Speculation can be a dangerous thing and I enter this discussion with caution. After discovering the connection between the church at Colosse and Paul’s letter to Philemon am I the only one who wondered what happened? Remember, Onesimus was Philemon’s slave who had both stolen from him and ran away. During his flight he met Paul who had become an important figure in Onesimus’ spiritual life. At some point Paul discovered the situation in Colosse and the falling out between Onesimus and Philemon. Onesimus arrived at the conclusion to return to Philemon asking for forgiveness. Paul penned (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who intended for this letter to become part of our Bible) the letter to Philemon wherein he vouched for Onesimus and asked Philemon to forgive him and welcome him back as a brother.
We have no idea what happened. We do know that Philemon did not have the option to sit and listen to the letter and simply absorb information. He had to choose: either respond to the situation with forgiveness and reconciliation or know that he was intentionally disregarding God’s instruction. How many other people watched Philemon, probably a leader in the church, waiting to see what decision he made?
What a testament to God’s grace if Philemon publicly forgave Onesimus! I know this is speculation but if Philemon forgave Onesimus the entire Colossian church would have witnessed a man being genuine in his faith. Obedience affirms your faith is genuine. Moreover, obedience always glorifies God. As pastors we should live a life of public obedience, not to glorify ourselves, but to prove our faith genuine and bring glory to the one who blesses us with the opportunity to serve Him in the church.