How to Change from Useless to Useful
This week’s book, Philemon, does not have three chapters; additionally, verse 16 of the only chapter is in the middle of the sentence. So, let’s start out by looking at the entire context - Philemon 8-16.
8For this reason, although I have great boldness in Christ to command you to do what is right, 9I appeal, instead, on the basis of love. I, Paul, as an elderly man and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, 10appeal to you for my child, whom I fathered while in chains - Onesimus. 11Once he was useless to you, but now he is useful to both you and me. 12I am sending him - a part of myself - back to you. 13I wanted to keep him with me, so that in my imprisonment for the gospel he might serve me in your place. 14But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent, so that your good deed might not be out of obligation, but of your own free will. 15For perhaps this is why he was separated [from you] for a brief time, so that you might get him back permanently, 16no longer as a slave, but more than a slave - as a dearly loved brother. This is especially so to me, but even more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.— Philemon 8-16 (HCSB)
Onesimus had been a slave of Philemon, and had run away after stealing from him. Philemon had several reasons to have Onesimus killed on sight; accepting him as a brother was likely the last thing on his mind. But Paul had witnessed a change in Onesimus that Philemon could have never imagined! In verse 10, Paul says that he has “fathered” Onesimus; while together, Paul shared the gospel with him, converted him, and trained him in the things of the Lord.
In verse 12, Paul goes on to say that Onesimus is a part of himself; and, in verses 13-14, although Paul would rather keep Onesimus there with him, that would be stealing from Philemon - taking Onesimus without Philemon’s consent. Paul also tells Philemon that Onesimus is now much more than a slave - he is a brother in Christ, and especially valuable.
This is the context of this short epistle - it is an object lesson illustrating 2 Corinthians 5:17.
17Therefore if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come.— 2 Corinthians 5:17 (HCSB)
Have you experienced this life-changing power? If not, take a look at God’s Simple Plan of Salvation; Christ died for you, and all that He requires is that you believe in Him to cleanse your sins and make you into that new creation about which Paul wrote - it really is that simple. If you have, are you living in that power? The new creation is not just about saving grace, but a living, day-to-day grace, and the power to continually triumph over sin. Don’t waste the gift you have received.