I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me. (Philemon 10-11)
The Value Of A Christian Life
Onesimus was a runaway slave that in unknown circumstances, encountered the apostle Paul while Paul was in prison. Nothing is said in scripture of how the two men met. The runaway slave was owned by a Christian and coworker of Paul named Philemon, who lived in the city of Colosse. Paul sent the slave back to his master with the good news that Onesimus had become a Christian. It took faith on the part of Onesimus to trust in the advice of Paul to return to his master. Paul was writing Philemon to assure him of the confidence he would have in a man who is now a fellow brother in the kingdom of God. Obedience to the gospel did not take away the obligations of the slave and master, but it changed the circumstance of their relationship.
Paul appeals to Philemon to recognize the value of his slave in the light of spiritual matters. As a slave, Onesimus had value simply as one who was indebted to his master. Slavery was common in the First Century. Wealthy patrons could buy slaves from pirates, which was a booming economy at the time. Many enslaved people came from conquered lands of the Romans and were sold in slave markets. Paul was keeping Roman law to admonish Onesimus to return to his master, but the circumstance had changed for Philemon. He was receiving back a man who was a child of God with greater blessings than when he left.
Obedience to the gospel of Christ changes the heart of man to enjoy the blessings of the heavenly Father. There are untold joys associated with the feeling of eternal life. Many of the blessings go beyond the knowledge of salvation in Christ to the changing of hearts of men to one another. When Onesimus became a slave of Philemon, he was not a Christian. He ran away from his master but found a greater master in Christ when Paul taught him the gospel. Becoming a Christian did not remove the obligation of Onesimus to return to his master, but the slave and master now share the same spiritual master. The bond of a holy alliance was confirmed in the relationship the two would share as fellow Christians, workers, brethren, and recipients of the grace of God. Onesimus was now “brother Onesimus,” and Philemon was now “brother Philemon.” What a joy to find the kindred spirit of Christ in others. Becoming a Christian opens up a wonderful family relationship of brotherhood not found in the world.
Paul is exhorting Philemon to receive Onesimus back in a greater manner than he might have on other occasions. There were questions to ask about why the slave ran away. Onesimus would have to answer these questions, but the unfortunate circumstance’s concerns had turned into an eternal reward of salvation and joy. Onesimus had left unprofitable but now returns with a greater value than ever before. That is what becoming a Christian will do. It changes a marriage when a husband joins a wife in the spiritual bond of the blood of Christ. There are few joys greater than children who obey the gospel of Christ, creating a family united in Christ. Fellow workers who learn of God’s grace and become Christians change the landscape of the relationship. Close friends who are baptized for the remission of sins become dearer friends than before. There are blessings in the eyes of God when a man and woman obey the gospel, but those rewards multiply for those who know them. What a joy to see the new birth coming out of the waters of baptism. A man who was unprofitable before is now profitable to the world. Praise God.