The message dealt with the model of Biblical relationships as seen through physical and spiritual connection between Paul, Onesimus and Philemon in the epistle to Philemon 1:12-13. We can say that the connection was both physical and spiritual, as we see also in verse 16 Onesimus was dear “both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.”
Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon in person, physically instead of just writing a letter of apology. The Biblical way of reconciliation and healing happens in body, in physical presence. Paul, in verse 13, wishes more than anything to keep Onesimus with him, as there is connection and dependence between them in the physical, practical sense, but he is compelled to send him back in person and give up the comforts Onesimus’ presence meant for him.
This brings us to see the greatness of God’s sacrifice for us. The almighty God could have stayed in a safe distance and open the way of salvation without coming into this broken world. Instead, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” as John testifies. It is a great mystery that Jesus came in flesh to have relationship with us and it wasn’t without a high cost. God gets involved in our lives in a personal way, Christ dwells in us through the Spirit, He becomes part of our lives, he puts himself in the same place and situation as we are, he is right next to us.
That kind of love compelled Paul to “become all things to all people… for the sake of the gospel,” as we see in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. We could stay in a safe distance and drop Bibles in people’s mailboxes, but that is not the way of the gospel. The love of Christ is revealed when we get involved personally, on the physical, practical level in the lives of others. This comes at a cost of our comfort, but it is a cost of being the disciple of Jesus who made himself a servant for our sake.
Paul is sending Onesimus back as his own heart – he might not be going with Onesimus in person, but part of his being and his life is being released with Onesimus. There is a deep spiritual connection between those who bound to Jesus often seen in the unity of the early church as a group of people from different backgrounds and of different tastes sharing their lives, loving one another, having the aroma of Christ that has the power to change the world.
The focus of New Testament for the church as the body of Christ who is the head, is on the function of the body as a whole and what Jesus is doing through the body. We are called to live as part of the body of Christ and fulfil our roles faithfully, rather than being individual church-goers and visitors. Church is a community of sinners who are united through the love of Christ, loving one another, sharing their lives daily and releasing the aroma of Christ into the world, and as this love becomes evident (John 13:35), God works through such community in bringing many to salvation.