Perhaps this is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back for ever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
Paul habitually takes the supernatural view of things. In his letter to Philemon, Paul seeks to restore a runaway slave named Onesimus to his master. But Paul does not merely adhere to social conventions and do the “legal” and culturally normative thing. He does the right thing. He asks that Philemon receive Onesimus back “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother.” In Christ, as Paul has said, there is neither slave nor free. But for Paul, this metaphysical reality should take on practical legs: Philemon should free Onesimus. Paul reminds Philemon that he owes Paul his “very self,” but issues no command. Rather, he issues a strong appeal to Philemon’s conscience and, in today’s verse, a strong suggestion that both Onesimus’ flight and his return are part of God’s plan. Like Joseph of old, Onesimus starts as a slave so that, by God’s mercy, he may end as a brother. Today, take the supernatural view of your life and see how it changes things. Then act in light of what you see. It may just be the most radical and counter-cultural thing you’ve ever done.