The Richness of Paul’s Letters
The freedom of the Spirit, St. Paul continues, is never identical with libertinism or with the possibility of choosing evil but rather with the “fruit of the Spirit which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22). This is true freedom: the ability to actually follow the desire for the good, for true joy, for communion with God and not to be oppressed by the circumstances that take us down other roads.
A second consequence that comes about in our lives when we allow the Spirit of Christ to work in us is that our relationship with God becomes so deep that it cannot be affected by any circumstance or situation. We then come to understand that, through prayer, we are not delivered from trials or sufferings, but we are able to live them in union with Christ, with His sufferings, with a view to participating also in His glory (cf. Romans 8:17). Pope Benedict XVI
Philemon 1: 10-21
I urge you on behalf of my child Onesimus,
whose father I have become in my imprisonment,
who was once useless to you but is now useful to [both] you and me.
I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you.
I should have liked to retain him for myself, so that he might serve
me on your behalf in my imprisonment for the gospel,
but I did not want to do anything without your consent,
so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary.
Perhaps this is why he was away from* you for a while,
that you might have him back forever,
no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me,
but even more so to you, as a man* and in the Lord.
So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me.
And if he has done you any injustice or owes you anything, charge it to me.
I, Paul, write this in my own hand: I will pay.
May I not tell you that you owe me your very self.
Yes, brother, may I profit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.
With trust in your compliance I write to you,
knowing that you will do even more than I say.
From Slave to Brother
In verses 1-3 Paul identifies himself as a prisoner for Jesus Christ. The very condition of human existence is that of enslavement, but for believers it is in the process of being transformed into the form of the children of God.
In verses 4-7 Thanksgiving is the basis for Paul’s appeals by referring to his relationship with Philemon.
This short letter addressed to three specific individuals was written by Paul during an imprisonment, perhaps in Rome between A.D. 61 and 63. It concerns Onesimus, a slave from Colossae (Col 4:9), who had run away from his master, perhaps guilty of theft in the process.
Onesimus was converted to Christ by Paul. Paul sends him back to his master with this letter asking that he be welcomed willingly by his old master not just as a slave but as a brother in Christ. Paul uses very strong arguments in his touching appeal on behalf of Onesimus. He suggests he would like to have Onesimus work with him for the gospel (Phlm 13, 20–21).
Paul’s letter deals with an accepted institution of antiquity, human slavery. But Paul breathes into this letter the spirit of Christ and of equality within the Christian community. He does not attack slavery directly, for this is something the Christian communities of the first century were in no position to do, and the expectation that Christ would soon come again militated against social reforms. Yet Paul, by presenting Onesimus as “brother, beloved…to me, but even more so to you” (Phlm 16), voiced an idea revolutionary in that day and destined to break down worldly barriers of division “in the Lord.”
In verses 22-25 the list of Paul’s co-workers sending their greetings also contributes to the pressure on Philemon for they are, as it were, witnesses of the “grace or the Lord Jesus Christ.”