I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment.
Paul wrote these gracious words of intercession to Philemon on behalf of a man the old apostle had discipled while in prison in Rome... Onesimus, a former thief and runaway slave, now sent back as a Christian brother to his master. This is a story of repentance and faith, of grace and forgiveness, of intercession and loving mediation. It shows the beautiful change the gospel brings to all aspects of life. It shows how Jesus transforms everything.
Paul could make his confident appeal to Philemon because the gospel had done great work. It prepared Philemon to be gracious and forgiving. It transformed Onesimus from a useless thief to a useful servant of Christ. It turned societal conventions upside down, so that a criminal slave, now forgiven in Christ, is expected to be welcomed in grace as a brother in Christ, and a child of faith begotten of the gospel ministry of Paul the apostle.
Paul's appeal for Onesimus is deeply personal, showing us how Paul's heart was wrapped around this new disciple. The tender relationships that develop in discipleship are great experiences. They are the very best stuff of life. And spending time in each other's lives around the gospel helps us extend grace in difficult situations.
By right of Roman law, Philemon could have had Onesimus executed. But by the saving grace of Christ, instead Philemon could welcome back a brother and believer into his household. And Paul could boldly expect this to be the case. His appeal is to the work of Christ. And how can we not forgive and accept when that is what Jesus has done for every one of us?!