The Gospel Changes Everything
Topic: Pauline Epistles Passage: Philemon 1:1–1:25
“Do I really believe the gospel?” That’s the question me and a friend pondered together over lunch on Thursday. To be sure, neither one of us doubted the existence of God, or the holiness of God. Neither one of us questioned the sinfulness of man, and our need for a Savior. Neither one of us rejected that Jesus was and is that Savior, who came to save us from our sins. And yet, as we examined our lives: our lack of urgency in evangelism, or stubbornness in loving others, our constant, and besetting sins, we were forced to ask ourselves, “Do I really believe the gospel?” Or to put it another way, “What does belief in the gospel look like in action?”
Well, this morning we’ll study Paul’s letter to Philemon to help answer that question. So if you have your Bibles, please turn there with me…the book of Philemon. And if you’re using one of the pew Bibles, you can find it on page 1,000.
And as we walk through this short book, we’ll hang our thoughts on four points:
- The Gospel Changes People (vv. 1-3)
- The Gospel Produces Fruit (vv. 4-7)
- The Gospel Makes Demands of Us (vv. 8-20)
- The Gospel Gives Us Hope (vv. 21-25)
I. The Gospel Changes People (vv. 1-3)
Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker 2 and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
As is so often the case in the Scriptures and in most ancient letters, this letter starts off with the identification of the writer..."Paul" and then lists the names of the addressees. But if you follow the letters of the NT, you'll notice that while this standard form is followed of the name of the writer being first identified, the way they describe themselves varies, often times depending upon the circumstances, or the audience, or the intended purpose in writing the letter. So, for instance Paul sometimes opens his letters by describing himself as "an apostle" such as in 1 & 2 Corinthians, and Galatians, establishing up-front his apostolic authority to give the rebukes and commands that follow in the bodies of those letters.
But here, in Philemon, Paul identifies himself as a "prisoner for Christ Jesus". And this isn't just some metaphor, Paul isn’t using imaginative language to describe a spiritual bondage. No, Paul is actually imprisoned. We see that fact highlighted throughout this letter, as Paul talks about being a "prisoner...for Christ Jesus" at the end of verse 9, of his "imprisonment" at the end of verse 10, of his "imprisonment for the gospel" at the end of verse 13. Here is a man, Paul, writing from prison, highlighting up front the fact that he is in prison, and the reason why he's in prison, "for Christ Jesus".
And it gives us cause to reflect on what great change has occurred in this man's life! Because if we've read our New Testaments, we realize that this Paul, now a "prisoner for Christ Jesus", was once named Saul, who threw people in prison for their faith in Jesus. Acts 8:3 - "Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison." Acts 9:1-2, "Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem."
So what's happened here? How have the tables turned? How has the one who locked people up for faith, ended up locked up for faith? Some might call it "irony". Some might call it "karma". The Bible calls it "conversion". The Lord Jesus Christ, the God of heaven and earth, who came to earth in the form of a man, to save his people from their sins. And who lived a perfect life to qualify Him for that assignment. And died a sacrificial death in our place to accomplish that assignment. And who rose from the grave to demonstrate the achievement of that assignment, appeared to this man named Saul. And pronounced Himself as the risen Lord and graciously drew him to Himself, not just in a one-time instance, but secured his allegiance and his love for a lifetime. And to kind of give a visible mark of the great inward change that had happened, changed his name from "Saul" to "Paul", so that by the time we get to Philemon, and we read of a "Paul" who is a "prisoner for Christ Jesus" we meet a man whose life has been transformed by the good news about Jesus. The gospel really changes people.
Notice, I said people, not a person. Because it's not just Paul who's a new person, but others who have been connected with him through this new life found in Jesus. We see that in verses 1 & 2. There's Timothy who's with Paul, and whom he refers to as "our brother". There’s the main recipient of this letter & for whom it's named, "Philemon", whom Paul says is a "beloved fellow worker", and others with Philemon, namely "Apphia, our sister," and "Archippus our fellow soldier," who seem to be members of the larger "church in [Philemon's] house."
Now, Paul and Timothy and Apphia don't have the same mother or father, and yet they're "brothers and sisters". Paul and Philemon don't work at the same company or share the same cubicle, yet Paul calls him a "fellow worker". Paul and Archippus didn't serve in the same infantry regiment, yet Paul says he's a "fellow soldier". All these people connected and bonded together through one thing: Look at verse 3, the "grace and peace... [of] God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Now that’s familiar language. But you understand when Paul uses this standard greeting to Christians & churches in so many of his letters, he's not presuming upon some favored blessing from God. He's able to speak assuredly of God's present blessings of grace and peace based on God's past demonstration of grace & peace in believers' lives. It was God's grace that was poured out on them through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It was Christ's death that satisfied God's wrath, and reconciled them to God; that secured a lasting and unbreakable "peace" with God.
In essence, Paul is reminding these believers and by extension us, to remember the glorious gospel of grace and reconciliation. To meditate on and appreciate God’s grace by which we were saved, in which we stand, and the peace he has established with us. It’s this grace & peace that God has extended to us that is the starting point, that is the fuel for how we live our lives. It’s this grace and reconciliation that God has demonstrated towards us, that we are to show to one another. And that's exactly what Paul will later call Philemon to do: to be gracious and receive & be reconciled with a brother. And Paul expects Philemon to do that because he’s a new man. He’s a new creation. He has new affections, and new desires, and a new Master. He has been transformed by the gospel, and that change is demonstrated in his actions.
Which leads us to our 2nd point…
II. The Gospel Produces Fruit (vv. 4-7)
Look at verses 4-7 as Paul says:
I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, 6 and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. 7 For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.
We see here a quick snapshot of how the gospel even produces in us a change in how we receive news about others. Obviously, Philemon's life so commends the gospel that news about him spreads, out from wherever he's located, to Paul's prison cell. And when Paul hears of his beloved Philemon, of his life of faith and love towards Jesus and Jesus' people, what does Paul do? Grow jealous? Begin comparing Philemon's life with his own. Grow bitter? After all, Philemon's out free, able to gather & fellowship with the saints while Paul sits confined in a jail cell. No, when Paul hears of Philemon's faith in the Lord Jesus expressed by His love for God’s people, he thanks God!
Saints, there's no room for competition in the kingdom of God. The gospel frees us from trying to make a name for ourselves, and from comparing ourselves to others, because the gospel reminds us that it is all of grace -- our new spiritual lives are all of grace, and even the desire and ability to act out of our new identities in Christ are of grace. Which is why Paul doesn't just write, "Philemon, you are such a great Christian. You are so spiritually mature the way you're loving and caring for the saints." No, Paul thanks God for Philemon's demonstration of faith and love. Because he understands these things don't emanate from Philemon, they don't come from within, they come from God, are gifts of God.
And these aren't just for the Super Christian; love & faith are the marks, are the fruit, of any true Christian. Jesus said "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another" (John 13:35). John said "If anyone says, 'I love God', and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20)"
Show me someone who says they have faith in Jesus, that they trust Jesus for salvation, but don't love Jesus, I'll show you someone who's not a Christian. Show me someone who says they love Jesus, but don't show love to Jesus' people, don't love the church, I'll show you someone who's not a Christian. Show me someone who loves Christ and loves fellow believers and I'll show you someone the Bible calls a Christian, someone whom the Lord has converted and is sanctifying, whom God is working in. And so Paul rightly thanks God for his work in Philemon's life.
But Paul also petitions God to continue working in Philemon's life. Not just to produce more acts of love towards the saints, but to root him deeper in his knowledge of God, which then spurs or sparks greater demonstrations of love for the saints. Look at verse 6, Paul says "I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ." Now, that phrase, the “sharing of your faith" doesn't mean evangelism, as we commonly use it. That word "sharing" is actually the word, "koinonia", maybe the only Greek word many of us know, that word which means "fellowship". That's how the NASB translates it. Or the NIV, "your partnership with us in the faith". It’s the same word Paul uses in verse 17 when he calls Philemon his “partner”. So Paul is saying I pray that your sharing in or fellowship in the faith may be effective. The result being that you have full or fuller knowledge of all the good things or blessings that are in us because of Christ.
So, we see here that faith is dynamic. Biblical faith is not just some inanimate “thing” that’s expressed one-time to connect you to God, and then dusted off when you die to reconnect you to God and get you to heaven. No, Biblical faith is a living, vibrant, fruit-bearing relationship with the God of the universe through His Son Jesus Christ. And we can grow in this relationship, grow deeper in this relationship, which is why Paul prays that Philemon’s sharing in the faith, would be effective. Would be productive. Would show Him more of God.
Now look at how this works: as we know more of Christ, as we grow deeper in Him, as we grasp more of the greatness of His character, of His salvation, of His love for us, it overflows and pours out in our greater display of love, compassion, service to others. See, we focus too much just on the results. We want to see people in our congregation sacrificially loving one another more, and so we complain (I mean pray!) that such and such would call and check in on sister so and so more often, or would offer this brother a ride to church each Sunday, or open their homes for fellowship during the week. And so we pray that those things would happen.
But Paul understands that for good and increasing fruit to be produced, we need to be deeply rooted in God. And so he prays for a deepening understanding or knowledge of Christ, of His will, of all that Christ has done and secured for us. And this is Paul's pattern:
- Col 1:9-10 "We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge” of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God"
- Eph 1:16–17 "I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him"
- Eph. 3:19 – Paul prays that we would 19 know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Paul's prayer is that Christians would be "filled with the knowledge of God's will", that God would grant us "revelation in the knowledge of Him", that we would "know the love of Christ".
Paul wants us to grow deeper and deeper in the knowledge of Jesus, of who He is and all that He has accomplished for us and in us through the gospel. And as that happens, the fruit will grow more and more abundantly. The knowledge that Philemon already had of the grace and love that Jesus had shown to him, led him to commendable acts of love for all the saints that Paul praises God for in verse 4. And that he says in verse 7, he has derived much joy and comfort from, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through Philemon’s love. Oh, what a testimony! What a thing to be known for. That Philemon’s love for the saints refreshes them, renews them, reinvigorates them, gives them hope!
And Paul wants him to grow in that. But he doesn't pray that Philemon's love for the saints would grow, but that his love for God would grow. He prays that he would grow deeper in the knowledge of God. Saints, that’s what we want here. We want to love one another, but to do that, we need to know and love God more. That's why we just took 10 weeks to scratch the surface of knowing God's love for us, and care for us, and commitment to us in salvation. We could have taken 10 weeks to talk about 10 ways to be a better Christian. But you won't be a "better Christian", you won't show "better love", you won't offer "better service", without first a better understanding of who God is and what He has done for you in the gospel.
Paul understands that, and so in essence prays, “I want you to be more aware of all the rich ways God has shown forgiveness, and mercy, and grace, and love to you. You got it? Now show me that you got it by what I’m about to ask you to do.
Which leads to our 3rd point:
III. The Gospel Makes Demands of Us (vv. 8-20)
Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, 9 yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— 10 I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. 11 (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) 12 I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. 13 I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. 15 For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. 17 So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. 18 If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.
Everything Paul has said in verses 1-7, has been leading up to this point where he makes an appeal to Philemon. We see that verses 1-7 have served as the ground, or the basis, for this appeal by the transitional word that begins verse 8, "Accordingly". In other words, because of your love for the saints already, and because I have been praying that you would grow deeper in knowing Christ and all the rich benefits of knowing Christ, and thus that you would love the saints even deeper, I am confident enough to make this request of you.
And we see the request centers around Philemon taking back a certain Onesimus, whom we're introduced to for the first time. We see his name first mentioned there in verse 10, as Paul says “I appeal to you for my child Onesimus”. No, the Apostle Paul, a single man, didn't start a 1st-century scandal by running off and having a son out of wedlock. He doesn't have any children, but again we see him speaking in the most intimate of terms when referring to fellow Christians, "my child Onesimus". And Onesimus became a Christian it seems, under Paul's teaching and tutelage, while he was imprisoned. That’s what’s meant by that phrase at the end of verse 10, “whose father I became in my imprisonment.”
How many times do we see this with Paul. Lock him up in one prison, and he's singing hymns and praying all night, and the jailer gets saved. Lock him up in another prison and he says that "what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard that my imprisonment is for Christ." Lock him up here, and a fleeing Onesimus gets converted under his ministry. Somebody should have caught on..."if we want to stop the spread of the gospel, keep Paul out of prison!" For Paul, it wasn't so much about getting out of a situation, as much as getting the most out of a situation as possible.
We don’t know the exact circumstances or how it came to be, but we see this Onesimus comes to Paul himself trying to get out of or away from a situation. We see in verse 16 that he was a bondservant or slave to Philemon. Now, when we hear that term, “slave”, our minds might automatically jump to slavery as we know it in this country. But to be a slave or bondservant in NT times was quite different than the experience most of us think of from the 16-1800s in America.
People did not become slaves based on their race, nor were they without legal rights or limited to certain types of jobs. In many cities, the majority of the working population were considered “slaves” or what we might call indentured servants. Many doctors and teachers were indentured servants in the ancient world. These servants were bound to serve their masters for a specific period of time, but also might achieve social advancement, and even be released or purchase their freedom. Nevertheless, we see in verse 15 that Onesimus had parted from Philemon. He'd run away. What we're not exactly sure of is why. Some commentators believe he stole something from Philemon's home and fled before being caught. But we don’t know for sure. What we do know, and what we've already stated, is that he came to Paul not just as a fleeing servant, but as an unbeliever. But after his time with Paul, he became a Christian and proved to be useful in serving Paul's ministry, even from prison.
But Paul now demands that Onesimus return to Philemon. We see that in verse 12, as Paul writes to Philemon, "I am sending him back to you." Now put yourself in Onesimus' shoes here. He obviously ran away from Philemon for what he deemed to be a good reason, and seemingly with no intent on returning. And he comes upon the Apostle Paul, and finds someone who welcomes him, and embraces Him, whom he grows a deep affection for and learns from, and under whose ministry he is saved, and ends up serving in. In many ways, meeting Paul has given him a fresh start. And now Paul is sending him back. There’s a lesson here: Onesimus becoming a Christian liberates him forever from bondage to sin, but does not liberate him from bondage or service to Philemon. The gospel doesn't free us from our worldly obligations, no the gospel calls us to carry out our worldly obligations in a radically Christ-exalting, God-glorifying way.
The gospel changes people (we've noted that), but it doesn't necessarily always change circumstances. So, if you've come to Christ expecting a different set of circumstances, you're probably disappointed. B/c the biggest change that happens is in us, and not outside of us. And reveals itself by how we live and respond to often the same external realities that existed before Christ.
So, listen to me brothers and sisters, because this is a real danger for us. We who cling to "sound doctrine" and rebuke so sharply the "prosperity gospel" and rightly so. Let us beware, lest we fall victim to a softer version of the same heresy. God doesn't owe us a different life. He doesn't owe us a different career or more job security, He doesn't owe us a ministry opportunity, He doesn't owe us a spouse, He doesn't owe us financial freedom, He doesn't owe us a different set of circumstances or a change of scenery. The only thing God "owes" us, having made us His children, is Himself. And having put His Spirit in us as a seal, has pledged to will draw us and keep us until He brings us home.
But in the meantime, God calls us to live a life that honors Him, that shows the sufficiency of Christ, in every walk of life. Whether that's as a paid pastor, or an unpaid pastor, whether that's as a homemaker, or a business professional, or a student. Whether it’s in singleness or being married. Whether it’s in having plenty, or in lacking. Whether it’s in an exciting new opportunity, or the mundane Mondays of another tomorrow. The gospel demands us to be glad and content in the Lord in whatever situation we are in. "If we live, we live to the Lord. And if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s." (Romans 14:8). “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. And the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). "To live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21)."
It’s with this understanding of the gospel's expulsive power of a new affection and a new outlook and new perspective, that Paul can command Onesimus to go home, back to your old life, but as a new man.
And it's with this understanding of the gospel's expulsive power that Paul can appeal to Philemon to take Onesimus back. Even that language is interesting. As an Apostle, Paul could have commanded, could have ordered Philemon what to do. We see that in verse 8, “I am bold enough in Christ to command you”, but in verse 9 he says, “yet, for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you.” And again in verse 10, “I appeal to you for my child Onesimus”. We see the same sentiment in verse 14, “I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. In other words, “I could have commanded you to do what you must do. But I’d rather give you the opportunity to freely do what you must do.” And make no mistake about it, receiving and forgiving Onesimus is something Philemon must do. We see that at the end of verse 8, “I am bold enough to command you to do what is required.” And what is that? Look at verse 17, to “receive him as you would receive me.” And how is he to receive him? Jump up to verse 16, “No longer as a bondservant, but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother.”
I am appealing to you, Philemon, to do what is required. To act like what you are. To act like a Christian. Again, Paul has already set the stage for this request. He’s already highlighted that Philemon understands that to love the saints is part of what it means to be a Christian. That’s what he’s known for. This brother is known for loving the saints. Well, guess what Philemon: Here is a new saint!” That’s how you gotta look at him now. Don’t look at him as that dirty, rotten, thieving Onesimus who was once useless to me! Now he is very useful to you, because he is your beloved brother, just as you are mine. So forgive him, receive him. Just as God in Christ has forgiven and received you, and no longer looks at you as a useless, rebellious, stubborn, hard-hearted scoundrel worthy of hell. But in Christ, looks at you as a beloved son.
Receive him, Philemon. Not with shame and contempt. But receive him as the father received the prodigal son: “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf, and kill it, and let us eat and celebrated. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is now found.” Receive him, Philemon. Not just as someone who works for you, but who now worships the true and living God with you.
Receive him Philemon, because if you don’t, the testimony of the gospel is ruined. This gospel of grace & reconciliation that you might be able to state perfectly, gets subverted if you fail to show grace and be reconciled to Onesimus. This recognized love that you have for all the saints, gets undermined if you fail to show love to this saint. Paul understands that Philemon being reconciled to Onesimus is a gospel issue. He understands something that so many Christians today who claim to love Paul’s gospel neglect: reconciliation is a gospel issue.
And Paul doesn’t just sit on the sidelines and hold that mantra up as a tweetable phrase, to see how many “likes” he can get. No he actually works to see reconciliation happen. I mean, he had other things to do. He could have been working to secure his release from prison. Or, he could have just ignored the situation altogether and kept Onesimus himself to serve him in the ministry. He could have avoided getting involved, after all, reconciliation is messy, and it takes time, and is it really worth it. Paul could have said, you know what, Philemon is a Christian, he’s been reconciled to God, that’s all that matters. Onesimus is now a Christian, he’s been reconciled to God, that’s all that matters. But that’s not all that matters!
Paul is concerned that these two Christians, both reconciled to God, be reconciled to each other as brothers! That’s important to Paul. I’m sending Onesimus back to you Philemon, and I want you to receive him as a brother, not as a bondservant. Not as inferior because of his class, or status, but receive him as your equal. Receive him as a brother, because Jesus has purchased him, just as he has purchased you! He has purchased people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and social class, and rank. And made them into one new humanity. So to degrade anyone, to treat anyone as a 2nd-class citizen is wrong. That’s what Peter was doing to Gentiles in Galatians 2, when Paul confronted him and charged, “You are not walking in step with the gospel!” That’s what Philemon would be guilty of if he failed to forgive Onesimus. Or if he received him back merely as his returning slave, and not as his redeemed brother. He would not be walking in step with the gospel.
As a master, he had the right to send this runaway slave to be executed. But as a fellow brother, he had the responsibility to welcome him with open arms. The gospel revolutionizes our hearts and our relationships. And it calls on us, it demands of us that we show the same radical love and forgiveness that God has shown to us, to one another.
So, how are you doing with that? Are you forgiving others? As a member of this church, there are a few things you can count on. Hopefully, you can count on God’s word being faithfully preached and taught in different contexts. Hopefully, you can count on other brothers and sisters caring for and serving you. You know what else you can count on, in an imperfect world, and an imperfect church? You can definitely count on being wronged, being sinned against. The question is, how will you respond? You might have the “right” to get upset, you might have the “right” to withdraw. But who cares about “rights”?! God has the right to judge us all to eternity in hell. But has chosen in love to forgive us in Christ. So we, who have been forgiven much, must forgive much! How many times must you forgive your brother? Seven times? No, seventy times seven! Because love covers a multitude of sins.
Are you, like Onesimus, seeking the forgiveness of others? Who is that you yourself have wronged? Or are you too prideful to admit that have done wrong and need to be forgiven? Have you sought the forgiveness of God? Friends, if you’re here this morning and you know yourself not to be a Christian, this is of upmost importance. Have you repented of your sins, and asked God for forgiveness? He will, but you must come to Him.
Are you, like Paul, working to actively reconcile conflicting parties? Are you a reconciler? Are you a peacemaker? Or do you add to the conflict, either by offering unhelpful words that fuel that fire, or by giving an unhelpful extended ear in listening to and feeding unhelpful remarks that deepen the rift? The gospel demands that we be doing all these things, if not simultaneously, then certainly as the need arises. To show ourselves to be Christ’s, by how we love and forgive others.
IV. The Gospel Gives Us Hope (vv. 21-25)
Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. 22 At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you. 23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, 24 and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers. 25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
Paul ends this letter in a confident tone. Not because he’s an optimist, but because he’s a realist. He really believes that the gospel really transforms hearts, and transforms relationships, and transforms priorities. And so he is able to have confidence that Philemon will do what has been asked of him, and beyond.
And that he won’t do it begrudgingly, or despise Paul because of the bold request that he’s made. But that Philemon would instead continue praying for him, and that Paul might be released through Philemon’s prayers. And more than that, that Philemon would prepare a place for Paul to come and stay with him upon his release, and see first-hand the new bond shared between Philemon & Onesimus; see first-hand the gospel in action.
The gospel produces this kind of hope. Not because men and women are good, but because God is good. And all those who are His, who are in Him, through Christ, will both love good and do good as they reflect His character.
So, do you really believe the gospel? Then show it.