Philemon is an epistle of Paul’s that is not often read. It is stuck there within the canon of the New Testament, wedged in between better known works. Yet, within this book lies a remarkable story. A story that flips the social order of Rome and rightly gets to the heart of the gospel of freedom and equity. Martin Luther frames the story within a larger context of salvation and redemption. Luther writes in his preface to The Epistle of St Paul to Philemon,
This epistle gives us a masterful and tender illustration of Christian love. For here we see how St. Paul takes the part of poor Onesimus and, to the best of his ability, advocates his cause with his master. He acts exactly as if he were himself Onesimus, who had done wrong. Yet he does this not with force or compulsion, as lay within his rights; but he empties himself of his rights in order to compel Philemon also to waive his rights. What Christ has done for us with God the Father, that St Paul does also for Onesimus with Philemon. For Christ emptied himself of his rights (Philippians 2:7) and overcame the Father with love and humility, so that the Father had to put away his wrath and rights, and receive us into favor for the sake of Christ, who so earnestly advocates our cause and heartily takes our part. For we are all his Onesimus’s if we believe.
This is what Paul’s ministry was all about, being conformed into the image of the crucified Christ. How remarkable it is to rest in the knowledge that the God of the universe emptied Himself and took on flesh, becoming obedient even to the point of death by humiliation. That death then was followed by the resurrection and subsequent restoration of humanity’s relationship with God.
It really is a wonderful book. I encourage you to read and reflect upon the glories of restoration through a selfless act.