- Preaching for Christ is worth going to prison for.
- Peace is important.
- Love and faith are important.
- Christian brotherhood transcends slavery. (But the law is still followed.)
Paul’s approach is not to condemn slavery as an institution — though he does not endorse it either — but to appeal to Christians to do the right thing, even if Caesar does not require it or allows them to do the wrong thing.
To those who would condemn Paul as insufficiently confrontational here: It’s rather dramatic at that time to tell a slaveowner that someone he owns should go from “slave” to “brother,” eh?
Note also the acknowledgment that God works in this world in subtle ways (verses 15-16). It’s therefore appropriate to be looking for ways that God might be nudging us.
Consider the conversations that Paul must have had with Onesimus, too.
Paul is not ashamed to be a prisoner. He is also not reluctant to use tact, even flattery. In a very serious situation, he uses humor (the punning on the slave’s name Onesimus, verse 11). He also offers to pay Philemon back for anything Onesimus owes (probably stolen), and he calls in an important chit, namely that Paul led Philemon to Christ and, therefore, “you owe me your very self” (verse 19). As William F. Buckley, Jr., often said, quoting his friend Whittaker Chambers: “To live is to maneuver.”