The remarkable reconciliation of Onesimus the runaway slave
Talking about slavery is a sensitive issue, and rightfully so. We live in an age where we recognize that ALL people have rights. We now live in a time where no group of people or any working class should ever be separated from those rights. This was not always so. Many ancient societies survived on the backs of slaves. These were often comprised of conquered peoples or those who were generationally born into servitude. Christianity had its beginnings in the context of such societies. With such inequity, how could Christianity survive and even flourish? Could slaves AND their owners both thrive under Christ? Fortunately, the Bible gives us a powerful view of how this actually worked in those days. Let’s walk through the true story of two men on opposite ends of this spectrum and see how the Apostle Paul helped them both maintain their faithfulness to Christ and each other.
Towards the end of his life, the Apostle Paul found himself a prisoner of the Roman Empire because of accusations some made that he was subverting the Empire by preaching Christianity. Being a Roman citizen gave him certain advantages, like being on house arrest. He was not able to go anywhere, but he was able to have visitors. It was during this time that a runaway slave named Onesimus came to see him. Onesimus was a slave of Philemon, who had been converted to Christianity by Paul. Although a slave owner, Philemon was an active and faithful brother in Christ and was well known for his service to others.
Paul faced problems this visit from Onesimus
- Roman law stated that harboring a runaway slave made you liable for any losses that runaway cost their master.
- The penalties for runaway slaves went as far as crucifixion, so aiding them could be interpreted as being complicit in their lawbreaking.
- There was the matter of just and fair treatment for Philemon. Paul would certainly not want to hurt his dear friend in any way, regardless of Roman law.
On top of all this, the Apostle Paul ends up converts Onesimus to Christianity! What should he do now? How do you find the path to doing the right thing for everyone involved without breaking the law? And how do you see to it that the right thing is done when you yourself are on house arrest and cannot personally follow up?
Check out our February 22, 2021 podcast, “How Did the Apostle Paul Handle a Slave Owner?” for answers. We examine the letter that Paul wrote to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus line by line. Then we find wise, spiritually-sound and legally-compliant advice all wrapped up in rock solid compassion and reasoning. We get a powerful glimpse into the heart and mind of the Apostle Paul in a way that is not revealed in any of his other writings. Don’t miss this opportunity to see wisdom unfold that conquers social inequity, wrongdoing and the reconciling of two very different individuals!
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