached Rome as a fugitive, he must have sought out Paul in house arrest and made himself useful to Paul as an attendant. In the process Onesimus became a Christian and matured as a person recognizing his dignity as an individual. Pauls recognition of Onesimus as a brother in Christ Jesus certainly helped his growth.

Pauls letter to Philemon reflects deep love and affection between Paul and Philemon as well as between Paul and Onesimus. Now Paul wants the same love and affection to develop between Philemon and Onesimus.

So Paul writes, I am sending him back to you now, and with him goes my heart (Phil. 12). Then, Paul continues, And now he is not just a slave but much more than a slave, he is a dear brother in Christ. How much he means to me! And how much more he will mean to you, both as a slave and as a brother in the Lord (Phil. 16).

A run-away slave is punishable with death when he/she is caught. Paul knows it. So Paul very lovingly pleads not only for complete forgiveness for Onesimus but also for accepting him as a brother in the Lord!

Paul has confidence in Philemon that he would do what he has requested on behalf of Onesimus. So towards the end of his letter he says, I am sure, as I write this, that you will do what I ask in fact I know that you will do even more. (Phil. 21)

The letter is a master piece of both Pauls love and affection for Philemon and Onesimus as well as of Pauls pastoral skill in resolving a great problem of broken relationship between Philemon and his run-away slave Onesimus.

Ronald Brownrigg recognizes the letter as a milestone in the emancipation of slaves. He writes in WHOS WHO THE NEW TESTAMENT: This letter is a milestone on the road to the emancipation of slaves; the principle that a slave be treated as a brother, that both Christian master and slave were the servants of Christ, and that all men are spiritual equals this was ultimately and inevitably to destroy both the system and practice of slavery (pg. 212).

The fact that the Philemon preserved the letter is a proof for us to believe that he forgave his run away slave Onesimus and welcomed him heartily as a brother in Christ.

We do not know for sure what happened Philemon and Onesimus. But tradition says that Philemon and his wife Apphia were martyred at Colossae and Onesimus became the Bishop of the Church at Ephesus. (Contact: यह ईमेल पता spambots से संरक्षित किया जा रहा है. आप जावास्क्रिप्ट यह देखने के सक्षम होना चाहिए. )

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