So I make a request to you on behalf of Onesimus, who is my own son in Christ; for while in prison I have become his spiritual father. At one time he was of no use to you, but now he is useful both to you and to me.
I am sending him back to you now, and with him goes my heart. (verses 10-12)
Read Philemon 1-25
Onesimus had once been a slave belonging to Philemon. He ran away, went to Rome, met Paul, who was a prisoner there, and became a Christian. After some time, during which he proved very helpful, Paul sent the slave back to his master.
Paul makes a play on his name: ‘Onesimus’ means ‘ useful’ . He suggests that, although Onesimus had previously been useless to Philemon (especially once he had run away!), he would now prove to be very useful to his master, just as he had been to Paul. Perhaps as a new Christian Onesimus would be a more dedicated worker. More to the point, as a believer he had gained the most useful of gifts to enable him to help and serve others.
There is a story that Onesimus went on to become a bishop in the church. Whether or not it’s true, Onesimus is typical of all of us whom God transforms from useless self-centred people into useful servants of others.
Dear God, thank you for my Christian faith and the understanding it gives me of how I might be of use to others. Amen.
by Richard Hauser, in ‘New Strength for each Day’ (LCA, Openbook, 1998)
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