My Name is Onesimus: A Picture of Grace
Tucked away in the New Testament, we read a brief letter Paul wrote to Philemon, a Colossian Christian, “dear friend and fellow worker” (1:1) who held church in his home with his wife.
And, it is here we witness God’s amazing grace.
Philemon had a runaway servant named Onesimus, a lazy, sullen and resentful employee with a negative attitude and poor work ethic. And although the name Onesimus means “useful” he was useless.
So, why is this private letter between Paul and Philemon included in God’s Word?
In Paul’s time, when servants ran away, they typically fled to larger cities to avoid capture. The crime of fleeing was punishable by crucifixion or if the servant’s master was kind, a permanent “F” for fugitive would be branded on their forehead forever revealing to everyone their sin of running away.
Onesimus flees to Rome and by an act of divine intervention found himself introduced to Paul, eventually becoming like a son to him.
Paul leads Onesimus to Christ then tells him he must return to his master and composes a short letter to Philemon to inform him that “formerly he (Onesimus) was useless to you but now he has become useful both to you and me.” (1:11)
Paul let’s Philemon know Onesimus is not returning just as a servant but now as a “man and as a brother in the Lord.” (1:16) and that “If he has done any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.” (1:18)
This brief letter tells the beautiful story of grace and salvation.
Before entering into a relationship with Christ, once we too were Onesimus.
I was. With a stubborn, rebellious attitude I ran away and tried desperately to hide from God and spent years useless to Him.
However, a divinely arranged encounter with Christ changed the trajectory of my life and He presented me back to God as a useful servant and now a beloved daughter.
He told the Father what Paul told Philemon – that if she “has done you any wrong or owes you anything . . . “ I will pay her debt and He did on the cross.
Paul remembered his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus when his life was altered forever.
He too was once useless for Christ then later went on to write three quarters of the New Testament.
You see, Christ rescues, recycles and returns us to God with our debts paid-in-full as daughters of the Most High now eager, useful and willing to serve.
And that my friend is grace!