Paul puts his own prestige on the line for a runaway slave that he calls Onesimus, which literally means "Useful." He obliquely uses the language of adoption, claiming the slave as his own son, but then encourages the slave to return to his master, Philemon, who is a Christian and friend of Paul. Emphasizing the teaching of love and gratitude, Paul hopes that Philemon will welcome the slave back and, even more, expects that he will treat Onesimus as his brother in Christ.
While Paul's language is full of tact and charm, the lesson is clear. Slaves are valued by God because all people are valued by God. The church will only live up to God's expectations if all people are welcomed equally.
[links to Bible Gateway open in a new window]Reading the Bible in Its Entirety
If you are planning to read the Bible in its entirety, you should read Philemon 1 today.