After our Lord and Savior ascended, the Word of the Lord spread throughout the Roman Empire. Paul touched many lives and his reputation followed him wherever he was, especially while imprisoned in Rome. He had visitors who sought many things. One such person was a bondservant of Philemon from Colossae in Phrygia named Onesimus.
Philemon was a rich and well known man throughout Colossae. He was stern yet compassionate man who did much throughout the community. Onesimus was a bondservant of Philemon and not a believer. He must have not liked something about his master so he stole money and fled to Paul. Paul writes to Philemon after a time seeking forgiveness and release of Onesimus.
8 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9 yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.
12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.
17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask. Philemon 1:8-21
What Is So Special About This Onesimus
Onesimus was lost. His sin was thievery and disbelief until he sought Paul through whom he found the path. Paul sent him back to Philemon for forgiveness and he returned to Paul a free man. Paul became his mentor. God used Onesimus from then on, first to minister to Paul, then to spread the Gospel to the world.
Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here. Col. 4:7-9
From Bondservant to Martyr
Onesimus had the power of the Holy Spirit and became an ardent preacher of the Gospel. His name and message was well known he preached the Gospel in many lands and cities: in Spain, Carpetania, Colossae, Patras. When Timothy’s season as bishop of Ephesus had ended, Onesimus was called to take his place. Onesimus was not without controversy as his teachings on celibacy infuriated a governor in Ephesus so he was sent to Rome, tortured and stoned.
He is celebrated in Greek Orthodoxy as his delivery of the gospel touched many lives and turned so many souls back to God.
What Does This Mean For Us
Why was this particular letter added to the canon of Scripture? Showing the backstory of a bishop and how he was saved through the forgiveness of his former master shows what it means to be a Christian of compassion. The key person in this letter is Philemon with Onesimus being the one who is saved. Paul’s letters tell of his usefulness as he became a courier of letters while ministering others along the way. This letter opens the eyes and creates the story of how God works in our lives through seeing how God worked in his. Sins can be forgiven if you seek him who forgives and saves us. God calls the faithful to do His work on earth, shining the light on the path to glory.
Be blessed this season and shine your light upon others.
Rob, Servant of God