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Devotion on Philemon and Onesimus

Today we consider Paul’s Letter to Philemon about Philemon’s conflict with his slave Onesimus, who had run away. Paul encourages Philemon to reconcile with Onesimus because God has forgiven our sin and reconciled us to Himself. Our devotion comes from Concordia Commentary: Philemon.

Devotional Reading

Christians who relate to one another “in the Lord” and “in Christ” are all members of the one body of Christ. The life and essential being of any Christian is located not in himself as an individual but in Christ, to whom he is joined through Baptism into Christ, faith in the Word, and communing in the body and blood of Christ in his Holy Supper.

Paul’s abiding concern throughout the letter has been for the fragile unity of the body of Christ—in particular, the congregation that met at Philemon’s house, because this body had been fractured by Onesimus’ theft and flight. The apostle seeks the divine “power to be strengthened . . . in the inner man” that “through faith Christ may dwell in your hearts, being rooted and founded in love” (Eph 3:16–17). He seeks this not only for Philemon’s sake, but clearly also for Onesimus, for the entire congregation gathered in Philemon’s house, and even for himself.

Paul has placed Philemon into a position of indebtedness in Christ by no means to humiliate that power-wielding paterfamilias in front of chafing underlings, but rather to create in him a deeper intimacy with his former antagonist and stimulate a profound hunger for the forgiveness of sins, which all Christians need equally throughout life. In this present age, this hunger can be satisfied only by the living Word of God and the Sacraments. After Christ’s return, baptized believers shall dine to satiety at the eternal banquet in the age to come, where hunger and thirst shall exist no more. Until then, the Christian congregation is the place where Christ takes up a lively residence within the holy people of God, who, through the Word and Sacraments, are strengthened “in faith toward you [God] and in fervent love toward one another.”

Devotional reading is adapted from Concordia Commentary: Philemon, pages 279–80 © 2004 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.


Eternal God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, grant us Your Holy Spirit who writes the preached word into our hearts so that we may receive and believe it, and be gladdened and comforted by it in eternity. Glorify Your Word in our hearts. Make it so bright and warm that we may find pleasure in it, and through Your inspiration think what is right. By Your power fulfill the Word, for the sake of Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord. Amen.

Prayer is from The Lord Will Answer, page 38 © 2004 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Written by

Anna Johnson

Deaconess Anna Johnson is a marketing manager at Concordia Publishing House. After graduating from the deaconess program at Concordia University Chicago, she continued her studies at the University of Colorado—Denver in education and human development. She has worked as a church youth director and served a variety of other nonprofit organizations, such as the Lutheran Mission Society of Maryland. Anna loves playing video games and drinking a hot cup of tea almost as much as she loves her cat and her husband.


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