For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever;
Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?
Still pleading with Philemon, Paul suggested here that maybe there was a reason Onesimus ran away that resulted in great good.
Someone along Onesimus’ journey pointed him to Paul. Almost certainly, that person was a believer, possibly through Paul’s ministry. There were so many slaves in Rome, and many of them had turned to Christianity during this period of time. One or more of them may have given Onesimus refuge and suggested he go to visit Paul.
Can you see how easily this whole story could be developed into an intriguing book? Had Onesimus, for instance, been falsely accused by another slave? Or had he been mistreated because of some laxity in his own service? How did he manage to escape? Who helped him along the way? There was a lot of distance for him to cover before he reached Rome, and surely he must have formed some sort of network along the way that led him to a place of refuge when he arrived in that huge center of population. His master, Philemon, was already a believer, so he’d been exposed to Christianity before he fled. Was his mind full of questions, doubts, guilt, fear? A little of all those things, I think. He knew the end for him could be terrible.
There is certainly suspense and drama here, right up to the very end.
But for now, Paul’s letter pleads with Philemon to consider that perhaps Onesimus was led to Paul so that Paul could lead him to Christ. Once Onesimus accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, he became valuable to Paul as a helper, and a beloved son in the Lord. He was not Paul’s slave, yet his behavior was one of humble service.
Maybe, Paul suggested, this has all come about so that Onesimus will be a better servant; a servant with a willing heart instead of a rebellious heart, one who could be of great value to Philemon not just as a slave, but as a beloved brother in the Lord.