O is for Onesimus
Philemon 1:10-11: "I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds:
Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me:"
Slipped into the New Testament is a short letter by Paul to a believer called Philemon. There are so many sweet thoughts and lessons that can be learned from this very short book - only one chapter long, but I would like to focus on the man that is discussed in this letter for just a moment.
This man is named Onesimus. From reading this letter, it is believed that Onesimus was once a servant of Philemon, but did him wrong and ran away unauthorized. It says in verse 11 that in times past, Onesimus was unprofitable to his master. Whether that means he stole from him, as many believe, or he did some other wrongful deed, I cannot say for sure, but we can tell that Onesimus had left on bad terms.
Along life's journey, Onesimus met the Apostle Paul and got saved, trusting in Jesus Christ. It drastically changed his life. No longer was he the runaway slave with a bad record, but he now became "useful" (that's what the Greek name Onesimus means) to Paul as a fellow laborer in the ministry.
As it is with all negative things in our past, in order to grow we must confront them and make things right. Paul assisted Onesimus in this by writing a letter to Philemon, and sending it back to him at the hands of Onesimus and another faithful brother Tychicus.
We have to imagine that under any other circumstances there would be a great price to be paid and restitution to be made by Onesimus returning to the master he had wronged. It is clear from the Scriptures that there was a huge change in the life of Onesimus.
Colossians 4:9 - "With Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you."
What believer of that era would not have been deeply touched by a personal letter from the Apostle Paul? It is clear that Paul thought highly of Onesimus and the man he had become since meeting the Lord Jesus Christ. He does his best to communicate that value to Philemon concerning this fugitive servant. I love how Paul personally vouches for Onesimus by asking Philemon the master to charge to Paul's account anything that Onesimus owed from his past mistakes and misdeeds.
Philemon 1:17-18 - "If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself. If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account;"
From the life of Onesimus, I am encouraged that no matter what is in my past, I can be 'useful' and 'profitable' in the service of the Lord. Onesimus was able to grow in grace, and God gave him the strength and courage to make right the wrongs of his past. He who was once a fugitive with a bad reputation became known as a giver, a faithful helper to Paul, and ultimately he was restored to a good relationship with the one he had wronged - Philemon. He is a tremendous example to Christians everywhere.