Onesimus the slave or servant. Philemon the master. Paul the friend, the mediator pleads for the safe return and proper treatment of Onesimus upon his return to Philemon. The story is recounted in Paul’s letter to Philemon, a letter that was sent to the church that met in the house of Philemon, with instructions that it be read aloud to the entire congregation.
Onesimus had left the household of Philemon without permission or without fulfilling his obligations to his master. There was some sort of dispute, according to Paul’s letter, and Onesimus found his way to Paul during his imprisonment where he served the apostle. Paul, however, does not permit Onesimus to shirk his civil duties to his master, nor does he allow his master, who is obviously in a position of advantage both in terms of finances and authority, to treat his servant unjustly upon return. Rather he urges love and forgiveness, reconciliation in this relationship. Paul asks Philemon to treat Onesimus as a brother in Christ upon his return, not as a slave that he owned or servant in his employ. For while our vocations may place us in different statuses in our relationships, as one in Christ, we are obliged by the love of Christ, which is the fulfillment of the law, always to treat one another as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of the King in Christ. And we do this despite our worldly status.