Epaphras had been going back and forth delivering letters, but now he remained with Paul in prison. Two new messengers were sent: Tychicus and Onesimus. The first was unknown to the Colossians, but the second was well known to one of them—Philemon. Onesimus was his runaway slave.

Paul might have shown Onesimus the letter he was to deliver (Philemon 1:10-21). He encouraged Philemon to forgive Onesimus and receive him as a brother in the Lord. Onesimus had risked his life to serve Paul in prison, and now he was risking his freedom, his life, to bring this letter to Philemon.

Onesimus trusted God, and he was ready to face whatever God would do through Philemon. Philemon and Onesimus could have become believers at the same time, in the same place.  But both men had been separated for a while. Now Onesimus had a chance to be reconciled to Philemon—whether or not Philemon gave the runaway slave his freedom.

We don’t know why Onesimus fled from Colossae. He may have stolen something, or maybe he owed time he’d promised to pay a debt. Paul offered to make right anything owed (Philemon 1:18). But Philemon could ignore Paul’s offer and demand Onesimus return as a slave.

We don’t know what happened. Paul said, “Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask (Philemon 1:21). It’s likely that Philemon forgave and freed Onesimus and came to see him as “a dear brother in the Lord, a son.”

In another letter, Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:28-29). All believers are beloved sons and daughters in Christ Jesus.

Are we willing to put our lives in God’s hands? He sovereignly rules over us. Do we trust him to do what’s best for us—even if it means submitting to mistreatment or some other form of injustice for a time? God has a reason for putting us in a difficult situation.

Trust God to give you grace as needed.

Dig Deeper

How are we all slaves according to John 8:34-47? How are we set free?

How did God move (willingly or not) the following to a new land where he gave them a new role: see Abraham Genesis 21:1-5, Joseph Genesis 1:13-28, and Ruth Ruth 1:1-9? Describe an experience where you moved or changed jobs and had a new role.

See also a devotion on the Book of Philemon: The Onesimus Test

Nancy J. Baker

This devotion is part of our series on Not-As-Famous Men and Women of the Bible.




  1. The Lord is so powerful to change us from slaves to free people. This is also a beautiful example of Christian friendship that is working for both men. Thank you for this

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