While Paul was in Rome, he met a young man named Onesimus, who was a runaway slave; Paul somehow led him to the Lord.
It turns out that this young man had run away from a Christian in Colossae by the name of Philemon. Paul knew Philemon because he had also led him to the Lord.
Under Roman law Onesimus could be executed for running away, but Paul would fight for his life because subsequent to salvation Onesimus had manifested a servant’s heart under the leadership and ministry of the great Apostle…hence the letter.
Paul knew it was the right thing to do, to send Onesimus back and let his owner make the decision. Paul perhaps could have forced him or twisted his arm to let the young man go, but he humbly appealed to Philemon just as Jesus appeals to the Father for us; to receive us as He would Himself…He loves us as if we were His own heart.
Since God had genuinely worked in the heart of Philemon (v. 5 mentions the evidence of faith and love), he was confident that he would let Onesimus go free, and that he would do so generously.
What a beautiful account of the sovereign grace of God, to have this runaway run into a man like Paul the Apostle, get saved, and then discover that he knows Philemon! They say it’s a small world – to us it’s not, but to God it is!