I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.
Paul continues with his appeal; in these verses coming to his request: He wants Philemon to send Onesimus back to him to serve as Paul’s helper in spreading the gospel. It would certainly hae been more efficient had Paul kept Onesimus with him in Rome, and simply written to Philemon and told him what had happened and asked permission for Onesimus to stay. Instead, Paul sends Onesimus along with the requests. This not only might impede Paul’s work, considering his circumstances, but it also risked Philemon taking very harsh steps with Onesimus for being his runaway slave: Onesimus could have even been put to death.
Paul made a choice to place his trust in God, that Philemon would do what was right in God’s eyes.
Once again in these verses Paul’s humility in the situation in that he left everything in Philemon’s hand miles away and made no attempt to compel him to do or not do anything, submitting instead a humble request.
Of course, his humble request was not without its persuasive components: Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother (vv. 15-16a). Who knows Philemon, maybe God had a hand in this, for even though you might have lost a slave, you’ve gained something far better than just a slave, you’ve gained a dear brother and fellow worker in the Kingdom. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord. (16b) Notice Paul writes as a man, and not as a slave.
So, if you were Philemon reading this, could you refuse Paul’s request at this point?
I couldn’t, and Paul has a little more to say…