Philemon 1:15-16 – No Longer a Slave, but a Beloved Brother


Philemon 1:15-16


Paul appeals to Philemon to acknowledge in this instance the transformation that occurs in relationships because of the reality of what it means to be in Christ: master and slave are transformed into brothers.


It is unclear what the response of Philemon may have been to Paul’s appeal in this letter. However, it is very clear what Paul imagines to be the possibility of the new relationship of Philemon and Onesimus constituted by their partnership in faith in Christ Jesus. Paul’s repeated language of comparison, of transformation, of value added, invites Philemon to imagine the new possibilities of this new relationship in Christ. Paul basically tells Philemon, concerning Onesimus, “He was separated from you only for a moment; but now you get him back for eternity.” The verb in verse 15 that describes receiving Onesimus back is a technical term for a financial investment. Paul in effect says, “That’s a pretty good and surprising return on your investment. Further, he left as a slave, but now he comes back as much more than a slave–a beloved brother. And what’s more, as a slave he was valuable only to you, but now as a brother he is valuable to me, and even more to you.” It is Paul’s confidence in this transformative power of God’s grace in Christ Jesus, a note sounded almost as bookends in the opening greeting (v. 3) and in the concluding benediction (v. 25), that leads to his confidence that, in this instance as well, Philemon will be enabled to do even more than Paul could ask or imagine (v. 21).