… I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.
Philemon 1:10-11 (NIV)
Paul’s letter to Philemon is a personal letter written by the Apostle while in prison, to the master of Onesimus. Onesimus was a runaway slave who had become a Christian. As a result he must have had discussions with Paul about the problem he now faced – he was a believer, but he was also a runaway slave.
As a runaway slave he risked discovery and great danger if he was returned to his master. In this situation, Paul must have advised him that the right thing to do would be to return to his master and make amends.
In the verses quoted above Paul plays on the fact that Onemisus means ‘useful’ in Greek. It can also mean ‘beneficial’ or ‘profitable’. Paul says that Onesimus was previously useless to Philemon, but would now be useful. In the letter Paul appeals to Philemon as a fellow Christian, pointing out that Onesimus may have left him as a slave, but was now returning to him as a brother in Christ.
As Onesimus had become a Christian, Paul knew that his past sins had been forgiven by God. However, he also knew that the issue of being a runaway slave meant that Onesimus had something to sort out. This issue just couldn’t be ignored.
Although we don’t know for certain what happened to Onesimus, church tradition believes that he became a respected church leader.
Is there anything in your past, that you know should be confronted and dealt with? Ask God for the courage to deal with it as a Christian. Perhaps discuss things with your church leader and seek their advice on how it should be dealt with.
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