A very dear brother. 8-20


Having commenced his letter with the usual greetings and thanksgiving, Paul now directly asks Philemon, a friend and convert in Colossae, to welcome back his runaway slave Onesimus as a brother in the Lord.

The passage

v8-9. At this point in his letter, Paul outlines his request to Philemon. Paul, as an apostle, has the right to encourage and direct a fellow brother to act in a certain way. An elder, or teacher in Christ, has this right and this is especially so for an apostle. Yet, Paul does not use this authority to command Philemon to receive his runaway slave with kindness rather than vengeance. Instead, Paul prefers to make his appeal on the basis of Christian love, a love that binds believers together in Christ. Paul makes his appeal as "an old man" (possibly "ambassador") and now as a prisoner who belongs to Christ.

v10. Paul finally gets to mention the name of Philemon's runaway slave, a person Paul has "fathered in his imprisonment." Onesimus obviously met Paul in prison and was converted through his ministry.

v11. With a play on words, Paul states that Onesimus (the word means "profitable") was once useless, but is now useful.

v12-14. Paul would rather keep Onesimus with him, but out of fair-play and a respect for the law (the return of a runaway slave), he is sending him back to his master. Onesimus has been a great asset to Paul and seeing he is Philemon's slave, the service rendered is, in a sense, Philemon's.

v15-16. Writing in the passive voice, "he was separated from you", Paul implies that there is divine purpose in what has happened. Onesimus is now a believer and Philemon can have him back as a brother, rather than a slave.

v17-20. Again Paul asks Philemon to welcome Onesimus back, not out of compulsion or because it is the right thing to do, but out of Christian love. Onesimus is now a member of a new society where all members are brothers. He may be a slave in the flesh, but he is also an equal in the Lord. Paul wants a "benefit" from Philemon, not the return of Onesimus to Paul, but rather Philemon's kindly love expressed toward his runaway slave.


One of the more sought after qualities today, both in private enterprise and the church, is dynamic leadership. Being a leader of men is a valuable asset for those who aspire to management, and this includes the management of a Christian fellowship.



Today, there are many training courses available which seek to train prospective leaders in management techniques. They do, to a degree, teach the skills which make for good leadership. Yet, when it comes down to it, leadership skills are more nature than nurture.

Although it is possible to teach the obvious knowledge-based abilities that make for sound leadership, the crucial ability is charisma. Some people, just by their very nature, can command authority. People simply believe in their vision and want to please them by doing what they ask, either for good or evil.

There is one other leadership quality worth nothing which is found in both secular society and in the church, namely, management by a father figure, a form of leadership once very common, but less so today. When Paul the apostle writes to Philemon to ask him to welcome back his runaway slave Onesimus, he would have had reasonable success if, as an apostle, he commanded Philemon to accept Onesimus back. Within the church today there is still some degree of willingness to do what the minister, priest, or an elder of the church has decided.

Although leadership in the Christian church today often employs many of the tools of secular management, often with a good dose of charisma (hormones?) and sometimes with fatherly authority, we would do better to rely on the authority of love. Paul's request to Philemon was that he warmly accept Onesimus back as a brother in the Lord. He did not ask for his freedom, nor did he ask Philemon if he would be willing to allow Onesimus to return as Paul's personal servant. This Paul would dearly like, but he certainly does not request it. On the basis of Christian love, Paul asks for the establishment of Christian fellowship in service to the Lord. He asks Philemon to affirm community, to affirm church. So, he maintains the principle of applying Christian love to kingdom business, rather than his own selfish ends. What better leadership model is there?


1. How does love relate to Paul's request?

2. Discuss the different leadership styles you have observed.

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