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A PRISONER FREES A SLAVE

Daily Devotional Philemon 1:1–13


Frederick Douglass wrote, “I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.” Onesimus tried to obtain his freedom in the same way. He ran away from Philemon’s household and somehow ran into Paul, “the prisoner of Christ Jesus.”


If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

JOHN 8:36


Paul doesn’t say how he and Onesimus became acquainted. What the apostle does reveal is that he had been instrumental in his conversion. In verse 10, Paul explains that Onesimus “became my son while I was in chains.” It is possible that Paul already knew Onesimus before. In verse 6, he describes Philemon as a partner in the faith. In addition to being one of those who supported Paul financially, Philemon had also come to faith under Paul’s preaching (see v. 19). But Paul wrote this personal letter to inform Philemon that Onesimus had become a Christian and was now “a dear brother” (v. 16).


Indirectly, Paul was asking Philemon to welcome Onesimus back and then return him to the apostle (vv. 8, 12–13). More than a help, Onesimus had become like a son to Paul (v. 10). When he describes Onesimus as “useful” in verse 11, he is making a pun based on his name, which means “helpful” or “profitable.”


It may bother us that Paul did not tell Philemon directly that it was his moral obligation to grant Onesimus freedom. Indeed, Paul never speaks of the morality of slavery. Nor does he flex his apostolic muscles, although he gives a gentle reminder of his authority when he speaks of his request as something that Philemon “ought” to do (v. 8). Paul’s gentle tone is a testimony to his confidence in Philemon and to the transforming power of the gospel. Although a prisoner, Paul was used by God to introduce Onesimus to the freedom of Christ.


>> We are all slaves and prisoners when it comes to sin. But Jesus promised, “...if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).


Pray with Us


Many of us struggle with specific sins that we can’t seem to eradicate. Have we been fighting in our own strength, Lord? Teach us to love the light of holiness more than sin’s temptations.

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