Philemon 1:14. “But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly.”
The importance of Paul’s attitude in his appeal to Philemon is important. He is not demanding or commanding. His is pleading. He understands that Philemon has the legal right to do as he pleases with his slave.
I was doing a little more research into the whole topic of slavery in Paul’s day. Rome and its influence had pretty much covered the known world. In the city of Rome itself, and its suburbs, there were upwards of 60 million slaves! One of the biggest concerns among free citizens was the very real possibility of a slave uprising. Slaves were merchandise. They were worth more if they were young and strong, less if they were feeble in some way, or if they were old. They were expendable. They could be tossed into prison for far lesser offenses than running away. If they were caught, they could be branded with a red-hot iron on the forehead with the letter “F” for fugitive. Slaves were routinely crucified for what we would see as minor offenses.
With all that in mind, Paul pleads his case for mercy toward Onesimus, but he makes it clear that he wants Philemon to choose out of love and mercy, not out of pressure to please Paul.
Jesus chose to die for us out of love and mercy, not because He had to!
Good works that are forced, and not from the heart, lose their sweetness.