Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. (Philemon 1:8, 9, 14 ESV)
There is no compulsion to do good. Paul is justified, both then and in our current minds, in commanding Philemon to accept back Onesimus not as a slave, but as a brother, relinquishing any ownership he previously held of is man according to his right of possession of the slave.
However, instead of commanding him under his right as an elder in Christ, Paul instead gives Philemon the opportunity to either take his slave back as a slave, with requisite punishment for his having ran away, or to take him back as a brother in Christ, with the purpose that God might receive greater glory through this reconciliation between master and former slave and that spiritual growth may occur both in these two and in those around them observing this obviously difficult situation.
Such freedom from compulsion ought to characterize Christians today in the same way and for the same reasons. God seeks not automatons, forced and enforced confessions of non-present faith, or insincere actions done supposedly in His name. God instead seeks freely given love, sincere searchings for Him, unforced confessions revealing the true state of a persons soul.
This free expression does not negate predestination and free will. God’s working through the Holy Spirit to bring those He has called, foreordained, and predestined does not negate their human effort and prerogative to seek, knock, accept, and follow.
Such freedom ought not be limited to “spiritual” things, either. If the ultimate goal of a Christian is to see as many choose to follow Christ freely, then, by extension, the goal of the Christian in the world is to seek to allow as much freedom for as many people as absolutely possible so that all may, by the choices, words, and actions, reveal the truest view of their internal state. This is obviously done with regard for the inherent evil bound up in the hearts of all people. Reasonable laws protecting people from the predations of others are, and will continue to be so long as our Lord tarries, necessary and good. Free actions are to be allowed without censure so long as the do not infringe upon free actions and choices of others or prevent others from living freely in their own way. But such laws and regulations are to be as minimal as possible because the right of liberty is of greater worth than the freedom from pain or want.
As laws and regulations begin to prevent more than merely the excessive damage to others by actions of some and instead begin protecting people from the results of their own actions and choices, they exceed their just purpose and therefore become unjust. An unjust law is not necessarily a law that harms through lack of protection, it can also be a law exceeding its just purpose.
Paul chose to use persuasion, leaving the choice to Philemon, even when a possible result would have been the re-enslavement of Onesimus, in order that the true state of these men’s hearts could be shown. Only through such a freedom-embracing choice allowing possible ill is the responsibility of all involved kept sacrosanct.
And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.” (Revelation 22:10, 11 ESV)