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Damon of Colossae to Paul After a long time away, greetings. Before all else I want to express my deep appreciation for you and your ministry. I am so happy to have met you during your time here in Colossae as I have been growing stronger in my faith ever since. I have learned that it was also through your works that Philemon came to know our God, and now he opens his home so that we have a place to gather and worship. I am sorry to hear about your imprisonment but glad to hear that your ministry still stands strong
regardless. Last week during our regular gathering in the house of Philemon, I was delighted to hear your name and that you are in correspondence with him. I was also thrilled to learn that Onesimus has been converted and working beside you in your state of imprisonment. I had come to know him quite well before his quarrel with Philemon and I was worried regarding his whereabouts. Onesimus truly was useful to Philemon since he had been in charge of all his bookkeeping before he ran away. While I can understand that Philemon choosing to free Onesimus and sending him
back to you would bring benefit to your ministry I have a few questions regarding slavery as a whole. A while back in Colossae, you taught that slaves shall obey their earthly masters in everything and as a result receive an inheritance from the Lord in Heaven. Your letter to Philemon, however, seemed to glorify the act of freeing slaves and releasing them of their duties. As a current slave owner I am now conflicted. My slaves play a vital role in my family's survival but I also wish to perform good deeds as a testament of my faith. Would
it be in my best interest to release my slaves even if I am treating them with justice and fairness? Do you believe that being physically free is necessary in order to be fully free in Christ? I would suppose not since you have been locked away in prison and have still been able to spread the gospel. You go on to note that by freeing Onesimus, Philemon would be treating him as a dearly loved brother of the lord rather than a slave. Is our love only to be shown to believers or to all peoples like you have said
before? Does this mean that a slave cannot be considered a brother or sister in Christ at all? Your ministry stands on the importance of love however your letter made it seem like Philemon would not be showing Onesimus love if he did not free him but instead kept him as a slave. I believe that I am showing love for my current slaves by giving them a place to live, eat, and sleep. Without my support, they could be worse off on their own or could be under the authority of an unjust master instead. You will be
happy to hear that once Onesimus returned, Philemon welcomed him back as you requested. Onesimus still works under Philemon but he is now his secretary and he gets paid for his work. Additionally, Onesimus has been joining us in our weekly gatherings and is treated as a brother in Christ. Philemon is currently looking for a replacement so that he can send Onesimus back to you as soon as possible. In your letter, were you trying to say that all followers of Christ should be freed or was that specific to Onesimus? It will not come as a surprise that
many of Philemon’s other slaves have heard about Onesimus’ freeing. Since then, a number of them have miraculously converted to Christianity and I am concerned that all of their testimonies might not be truthful. Philemon has freed all those who claim to be Christian and his household is struggling as a result. From your past teachings, I recall you instructing people to remain in the situation they were in when God called them, including slaves. Is this theology not violated if masters begin to free their slaves who come to Christ? My worry is that freedom is the only incentive
for their conversion, and that once freed, these slaves will go out to be false witnesses of the Lord. As I mentioned before, I was aware of the important role Onesimus played in Philemon's life prior to him running away. He was an obedient slave up until he began taking money from Philemon’s book funds that he was in charge of. Knowing he has sinned by stealing and disobeying his master, what makes Onesimus so special that you would be willing to pay all of his debts? I know you work so hard for the money to support your ministry,
so why is it worth it to free this man of little status from his wrong doings? Paul, what would you recommend our attitudes be towards non-believing slaves? As part of your faith, you know the importance of loving others and seeing every human in God’s eyes. However, as I mentioned, you must know that slaves are an integral part of our economy and lifestyle. I’m not sure that your objective was to convict slave owners, but through your letter to Philemon and other teachings, I can’t help but question your stance on slave labor. The vast majority of the
slaves are not grounded on the tenets of Christianity, and therefore, are not offended by our economic system for the same reasons that Christians could be. Do you believe that all slaves should be freed? That’s certainly not what you stated in your letter to the Colossians, but as I learn more about Christianity and being created equally in God’s image, I can’t help but question the morals behind slavery. Your argument for Onesimus’ freedom is centered around his usefulness to your ministry, but the vast majority of freed slaves will not be advantageous in the same way. How do
you suppose I approach slavery as I grow deeper in my faith? Paul, my brother in Christ, I wish you God’s greatest hand over your position in experiencing imprisonment. I would deeply appreciate clarification and advice on the topics noted above. You have done well to glorify God’s name among many nations, and Philemon and I both owe you for your leadership.
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