Letters of introduction often help a person get into college, get a job, or enter a profession. A reference letter lets an institution know that you have confidence in the person you introduce. That is what the short book of Philemon is all about. The Apostle Paul wrote a letter of recommendation on behalf of Onesimus, a run-away slave. But this letter is more than a recommendation. The Apostle pleads with Philemon to take back Onesimus, not just as a slave, but as a brother in Christ. In so doing, Paul makes the case that because of his friend’s love and faith, he would do more than Paul expected. Paul describes Philemon as a man who was genuinely committed to Jesus as his Lord. For Paul, Philemon’s faith was not just a set of beliefs but a living relationship with Christ. In accepting Onesimus back, Paul expects his friend’s faith and love would cause him to welcome Onesimus, not as a slave, but as fellow member of the body of Christ. In this new relationship, they will be equal and mutually dependent upon one another—both in their personal relationships as well as in the Colossian church, where both would be members. In this kind of fellowship, there is no room for arrogance, racism, and bigotry. A church where faith and love prevail is a powerful witness to a watching world.
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