Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love's sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus—I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
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. Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.
Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.
Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
(Philemon 1:8-25 ESV)
If you follow The Morning Watch, part 1 of this really brief series on Philemon (the whole book is only 25 verses long) was Paul’s wind-up. Part II is the pitch.
It isn’t like Paul gives Philemon much of a chance. He lays it on pretty thick. “I won’t insist. I’d rather you do it out of love.” “I’m an old man.” “Onesimus is my child.” “I’m in prison.” “He is my very heart.” “I want some benefit from you in the Lord.”
Okay, okay. I think Philemon gets it.
Paul’s noodge here is not without reason. Onesimus was a slave who had been sent to work for Paul. I don’t think it ever occurred to Philemon, who must have been a man of some means, that a slave would ever become a Christian, or what the implication of that might be. Philemon sent a slave. A brother in Christ returned.
Paul slips in a sideways thought to see if Philemon will pick up on it. He says, “prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping… I will be graciously given to you.” If I don’t miss my guess, before he went to serve Paul, Onesimus probably slept in the barn or some nearby cave. He wasn’t part of the family. He was a servant, nothing more. He was property. Now here comes Paul, who calls himself a slave of Jesus Christ at the beginning of many of his letters, asking Philemon to get a guest room ready for him. Connect the dots, Philemon. If the way you treat a beloved brother in the Lord is to set up the guest room, then maybe that’s the kind of reception Onesimus should get when he returns.
It is so easy these days to treat guests like family. And frankly, most of us don’t treat our family members with much respect. But how many of us really think about offering hospitality any more? The word “hospitality” means “space for the guest.” Any of you happen to have an au pair or a maid (not a very PC term these days)? Imagine they show up some morning and you ask how you can make the maid comfortable. How about making up your bed in the master suite for the au pair and you and your spouse sleep on the air mattress in the den for a few nights? Sounds strange? Sure, but that’s exactly what Paul is suggesting.
Take as axiomatic what John the Baptist said. “He must increase and I must decrease.” The way of Jesus is the way of service-to-the-max. And that applies to your friends, to strangers, to the needy person who happens to knock at the door, to “service personnel,” to employees, to illegal immigrants, to other Christians, to Jews, to Moslems. Have I left anyone out?