Paul’s plea for Onesimus, Philemon’s runaway slave, but Christ’s Free Man.
10 I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment, 11 who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me. 12 I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart, 13 whom I wished to keep with me, so that on your behalf he might minister to me in my imprisonment for the gospel; 14 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. 15 For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, 16 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.
V.10 “I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment,”
For Love’s sake Paul appeals to Philemon for his child in the faith, whom he had brought to The Lord just as he had Philemon. Paul reminded Philemon that he was the author of his Christian faith and that he has done the same for Onesimus.
“Begotten” metaphorically in a Jewish sense, of one who brings others over to his way of life. A quote from the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin fol. 9, 2. “If one teaches the son of his neighbor the law, the Scripture reckons this the same as if he had begotten him.”
V.11 “who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me.”
A little play on words, Onesimus literally means useful, but as a salve that stole from his master and had taken to his heels he had been utterly useless to Philemon. Being converted to Christianity does involve a change of behavior and thought process, but it is not instantaneous. By living up to his name Onesimus had proven himself useful to Paul by ministering to him and for Christ.
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
V.12 “I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart,”
Paul could have just sent this letter to Philemon with Tychicus and asked to keep Onesimus with him in Rome and there is no doubt in my mind that Philemon would have been willing to allow his useless, thieving, runaway slave to be of some use and comfort to Paul. Instead he sent him back, sending his very heart. In the Hebrew sense, the seat of the tenderer affections, especially kindness, benevolence and compassion.
V.13 “whom I wished to keep with me, so that on your behalf he might minister to me in my imprisonment for the gospel;”
Paul earnestly desired to keep Onesimus with him, to be a comfort and useful servant to him during his imprisonment in Rome, but he did not exercise his authority or his will to be done. Instead he submitted his will to The Lord’s will and did what was not best in a human sense for himself or Onesimus, but did what was Spiritually best for all those involved. All would have an opportunity to grow and mature in The Lord as they faced the realities of the world.
V.14 “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.”
What a great lesson for all spiritual leaders in the Church, don’t force spirituality on the children of God, instead give them an opportunity to grow by learning from your example. If you feel led to fast as a spiritual rite and for spiritual growth don’t command the congregation to fast as well. No one grows spiritually by compulsion, no donation or gift is acceptable to God if it is done by compulsion. Everything from Salvation to Servanthood can only be acceptable to God if it is given by free will.
V.15 “For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever,”
You never know the Upper Story when all we can see is the Lower Story here on earth, but how blessed it is to see it finally work out for God’s glory in our lives and the lives of our friends and families. Remember the story of Joseph and what he said to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” Genesis 50:20
V.16 “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.”
Paul does not actually ask that Onesimus be set free, but he drives home the point that matters most, we are all brothers in The Lord. For the slave is Christ’s freed man and the master is Christ’s slave.
Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eye-service, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.
And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.
All Scriptural references were taken from the NASB.
May this humble study be a true blessing to all who read it. May The Lord be with you and strengthen you all the days of your life.