I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. …I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. …So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. —Philemon 10, 12, 17–19 (ESV)
The letter from the Apostle Paul to Philemon is only 25 verses long. Paul’s main goal in the letter seems to be to persuade Philemon to accept his former slave, Onesimus, as a partner just as he would accept Paul. In other words, Paul was advocating for Onesimus’ freedom.
In the first century Roman world, slavery was a common practice but also distinctive from the slavery that was once found in North America. Roman slavery was not necessarily based on race, nor was it necessarily permanent. Slaves might buy their own freedom or be released for other reasons. For reasons we’re not given, Onesimus has wound up with Paul who led him to faith and found his presence useful for ministry. With great affection, Paul asks Philemon to receive Onesimus as a partner, insisting to pay whatever he might owe Philemon. Paul was advocating for Onesimus at the risk of personal expense.
As a believer, be ready for similar opportunities to step in and advocate for our Christian brothers and sisters in need. As with the story of the Good Samaritan, it might cost us. Ask the Lord to increase your affection for others and to see those opportunities when they come you way.