‘yet for love’s sake I rather beseech thee, being such an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ.’ — Philemon 9
A young servant named Onesimus ran away from his master Philemon. He ended up in prison with Paul. His encounter with Paul led to his conversion to Christ. The next step was to reconcile and restore what was taken from his master. Despite wanting him to stay, Paul sent him back to Philemon with this letter.
In the letter, Paul pleads with Philemon to forgive Onesimus and to receive him not as a servant but as a brother in Christ. The motive for all of this was love.
Paul loved Philemon and those that were with him (v.1-2). Paul complimented Philemon on his love toward the Lord Jesus and all saints (v.5). Paul expressed gratitude for Philemon’s love toward him (v.7). Paul asks him to forgive one who had done him wrong on the basis of love (v.9-11). Paul asked Philemon to receive Onesimus as he would receive Paul (v.17).
Love is what made the difference in this tense situation. There could have been selfishness, unforgiveness, division, and strife. But love caused Paul to write, Onesimus to repent and return, and, we hope, Philemon to forgive. Just as we have been loved by God, we should show love toward others.
Do we love the Lord? If we do, we will love all the saints. And we will want to refresh others and encourage them in all that they do (v.7, 20). Who can we show love to today? Who can we refresh in the Lord today?