For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother. Philemon 1:15-16a
Onesimus, a bondservant in the house of Philemon, who had since escaped with stolen goods, is set to head back from where he came.
He fled over 1,000 miles, ultimately landing in Rome. Here he met Paul. Here he met Jesus. Here the running stopped. Here he became truly free.
And instead of continuing to run, Paul is sending Onesimus on a mission, letter in hand, back to Philemon. This letter is personal…believer to believer. A plea to Philemon to see Onesimus with new eyes; to see him as he is…a child of God sold out for Jesus. No longer a bondservant, but a beloved brother in Christ.
Paul pleads to a friend on behalf of a friend, desiring reconciliation and restoration. Paul offers to personally right any wrongs; to pay anything owed on Onesimus’s behalf for what he had taken. Paul is careful to not order or command it, but to appeal on behalf of Christian love and compassion. Because it is a heart change that transforms, not another dictate to follow.
As Onesimus makes his way to Colossae, I wonder what is going through his mind. Is he terrified? Is he hopeful? I wonder if he is making connections to the freedom the One he put his hope and faith in brought about on his behalf…not the freedom from a bondservant-owner relationship, but the freedom from condemnation and eternal death.
Bravely Onesimus goes, no doubt clinging to and safely guarding Paul’s letter. No longer a slave; no longer in hiding. Onesimus is returning repentant and free.
Scholars believe that the Bishop Onesimus of Ephesus was THIS Onesimus. Perhaps he played a part in preserving this letter – his story – in God’s story to us. Freedom is contagious. And when we are truly free, there is no stopping us.
Question: Is there something you have been running from?