Word for the day by Christian Education Forum
Paul’s plea for Onesimus
“Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me” (V.11)
Background: St. Paul’s letter to Philemon is very unique in many ways. It is the shortest of Pauline letters and unlike his other letters, which are primarily written to churches, this letter is addressed to an individual called Philemon, his household and the house-church in Colossae. While Paul was in prison, he met a run-away slave called Onesimus, who belonged to Philemon . Onesimus became a Christian through Paul’s teachings and a strong bond developed between them. The purpose of this letter is to persuade Philemon to take back Onesimus without inflicting the severe penalties for a run-away slave under the Roman law. Onesimus was not sent back alone but was accompanied by Tychicus , a faithful co-worker of Paul (Col. 4:7-9).
Paul’s response to slavery: Paul, as a prisoner and as one who has suffered much in the service of Christ is pleading to Philemon for the freedom of his run-away slave . In the Roman provinces where St.Paul carried out his missionary work, slaves were at the bottom of the social strata. According to some interpreters, the letter to Philemon, is a challenge to Christian slave owners to reject slavery and defy the customs associated with this evil practice. The key message in this epistle is in v.18, in which Paul is indicating the banishment of slavery by paying for the slave's freedom. Today, it is a wakeup call to all Christians to respond to various forms of social injustices around us.
Paul’s plea for forgiveness: In the early church an Apostle was regarded as an envoy of Christ. So, in V.8, Philemon is given an oblique reminder of Paul’s apostolic authority to command. However, he chose to lay aside his authority and makes a plea for forgiveness and persuade Philemon to welcome back Onesimus. Paul had heard about Philemon’s Christian love and faith and trusted that he would do the right thing without force or compulsion. St. Paul’s appeal to Philemon as a brother and a friend is a model for all because true reconciliation is possible only through love, exhortation and encouragement.
Transformation of Onesimus: The name Onesimus means useful or beneficial. Prior to his conversion, he was useless or worthless to his master, but after his transformation (metanoia), he has become worthy of his name (V.11). St. Paul very much desired to keep him for the service of his ministry, but his sense of duty compelled him not to do that without Philemon’s consent. In verse 15-17, Paul suggests that the temporary separation of Onesimus from his master is for a good reason – to have him back forever as a dear brother in Christ. In our daily lives, we come across many people whom we think are useless. But we need to show compassion and love to them so they could feel the touch of Christ and become productive citizens of His kingdom.
Prayer: Dear Lord, help us to heal broken relationships and care for others through Christian love. Make us aware of our sense of duty and to respond to social injustices around us .Grant us the humility to resolve issues with compassion, love and persuasion.
Susan Johnson, Toronto