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Philemon 1:17If you consider me a friend because of Christ, then welcome Onesimus as you would welcome me. 18If he has cheated you or owes you anything, charge it to my account. 19With my own hand I write: I, PAUL, WILL PAY YOU BACK. But don't forget you owe me your life. 20My dear friend and follower of Christ our Lord, please cheer me up by doing this for me.

How is it that Philemon owes Paul his life?

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Paul led Philemon to Christ as he did to many.

1 Corinthians 4:15

Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.

Many commentators express this sentiment.

Pulpit Commentary

Philemon owed to the apostle that debt of which the obligation outweighed every other - the help by which he had been led out of spiritual darkness and brought to the knowledge of the truth. St. Paul was (as we must conclude from this allusion) the "spiritual father" of Philemon

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