Becoming a Good Spiritual Advocate

Shared on February 25, 2024

As a child of God, we must learn how to stand for what is good and just. In this week’s lesson we take a look at Paul’s personal letter to Philemon. Paul shows us how to be a good spiritual advocate for for those who are in need.


Our lesson this week takes a look at Paul’s personal letter to Philemon. Like the letters to the Philippian, Ephesian, and Colossian church, this was a prison letter (Phm. 1:9). We will see Paul serve in the role as an advocate for one named Onesimus.

Philemon is one of the epistles that often gets overlooked.  The reason I believe it gets overlooked is because it’s one of the smallest epistles/books in the Bible.  Philemon clocks in with 1 chapter and 25 verses.  This puts it easily in the top 5 of the shortest books/letters in the Bible.

With that said, Paul’s letter to Philemon is very beautiful.  While I have never preached from this letter and I don’t teach from it often, its message is truly beautiful.  Paul sends this letter by Onesimus to Philemon with a beautiful and caring plea found within.

Philemon and Onesimus

So, who were Philemon and Onesimus?  Philemon and Onesimus were two men that knew each other and both also knew Paul.  From his writing, Paul counted both of the men as friends (Phm. 1:1,10).  Philemon, Paul also considered to be a “fellow laborer” while he considered Onesimus to be as a son in the faith.

Now, there is a swerve when it comes to both of the identities of these men.    From the context clues of scripture, Onesimus was a runaway slave of Philemon (Phm.1:11,16)!  As I said, these men likely had an interesting story to tell!

Slavery ran in very large numbers in Rome.  The suggested number of slaves in Rome in 1AD was about 300,000 to 350,00 of the 900,000 total inhabitants.  When we think of slavery we think of slavery based on race, but slavery in Rome was not based on race.  That said, slavery in Rome was very cruel.

Was Philemon a cruel slave master?  I highly doubt it.  I say this because the Colossian church was in Philemon’s house (Phm. 1:2)! Onesimus may have not loved all of the “religion” that was happening in Philemon’s house. That thought reminds me of the prodigal son who desired to leave his dad’s house and live prodigally.

Eventually, Onesimus met Paul while Paul was in chains himself.  It is likely that Onesimus heard Paul teaching and he began to love the Lord. Onesimus, I imagine, told Paul that he reminded him of his former slave owner, Philemon. This is when I imagined that Paul said he knew Philemon. Onesimus probably said that he wished he could go back to Philemon’s house for church.

A Plea to Forgive

In the opening verses of our lesson, Paul spoke about Philemon being a man of love and faith (Phm 1:5).  So, because Philemon was a man of faith, Paul encourages Philemon to forgive Onesimus back (Phm. 1:9-12). As I mentioned earlier, Onesimus was truly special to Paul.  As Paul considered Timothy and Titus his sons, spiritually, so he did with Onesimus.

Paul advocated that Onesimus would now be profitable to Philemon (Phm. 1:11). Why was Onesimus once not profitable to Philemon? I believe it was because Onesimus was once not walking by faith as his heart was not for God. If one’s heart is not for the Lord, they can’t be profitable for anyone.

After spending time with Paul, this began to change for Onesimus. Paul actually desired for Onesimus to stay with him and minister to him (Phm. 1:13)! For Paul to desire this would speak to how much Onesimus had grown in faith! If there was anyone that could be a great advocate for Onesimus, he had it in Paul!

Now, Paul was not going to keep Onesimus with him without Onesimus’ consent (Phm. 1:14). So, Paul said that he was going to send Onesimus back to Philemon (Phm. 1:12).

What I love most about this is how we see believers working together. When I think about all that we have gone over this quarter, this is what Paul desired! Believers should not be tearing each other down! No, we should be lifting each other up!

When we see one go astray, we are to help them! If we see a fellow brother or sister in Christ wrong another, we should mediate! If another comes to us to be an advocate on their behalf, we should be willing, if they are worthy of it, to advocate for them! You see, this is love and grace in action!

What a beautiful picture we see. Paul encouraged Philemon to receive Onesimus not as a slave but as a brother in Christ (Phm. 1:16). Paul encouraged Philemon to receive Onesimus as he was receiving him. Again, look at the advocacy of Paul (Phm. 1:17)!

A Picture of Christ 

So far, everything has been pretty straightforward in this letter to Philemon, right?  Now we will see a statement from Paul to Philemon that paints a very beautiful picture we must see.  Look at Paul’s words to Philemon when he says, “if he (Onesimus) has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account” (Phm. 1:18).  

Do you see the picture Paul painted with his words?  Paul paints a picture that is of Christ.  You see, this whole time, Paul has been acting as an advocate and intercessor for Onesimus!  You and I have an advocate and intercessor in Christ!

In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul asked (Rom. 8:33), “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect?”  He then said, “It is God who justifies. “

Paul then asked (Rom. 8:34), “Who is he who condemns?”  He then said, “It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.”  

At this very moment, Christ is pleading on your behalf for all of your transgressions.  In his epistle, John wrote, “if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1).”  As Paul was doing for Onesimus, Christ has been doing for us with the Father.

So, while this letter is a short letter, it is a very beautiful letter.  There are some twists and turns in this letter, but love is at the center of this letter.  Advocacy for a brother is central as well.  I believe we can also learn a thing or two about advocating for each other in the faith as well.  This is something I certainly would love to see return to the church:  love and advocacy (support) for one another.

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