Paul is going to handle this difficult situation with grace and wisdom.
8 Therefore, though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting, 9 yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you—being such a one as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ— 10 I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, 11 who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me.
12 I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart, 13 whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the gospel. 14 But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary.
15 For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
17 If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me. 18 But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. 19 I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay—not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides. 20 Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord.
21 Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. 22 But, meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I trust that through your prayers I shall be granted to you.
1. Understanding the context slavery in scripture
There is a difference in the 19th century Western slavery and slavery practiced largely in scripture. Slavery in Paul’s day was not a racial issue, because slaves were made up of all races. They were people in extreme poverty that they sold themselves into slavery to have a better life, i.e. voluntary slavery.
Cf. Exodus 21:2-5; Deuteronomy 15:1-11
Old and New Testaments gives instructions to treat slaves with compassion and kindness.
Cf. Deuteronomy 15:12-18; Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 4:1
The Bible clearly condemns kidnapping slavery, i.e. forced slavery.
Cf. Exodus 21:16; Deuteronomy 24:7; 1 Timothy 1:9-10
In Philemon, Paul did not put his focus on condemning slavery, but he presented Onesimus as a Christian brother instead of a slave. When an owner can refer to a slave as a brother, the slave has reached a position in which the legal title of slave is meaningless.
2. Know Who You Are
Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
When our identity is in Christ, it takes the focus off our bondage to sin, and puts it on the payment Jesus made to make us free from that sin.
2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
Philippians 3:20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,
If you are in Christ, you need to stop identifying with the world [denominations, traditions of men, skin color, politics, statues, etc.].
John 15:19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.