This world is filled with social injustice — from political scandals, to racism, to abortion, or false accusations in the media. The world is full of conflict. The Bible teaches us this conflict results from sin. Much of it we want relief from. And rightfully so, after all, God is just. We are to pursue righteousness (1 Tim 6:11). We hear of slavery, we want abolition. We hear of racism and want freedom and equality. Bullying and sex-slave trade? Protection. Criminal activity? Justice. All of these are important. None of them wrong to stand against and seek righteousness.
God gave us His Word to navigate His will. What does Scripture teach us regarding social justice issues and our primary fight? Believers want to fight for the Lord, stand for truth, but what do we pick first? Racism? Bullying? Abortion? Political crimes? War? There is a little, simple, yet weighty letter providing great insight to our modern quandary: Philemon. The story of Philemon is scandalous. A slave (Onesismus) runs away from his master (Philemon). While away, he gets saved. Some how Paul and he connect, become friends, and he then serves Paul. But Philemon owns Onesismus. According to Roman law, Onesismus is Philemon’s property. He stole himself from his owners household. Because he abandoned his owner, he is now subject to penalty. “Recaptured slaves might be flogged, kept in chains, sent to a slave prison, branded with a hot iron, or crucified.” Philemon is perfectly in his right to issue any punishment.
So, here’s Paul’s quandary. Onesismus is a fugitive of the law, yet owned by another man, and if he returns he could die because of his crime. Paul says Onesismus is useful to him. He could pretend his past life does not exist and keep Onesismus. He could ship him out of Rome to be free. But instead Paul sends him back to Philemon (12). Can you imagine Onesismus, making the trip back to Philemon with Paul’s letter, unsure of how Philemon will receive him? Wondering, will I die? Why did Paul send a man to his potential death? To be reconciled with a brother he wronged.
“If then you regard me as a partner, accept him as you would me. But if he has wronged you in any way [and he has, he abandoned Philemon] or owes you anything, charge that to my account; I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand, I will repay it” (Phil 18-19).
This is scandalous. Philemon could die.
I wonder how social media would react if Philemon’s story happened today? You know, if it were on shared, retweeted, viral on youtube, and every news network . . . What hash tags would climb to the top 10? #freeOnesismus #slaveryiswrong #OnesismusLivesMatter #Paultheunjust #paybackPhilemon? I’m sure clear battle lines would be drawn (and it would only be done rightfully if we drew them around political party affiliations).
For the government, law abiding citizen, he or she wants justice. Do what is right Onesimus and go back to your owner #PunishOnesismus. Yet for the civil rights person, how dare Philemon even own a human. Let him go! #FreeOnesismus Neither of them are really Paul’s emphasis. Paul does not deny the importance or legitimacy of either line of thought. Yet he doesn’t pick up the John Newton mantra and begin to fight to free slaves either.
Some people believe Paul was asking for his release. Onesismus is useful to Paul and he wants him to help the ministry. But the speculation exists for a reason. Paul did not clearly state, “Send him back.” Yet the thrust of the letter appears after Paul talks about his usefulness. We can speculate about whether or not Paul wanted Onesismus free all day, but we can positively assert Paul wanted them to reconcile.
Paul is an apostle, his heart set free, an ambassador for Christ, offering and seeking reconciliation with God on behalf of others. Paul is blessed, for he is a peacemaker (Matt 5:9). When Jesus says, “peacemaker.” He is not talking hippy marches and put down your firearms. He is talking about being at peace with God. Paul is Jesus’s disciple and his number one goal between Onesismus and Philemon is reconciliation among brothers. Out of every problem presented, only being at peace with Christ and reconciled to Him will solve our natural sin problem. In order to be at peace with Him, we also have to be at peace with people we know and wronged.
“Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.” (Matt 5:23–25).
Onesismus could go free. He could stay with Paul. There are a thousand other options available to him beyond mentioned here. No matter where he went or what he did, his worship is tainted. He has wronged a brother and needs to reconcile. Paul’s emphasis is precisely where our’s should be too.
Think about it. When a person loves the Lord, he or she will submit their desires to Christ, love their neighbor, and obey Him. How should a believer respond to abortion, racism, political injustice, anger, hate, and etc? Justly with love praying to be a peacemaker in every situation. A person can have the right view of abortion, racism, and other social issues and still not be reconciled to God. What’s the eternal problem? Salvation.
Dane Ortlund warns, “Those who think they have made a success of their lives invariably turn in on themselves in satisfied self-reliance. Penitent hookers enter heaven ahead of smug virgins.” 
What is the take-away? Our relationship with Christ is the most important issue of our day. What is the take-away? Our relationship with Christ is the most important issue of our day. What is the take-away? Our relationship with Christ is the most important issue of our day.
Be a peacemaker.
 James S. Jeffers, The Greco-Roman World, 228.
 Defiant Grace, 32.