My recent quiet time included some study on the book of Philemon. A short, often overlooked epistle because it's scope appears at first read less volumunious than others. In reality, it is a mirror reflecting the whole of the Christian walk within a small interaction amongst a few men.
At the heart of the issue driving the letter is that Onesimus, a slave, has run away from his master, Philemon, who is a Christian. Onesimus, the slave, arrives in Rome and there somehow comes into contact with Paul who at the time was a prisoner. Through his contact with Paul he becomes a Believer. Paul's commentary lays out first and foremost that Onesimus must return to his master.
This straight-forward direction is laden with this meaning and context. For a slave to be a fugitive was one of the worst offenses possible at the time. It was considered normal and in fact expected that a runaway slaves once caught were to be crucified out of hand. A simple beating until he was bloody and unconscious would be too light a punishment demanded by the culture and custom. In light of this, it must be clearly understood that Paul in the writing, Philemon in the reading, and Onesimus in the hearing were all profoundly aware of the specific sacrifices demanded of each.
How can Paul so cleanly apply the gospel to this situation? How does one deliver such a message? I'll add more thoughts on this in the next several posts.