MY SON ONESIMUS
(First published in July2015)
I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains (Philemon 10 NIV).
Philemon is one of Paul’s prison epistles. It was addressed to his friend Philemon who was living in Colosse. It is believed that, Onesimus was Philemon’s slave who ran away from him to Rome; where he met Paul and became a Christian. Paul therefore deemed it fitting to send him back to his master Philemon by writing this testimony about him: Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me (Philemon 11).
Though this is a letter to a friend and the church, it evokes the following practical lessons which could help all of us in our spiritual journey with the Lord.
From the letter, we deduce that Philemon was a noble wealthy Christian leader who had slaves. Though he was a Christian, some of his slaves were not – an example being Onesimus. As it turned out, he became unfaithful in the delivery of his service to his master by stealing something valuable and then ran away. While in Rome, he met Paul who preached the gospel to him. He therefore became a Christian through the power of the Holy Spirit.
- ONESIMUS’ TRANSFORMATIONAL LIFE IN CHRIST
After his encounter with Christ, I strongly believe the Holy Spirit convicted him of the wrong meted to his master Philemon. He confessed to Paul his past deed and sought a way to make amends with his master. Onesimus' story is one of many as the Bible is fraught with similar stories like his. For example, when Zacchaeus met Jesus, he voluntarily made restitution with his past when he said: “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Luke 19:8).
Here, we see the power of the cross able to transform people irrespective of their status in live. May we not underestimate what Christ can do in and through the life of the worst sinner. John Newton’s hymn “Amazing Grace” summarizes what Christ can do when he enters any troubled heart. It is for this reason that the urgency of preaching the gospel in our world today is greater than any other time in history.
The human race is prone to offend each other; intentionally or otherwise. This is inevitable because we are living in a world of interdependence and connectivity. It is a fact that we were all created differently, this means, our desires and thought processes are uniquely diverse. The question is, “How do we co-exist with each other in a home, an office, a church, a community etc as we live together to survive on this planet called Earth?” The truth is, whether we believe it or not, inadvertently we all step on each other’s toes as we go about our normal daily activities. Some of us take offence at every minute discomfort we receive from others; some of us too are the opposite.
- ONESIMUS UNDERSTOOD THE POWER OF FORGIVENES
In the letter to Philemon, Paul calls Onesimus, “my son.” A title reserved for an affinity between parents and their children either by birth or adoption. Paul however was able to address Onesimus “my son” because, he knew that through the blood of Christ, Onesimus has been forgiven; and all his past records of sins wiped away. He now has a clean slate and a new beginning. On the basis of that, Paul made the following appeal to Philemon: 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 (Philemon 15-19).
During the first century, runaway slaves could be severely punished or even condemned to death when they are found. This means, the decision for Onesimus to return to his master was not an easy one. Though he had the letter Paul had written in his behalf to be taken to his master, I believe, his courage to return was more than a piece of note. Here is why?
- ONESIMUS ENJOYED HIS FREEDOM IN CHRIST
Onesimus had a new sense of direction in life; a reason to live freely in his new-found hope in Christ. His relationship in Christ has given him solid faith and hope to the point where earthly hardships and sufferings were no longer his worry. He mustered courage to go and face his master Philemon; assuming even if the worst – which was death should happen to him, he was so certain of spending eternity in heaven with the Lord. His faith in the Lord has gotten to a point where he was willing to make amends with his master even if he had to die for it.
It was the same faith in Christ that has grown to a point where Onesimus can say with the Apostle Paul: Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. 38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-39 NLT).
Saints we are living in a world of so much pain as a result of social unrest and political upheavals, coupled with economic meltdowns and diseases. These ingredients on the surface do not spur hope in anyone; neither do they promote love and forgiveness towards others. Nevertheless, as Christians, we have to look at the bigger picture in terms of God’s plan of salvation for mankind. We have to extend forgiveness to all those who need it just as we have been forgiven by God through Christ. Above all, let us be people who are bridges of reconciliation just as Paul did by bringing Philemon and Onesimus together as we continue to enjoy our freedom in Christ.
- You can purchase my books; African Spirituality: Did Africans Know God Before the Arrival of the Missionaries? and Understanding Love: Biblical & Cultural Perspectives could be purchased at Amazon.com or Shidaanikei.com
- We are happy to announce that Disciples Revival Church is now on social media. You can like us on Facebook at disciplesrevivalchurchtoronto or Twitter: @disciplesrevive Use any of our contact links to communicate with us whether it is a prayer request or anything you want to share with us. In the meantime, let’s continue to pray for each other.
Dr. & Mrs. (Rev.) Charles Mantey
Disciples Revival Church
30 Gordon Mackay Road
Toronto, Ontario M9N 2V6. Canada
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