Thursday, December 04, 2003


Useless to Useful

This the fourth essay in a series covering Paul's letter to Philemon.

Short post today. It was a late night.

Paul's purpose in writing to Philemon is to restore the two as free Christian brothers. Paul has appealed to Philemon's love for all the saints and to his own situation as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. It is now time to bring Onesimus in by name:

I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment, who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me. I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart, whom I wished to keep with me, so that on your behalf he might minister to me in my imprisonment for the gospel; but without your consent I did not want to do anything, so that your goodness would not be, in effect, by compulsion but of your own free will. 

For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. (Philemon 10-16)

Onesimus is now introduced to Philemon as "my child...begotten in my imprisonment" and "my very heart." In the Dance that is God's Providence, Onesimus had stolen some money and run away. Somehow he hooked up with Paul and became a Christian. Perhaps, while traveling, he met a Christian, heard the gospel, and became a Christian. Now Onesimus had a conscience crisis. He was a thief and a runaway slave. What was the right thing for him to do. His new Christian friend suggested, "Let's go ask Paul." There are many other scenarios, but Onesimus and Paul came together.

Whatever the initial circumstances, Paul did not rush to send Onesimus back. There was time for Onesimus to begin ministering to Paul's need in prison. Paul weighed the options. He knew that Onesimus should return. Paul pondered on the how.

Paul tells Philemon, "I wanted to keep him." But Paul gives Philemon the honor of consenting to the arrangement.

Friday: More on Providence


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