The owner’s name was Philemon, and the name of his slave, Onesimus. This one chapter book in the New Testament is a letter written to the slave owner. You can find that letter sandwiched right between Titus and Hebrews.
The letter to Philemon is from the apostle Paul, and it deals with the run-away slave, Onesimus. The part in this letter that tears at my heart is in verse 12.
I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart.
Going Back to Make Things Right
Apparently Onesimus had run away from his master. Also, apparently, he had stolen money from his master. [Let me tell you, if I had been a slave and decided to run away, I might just have helped myself to some money to “pay back” all that free labor.] The last thing on my mind would have been to consider going back.
This letter isn’t about slavery. It’s about making things right. It’s about what happens when there’s a change of heart and one wants to start a different path. If we really want to start new, then going back is what we need to do. First, we have to go back and get things straight. We have to make them right.
This letter is also about forgiveness and not holding a grudge. Paul, the apostle, had met Onesimus and helped him find Jesus. This made Onesimus not only a brother to Paul, but a brother to Philemon, who was also a believer. In actuality, Paul, Onesimus, and Philemon were all a part of the same Family.
Paul begs Philemon to welcome Onesimus back and declares that he, Paul, will pay back to Philemon anything that Onesimus owes. Paul says, “If you think you and I are partners, then accept Onesimus as a partner as well.” Paul’s heart desire was to keep Onesimus so he could minister to Paul, a prisoner himself. But Paul sent him back to get things straight; then asked Philemon for consent to have Onesimus stay with him.
Starting New by Going Back
Sometimes we need to just go back. Sometimes we have the opportunity to encourage others to go back, or to send them back ourselves. When restoration takes place, then we can go forward. Until that happens – until we go back – we cannot experience fulfillment in our new calling in life.